SEATTLE – In 2015, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution to transform the world. The 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda is a global action plan comprised of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 targets. Goal two of the SDGs focuses on world hunger cases and malnutrition eradication by 2030.
Last year, a report from the U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres highlighted international progress on the SDGs. The good news is that headway has been made over the last 15 years; since the early 2000s, world hunger cases fell by 4 percent.
What is world hunger?
The World Hunger Education Service defines world hunger as the global aggregate of national want or scarcity of food. More specifically, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) defines hunger as chronic undernourishment, a condition of dietary energy insufficiency for a period of one year.
On a larger scale, undernourishment — which may be a byproduct or initiator of regional instability — creates food insecurity. The FAO defines food insecurity as “a situation that exists when people lack secure access to sufficient amounts of safe and nutritious food for normal growth and development and an active and healthy life.”
Two medical expressions describe the effects of world hunger: protein-energy malnutrition (PEM) and macro-micro nutrient deficiency. The former causes stunted growth, marasmus and Kwashiorkor. The latter is responsible for Type 1 and 2 nutrient deficiency diseases such as scurvy, beriberi and xerophthalmia.
How many people are hungry?
There is no individual headcount figure to cite, given the high costs and numerous variables associated with household surveys and daily energy requirements per person around the world. However, according to the 2015 edition of the FAO State of Food and Agriculture report and the 2016 Global Hunger Index, approximately 795 million people suffer from chronic undernourishment. Additionally, 8 percent of children suffer from marasmus and roughly 159 million youth (one in four) have stunted growth.
Why are people still hungry?
The major culprits behind world hunger cases are socioeconomic inequalities and poverty; these elements create a vicious cycle of anguish. According to the 2016 U.N. secretary-general report, “The persistence of hunger is no longer simply a matter of food availability. More and better data on access to food can enable the tracking of progress and guide interventions to fight food insecurity and malnutrition.”
While agricultural production statistics are high, numerous variables affect the delivery, availability and quality of food. Burgeoning cities and expanding municipalities increase consumer demands for luxury foods and imported products, given larger incomes and heightened social preferences. Coupled with inappropriate distribution, inadequate water sources, poor sanitation accommodations, lack of healthcare access and education facilities in developing nations, chronic undernourishment remains problematic.
Moreover, while there are copious amounts of grain in certain geographies, adequate amounts of protein may not be readily available. Furthermore, a person’s general health and wellbeing factor into the discussion. If an individual is too ill to fully utilize consumed nutrients, hunger and illness persist. Lastly, if food quality is devoid of crucial vitamins, individuals remain entrenched in a cycle of distress.
It is also important to consider the energy requirements, physical space demands and environmental conditions necessary to cultivate large crops and livestock. The demands placed on the planet’s resources carry considerable long-term consequences. In the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), an estimated 34-600 million people may suffer from hunger by 2080 due to various socioeconomic conditions, population growth and climate change. With world hunger cases expected to rise, innovative solutions are needed to improve food security around the globe.
According to the 2016 FAO State of Food Insecurity in the World report, “there is no simple ‘technological fix’. What is needed is a reorientation of agricultural and rural development policies that resets incentives and lowers the barriers to the transformation of food and agricultural systems.”
In order to reduce world hunger cases, structural agricultural industry improvements are needed. These include sustainable production systems, innovative farming technologies, additional financial investments in low-income farms, increased government spending, foreign aid allotments, elimination of agricultural export subsidies, improved competition and comprehensive research studies. Moreover, the adoption of agroecological principles such as increased water efficiency in irrigation systems and the use of nitrogen-efficient crop varieties should improve global food production.
Genetic diversity in livestock and plants is also needed for resilient crops and high yields. The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture ensures progressive policy development and resource management strategy creation from scientists and breeders across the globe. Notably, the sustainable use of wild crops, plant varieties and livestock breeds will help drive down world hunger cases.
The FAO 2016 report states “Decisions taken today will determine the kind of world we will live in 15 years from now, and beyond.” Unless significant policy shifts and industry modifications are made, the 2030 target is a forgone conclusion.
– JG Federman