The latest State of Food Security and Nutrition report shows global hunger numbers rose to 828 million in 2021 but the world moved backwards in its efforts to eliminate hunger and malnutrition
Rome/New York: Despite hopes that the world would emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021 and food security would begin to improve, world hunger rose further in 2021. After remaining relatively unchanged since 2015, the prevalence of undernourishment jumped from 8.0 to 9.3 per cent from 2019 to 2020 and rose at a slower pace in 2021 to 9.8 per cent. Between 702 and 828 million people were affected by hunger in 2021.
The number has grown by about 150 million since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic – 103 million more people between 2019 and 2020 and 46 million more in 2021, according to a United Nations report that provides fresh evidence that the world is moving further away from its goal of ending hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition in all its forms by 2030.
“There is a real danger these numbers will climb even higher in the months ahead. The global price spikes in food, fuel and fertilizers that we are seeing as a result of the crisis in Ukraine threaten to push countries around the world into famine. The result will be global destabilization, starvation, and mass migration on an unprecedented scale. We have to act today to avert this looming catastrophe,” the UN World Food Programme Executive Director David Beasley said.
Looking forward, projections are that nearly 670 million people (8 per cent of the world population) will still be facing hunger in 2030 – even if a global economic recovery is taken into consideration. This is a similar number to 2015 when the goal of ending hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition by the end of this decade was launched under the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, according to the 2022 edition of The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World (SOFI) report.
The report was jointly published today by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
“These are depressing figures for humanity. We continue to move away from our goal of ending hunger by 2030. The ripple effects of the global food crisis will most likely worsen the outcome again next year. We need a more intense approach to end hunger and IFAD stands ready to do its part by scaling up its operations and impact. We look forward to having everyone’s support,” IFAD President Gilbert F. Houngbo, said.
The challenges to ending hunger, food insecurity and all forms of malnutrition keep growing, says the report. The most recent evidence available suggests that the number of people unable to afford a healthy diet around the world rose by 112 million to almost 3.1 billion, reflecting the impacts of rising consumer food prices during the pandemic. This number could even be greater once data are available to account for income losses in 2020.
“Every year, 11 million people die due to unhealthy diets. Rising food prices mean this will only get worse,” warned WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
The numbers do paint a grim picture:
- As many as 828 million people were affected by hunger in 2021 – 46 million people more from a year earlier and 150 million more from 2019.
- After remaining relatively unchanged since 2015, the proportion of people affected by hunger jumped in 2020 and continued to rise in 2021, to 9.8 per cent of the world population. This compares with 8 per cent in 2019 and 9.3 per cent in 2020.
- Around 2.3 billion people in the world (29.3 per cent) were moderately or severely food insecure in 2021 – 350 million more compared to before the outbreak of the COVID‑19 pandemic. Nearly 924 million people (11.7 per cent of the global population) faced food insecurity at severe levels, an increase of 207 million in two years.
- The gender gap in food insecurity continued to rise in 2021 – 31.9 per cent of women in the world were moderately or severely food insecure, compared to 27.6 per cent of men – a gap of more than 4 percentage points, compared with 3 percentage points in 2020.
- Almost 3.1 billion people could not afford a healthy diet in 2020, up 112 million from 2019, reflecting the effects of inflation in consumer food prices stemming from the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the measures put in place to contain it.
- An estimated 45 million children under the age of five were suffering from wasting, the deadliest form of malnutrition, which increases children’s risk of death by up to 12 times. Furthermore, 149 million children under the age of five had stunted growth and development due to a chronic lack of essential nutrients in their diets, while 39 million were overweight.
- Progress is being made on exclusive breastfeeding, with nearly 44 per cent of infants under six months of age being exclusively breastfed worldwide in 2020. This is still short of the 50 per cent target by 2030. Of great concern, two in three children are not fed the minimum diverse diet they need to grow and develop to their full potential.
Moreover, the report notes that the ongoing war in Ukraine, involving two of the biggest global producers of staple cereals, oilseeds and fertilizer, is disrupting international supply chains and pushing up the prices of grain, fertilizer, energy, as well as ready-to-use therapeutic food for children with severe malnutrition.
“The unprecedented scale of the malnutrition crisis demands an unprecedented response. We must double our efforts to ensure that the most vulnerable children have access to nutritious, safe, and affordable diets — and services for the early prevention, detection and treatment of malnutrition. With so many children’s lives and futures at stake, this is the time to step up our ambition for child nutrition – and we have no time to waste,” UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell said.
As it is, supply chains are already being adversely affected by increasingly frequent extreme climate events, especially in low-income countries, and have potentially sobering implications for global food security and nutrition.
“This report repeatedly highlights the intensification of these major drivers of food insecurity and malnutrition: conflict, climate extremes and economic shocks, combined with growing inequalities,” the heads of the five UN agencies wrote in this year’s Foreword. “The issue at stake is not whether adversities will continue to occur or not, but how we must take bolder action to build resilience against future shocks.”
FAO Director-General QU Dongyu said, “Low-income countries, where agriculture is key to the economy, jobs and rural livelihoods, have little public resources to repurpose. FAO is committed to continue working together with these countries to explore opportunities for increasing the provision of public services for all actors across agri-food systems.”
Repurposing agricultural policies
The report notes as striking that worldwide support for the food and agricultural sector averaged almost USD 630 billion a year between 2013 and 2018. The lion’s share of it goes to individual farmers, through trade and market policies and fiscal subsidies. However, not only is much of this support market-distorting, but it is not reaching many farmers, hurts the environment and does not promote the production of nutritious foods that make up a healthy diet. That’s in part because subsidies often target the production of staple foods, dairy and other animal source foods, especially in high- and upper-middle-income countries. Rice, sugar and meats of various types are the most incentivized food items worldwide, while fruits and vegetables are relatively less supported, particularly in some low-income countries.
With the threats of a global recession looming, and the implications this has on public revenues and expenditures, a way to support economic recovery involves the repurposing of food and agricultural support to target nutritious foods where per capita consumption does not yet match the recommended levels for healthy diets.
The evidence suggests that if governments repurpose the resources they are using to incentivize the production, supply and consumption of nutritious foods, they will contribute to making healthy diets less costly, more affordable and equitably for all.
Finally, the report also points out that governments could do more to reduce trade barriers for nutritious foods, such as fruits, vegetables and pulses.
– global bihari bureau