When the writing of One Billion Hungry: Can we feed the world? began in 2010, it was estimated that there were around one billion chronically hungry people in the world, hence the title. When the book was launched in 2012, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, in their State of Food Insecurity in the World, had revised their methodology for calculating the number of hungry and published an updated figure of 870 million for the period 2010-2012 (details of their methodology and revised estimates can be found in a previous blog post). The new calculations indicate that the prevalence of extreme malnourishment peaked in 1990, fell to 2006 and then remained stable.
Getting these numbers right is incredibly important because they influence policy and form the basis upon which global decisions regarding hunger and development are made. But calculating worldwide statistics is notoriously difficult given the scale and the reporting requirements. Even so the FAO’s methods have received strong criticism, and weaknesses have been acknowledged internally. A new paper by Moore Lappé et al, How we Count Hunger Matters, details the downfalls of the FAO’s assumptions and calculations, and the more nuanced way we should be looking at hunger.
Because of the revised hunger numbers it appears we have made more progress in achieving the first Millennium Development Goal of halving hunger by 2015 than previously thought. This redefinition means that we are now about five-sevenths of the way toward meeting the goal rather than one-seventh of the way there. But is this really true or have the goal posts just been changed?
Global statistics mask a lot of variation. Some countries have been more successful at reducing hunger than others. For example, Ghana achieved the world’s greatest reduction over this period, with an 87% reduction in the number of undernourished people. In India, while the average per capita GDP growth rate over the last two decades was more than twice the world average, the country reduced its number of hungry people by less than 10%. Often economic growth along with safety nets to support the most vulnerable members of society are promoted as a solution to eradicating hunger but clearly this is not enough and indeed the FAO acknowledge in their 2012 report the weak link between national economic growth and nutrition.
So what policies do we need to end hunger and how can knowing how many hungry people there are and where they live help? The paper sets out four priority policy areas that need addressing:
- Policies promoting more equitable control over productive assets, including
- land, and a fair return to producers
- Policies promoting the right to food
- More fair and supportive international economic and trade policies
- Policies supporting more diversified agroecological food production practices
The paper concludes that progress as outlined by the FAO needs to be viewed with caution and that we should move away from single solutions to more diversified policy approaches. Authors encourage the FAO to “develop and communicate a wider conceptualization of hunger and food insecurity in its indicators and to promote the full range of policies that have proven essential to ending hunger”.