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Can We End Global Hunger?

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According to UN reports and other food studies, still more than 800 million people in the world are suffering from hunger. Even the number has grown slowly over the last three years around the world.  With the enormous efforts of various organizations, governments and others, the hunger reduction target of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030 seems impossible to achieve. Regional statistics indicate that hunger has increased by 20% in sub-regions of Africa, which also have the highest prevalence of undernutrition. Hunger is less than 7% pervasive in Latin America and the Caribbean, but it is also growing slowly. In Asia, undernourishment affects 11% of the population, except South Asia which has seen 15%, which remains the subregion with the highest prevalence of malnutrition (Figure 1).  According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Africa has the highest prevalence of malnutrition, but as a densely populated region, Asia has the highest number of undernourished people (Figure 2).

Figure 1: Hunger map, 2021- (World Food Program
Figure 2. Share of world population undernourished, 2017

Hunger Index

How can hunger be measured in order to provide solutions? There are several indicators for measuring and tracking malnutrition. However, the most efficient method is the global hunger index (GHI), introduced by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).  The GHI tries to evaluate the multidimensional nature of hunger by combining four key indicators of undernutrition into a single score. The four indicators are;

  1. Undernourishment – undernourishment: the proportion of undernourished people as a percentage of the population (reflecting the share of the population with insufficient caloric intake)
  2. Child wasting: the proportion of children under the age of five who suffer from wasting (low weight for their height, reflecting acute undernutrition)
  3. Child stunting: the proportion of children under the age of five who suffer from stunting (low height for their age, reflecting chronic undernutrition)
  4. Child mortality: the mortality rate of children under the age of five (partially reflecting the fatal synergy of inadequate nutrition and unhealthy environments).

The index score is on the scale of 100 points and zero is the top score i.e. no hunger and 100 is the worst. A score of 50 is extremely alarming; 35-50 is alarming; 20-35 is severe, 10-20 is moderate and less than 10 is low.  According to the GHI, you can see the level of hunger in figure 3, in 2016. You’ll notice that the problem is more significant in Africa and Asia.

Figure 3. Global Hunger Index, 2016

In an attempt to overcome global hunger, researchers and others have understood that hunger is significantly linked to poverty, slow economic growth, and income inequality. In addition to the poor countries, it has noticed that increasing hunger is prominent in middle-income level countries, those relying greatly on international primary commodity trade.  Moreover, United Nations reports point to higher rates of hunger in countries where the distribution of income is considerably unequal.

This understanding can be witnessed by the impact of economic growth and poverty reduction, by overcoming hunger in the last two decades in the world. It has dramatically reduced hunger in the Central and East Asian, Latin American and Caribbean regions over the past two decades, with some economic growth. Thus, the lowing hunger can be done by addressing, poverty, economic growth and income distribution. How this can be done is not an easy question to answer. It is a complex, multi-tasking, multidimensional and long-term process that needs to be addressed separately by each country as well as a “global team”. 

According to research results, some show that food is produced adequately by farmers around the world and the problem is with distribution, storage and others. Others provide information demonstrating the importance of effective production practices and grants to farmers in developing countries. In the meantime, some argue the importance of local and regional food systems that have more value for food, rather than considering food as another “commodity” on the market. Some point out the importance of global food systems with GMOs and others to increase production to feed the world with more industrialized agriculture.  Some emphasize the importance of global food systems with GMOs and others increase production to feed the world with more industrialized agriculture. Some highlight the potential use of aquatic resources to fight hunger, since 1/3 of the planet is water.   There are many more that take into account land reclamation, water-based crop varieties, technology approaches, urban agriculture, home gardening, education and extension programs, and so on.  However, the main goal is to overcome hunger and reach food security and food sustainability for a better future for the world (Figure 4).  The more the food energy of the starving poor can deliver more services to the world

Figure 4. Food deficit per person per day, 2016

Here you see the complexity and the daunting challenge of “reducing hunger”. To “reduce hunger in the world,” the World Food Program (WFO) has defined a vision that breaks the issue down into “five steps” as follows.

  1. More protection for the most vulnerable. Expanding social protection for the poorest would raise the purchasing power of the poorest two billion, kickstarting local economies.
  1. Improve infrastructure. Ensure consumers and suppliers can more easily buy and sell, by building better roads, storage facilities and extending electrification
  2. Reduce food waste. Around one third of the food produced each year is loss or wasted, costing the global economy some $1 trillion per year
  3. Grow a wider variety of crops. Around 60 per cent of all calories consumed come from just four crops: rice, wheat corn and soy. Ensuring food access and availability in the face of climate change will require the production of a wider range of foods.
  4. Focus on child nutrition. Good health and nutrition in a child’s first 1,000 days is essential to prevent stunting and promote healthy development.

Each step is a huge challenge and with lots of work. We will discuss the importance of these steps and how they may be addressed in detail in the next article.


UN report. Retrieved from https://www.un.org/en/desa/over-820-million-people-suffering-hunger-new-un-report-reveals-stubborn-realities

Hunger and undernourishment. Retrieved from https://ourworldindata.org/hunger-and-undernourishment

Saman Janaranjana Herath
Saman Janaranjana Herath
PhD (NRE). MBA (Fin). Associate Professor, University of Mount Olive, North Carolina, USA. Writer,


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