About 842 million people, or roughly one in eight, suffered from chronic hunger in 2011-13, down from 868 million people reported for the 2010-12 period, according to the new State of Food Insecurity in the World, 2013 report released on Tuesday by United Nations food agencies.
Interestingly, the agencies observed that while a vast majority of hungry people lived in developing regions, 15.7 million lived in developed countries.
This does not surprise Supreme Court-appointed Food Commissioner and National Advisory Council (NAC) member N.C. Saxena who told The Hindu that although hunger has reduced in China and South-east Asia, there always has been some hunger even in the U.S. and some European countries. “It is not as if everything is hunky-dory in developed countries. I was reading a report that said that 16 per cent people in the U.S. are below poverty line.”
At the same time, he said that “the record of reducing hunger in India and South Asia is not so good. If you look at the cereal consumption of the poor in India, it has remained stagnant or even gone down because they tend to spend their incremental income on health, transport or even tobacco. It is not just high prices of food but lack of demand. It is very unfortunate.”
The report, published every year by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the International Fund for Agriculture Development and the World Food Programme, defined chronic hunger as “not getting enough food to lead active and healthy life.”
Continued economic growth in developing countries improved incomes and access to food. Higher farm productivity growth, supported by increased public investment and renewed interest of private investors in agriculture improved food availability.
In addition, in some countries, remittances from migrants were playing a role in poverty reduction, leading to better diets and food security, the report noted.
Calling for nutrition-sensitive interventions in agriculture and food systems as a whole as well as in public health and education, the report said policies aimed at enhancing farm productivity and food availability could achieve hunger reduction even where poverty was widespread.
Substantial reductions in both, the number of hungry and prevalence of undernourishment, have occurred in most countries of East Asia, Southeastern Asia and in Latin America. Sub-Saharan Africa has made only modest progress in recent years and has the highest prevalence of undernourishment with one in four people (24.8 per cent) estimated to be hungry.
The developing regions, the report says, have made a significant progress towards reaching the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) target of halving the proportion of hungry people by 2015. It says that if the average decline since 1990 continues till 2015, then the prevalence of undernourishment will reach a level close to the MDG hunger target.
The report underscored that “economic growth is the key for progress in hunger reduction,” but added that growth may not lead to more and better jobs and incomes for all, unless policies specifically target the poor, especially those in rural areas.
“In poor countries, hunger and poverty reduction will only be achieved with growth that is not only sustained but also broadly shared,” the report observed.
The findings and recommendations of the report will be discussed by representatives of governments, civil society and private sector next week at a meeting of the Committee of Food Security at the FAO headquarters in Rome.