(Jose Graziano da Silva is the director-general of the U.N's
Food and Agriculture Organisation. The views expressed in this
article are those of the author and should not be seen as
representing the views of Reuters News.)
The global number of chronically hungry people has declined
by 130 million since 1990, falling from a little over one
billion people to 868 million - 852 million of them in
Progress was made not only in terms of overall numbers, but
also in the proportion of the population who are undernourished.
This has dropped globally from 18.6 percent in 1990 to the
current level of 12.5 percent, and from 23.2 percent to 14.9
percent in developing countries.
That is better news than we have had in the past, but it
still means that one person in every eight goes hungry. That is
unacceptable, especially when we live in a world of plenty.
Particularly appalling is the situation in Africa, where the
number of hungry has gone up in the last 20 years - from 175
million in 1990 to 239 million.
These figures are included in this year's The State of Food
Insecurity in the World (SOFI) -- the world hunger report
published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United
Nations, the International Fund for Agricultural Development and
the World Food Programme. In this edition, SOFI uses better data
and an improved methodology, developed with the help of experts
from around the world to estimate hunger.
The figures show that most of the progress in hunger
reduction was made until 2006, as food price levels continued to
decline. With the rise in food prices and the economic crisis
that followed, there have been many fewer advances.
This slowdown in the pace of hunger reduction confirms that,
in a world with sufficient food for everyone, the main cause of
hunger is a lack of access: Worldwide, millions of people are
unable to buy the food they need to survive!
With the benefit of hindsight, we now know that the combined
effects of the international food-price spikes in 2007-2008 and
the subsequent economic crisis were not as great as was feared
at the time.
The spikes in world food prices were apparently mitigated by
coping responses from governments and households, and the spread
of the economic slowdown to developing countries was slower than
However, higher food prices can have other consequences for
poor families, as they may switch to higher-energy, but less
nutritious, foods to maintain their caloric intake.
In the present context of uncertain economic growth in
addition to higher and more volatile food prices, reinvigorating
broad-based economic growth will be crucial to making further
progress towards the MDG hunger target.
It will depend on whether we can enable the two billion
people who earn their living from agriculture, and who account
for most of the poor in the world, to benefit from rural growth.
Let's not forget that high agricultural prices can be an
opportunity for poor farmers, provided conditions allow them to
seize that opportunity.
This involves, inter alia, creating the conditions for
development of the productive sectors, especially smallholder
agriculture; ensuring equitable access to resources for the poor
and for women in particular; building resilience in poor rural
families; and designing, financing and implementing social
protection for the most vulnerable.
Improved governance - based on transparency, participation,
accountability, rule of law and human rights - is also
Among other priorities, we must reduce the huge amount of
food lost or wasted every year - estimated at around a third of
We must also start paying more attention not only to the
quantity of food available to people, but also to its quality.
Increasingly, the world is faced with a double burden of
malnutrition, a cruel caricature of inequality in the world
today. Chronic undernourishment co-exists with micro nutrient
malnutrition, which affects well over 1.4 billion adults
worldwide, with all that it implies in terms of diet-related
diseases, such as obesity.
Even if we halve the world's hungry by 2015, what do we say
to the other half? We need to start looking beyond the MDGs and
towards the total eradication of hunger, answering the call made
by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in his "Zero Hunger
Challenge" at the Rio+20 Summit. It links the achievement of
food security to the elimination of childhood stunting through
sustainable production and increased small-scale productivity.
Bold goals are needed so that society as a whole can embrace
this cause, supporting and pushing governments to transform
political will into action on a broad enough scale to eradicate
With hunger, the only acceptable number is "zero".
(Editing by Keiron Henderson)