Displaced children residing at the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) Tomping Protection of Civilians Site in Juba roast ears of corn.

After decades of steady decline, world hunger has slowly been on the rise since 2015. An estimated 821 million people in the world suffered from hunger in 2018. If nothing changes, the immense challenge of achieving the Zero Hunger Target by 2030 will not be achieved. At the same time, overweight and obesity continue to increase in all regions of the world, according to The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2019.

How swiftly the world market for food can change could be observed in the mid-2000s. For two decades, leading up to the millennium, global demand for food had increased steadily, along with growth in the world’s population, record harvests, new technologies, improvements in incomes, and the diversification of diets. Food prices continued to decline through 2000. However, in 2004, prices for most grains began to rise. Rising production could not keep pace with the even stronger growth in demand. Food stocks became depleted. And then, in 2005, food supply was squeezed by disappointing harvests in major food-producing countries. By 2006, world cereal production had fallen by 2.1 per cent. In 2007, rapid increases in oil prices increased fertilizer and other food production costs.

As international food prices reached unprecedented levels, countries sought ways to insulate themselves from potential food shortages and price shocks. Several food-exporting countries imposed export restrictions. Certain key importers began purchasing grains at any price to maintain domestic supplies. However, it also became evident that the global economic crisis in 2008 and 2009 undermined food security in many countries. Hunger has increased in many countries in which the economy has slowed down or contracted, mostly in middle-income countries, as the report The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2019 shows.


High Level Task Force on Global Food and Nutrition Security

The dramatic rise of global food prices and the crisis led the United Nations (UN) Chief Executives Board in April 2008 to establish a High-Level Task Force on the Global Food Security Crisis. Composed of 23 key members of the UN system, it was chaired by former Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. The primary aim of the Task Force was to promote a comprehensive and unified response of the international community to the challenge of achieving global food and nutrition security.

Progress continues in the fight against hunger, yet an unacceptably large number of people still do not have enough food for an active and healthy life.


Hunger in numbers

The latest available estimates indicate that about 821 million people in the world were undernourished in 2018. One in nine people do not get enough food to be healthy and lead an active life. Hunger and malnutrition are biggest risks to health worldwide — greater than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. Considering all people in the world affected by moderate levels of food insecurity together with those who suffer from hunger, it is estimated that over 2 billion people do not have regular access to safe, nutritious and sufficient food, including 8 per cent of the population in North America and Europe.

Africa is the region with the highest prevalence of undernourishment, at almost 20 percent. Hunger is also slowly rising in Latin America and the Caribbean, although its prevalence is still below 7 percent. In Asia, Western Asia shows a continuous increase since 2010, with more than 12 percent of its population undernourished.


The Millennium Development Goals and food

In 2000, world leaders gathered at the UN to shape a broad vision to fight poverty, which was translated into eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and remained, until 2015, the overarching development framework for the world. The global mobilization behind the Millennium Development Goals has produced the most successful anti-poverty movement in history. The MDG target of reducing by half the proportion of people living in extreme poverty was achieved in 2010, well ahead of the 2015 deadline. The proportion of undernourished people in the developing regions fell by almost half. However, a lot more work needs to be done. That work is now the focus of the Sustainable Development Goals.





Zero Hunger challenge

The United Nations Secretary-General launched the Zero Hunger Challenge in 2012 during the Rio+20 World Conference on Sustainable Development. The Zero Hunger Challenge was launched to inspire a global movement towards a world free from hunger within a generation. It calls for:

  • Zero stunted children under the age of two
  • 100% access to adequate food all year round
  • All food systems are sustainable
  • 100% increase in smallholder productivity and income
  • Zero loss or waste of food


Food and the SDGs

Food is at the core of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the UN's development agenda for the 21st century. The second of the UN's 17 SDGs is to "End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture." Achieving this goal by the target date of 2030 will require a profound change of the global food and agriculture system. Some of the components of this goal are:

  • Ending hunger, and ensuring access by all people to safe, nutritious food;
  • Ending all forms of malnutrition;
  • Doubling the agricultural productivity and incomes of small-scale food producers;
  • Ensuring sustainable food production systems;
  • Increasing investment in agriculture;
  • Correcting and preventing trade restrictions and distortions in world agricultural markets;
  • Adopting measures to ensure the proper functioning of food commodity markets.

UN agencies working for food security

World Food Programme

The World Food Programme (WFP), aims to bring food assistance to more than 80 million people in 80 countries and is continually responding to emergencies. But WFP also works to help prevent hunger in the future. They do this through programmes that use food to build assets, spread knowledge and nurture stronger, more dynamic communities. This helps communities become more food secure.

World Bank

Investment in agriculture and rural development to boost food production and nutrition is a priority for the World Bank Group. The World Bank Group works with partners to improve food security and build a food system that can feed everyone, everywhere, every day. Activities include encouraging climate-smart farming techniques and restoring degraded farmland, breeding more resilient and nutritious crops and improving storage and supply chains for reducing food losses.

The Food and Agriculture Organization

Achieving food security for all is at the heart of the efforts of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Its main purpose is to make sure people have regular access to enough high-quality food to lead active, healthy lives. Its three main goals: the eradication of hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition; the elimination of poverty and the driving forward of economic and social progress for all; and, the sustainable management and utilization of natural resources, including land, water, air, climate and genetic resources for the benefit of present and future generations. FAO also issues the food price index, which is a measure of the monthly change in international prices of a basket of food commodities.

International Fund for Agricultural Development

The International  Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) has focused exclusively on rural poverty reduction, working with poor rural populations in developing countries to eliminate poverty, hunger and malnutrition, raise their productivity and incomes, and improve the quality of their lives. All IFAD-funded programmes and projects address food and nutrition security in some way. IFAD has supported about 483 million poor rural people over the past four decades.


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