Finding hope in a gloomy view: the state of SDG 2

SDG report picBy Alice Marks, @alicemarks0

On 19th July, the first annual report on the progress of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) was launched as part of the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) at the United Nations headquarters in New York. The Sustainable Development Goals Report 2016 is designed to set the benchmark for the next 15 years over which the goals will be implemented by evaluating where the world stands now against them.

Although agricultural development will have an impact on every one of the 17 SDGs, it is nowhere more evident than in SDG 2, which aims to “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.” So where do we currently stand against this goal?

  1. Nearly 800 million people are still hungry

Despite progress made under the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), more than 790 million people around the world still suffer from hunger. According to the report, at the start of the new millennium 15% of people in the world were undernourished, and by 2015 this proportion was down to 11%. Although this is certainly progress, there is still a long way to go. Experiences from the MDGs indicate that, where countries failed to reach their target for reducing hunger, it was predominantly due to natural or human-induced disasters, and political instability. With a rising global population and a changing climate, resources such as land and water are likely to become increasingly limited, exacerbating these risk factors. This could destabilise progress towards SDG2, particularly in regions such as sub-Saharan Africa where, according to the report, more than 50% of the adult population face moderate or severe levels of food insecurity.

  1. 25% of children under five are chronically undernourished or stunted…
DFID children in zambia eat biofortified maize

Children in Zambia eating biofortified maize. Credit: DFID

Globally, the percentage of undernourished children has fallen under the MDGs from 33% to 24% between 2000 and 2014, demonstrating that efforts to improve nutrition can, and do, have a meaningful impact. For example, in sub-Saharan Africa the number decreased from 43% in 2000 to 36% in 2014.

However, globally 158.6 million children under the age of five are still stunted. Malnutrition on this scale has been described as “the real scandal and greatest contradiction of our time” because it not only threatens the physical health of a child but also risks their cognitive development. As a result of this malnutrition, stunted children earn up to 20% less as adults compared to non-stunted individuals. Achieving SDG2 will have a particularly potent impact because breaking the cycle of undernutrition will help people to achieve their potential and accelerate all development efforts.

  1. …Meanwhile the proportion of overweight children under five is on the rise

At the same time, globally, the number of overweight children has increased from 5% to 6% between 2000 and 2014, and this trend is on the rise. It is likely to be in large part due to the increasing availability of highly processed food that is linked to non-communicable diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Indeed, in the last 30 years, the number of overweight or obese adults in developing countries has grown from 250 million in 1980 to almost one billion by 2008. Somewhat surprisingly, the report indicates that the area with the largest number of overweight children is North Africa, where 16% of children under five are overweight, compared to 10% in ‘developed’ regions.

  1. Governments are not investing enough in agricultural development

The report posits that in order to increase the productive capacity of the agricultural sector, more investment is needed. This includes domestic spending by both developed and developing countries, as well as in foreign aid budgets. Wherever investment comes from, be it public or private sector, it is essential if the sector is to meet the ever-larger challenge of feeding a growing population that increasingly demands an ever-more diverse diet.

There is clearly a long way to go…

Credit DFID child is measured for malnourishment in DRC

A child is measured for signs of malnourishment in DRC. Credit: DFID

SDG2 aims to end hunger, in all its forms and everywhere, by 2030. This is a complex problem, and many solutions will be needed that are tailored according to the different needs and resources in countries across the world. It is possible that Sustainable Intensification can offer some solutions because it integrates innovations from the fields of ecology, genetics and socio-economics to build a practical pathway by which farmers can produce more food whilst protecting the natural resource base upon which agriculture depends.

However, building resilience into development programmes will prove essential if the goal is to be met. In a recent paper, Set for success: Climate-proofing the Malabo declaration, the Montpellier Panel advocates that governments must support programmes that help build resilience and strengthen the livelihoods of smallholder farmers and rural communities.

…but there are grounds for optimism!

The view may seem gloomy from the current perspective, and it is true that climate change, rapid urbanisation, population growth and political instability do present significant challenges. However, the progress made by the MDGs prove that this is not an insurmountable challenge. As the HLPF comes to a close this week, let us all be optimistic that we have a solid spring-block from which to accelerate efforts towards this goal of a world where everyone has sufficient good-quality food to live healthy and fulfilling lives.

 For more reasons to be optimistic, take a look at these A4I and Montpellier Panel publications:

The Sustainable Intensification Database – browse for more than 80 case studies and success stories

Set for success: Climate-proofing the Malabo declaration – 15 examples of interventions that help build resilience against climate change into agricultural systems

Off The Ground: Investing in Rwanda’s Agriculture Value Chains – Experiences from a week-long visit to Rwanda where A4I found reasons for optimism in the developing food sector

The Farms of Change: African Smallholders Responding to an Uncertain Climate Future – this report lays out 10 priorities that will help farmers adapt and thrive in a changing environment

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