Counting hunger

ID-10030437 (2)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? [Read more…]

Food security and agriculture information at our fingertips

ID-100125038This week we’ve been thinking about information. Specifically the type of information on agriculture and rural development that is available, how useful it is and to who. A lot of data and statistics went into the writing of One Billion Hungry and some was hard to find, out of date or non-existent. Indeed statistics, such as the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation’s (FAO) estimate of the number of chronically hungry people in the world, are often challenged because there are so few rigorous and comparable data sets available on food security and agriculture.

Yet policymakers often base investments in international development around evidence and farmers too must have access to clear and credible information in order to be competitive in the market. Ensuring information is timely, relevant and reliable, therefore is an important challenge. A recent paper by researchers at Tulane University investigated the impact of Food and Nutrition Security Information (FNSI) and its shortcomings concluding that while more conventional forms of data must be expanded in coverage, greater types and sources of data that come with increased connectivity must also be utilised.

Greater access to information can also help solve global challenges. As discussed in Chapter 1, we face the threat of repeated food price spikes, of which we have seen three since 2007. In 2011, the G20, in response to increased food price volatility, established the Agricultural Market Information System, with the idea that if information on the production, trade, use and storage of four globally important crops, wheat, rice, maize and soybean, is more transparent then policy action in response to market uncertainty can be coordinated and potentially dangerous and inaccurate speculation can be avoided. The coordination of policies and development of common strategies is undertaken by the Rapid Response Forum, whose second meeting is to take place on 20th February 2013. [Read more…]