FAO Reports an Increase in Hungry People Around the World

Oct 4, 2018 | Global Food and You, In the News |

The Dirt:

The Food and Agricultural Organization has reported that the number of hungry people in the world is increasing rather than decreasing. The reasons are varied and unpredictable.

In its 2018 report, the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reports an increase in the number of hungry people around the world. After years of steady improvement in reducing hunger, the number of people facing chronic food deprivation in 2017 is nearly 821 million, up from 804 million the year before.

What is the definition of hunger? According to author Robert Paarlberg, in his book Food Politics, What Everyone Needs to Know, hunger is defined as “those that are living on less than $1 a day, with a daily energy intake below 2,200 calories or a diet lacking in essential diversity. ” A bowl of rice or corn, for example, may be heavy on calories but lacks essential nutrients.

Hunger results in malnutrition which is a deficiency in macro and/or micro ingredients needed to maintain healthy tissues and organ function.  Malnutrition results in a weak immune system more susceptible to disease.

Hunger in Sudan.
WorldVision.org /Stephanie Glinski

Malnutrition can also be synonymous with obesity, which is the consumption of overeating foods without nutrients. For many people around the world, foods that are high in sugar, salt and fat can be cheaper and more readily available than fresh fruits and vegetables, milk, and other nutrient-dense foods. According to the FAO report, childhood overweight and obesity rates are rising in most regions and adult obesity is increasing in all regions.

Chronic malnourishment is widespread, but there are regions of vulnerability. Sub-Saharan, Eastern, and Middle Africa have more than 20% of undernourished people.  While not as severe, Southern and Central Asia hover around 15%. Even the sunny Caribbean doesn’t escape with 16.5% undernourishment.

What is the cause of hunger?

FAO pointed out that there are three major forces that contribute to chronic hunger:

Weather and climate. Climate-related events have consequences of food safety and availability. In fact, the FAO reports that from 1990-2016, the number of droughts, floods and storms has averaged to 213 per year. Those countries with high exposure to climate extremes have a higher malnourished population. Africa, Central America, and Southeast Asia, for example, not only have been experiencing lower rainfall but also fewer days of rain.

In some cases, hunger can be a direct result of a specific event, like a tsunami or hurricane. As a result, international food aid comes from a collaboration of the FAO, U.S. Agency for International Development, and other NGOs until the crisis is over.

Of the extreme climate-related disasters, drought is the most destructive for crops and livestock.

Global Conflict.  Wars and civil upheavals are a double whammy for food security. Political uncertainty and terrorism force mass immigration toward the developed world. The endless stream of images on television from Syria, North Africa, and other global trouble spots tell the story vividly.

Conflict events in Africa, 1997–2015. The final boundary between the Republic of the Sudan and the Republic of South Sudan has not yet been determined. SOURCE: Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED) and FAO 2017 Report of Food Security and Nutrition in the World.

Economics. People go hungry when fundamental economic principles are abandoned.  For example, the people of Venezuela have suffered from poor government choices. Socialism-gone-awry has triggered rampant food insecurity, refugees, and a collapsed country.

Venezuelan migrants fleeing economic meltdown at home. Source: The Times, UK

There are more mouths to feed today than yesterday…

As the population increases, so will the number of hungry people. Let’s look at 2035—just 17 years away. We will have 1.1 billion more people to feed. It is no surprise that 51% of the population growth will be in India, China, Europe, Indonesia, and Pakistan. In India alone, 339 million people currently live below the poverty line. That is more than all the population in the United States! If the percentage stays the same at 10.9%, in 2035 there will be 100 million more people facing starvation.

“Access to safe, nutritious and sufficient food must be framed as a human right, with priority given to the most vulnerable. Policies must pay special attention to the food security and nutrition of children under five, school-age children, adolescent girls, and women in order to halt the intergenerational cycle of malnutrition. A shift is needed towards nutrition-sensitive agriculture and food systems that provide safe and high-quality food, promoting healthy diets for all.” (FAO)

The Bottom Line

There are more hungry and malnourished people in the world today than ever before, with contributing factors including weather events, civil conflict, poverty, and poorly run country economics. This is a huge challenge for governments, scientists, agribusiness, NGOs, private enterprise and farmers to find innovative and constructive ways to alleviate hunger in the world.