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FAO’s new statistics of chronic undernourishment

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Copyright: Chris Stowers / Panos

UN stands firm in face of hunger stats accusation

“The model used was based on the wrong presumption that everybody was facing food prices as high as those of international traded food commodities” – Carlo Cafiero, FAO

by Tania Rabesandratana

Critics say change downplays undernourishment, but FAO maintains its new method better reflects reality. - http://www.scidev.net/filemanager/root/site_assets/hunger_facts.jpg
Critics say change downplays undernourishment, but FAO maintains its new method better reflects reality. – http://www.scidev.net/filemanager/root/site_assets/hunger_facts.jpg

Speed read

  • FAO changed methodology to better reflect reality after food price spikes
  • But academics fear that this downplays chronic undernourishment
  • Extra hunger indicators would improve measurement of SDG progress

The UN is defending its decision to revise how it measures chronic hunger, saying the change was needed to better reflect reality.

The revision has come under fire from academics, one of whom says the resulting statistics paint a “much-too-rosy trend picture”.

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) changed how it measures hunger in 2012. The previous method was tied to international food prices, which skyrocketed between 2008 and 2010, and showed hunger spikes that the FAO says did not reflect real life. The new method includes estimates of food production, trade, waste and distribution.
“The model used was based on the wrong presumption that everybody was facing food prices as high as those of international traded food commodities,” says Carlo Cafiero, an FAO statistician. He says the method failed to take into account government policies such as stopping food exports to protect consumers from soaring food prices.

Using the new method, the data shows hunger steadily falling over the past 25 years (see graph below). But not everyone buys the FAO’s conclusion that the proportion of hungry people has dropped by 21 per cent since the early 1990s, despite 1.9 billion extra people now living on the planet.

“The FAO’s new methodology vastly understates the number of chronically undernourished populations and people,” writes Thomas Pogge, a philosopher at Yale University in the United States, in a World Nutrition editorial published last month. His article is the latest in a series of criticisms levelled at the FAO’s method.

Pogge calls the FAO estimates “primitive” and “much-too-rosy”.

Read the full article: SciDevNet

Published by

Willem Van Cotthem

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