Each year, an inter-institutional working group and a group of experts coordinated by the United Nations publish a report evaluating the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the eight goals for economic, social and human development adopted in 2000, to be achieved by 2015. We recommend reading the latest MDG monitoring report on the state of world hunger, of which we have published an extract here1
As highlighted by the UN, although some progress has been recorded in some parts of the world, rates of undernourishment and malnutrition remain generally very high and the goal of halving the number of people suffering from hunger throughout the world is still far from being achieved. In line with previous studies, the report also notes that undernourishment is particularly prevalent in rural areas, even though these people are mostly employed in agriculture and therefore in food production. As we have repeatedly emphasized2
, this apparent paradox is explained by the high levels of poverty that characterize agricultural and rural areas. Worryingly, for the future of agriculture in many parts of the world, farmers will be unable to adequately support their food requirements and those of their families as long as their activity is unprofitable. Because their role is absolutely crucial for safeguarding the sustainable development of agricultural production in the coming years, it is essential that these farmers benefit from agricultural prices that are sufficiently stable and profitable, enabling them not only to earn a living from their activity, but also to invest in their land. Only real global agricultural governance that ensures and coordinates the implementation of mechanisms to regulate markets in all major producing regions of the world will allow such changes.
momagri Editorial Board
The most recent estimates of undernourishment by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) were published in 2011 for the 2006-2008 period. They set the mark at 850 million, which corresponds to 15.5 per cent of the world population. This was the first assessment based on hard data on food production and consumption referring to 2008, and capturing the actual impact of the food price crisis of 2007-2008 and of the financial crisis of 2008.
The situation at the global level was not as stark as might have been expected, and was originally projected, thanks to economic growth rates that remained high in many developing countries at least through 2008.
Progress in relieving food deprivation has slowed or stalled in many regions
The prevalence of hunger remains uncomfortably high in sub-Saharan Africa and in Southern Asia outside of India. And, despite recorded reductions in income poverty, there are no signs of improvement in undernourishment rates in Eastern Asia since 2000. The disparity between falling poverty rates and steady levels of undernourishment calls for improved understanding of the dimensions and causes of hunger and the implementation of appropriate policies and measures.
Countries in sub-Saharan Africa were the hardest hit by the food and financial crises
The FAO assessment reveals that small countries, heavily dependent on food imports, were deeply affected by skyrocketing food prices–especially those in sub-Saharan Africa. In contrast, some large countries in Asia were able to insulate their markets through restrictive trade policies and to protect consumers with social safety nets. As a result, while the number of undernourished increased sharply in sub-Saharan Africa, it remained constant in Asia.
Nearly one in five children under age five in the developing world is underweight
In the developing regions, the proportion of children under age five who are underweight declined from 29 per cent in 1990 to 18 per cent in 2010. Progress was recorded in all regions where comparable data are available, but is insufficient to reach the global target by 2015. Continued efforts are needed to reduce disparities related to urban–rural differences and poverty, among other factors.
An equally important indicator of overall child health and nutritional status is stunting, defined as low height for age. It is a condition, however, which often goes unrecognized in the developing world. More common than being underweight, stunting also more accurately reflects nutritional deficiencies and illnesses that occur during the early-life period and will hamper growth and development. Although the prevalence of stunting fell from an estimated 44 per cent in 1990 to 29 per cent in 2010, millions of children remain at risk for diminished cognitive and physical development resulting from longterm undernutrition.
Despite clear evidence of the disastrous consequences of childhood nutritional deprivation in the short and long terms, nutritional health remains a low priority. It is time for nutrition to be placed higher on the development agenda.
A number of simple, cost-effective measures to reduce undernutrition in the critical period from conception to two years after birth are available. These measures include improved maternal nutrition and care, breastfeeding within one hour of birth, exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life, and timely, adequate, safe and appropriate complementary feeding and micronutrient intake in the following 18 months. Urgent, accelerated and concerted actions are needed to deliver and scale up such interventions so as to extend the gains made thus far.
Differences in undernutrition found between rural and urban children are largest in Latin America and the Caribbean
In the developing regions as a whole, children living in rural areas are almost twice as likely to be underweight than children in urban households. The largest gap is in Latin America and the Caribbean. In that region, eight per cent of children are underweight in rural areas—more than twice the rate in cities.
Poverty is a major determinant of undernutrution in children in all regions
Poorer children are almost three times as likely to be underweight as are children in the wealthiest 20 per cent of the households. The disparity is greatest in Southern Asia, where the prevalence of underweight children in the poorest quintile of households is 2.8 times that of children from the richest 20 per cent.
1 You may read the full report on the United Nations website: http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/index.shtml
2 Read the momagri article: http://momagri.org/UK/agriculture-s-key-figures/More-than-one-in-two-people-suffering-from-hunger-worldwide-is-a-farmer_1054.html