The numbers: SOFI 2004 hunger statistics
FAO's new SOFI estimates, based on data from 2000-2002, show that 852 million people worldwide experience chronic hunger.
The vast majority -- 815 million people -- are found in the developing world. Some 28 million are in Eastern Europe and the countries of the former Soviet Union. Nine million -- more than the total population of metropolitan New York City -- live in the world's richest countries.
These figures indicate that efforts to reduce world hunger by half by the year 2015 are falling short of what is required, concludes FAO.
In the developing world, the Organization's figures indicate, the overall number of undernourished people decreased by just 9 million since the early 1990s, a relatively small reduction.
Progress made during the early part of that decade was offset by the fact that during its second half the number of chronically hungry in developing countries actually increased, at a rate of almost 4 million per year.
In fact, in three of the world's four developing regions, more people were undernourished during the 2000-2002 period than had been the case in 1995-1997, says SOFI 2004.
But still, although efforts to reduce chronic hunger in developing countries are not currently on track to meet the World Food Summit and Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of cutting by half the number of hungry people in the world by 2015, SOFI 2004 says that the goal can still be attained.
Indeed, the report observes that "more than 30 countries, representing nearly half the population of the developing world, have provided both proof that rapid progress is possible and lessons in how that progress can be achieved."
Because hunger has been drastically reduced in these countries, FAO says they are probably on track to meet the World Food Summit and Millennium Development Goals for reducing hunger.
Encouragingly, SOFI 2004 also shows that the most pronounced changes took place in sub-Saharan Africa. During the latter half of the 1990s the growth in numbers of undernourished people there slowed from 5 million a year to 1 million per year, while the proportion of undernourished in the region fell from 36%, where it had hovered since 1990-1992, to 33%.
Lessons for success
Many of the countries that have achieved rapid progress in reducing hunger have something in common, FAO points out: significantly better than average rates of agricultural growth.
Several have also led the way in implementing a twin-track strategy to attack hunger -- strengthening social safety nets to put food on the tables of those who need it most on the one hand, while attacking the root causes of hunger with initiatives to stimulate food production, increase employability and reduce poverty on the other.
The idea is to bring the two tracks together in a "virtuous circle" of providing food assistance to the needy and improving food availability by using locally produced food, which can result in rising incomes and additional improvements to food security. For instance, Brazil's Zero Hunger programme supplies its school lunch programmes and other food safety nets by buying from local small and medium-sized farms.
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