Fostering inclusive growth means investing in agriculture to pay dividends in poverty reduction (IFAD)

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Less Hunger, But Not Good Enough

By José Graziano da Silva, Kanayo Nwanze, and Ertharin Cousin

Every year, we take a snapshot of world progress in the fight against chronic hunger. This year, the picture is looking better, but it’s still not good enough.

Some 842 million people are estimated to have been suffering from chronic hunger in 2011-2013, according to The State of Food Insecurity in the World, a report released jointly by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP).

This figure is down from 868 million during 2010-2012, and represents a decline of 17 percent since 1990-1992. Significant as this progress may be, it cannot disguise the harsh reality: roughly one person in eight suffers from hunger.

The vast majority of undernourished people, 827 million, live in developing countries, while 16 million live in developed countries. It is unacceptable that in a world of plenty, hundreds of millions of people are denied their most basic right to freedom from hunger. The only acceptable number is zero.

One of the hard truths underscored by the report is that, despite overall progress made in hunger reduction, marked differences persist across regions, with many countries left far behind. Sub-Saharan Africa has made modest progress in recent years, but remains the region with the highest prevalence of undernourishment (24.8 percent).

Western Asia has seen no discernible improvement, while Southern Asia and Northern Africa have registered slow progress. Eastern Asia, Southeastern Asia and Latin America, on the other hand, have seen greater relief from the grind of extreme hunger, with significant reductions in both the number and the proportion of hungry people.

Food security depends on a host of factors. While food availability is important, it is equitable economic growth and access to employment for the poor that enhance access to nutritious food. The report shows that transport, communication, safe water, sanitation, and appropriate healthcare and feeding practices are also crucial for reducing chronic hunger and undernutrition.

Given that 75 percent of the world’s poorest people live in rural areas and mainly depend on agriculture for their livelihoods, fostering inclusive growth means investing in agriculture. And this investment has been shown to pay dividends in poverty reduction.


Author: Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.