Understanding the structural and underlying causes of food insecurity and malnutrition is required to identify and prioritize actions to promote food security and nutrition and the right to adequate food for all people. An indicative, non-exhaustive list of factors that may contribute to hunger and malnutrition has been compiled from a wide variety of sources and is provided below. This list, and the next in section 2, has been compiled from a wide variety of sources, including inputs from stakeholders during the global online consultation and the regional conference discussions.

a) Governance

  1. Inadequate governance structures to ensure institutional stability, transparency, accountability and rule of law and non-discrimination, which lead to taking of efficient decisions and underpin access to food and higher living standards;
  2. War, conflict and lack of security that play a major role in deepening hunger and food insecurity; in fragile states, conflict, political instability and weak institutions intensify food insecurity;
  3. Inadequate high-level political commitment and prioritization of the fight against hunger and malnutrition, including failure to fully implement past pledges and commitments and insufficient accountability;
  4. Inadequate coherence in policy-making and prioritization of policies, plans, programmes and funding to tackle hunger, malnutrition and food insecurity, focusing in particular on the most vulnerable and food insecure populations;
  5. Inadequate state services in rural areas and involvement by representatives of communities in decision-making processes affecting their livelihoods;
  6. Fragmented cooperation and financing, dispersion of assistance in large numbers of projects that lack scale to make significant impact and add to high administration costs.


b) Economic and production issues

  1. Poverty and inadequate access to food, often resulting from high unemployment and not enough decent work; inadequate social protection systems; unequal distribution of productive resources such as land, water, credit and knowledge; insufficient purchasing power for low-waged workers and the rural and urban poor; and low productivity of resources;
  2. Inadequate growth in agricultural production;
  3. Lack of an open, non-discriminatory, equitable, distortion-free, transparent multilateral trading system that promotes agriculture and rural development in developing countries could contribute to world food insecurity;
  4. Continuing insecurity of land tenure and access to land, water and other natural resources, particularly for women farmers;
  5. Insufficient international and national investment in the agricultural sector and rural infrastructure, particularly for small-scale food producers;
  6. Insufficient access by producers to relevant technologies, inputs and institutions;
  7. Insufficient focus on livestock production in agricultural systems;
  8. Inadequate infrastructure to reduce post-harvest losses as well as to provide access to markets;
  9. High levels of food waste;
  10. Lack of comprehensive technical assistance for food producers.


c) Demographic and social issues

  1. Insufficient attention paid to the role and contribution of women and their special vulnerabilities in regard to malnutrition, and the many forms of legal and cultural discrimination they suffer; this includes the particular nutritional vulnerabilities of women and children that are often not adequately addressed.
  2. Demographic changes: population growth, urbanization and rural-urban migration; rural employment and lack of opportunities for diversification of livelihoods; and growing inequalities between population groups within countrie
  3. Inadequate effective social protection systems, including safety nets;
  4. Marginalization and discrimination against vulnerable groups such as indigenous peoples, internally displaced persons or refugees, and social and cultural exclusion experienced by most of the victims of food insecurity and malnutrition;
  5. The social determinants of malnutrition, including access to safe water and sanitation, maternal and child care, and quality health care;
  6. Prevention and treatment of pests and diseases related to food and nutrition insecurity: the inappropriate consumption and over-consumption of food, often with a lack of essential micronutrients, can cause serious problems to health, including malnutrition and obesity;
  7. Low levels of education and literacy impacting malnutrition, including detrimental feeding/behavioural practices;
  8. Inadequate support dedicated to protecting best practices of infant and early childhood feeding.

d) Climate/Environment

  1. Inadequate disaster preparedness and response is a factor contributing to hunger, which affects all dimensions of food security. The food insecure, many of whom live in marginal areas, are disproportionately exposed to natural hazards and are the least able to cope with its effects;
  2. Degradation of ecosystems and depletion of natural resources, especially biodiversity
  3. The impact of climate change on agriculture, including land degradation, increasing uncertainty about crop yields and the intensification of floods and droughts; and also its effects on the most vulnerable;
  4. Unsustainable use of natural resources;
  5. Inadequate attention to sustainable fisheries and forestry management and conservation as a factor in preserving their contribution to food security.


Results achieved over several decades show that both the prevalence of undernourishment and the number of undernourished has declined. The prevalence of undernourishment has declined at global level from 18.6% in the period 1990-92 to 10.9% in 2014-2016 while in developing countries from 23.3% to 12.9% during the same period meaning that developing regions as a whole have almost reached the MDG 1c hunger target.

However, the rate of reduction of the number of undernourished is lower than that of the prevalence of undernourishment. The number of undernourished in developing countries has decreased from 990.7 million in the period 1990-92 to 779.9 million in 2014-2016 which is far from the World Food Summit (WFS) target to reduce the number to 515 million by 2015. This highlights the need for a more effective focus by all actors on the most pressing challenges, a process the GSF is designed to support. All stakeholders need to draw on lessons learned and glean insights that may be taken into account in devising more effective strategies for food security and nutrition. The lessons include, but are not confined to: .

  1. Development programmes must be country-owned and country-led;
  2. Effective systems of governance are needed at country level, involving stakeholders at all levels, and including efficient, accountable and transparent institutions and structures and decision-making processes to ensure peace and the rule of law, which are essential elements of a conducive business environment;
  3. The participation of women as key actors in agriculture must be assured, considering their potential contribution to production of the food consumed developing countries, while ending the discrimination they experience in being denied access to productive assets, knowledge through extension services, and financial services, which results in reduced productivity and greater poverty;
  4. The need to prevent the intergenerational transmission of hunger and malnutrition, including through education and promotion of literacy among women and girls;
  5. The need to intensify combating illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing at national, regional and global levels;
  6. The need to reduce high levels of post-harvest losses and food waste through investment in improving rural infrastructure, including communications, transport, storage, energy efficiency, and waste recycling along the value chain; and reducing consumer food waste;
  7. The quality, safety and diversity of food consumed is important, as well as the calorie content;
  8. Ensuring access to food for to the poor and vulnerable at all times requires targeted and well-formulated social protection programmes and safety nets;
  9. All appropriate stakeholders, in particular small-scale food producers and local communities, must be closely involved in the design, planning and implementation of programmes and projects, including research programmes;
  10. The importance of increased as well as responsible private-sector investment in agriculture as an economic activity, and particularly the role of small-scale food producers as investors, needs to be recognized and promoted;
  11. To reverse the decline in growth of agricultural productivity while avoiding negative impacts on environmental sustainability, there is a need for technology development and transfer; public- and private-sector research and development; and extension services;
  12. Sound management of ecosystems and natural resources as well as agro-ecological practices have proved to be important in improving agricultural sustainability as well as the incomes of food producers and their resilience in the face of climate change (e.g. The Economics of Conservation Agriculture, FAO 2001);
  13. The importance of local knowledge in promoting food security, particularly as the latter is influenced by the capacity to manage natural assets and biodiversity and to adapt to the localized impact of climate change.


Looking ahead, a number of emerging challenges in food security and nutrition will need to be addressed. These include, in particular:

  • Meeting the food and nutritional needs of growing urban and rural populations, with changing dietary preferences;
  • Increasing sustainable agricultural production and productivity;  
  • Enhancing resilience to climate change;
  • Finding sustainable solutions to the increasing competition for natural resources.