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2.2.3 Food security outcomes

Higher per capita food consumption in the future, but with significant exceptions. By 2015, and even more by 2030, the key variable used to track developments in food security - per capita food consumption as defined above - will have grown significantly. The world average will be approaching 3000 kcal/person/day in 2015 and will exceed 3000 by 2030 (Table 2.1). These changes in world averages will reflect above all the rising consumption of the developing countries, whose average will have risen from 2680 kcal in 1997/99 to 2850 kcal in 2015 and close to 3000 in 2030. More and more people will be living in countries with medium to high levels of per capita food consumption. For example, by 2015 81 percent of the world population will be living in countries with values of this variable exceeding 2700 kcal/ person/day, up from 61 percent at present and 33 percent in the mid-1970s. Those living in countries with over 3000 kcal will be 48 percent of the world population in 2015 and 53 percent in 2030, up from 42 percent at present (Table 2.2).

These gains notwithstanding, there will still be several countries in which the per capita food consumption will not increase to levels allowing significant reductions in the numbers undernourished from the very high levels currently prevailing (see below). As shown in Table 2.2, in 2015 6 percent of the world population (462 million people) will still be living in countries with very low levels of food consumption (under 2 200 kcal). As discussed earlier (Box 2.1), in these countries a good part of the population is undernourished almost by definition. At the regional level, in 2015 sub-Saharan Africa will still have medium-low levels of per capita consumption, 2360 kcal/ person/day. The disparity between sub-Saharan Africa and the other regions is even more pronounced if Nigeria is excluded from the regional total (but see Box 2.2), in which case the kcal of the rest of the region will only be 2230 in 2015. Of the 15 countries still remaining in 2015 in the under 2 200 kcal range (Table 2.2), 12 will be in sub-Saharan Africa. Of the 30 countries in the next range of kcal (2200-2500), 17 will be in this region.

Modest reductions in the numbers undernourished. The relatively high average consumption levels of the developing countries projected for 2015 and 2030 could lead one to expect that the problem of undernourishment will be solved or well on its way to solution, in the sense that the numbers undernourished should show significant declines. This would be the corollary of what was said earlier about the importance of the per capita food consumption as the major variable that is a close correlate of the level of undernourishment. Yet the estimates presented in Table 2.3 show that reductions will be rather modest; the 776 million of 1997/99 (17 percent of the population) may become 610 million in 2015 (11 percent) and 440 million by 2030 (6 percent). For developing countries as a whole, we may have to wait until 2030 before the numbers of undernourished are reduced to nearly the target set for 2015 by the WFS, i.e. one half of the 815 million estimated for the base period of 1990/92.

These findings indicate that achieving significant declines in the incidence of undernourishment may prove to be more arduous than commonly thought. A combination of higher national average food consumption and reduced inequality (see below for assumptions) can have a significant impact on the proportion of the population undernourished. However, when population growth is added in, such gains do not necessarily translate into commensurate declines in the absolute numbers, because the population of the developing countries will have grown from 4.55 billion in 1997/99 to 5.8 billion in 2015 and 6.84 billion in 2030.

The numbers of undernourished are expected to remain nearly constant in sub-Saharan Africa, even by 2030. This is no doubt an improvement over the historical trend of nearly stagnant food consumption per capita in the region and, by implication, rising undernourishment. It is, however, far from what is needed to meet the WFS target of reducing the numbers by half by no later than 2015. In contrast, rather significant reductions are expected for both South and East Asia, the two regions that contain the bulk of the world's undernourished population. East Asia is expected to have halved undernourishment by 2015 (it had already reduced it by 30 percent in the period 1990/92-1997/99) and South Asia could achieve this target towards the later part of the period 2015-30.

In order to appreciate why these prospects emerge, let us recall briefly that future estimates are generated by applying the same method used for estimating present undernourishment. The only difference is that we use the future values for those variables for each country that we project, or can assume, to be different from the present ones. As noted (Box 2.1), the variables which, in our method, determine the numbers undernourished are the following:

Box 2.4 Inequality of access to food and incidence of undernourishment: assumptions about the future

As noted in the text, in deriving future levels of undernourishment from the projected per capita food consumption levels, the assumption is made that countries will have less inequality in the future, if World Bank projections of reduced poverty incidence come about. The measure of inequality (the CV, see Box 2.1) applied in the projections is derived by assuming that the standard deviation (SD, see Box 2.1 for an explanation) will be the same in the future as in 1997/99 in the different countries even as their national average kcal rise, subject to the CV not falling below 0.20. In plain words, this means the following: a country which in 1997/99 had a CV of 0.3 and kcal 2500, had an SD of 750 kcal and 16.5 percent of its population undernourished (assuming its undernourishment threshold is 1800 kcal). In the future, its average kcal rises to 2700. If the CV remained at 0.30, undernourishment would fall to 10.9 percent of the projected population. With our assumption (SD constant at 750 kcal), the CV falls to 0.278 and undernourishment falls to 8.8 percent of projected population.

Reductions in inequality have small effects on the incidence of undernourishment when average kcal are very low (e.g. under 2 000). This is so because at that level most of the population is under the undernourishment threshold to start with. The scope of raising many of them above the threshold by redistributing the«surplus» of those above it is limited. Naturally, in no way does this imply that in such countries reduction of inequality has no beneficial effects on the undernourished. It does raise consumption, but not by as much as needed to bring them above the undernourishment threshold. Likewise, the effect is also small when the average kcal is very high, e.g. over 3000, because at that level the percentage of the population undernourished is already small. The highest beneficial impact from reducing inequality is to be had in the countries in the middle range of per capita food consumption, 2300-2600 kcal. These effects are traced in graphic form in Figure 2.4. The vertical distance between the curves shows how far undernourishment (percentage of population) changes when shifting from high to low inequality or vice versa.

One factor making for the slow decline in the numbers of undernourished is the gradual rise in the threshold (cut-off level) for classifying a person as undernourished. As noted, this rise is caused by the ageing of the population. The (simple arithmetic) average threshold of the developing countries rises from 1835 kcal in 1997/99 to 1882 kcal (2.6 percent) in 2030. This rise has important implications for the future incidence of undernourishment in countries with low average food consumption. It implies that consumption must rise by an equal proportion just to prevent the incidence of undernourishment (in percentage of the population) from increasing. If this ageing of the population and the associated rise in threshold requirements had not intervened, the numbers undernourished estimated for 2030 would be 16 percent lower than shown in Table 2.3, i.e. 370 million rather than 440 million.

A second factor is to be found in the very adverse initial conditions several countries started with in 1997/99. For example, nine developing countries started with estimated base year undernourishment of over 50 percent (FAO, 2001a). They are Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Mozambique, Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Afghanistan, Haiti and Burundi. The group's average per capita food consumption is 1790 kcal and undernourishment is 57 percent of the population or 105 million. The food consumption projections imply (according to the method used here) that the proportion of the population affected will fall to 39 percent by 2015. This is a significant decline. However, the absolute numbers affected will rise to 115 million in 2015, because of the relatively high growth rate of the group's population, 2.7 percent p.a. in 1997/99-2015. The undernourished may still be 106 million (25 percent of the population) by 2030.

Are we perhaps too pessimistic? Readers may judge for themselves on the basis of the following considerations. The per capita food consumption of this group of countries has moved in the range of 1735-2000 kcal in the past three decades. In the projections, it grows from 1790 kcal in 1997/99 to 2010 kcal in 2015 and to 2220 in 2030.

Taking into account population growth, aggregate demand for food (expressed in calories) is projected to grow at 3.5 percent p.a. in the 17 years to 2015. This contrasts with the experience of the past three decades when the highest growth rate achieved in any 17-year period (64-81, 65-82, …, 81-98, 1982-99) was 2.3 percent p.a. In parallel, the production evaluation (Chapter 4) concludes that cereal production in this group of countries could grow at 2.8 p.a., compared with 2.1 percent p.a., the highest rate ever achieved in any 17-year period in the past. Overall, therefore, the projections of food consumption and of production, far from being pessimistic, embody a degree of optimism. This is partly justified by the prospect of recovery of agriculture following eventual cessation of war or warlike activities that are, or were recently, present in most countries in this group. Empirical evidence discussed in the next section suggests that in such situations better performance of agriculture is a key factor in making possible rapid increases in food consumption.

There is also an additional element of optimism embodied in the assumed reductions in distributional inequalities, as already discussed. The average CV of this group is assumed to decline from 0.30 in 1997/99 to 0.26 in 2015 and 0.23 in 2030. But for these areductions, the undernourished would have grown to 123 million in 2015 rather than to 115 million. The difference is admittedly small, indicating the limited impact of reduced inequality on the numbers of undernourished in countries with very low national average kcal. The reasons why this happens and why it does not denote limited welfare value of more equal distribution was explained earlier (Box 2.4).

Similar considerations apply, mutatis mutandis, to other countries that start from low or very low per capita food consumption and high undernourishment and also have fairly high population growth rates. By 2015, they will still have low to middle levels of food consumption, and the numbers of undernourished will be either higher or not much below the present ones. The middle part of Table 2.3 provides some more disaggregated information on this aspect of the problem. The first two groups of countries, those that in 2015 will still be below 2500 kcal (41 countries in all), fall in the above-mentioned category, i.e. numbers of undernourished increasing or not declining by much for the reasons just mentioned. The next group (12 countries in the range 2500-2700 kcal in 2015) is an intermediate case showing medium reductions in the numbers undernourished.

Almost all the projected reductions in the numbers undernourished by 2015 would occur in the remaining two country groups, those which contain the countries projected to have in 2015 over 2700 calories. These two groups include some of the most populous developing countries (China, India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria and Brazil) and account for the bulk of the population of the developing countries and some 60 percent of the total numbers of undernourished. The main reason why the gains in these countries are more pronounced than in the earlier groups is that most of them start with kcal in the middle range. As noted, the potential for reducing undernourishment through more equal distribution is highest in this type of countries. It is indeed the projected declines in the numbers in poverty in the most populous countries6 with already middle to middle-high food consumption levels, and the assumed knock-on effect in reducing inequality in the distribution of food consumption, that generates much of the projected decline in the numbers undernourished in these countries. If inequality were to remain the same, their undernourishment would decline from 456 million in 1997/99 to 400 million in 2015; with the assumed reductions in inequality, undernourishment in 2015 declines by a further 100 million, to 295 million.

In conclusion, rapid reductions in the numbers of undernourished require the creation of conditions that will lead to hefty increases in national average food consumption, particularly in countries starting with low levels, as well as to lower inequality of access to food. Countries with high population growth rates will need stronger doses of policies in that direction than countries with slower growth rates. The projections of population and the overall economic growth used here, and the derived projections of food demand and consumption, indicate that in many countries the decline in the numbers undernourished will be a slow process. Moreover, in several countries with high population growth rates the absolute numbers undernourished are projected to increase rather than decline by 2015.

From a policy perspective, an appropriate way of looking at the problem at hand is to see how many countries, accounting for what part of the total population, will still have significant percentages of their population undernourished. If the number of countries in this category in the future is smaller than at present - particularly if they are among the less populous ones making for a small percentage of aggregate population - then policy interventions to reduce undernourishment will be more feasible. Relevant data and projections are shown in the third section of Table 2.3. The population living in countries with undernourishment over 25 percent will have been reduced from 13 percent of the total of the developing countries at present to only 3.5 percent by 2030. In parallel the number of countries in this category will have declined from 35 at present to 22 in 2015 and to only five in 2030. None of today's most populous countries (over 100 million in 1997/99) will be in this class in the future. At the other extreme, 75 percent of the population of the developing countries could be in countries with undernourishment below 5 percent. At present only 8 percent live in such countries. The shift to the under 5 percent category of the majority of the most populous countries underlies this dramatic change (China, India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Brazil, Mexico and the Islamic Republic of Iran - all with populations of over 100 million in 2030).

Overall, therefore, considerable progress would be made over the longer term, if the projections of food consumption and the assumptions about reduced inequality were to come true. As more and more countries change from medium-high percentages of undernourishment to low ones, the problem will tend to become more tractable and easier to address through policy interventions within the countries themselves. In addition, the greatly reduced number of countries with severe problems holds the promise that policy responses on the part of the international community will tend to become more feasible.

Better outcomes possible with emphasis on agriculture. We have noted that countries that start with very adverse initial conditions (low kcal/person/day, high undernourishment, high population growth) will require very rapid growth in aggregate food consumption if they are to reduce undernourishment significantly, e.g. to halve it by 2015, as per the WFS target - although this target was set for the developing countries as a whole and not for individual countries.

As an example, the Niger starts with very adverse initial conditions. The country's 1997/99 per capita food consumption was only 2010 kcal/ person/day and undernourishment affected 41 percent of its population, or 4.2 million persons (FAO, 2001a). For 1990/92 (the base year of the WFS target) the estimate was 3.3 million, so the situation has worsened since. The 2015 target should be a half of the estimate for 1990/92, i.e. 1.65 million. The Niger is projected to have one of the highest population growth rates in the world, 3.6 percent p.a. to 2015. By then its population will be 18.5 million, up from the current 10.1 million. Reduction of undernourishment to 1.65 million in 2015 would mean reduction from the present 41 percent of the population to only 9 percent in 2015, a really huge change.

What are the characteristics of countries that have around 9 percent of the population undernourished? There are three countries (Gabon, Brazil and China) in this class. They have kcal/person/day of 2520, 2970 and 3040, respectively (FAO, 2001). This implies that even under very low inequality of distribution like Gabon's (CV=0.216), the Niger's per capita food consumption must reach 24607 kcal by 2015 (from the present 2010 kcal) if it is to halve the numbers suffering undernourishment. In combination with its population growth of 3.6 percent p.a., its aggregate demand for food would need to grow at 4.9 percent p.a. between 1997/99-2015 (1.2 percent p.a. in per capita terms - 22 percent over the entire period of 17 years). The required income growth (normally above 5 percent p.a. given that total demand for food usually grows at rates below those of aggregate income) would be very demanding, if at all feasible. Naturally, if inequality of access were to be more pronounced, the national average kcal/person/day would need to be higher, e.g. 2620 if the CV was to be 0.25.

Box 2.5 The WFS target of halving undernourishment by no later than 2015.
What do the projections imply?

The estimates of undernourishment available at the time of the WFS referred to the three-year average 1990/92. They were based on the data (kcal/person/day, population, inequality parameters) known at the time the estimates were made, in 1995-96. The numbers of undernourished in the developing countries were then put at 839 million. With the revised data for these same years, the aggregate numbers have not changed much; they are now thought to have been 815 million for the base period 1990/92. There have been some very significant revisions for individual countries (see Box 2.2), but in the aggregate the pluses and minuses largely compensated each other.

In principle, progress towards the WFS target is measured from these revised estimates for 1990/92. Halving absolute numbers would mean 408 million undernourished in 2015. The projections presented above indicate that the number could still be 610 million in 2015 and it could still be 440 million in 2030. The reasons why this may be so have been discussed above. The reader will get a better understanding of these projections by reading the considerations underlying future demand/consumption outcomes for the main commodities in Chapter 3.

In examining the projections in relation to the estimates for 1990/92 (as revised) and the WFS target, account must be taken of the changes that have already taken place between 1990/92 and 1997/99. Such changes were taken into account in the projections. Very pronounced changes took place between 1990/92 and 1997/99 in some countries. For example, undernourishment increased significantly in several countries: the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Cuba, Iraq, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi, Somalia, the United Republic of Tanzania and Mongolia (see FAO, 2001a). There have also been some spectacular declines in undernourishment over the same period, at least according to the data and methods used in FAO's annual publication The State of Food Insecurity in the World, e.g. in Ghana, Peru, Mozambique, Malawi, Chad and Nigeria (but see Box 2.2). Overall, the rate of decline of the totals between 1990/92 and 1997/99 has been too slow, an average of 5.5 million p.a. If continued, it would not lead to halving in the remaining 17 years (1997/99-2015) of the whole 24-year period (1990/92-2015) considered for the WFS target evaluation. The projections presented here indicate an annual rate of decline of 9.7 million for the remaining 17 years of the period to 2015. This is an improvement over the first five years but still would not lead to a halving of the numbers undernourished.1

1 We must admit here to a second serious problem bedevilling all projection methods, in addition to that mentioned in footnote 7. This concerns the impossibility of predicting sudden discontinuities that take place in real life and affect the variables in question in some countries, at least as they appear in the data. For example, war or natural catastrophes lead to sudden collapses of food consumption. By contrast, in some countries there are sudden upward spurts in food availabilities and apparent food consumption. The big aggregates may not be greatly affected by our inability to predict such sudden discontinuities in individual countries, but the numbers for smaller country groups may be seriously affected. The problem is perhaps not serious for longer-term projections like the ones presented here; these sudden spurts (positive or negative) observed in actual life, in most cases exhaust themselves within a few years, after which smoother evolution of key variables resumes.

If overall economic growth were to be the primary force making for growth in food demand/ consumption, one would have to be quite pessimistic as to the prospect that the Niger and countries in similar conditions could achieve the quantum jumps in food consumption required for reduction of undernourishment. The Niger has had nearly zero economic growth (and a decline of 2.0 percent p.a. in per capita household final consumption expenditure [HHFCE]/capita8) in the last two decades.

Yet, empirical evidence does not support such blanket pessimism. We have referred earlier to the case of Nigeria which achieved quantum jumps in food consumption and associated declines in undernourishment despite falling overall incomes per capita. Other countries have had similar experiences, i.e. achievement of food consumption increases of 22 percent or more in per capita terms in 17 years or even over shorter periods, while per capita incomes were not growing or outright falling. For example, Mali increased kcal/person/ day from 1766 to 2333 (32 percent) in the nine-year period from 1979/81-1988/90, while its HHFCE/capita was falling at -1.7 percent p.a. over the same period.

Nine developing countries apparently went through such experiences during some time in their history of the last 30 years (countries 1-9 in Table 2.6) They all achieved rapid growth in their kcal/capita/day (increase of 22 percent or more over periods of 17 years or less), while their HHFCE/ capita was either falling or growing at under 1 percent p.a.. What explains these food consumption gains in the midst of stagnant or deteriorating overall economic conditions? Do these countries share some common characteristics? The following comments can shed some light:

Table 2.6: Developing countries with increases in food consumption (kcal/person/day) of 22 percent or more over 17 years or less

In the light of this evidence it is tempting to conclude that progress in raising food consumption levels is possible in countries facing unfavourable overall economic growth prospects, if domestic food production can be made to grow fairly rapidly for some time. However, before we draw any firm conclusions, we must keep in mind that the data concerning what happened to per capita food consumption come from the food balance sheets, i.e. they are the sum of production plus net imports, minus the non-food uses of food commodities, minus an estimate for waste. It is therefore true by definition that a change in consumption is, in an accounting sense, the counterpart of changed production and/or net imports. Naturally, this is not the same thing as saying that increased production and/or imports«caused» the increases in consumption. What we can be sure of is that if the production and trade data are correct, and if the allowances for non-food uses and waste are of the right order of magnitude, the implied food consumption increases did take place, no matter what the national accounts show concerning national incomes. Otherwise, what has happened to the increased food supplies?

We clearly have a situation where the income changes depicted in the national accounts fail to reflect what actually happens to the capacity of people to have access to food, and indeed of the persons in food insecurity. It may be hypothesized that this is the case in many low-income economies where large parts of the population derive a living from agriculture, including those with significant near-subsistence agriculture and autoconsumption. In such cases increased production can translate into improved incomes and access to food of the persons in agriculture and, through indirect effects, also of the persons in the wider rural economy.

That such links between production and consumption exist and are important for improved food security and development is, of course, nothing new. A body of literature (e.g. Mellor, 1995; de Janvry and Sadoulet, 2000) supports the proposition that, in low-income countries with high dependence on agriculture, facing initial conditions like those of many countries in our sample, strategies promoting in priority agricultural productivity improvements are most appropriate for making progress in poverty reduction and, by implication, in food security. Naturally, one should not just think of production increases in the abstract. The links between increased production and improved food consumption of poor and food-insecure persons are mediated through complex institutional and socio-economic relations. In addition, feedback effects between food production and consumption should be considered, as undernourishment is a handicap to the efforts to improve food production. Better nutrition, in addition to being an end-goal in itself, is also an essential input into the achievement of production increases and overall development (see Chapter 8).

The remaining 19 countries that increased food consumption by 22 percent or more in periods of 17 years or less exhibit a variety of experiences concerning combinations of the different variables underlying the gains in food consumption: the growth of their per capita HHFCE (data not available for the last five countries in Table 2.6), cereal production and net imports. All had positive growth rates in HHFCE/capita. We have here typical cases of the North African countries, where moderate to high growth of incomes fuelled the demand for food, and this was met mainly by quantum jumps in cereal imports rather than production, as in the case of Algeria and Egypt.

In conclusion, if the data used here are anywhere near the reality, the evidence suggests that in the many countries with poor overall economic growth outlook (e.g. most countries of sub-Saharan Africa), priority to raising agricultural productivity holds promise for making progress towards reducing undernourishment. Eventually, sustained agricultural growth will also show up in improved overall national incomes.


6 China and the countries of South Asia account for almost all the reductions in poverty projected by the World Bank for 2015 - see Table 2.5.
7 One significant research question looms large in any attempt to project a likely future outcome. Given that the empirical evidence shows that countries go down as well as up, how does one project which countries will be in which category, particularly in the light of the evidence that declines suffered by many countries are often the result of war?
8 World Bank (2001b) term for what was previously termed private consumption expenditure in national accounts parlance.
9 Latest data to 2001 show a sudden spurt in production in the last three years (1999-2001). The Gambia's 2001 production is given as 179 thousand tonnes (FAOSTAT, update of February 2002).

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