Almost 870 million people – one in eight – are chronically undernourished, according to the latest State of Food Insecurity in the World report, published by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the International Fund for Agricultural Development and the World Food Programme.
The report, released Tuesday, found that 852 million out of the 870 million hungry live in developing countries. Though the global number of hungry people declined by 132 million between 1990 and 2012, the FAO reports that progress toward reducing hunger has slowed since 2008.
"In today's world of unprecedented technical and economic opportunities, we find it entirely unacceptable that more than 100 million children under five are underweight, and therefore unable to realize their full human and socio-economic potential, and that childhood malnutrition is a cause of death for more than 2.5 million children every year," say José Graziano da Silva, Kanayo F. Nwanze and Ertharin Cousin, respectively the Heads of FAO, IFAD and WFP, in a foreword to the report.
They noted that additional efforts are needed to reduce global hunger.
"The recovery of the world economy from the recent global financial crisis remains fragile. We nonetheless appeal to the international community to make extra efforts to assist the poorest in realizing their basic human right to adequate food. The world has the knowledge and the means to eliminate all forms of food insecurity and malnutrition," they add.
The report outlines a multi-faceted approach to reducing hunger, including agricultural and economic growth. Because most of the poor rely on agriculture in developing countries, improving smallholder and women-operated enterprises has promise for reducing hunger and generating employment.
Report authors called on governments to work toward integrating smallholders into markets.
"Governments can provide further significant support to smallholder development by, for example, ensuring high quality agricultural research is clearly targeted towards smallholder and consumer needs, where possible in partnership with the private sector. Government extension services will need to focus more on production, but also on marketing and food safety," the report notes.
Not only does the amount of food produced need to change, quality is also a priority. The world is increasingly faced with a double burden of malnutrition, with chronic undernourishment and micronutrient malnutrition co-existing with obesity and related non-communicable diseases.
To date, the linkage between economic growth and better nutrition has been weak, the report says, arguing for an integrated agriculture-nutrition-health framework.
Growth is important, the report finds, but it is not always sufficient, or rapid enough. Hence, social protection systems are needed to ensure that the most vulnerable are not left behind and can also participate in, contribute to and benefit from growth.
Measures such as cash transfers, food vouchers or health insurance are needed for the most vulnerable who often cannot take immediate advantage of growth opportunities. Social protection also can improve nutrition for young children.
Report authors say such measures can complement inclusive economic growth and minimize hunger and malnutrition.
Read full text of the report here.