Number of hungry people declining over two decades

The U.N. now says its 2009 announcement that one billion people in the world were hungry was off-target and that the number is actually more like 870 million.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) blamed flawed methodology and poor data for the inaccurate projection, and said it now used a much more accurate set of parameters and statistics to calculate its annual estimate of the world’s hungry.

FAO issued its 2012 state of food insecurity report on Tuesday and its core point was to set the record straight about the number of the undernourished people, applying the more accurate data retroactively back to 1990.

The positive news, FAO said, was that the number of hungry people had actually been declining steadily rather than increasing over the past two decades, though progress had slowed since the 2007-2008 food crises and the global economic downturn.

FAO said that if the right action was taken now to boost economic growth and invest in agriculture, particularly in poor countries, the U.N. goal of reducing by one-half the number of the world’s hungry people by 2015 was very much within reach. To be sure, 870 million hungry people were still far too many hungry people, said the heads of the three U.N. food agencies in a foreword.

“In today’s world of unprecedented technical and economic opportunities, we find it entirely unacceptable that more than 100 million children under the age of five are underweight, and are therefore unable to realise their full socio-economic and human potential.”

FAO made headlines in 2009 when it announced that one billion people — one-sixth of the world’s population — were undernourished. A summit was called at FAO headquarters in Rome.

The U.N. chief went on a daylong hunger strike to show solidarity with the one billion.

The Group of Eight devoted much of its summit that year to pledging $20 billion for seeds, fertilisers and tools to help poor nations feed themselves.

It turns out, though, that the projections were wrong.

They were calculated using figures from non-U.N. sources that were fed into the U.N.’s number-crunching model, because FAO was under pressure from governments to quickly come up with an estimate of how many people might go hungry from the dual crises of high food prices and the global downturn, said Kostas Stamoulis, director of FAO’s agricultural development economics division.

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