LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The Millennium Development Goal to halve the proportion of hungry people in the world is "within reach" but only if considerable extra effort is made immediately, U.N. food agencies said on Tuesday.
The number of people suffering from chronic hunger - who do not get enough food to lead an active, healthy life - fell to around 842 million in 2011-13, or roughly one in eight, down from 868 million for the 2010-12 period, said an annual U.N. report on food insecurity.
"While the estimated number of undernourished people has continued to decrease, the rate of progress appears insufficient to reach international goals for hunger reduction," noted the report issued by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP).
There are two main global targets for cutting hunger: the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) to reduce by half the percentage of the world's hungry people by 2015, and a target set by the World Food Summit (WFS) in 1996, to halve the number of hungry people by 2015. Both have a starting point of 1990.
The report said the WFS target is the more ambitious goal, due to high rates of population growth in many hunger-hit countries, so progress on this for developing regions as a whole is far slower than on the MDG.
In a foreword to the report, the heads of the FAO, IFAD and WFP said the MDG could be achieved. "With a final push in the next couple of years, we can still reach it," they wrote.
RUSH TO MEET MDG
The report calculates that undernourishment in developing regions was around 24 percent of the population in 1990 to 1992, implying an MDG target of 12 percent. If the average annual decline over the past 21 years continues to 2015, the prevalence of undernourishment in developing regions would be 13 percent, close to but slightly above the MDG target, it noted.
"Nevertheless, the target can be met, provided that additional efforts to reduce hunger are brought underway, both to address immediate needs and to sustain longer-term progress," it said. "As the target year is fast approaching, there is a need for programmes that deliver quick results.”
It gave cash transfers and food voucher schemes as examples of social protection programmes that could help alleviate hunger, while urging governments to invest in agriculture to boost food security.
According to FAO, 62 countries have now reached the target of halving the proportion of people suffering from hunger by 2015, and an additional six countries are on track to reach it by 2015.
Meeting the WFS target would require reducing the number of hungry people in developing regions to 498 million by 2015, a goal that is "out of reach at the global level", the report noted, although 22 countries have already got there.
TARGETING THE MOST VULNERABLE
The report underlined that progress in fighting hunger is uneven across regions. Sub-Saharan Africa remains the region with the highest prevalence of undernourishment, with one in four people estimated to be hungry.
There has been no recent progress in Western Asia, while South Asia and North Africa made slow progress. There have been bigger reductions in both the number of hungry and prevalence of undernourishment in most countries in East Asia, Southeast Asia and Latin America, the report added.
One factor that has helped reduce hunger across the globe includes economic growth in developing countries, which has boosted incomes and access to food. A recent pickup in agricultural productivity, supported by rising investment in farming, has improved food availability, the report said.
In some countries, remittances from migrants are playing a role in reducing poverty, leading to better diets and food security, as well as enabling investments by smallholder farmers.
But the report argued that economic and other policies must target the poor, especially in rural areas. "Hunger and poverty reduction will only be achieved with growth that is not only sustained, but also broadly shared," it said.
The FAO also presented a new suite of indicators for every country that capture the different dimensions of food insecurity and give a more nuanced picture of hunger. Even if a country has a low level of hunger, malnutrition rates can still be quite high among children, for example.
"In such circumstances, policy interventions to improve food security need to include nutrition-sensitive interventions in agriculture and the food system as a whole, as well as in public health and education, especially of women," the U.N. agency heads wrote. "Nutrition-focused social protection may need to target the most vulnerable, including pregnant women, adolescent girls and children."