With less than two years to go to meet the Millennium Development Goals, how has the world done on its goal of halving hunger? According to the IFPRI 2013 Global Food Policy Report, released this week, much work remains. While the number of chronically hungry people has declined from 1 billion to around 842 million over the last 30 years, this number is still unacceptably high. One in eight people around the world suffers from hunger on a daily basis. And an even bigger challenge takes the shape of a more silent hunger: micronutrient deficiency, or undernutrition, meaning a lack of essential nutrients (like vitamin A and zinc) that people need to thrive and lead healthy, productive lives. The eradication of both hunger and undernutrition by 2015 is unlikely, and so it will be necessary to include these issues in the post-2015 agenda along with the larger goal of eliminating extreme poverty.

Global food prices in 2013 were relatively stable compared to previous years. As our Excessive Food Price Variability Early Warning System shows, the price of staple foods such as wheat, maize, soybeans, and rice saw minimal volatility over the past year. However, the country-level situation looks quite different. India and China, countries with a large share of the world's undernourished people, both saw significant food price increases in 2013, particularly for nutrient-dense foods such as fruits and vegetables. This disparity between global and country-level trends draws attention to the fact that, in order to truly address hunger and undernutrition, the development agenda needs to take a more country-specific approach.

Luckily, the report points out, several countries are already leading the way, providing important lessons and guidelines. China and Vietnam have made significant headway in reducing hunger and undernutrition in recent years (China's rates of undernourishment have dropped from 23 to 11 percent since 1990), while Brazil and Thailand have virtually eliminated hunger. These success stories suggest that zero hunger and undernutrition by 2025 could be a realistic goal. The report looks at these countries' experiences in-depth and comes up with some of the most crucial lessons learned.

Most importantly, eradicating hunger and undernutrition (and, by extension, extreme poverty) will require a combination of approaches focusing on agriculture, social safety nets, and nutrition. Agricultural growth helps both producers and consumers by increasing the supply of nutritious and high-value crops, leading to higher incomes for farmers, lower prices for consumers, and increased access to more nutritious food for all. In many developing countries, the agricultural sector is dominated by small farmers, so designing growth strategies that focus on this population can go a long way toward reducing hunger and undernutrition in the country as a whole.

As Brazil's experience shows, agricultural growth is not enough: societies also need effective, inclusive safety nets, such as Brazil's conditional cash transfer program, to protect them from shocks and help them build assets and a properly functioning economy. To be successful, these social protection programs need to be clear, well-targeted, and transparent.

Finally, policies should also focus on improving nutrition, not just increasing caloric intake. Thailand was one of the first countries to expand its focus to include nutrition, targeting nutritious food supplements for undernourished populations beginning in the 1980s. Thailand's experience shows that the success of nutrition-specific programs depends in large part on delivery. By combining nutrition interventions with larger platforms, such as early childhood development and women's empowerment programs, policymakers can ensure wider reach and uptake.

Ending hunger and undernutrition by 2025 is possible. But to reach that goal, it will be necessary to learn from these and other success stories, and to more effectively and transparently share knowledge and ideas about what works and what doesn't.

Read the full 2013 Global Food Policy Report and watch video of the launch seminar from March 12.

Post new comment
The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.