Re: The e-Consultation on Hunger, Food and Nutrition Security

Simon Ross Population Matters, United Kingdom

Please find attached to the three themes, which is also set out below.

Food and Nutrition Security in the Post-2015 Development Agenda - Submission by Population Matters

This submission is in response to the call for papers


Theme 1:

What do you see as the key lessons learned during the current Millennium Development Goals (MDG) Framework (1990-2015), in particular in relation to the MDGs of relevance to hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition?

The world population increased during that period by over one third i.e. two billion people.  Until we stabilize population numbers, we are always trying to hit a moving target which is moving away from us.  We are also putting ever more pressure on limited resources, particularly land, water, energy and fisheries.  The key lesson is that we should seek to limit demand for food as well as increase supply of it.


What do you consider the main challenges and opportunities towards achieving food and nutrition security in the coming years?

One of the main demand side challenges continues to be population growth. During the period 2015-2030, the UNDESA Population Division medium projection is that the population will grow by 14% or over one billion people.  This assumes a continued reduction in the global birth rate; the actual growth in population could well be more than that. 

Another demand side challenge is dietary change with a move in some strata of developing countries to a more meat based, input intensive diet.

On the supply side, one of the principal groups of challenges is to key agricultural inputs.  These include:

  • Loss of productive land through urban development, desertification and overuse.
  • Loss of productive land to biomass production
  • Loss of aquifers and river water through overuse due to increased demand, pollution and saltwater infiltration
  • Increased energy costs, particularly of fuel oil, whose portable nature makes it particularly suitable for agricultural machinery and distribution, due to increased demand and limited supply
  • Increased fertilizer costs due to higher energy and mineral costs.

Depletion of marine and freshwater fish stocks by pollution and modern fishing methods is a challenge which should be considered and addressed.

Increased impact of plant pests and disease due to monocultural farming practices and growing resistance to pesticides.

Climate change has the potential to affect food productivity in major, though uncertain, ways:

  • Sea warming, leading to reduction or migration of edible species
  • Increased scale and quantity of natural disasters
  • Increased severity and quantity of extreme weather events
  • Greater uncertainty of rainfall and other weather patterns
  • Reduction in glacial supplies of water for irrigation.


These are opportunities in the greater use of appropriate technologies.  Another opportunity is to accelerate the declining birth rate by promoting rights based family planning, women’s empowerment and the benefits of smaller families.


Theme 2: 

What works best? Drawing on existing knowledge, please tell us how we should go about addressing the hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition challenges head on. 
Provide us with your own experiences and insights.  For example, how important are questions of improved governance, rights-based approaches, accountability and political commitment in achieving food and nutrition security? 

Furthermore, how could we best draw upon current initiatives, including the Zero Hunger Challenge, launched by the UN Secretary General at the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development (, and the Global Strategic Framework for Food Security and Nutrition elaborated by the CFS?

One important strategy to addressing these challenges should be to reduce and ultimately halt the growth in demand for food.

This should be done in two ways:

  • Encourage the adoption of healthy diets which have limited calorie intake and are balanced between different food groups
  • Seek to limit and then stabilize human population growth.

The latter can be achieved through rights based family planning, women’s empowerment and through promoting the personal and social benefits of smaller families.


Theme 3:

For the Post-2015 Global Development Framework to be complete, global (and regional or national) objectives, targets and indicators will be identified towards tackling hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition.  A set of objectives has been put forward by the UN Secretary-General under Zero Hunger Challenge (ZHC):

a.    100% access to adequate food all year round
b.    Zero stunted children less than 2 years old
c.    All food systems are sustainable
d.    100% increase in smallholder productivity and income
e.    Zero loss or waste of food.

Please provide us with your feedback on the above list of objectives – or provide your own proposals.  Should some objectives be country-specific, or regional, rather than global? Should the objectives be time-bound?

These seem to be valid objectives and all of them would be easier to achieve with slower or no population growth.  The following additional objectives address this point:

  1. It seems important to have maximum population size as a goal.

The UN DESA Population Division medium (most likely variant) projection for 2030 is 8.3 billion.  Limiting numbers to 8 billion is a modest difference, but would establish the principle of the world population limitation goal.  Moreover, it will still require a marked fall in the birth rate (see below).

SDG: Limit the world population to 8 billion by 2030.

  1. The birth rate.  The UN DESA Population Division projects (medium projection) the Net Reproduction Rate (daughters per women) to fall from 1.08 in 2005-10 to 1.02 in 2025-30. 

SDG: Limit average total fertility rate to 2 children per woman.

  1. Access to family planning is critical in empowering people to manage their fertility.

SDG: Universal access to a full range of affordable family planning commodities and services.

  1. Employment of women motivates couples to limit their family size.

SDG: Ensure gender parity in employment rates.

  1. We support contraction and convergence between the rich and poor, as this would tend to reduce the birth rate.  Under the MDGs, the proportion of people living in extreme poverty i.e. under $1.25 per day fell by half from 1990 to 2010.  However, a smaller proportion of a larger number can still be a larger number, as has happened in Africa; and it is numbers of people, not rates or proportions, that need ever-increasing food, water, soil, energy etc.

SDG: Reduce the number of people in extreme poverty by half.

  1. Increasing workforce participation would serve to reduce the demand for additional births and is inherently more sustainable.  Currently, 200 million people are unemployed (ITUC). 

SDG: Reduce the number of unemployed and under-employed by half.

  1. Secondary education for women increases female workforce participation.  Gender parity of participation in primary education was achieved by the MDGs. 

SDG: Achieve gender parity in secondary education.

  1. Child marriage undermines women’s employment options, and increases birth rates.

SDG: End marriage under the age of eighteen.

  1. We should not subsidize larger families in general in order to lower the birth rate.

SDG: End payments or other benefits related to the number of children except for reasons of health, education and targeted poverty alleviation.

  1. A reduction in the desired family size is essential to reduce the birth rate.  Social marketing should be used to encourage smaller families.

SDG: Achieve a majority preference for a family size of two or fewer.

  1. Sex education is important in birth rate reduction, though hard to measure.

SDG: Provide universal sex and relationships education, including family planning.

  1. Safe abortion is an essential contingency preventing unwanted pregnancy where contraception fails. With good family planning services and education, abortion should be legal, safe, and increasingly rare.

SDG: Provide access to legal and safe abortion on demand.




Simon Ross

Population Matters

135-137 Station Road

London E4 6AG

United Kingdom