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The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2014

Questions and Answers

How much progress has been made in the fight against hunger?

  • The latest FAO estimates indicate that global hunger reduction continues: about 805 million people are estimated to be chronically undernourished in 2012–14, down more than 100 million over the last decade, and 209 million lower than in 1990–92. In the same period, the prevalence of undernourishment has fallen from 18.7 to 11.3 percent globally and from 23.4 to 13.5 percent for the developing countries.
  • Despite overall progress, marked differences across regions persist. Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest prevalence of undernourishment, with only modest progress in recent years. Around one in four people in the region remains undernourished. On the contrary, conditions are much more favourable in Northern Africa, where several countries show low levels of undernourishment. Asia, the most populous region in the world, still has the highest number of undernourished. Southern Asia has made slow progress in hunger reduction, while more rapid progress has been achieved in Eastern and South-Eastern Asia. Latin America and the Caribbean have recorded a very fast progress in reducing hunger, particularly the Southern countries of the continent.

Why has the global number of hungry come down?

  • The lower global prevalence of undernourishment reported in SOFI 2014 reflects higher estimates of food consumption levels in some key countries and regions. Increases in the amounts of basic food such as cereals, oilseeds, meats, sugar and dairy products available for human consumption were observed in the recent past in a number of major producer and consumer countries. 
  • In some countries a lower PoU is also the result of a reduced inequality in food access among the population. Updated information from recent national household budget surveys allowed to revise downward one of the parameters employed in the estimation of the prevalence of undernourishment, i.e. the coefficient of variation. Moreover, the methodology for computing this parameter was further refined, with the estimation of updated inequality measures for countries where reliable national household surveys are not available.

There is only two years left for countries to reach MDG 1c and the World Food Summit goal. Why is there optimism that the MDG hunger target can still be achieved?

  • The SOFI 2014 report is neither optimistic nor pessimistic. Rather, it aims to convey an objective picture of food insecurity in the world.
  • The MDG 1c hunger target requires the share or proportion of undernourished people in the total population to be reduced by half between 1990 and 2015. This target is within reach: if the current trend of a reduction of about 0.5 percent per year since 1990–92 continues, the prevalence of undernourishment in developing regions would reach 12.8 percent in 2015 – 1.1 percentage points above the MDG target of 11.7 percent. Hence with little additional efforts, the trend can be accelerated to meet the MDG hunger target.
  • However, the developing world is not on track to achieve the World Food Summit (WFS) target, which requires halving the number of undernourished people by next year. This would require a reduction of more than 300 million people, which is not feasible in the time available.
  • Since 1990–92, 63 developing countries have reached the MDG hunger target, and 25 countries have achieved the more stringent WFS target. Of the 63 developing countries that have achieved the MDG hunger target, 11 countries have maintained the prevalence of undernourishment below 5 percent since 1990–92.
  • Among regions, Eastern and South-Eastern Asia have already achieved the MDG hunger target. The same is true of Latin America and the Caribbean, while the Caucasus and Central Asia are on track to reach MDG 1c by 2015. Latin America and the Caribbean are also on track to reach the more ambitious WFS goal. In contrast, sub-Saharan Africa and Southern and Western Asia have registered insufficient progress to reach the MDG target. Sub-Saharan Africa has become home to more than a quarter of the world’s undernourished people, owing to an increase of 38 million in the number of hungry people since 1990–92.

Which countries have made the biggest progress in hunger reduction?

  • The most progress was recorded in Latin America, where Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Guyana, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama and Peru are the main examples of fast progress. Among Asian countries, fast progress was recorded in Bangladesh, China, Georgia, Indonesia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Mongolia, Myanmar, Thailand and Viet Nam, among others. Some African countries also made progress; Angola, Benin, Cameroon, Djibouti, Ethiopia, the Gambia, Mauritania, Mozambique, Niger and Nigeria all achieved large reductions in the number of undernourished people.

Which countries have made the least progress in hunger reduction?

  • Very slow progress was recorded in several African countries, including Botswana, Cote d’Ivoire, Madagascar, Malawi, Namibia, Uganda, United Republic of Tanzania and Zambia, where the number as well as prevalence of undernourished people in the population is now higher than in 1990-92. The same was true of Asian countries such as the Democratic Republic of Korea, Iraq and, to a much lesser degree, Tajikistan. In Latin America, El Salvador and Guatemala show relatively slow progress, despite the good performance of the region as a whole.

Based on SOFI 2013 and SOFI 2012 figures, FAO recognized countries that had reached the MDG1c hunger target and the WFS goal last June and in June 2013. Are these results confirmed by the 2014 figures?

  • The results are generally confirmed for the recognized countries. However, some changes in the point estimates are possible, especially for the most recent periods. These estimates (2012–14 in this report) inevitably rely on short-term projections, which are subject to reassessments based on market intelligence and additional information that has become available.
  • The estimates reported in SOFI 2014 were based on updated population figures, which were published by the United Nations Population Division in June 2013, as it happens every two years. New population figures affected both food consumption and the caloric thresholds employed in the estimation of undernourishment. New data was received from member countries and improvements were adopted in the estimation methodology. All this led to significant changes in the level of undernourishment estimated for some countries.

Why does FAO monitor undernourishment only in countries from the developing regions?

  • The MDGs from 1 to 7 are meant to be assessed only for countries of the developing regions. On the contrary MDG 8 applies only to countries from developed regions.

Has FAO changed its methodology for computing the prevalence of undernourishment this year compared to the previous editions of SOFI?

  • There have been some refinements in the methodology, which are presented in Annex 2 of the report, but the main features of the methodology are unchanged from the 2012 and 2013 editions.
  • In short, information from national surveys is now used to determine the functional form of the food distribution; and variability of food consumption in countries where no household surveys are available is now determined on the basis of food prices and income levels and distribution.
  • As countries continued to produce new and better data on food production, trade and consumption, the estimates were updated, as is always done. Updated population figures, published by the United Nations Population Division in June 2013, were employed in this edition. For these reasons, estimates over time may change with each new edition of the SOFI.
  • FAO has continued to maintain and enrich the suite of indicators presented in the 2013 edition of the report, to better capture different dimensions of food security and nutrition.

What is the Minimum Dietary Energy Requirement and how does FAO compute it?

  • The Minimum Dietary Energy Requirement (MDER) is a country-specific normative threshold that FAO employs as a cut-off point to estimate the prevalence of undernourishment. The MDER is a standard energy requirement, specific for age classes and sex. These standards are obtained by calculating, with reference to each age class and sex, the needs for basic metabolism – that is, the energy expended by the human body in a state of rest – and multiplying them by a factor that takes into account physical activity.  The FAO methodology uses an age and sex weighted average standard energy requirement as a national-level MDER.

 What is the relationship between hunger and undernutrition?

  • In many of our case studies, we find that although there has been significant progress in fighting undernourishment, there have been no improvements in nutritional outcomes, as measured, for instance by the proportion of children who are stunted or underweight. This means that, although people may have stable access to sufficient food for their energy needs, this food is not always of sufficient quality to provide all the necessary vitamins and nutrients, or that some people are too ill to utilize the nutrients they consume.
  • There are many reasons why undernutrition may occur. Lack of dietary diversity can result in undernutrition, especially where diets are poor in micronutrient-rich foods such as meat, fish, and dairy products. Poor access to safe water and sanitation – both crucial for mitigating the risk of disease – can inhibit efficient food utilization. Poor education and lack of access to ante-natal and child-care facilities are also important.
  • In many situations, nutrition supplements will be needed to improve the nutritional status of the population in the short term. A range of food security and other nutrition-enhancing interventions in agriculture, health, hygiene, water supply and education, particularly targeting women, are necessary in the medium and long term.

SOFI mentions that developing an enabling environment is crucial in the fight against hunger and malnutrition. What is the “enabling environment”?

  • Food security has multiple dimensions – availability, access, utilization and stability. Eradicating hunger requires policy action that addresses all dimensions. Depending on the specific context, actions may be required to increase productivity, promote rural development and incomes, strengthen social protection mechanisms, improve infrastructure and invest in education and health. These multiple actions involve numerous stakeholders, including family farmers, cooperatives, traders, food processors, private sector enterprises, civil society and government. These stakeholders can have divergent goals. The challenge is to coordinate all stakeholders and improve the effectiveness of actions to promote food security and nutrition. Such coordination requires an enabling environment that creates incentives for all stakeholders and allows them to participate in policy formulation and implementation.  

Why were these seven countries selected for analysis in SOFI?

Because they are different from each other. We examined countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean that are developing or emerging. Some have achieved the MDG hunger target, others have not yet done. Some have experienced political instability or conflict, such as Madagascar and Yemen. Cultural identities differ from one country to another – in Bolivia for example, 64 percent of the population is made up of indigenous peoples. The agriculture sectors of the case study countries also differ: in Brazil, small family farms coexist with commercial farms; in Malawi and in most of the other countries, agriculture is dominated by small family farms. This factor also influences the policy focus. Although all the countries we examined follow the twin-track approach - combining measures to promote agricultural productivity and rural development with social protection mechanisms to increase access to food – some countries allocate the bulk of their funds to increasing productivity.

By looking at these countries, one can assess the evolution of the enabling environment and draw useful lessons.

What key lessons can be drawn from the country case studies?

–         Political will and legal frameworks
Sustained political commitment at the highest level is crucial. It moves food security and nutrition to the top of the agenda and helps removing any constraints that hinder institutional reforms and budget allocations that may be necessary to make policies and actions effective in fighting hunger. Often, sustained political commitment results in legal frameworks - such as recognition of the human right to food - that ensure that all stakeholders work responsibly.

–         Coordination mechanisms
Food security is an intersectoral priority. Coordination mechanisms are also crucial. Policies and programmes that promote food security and nutrition involve many sectors and stakeholders at national, regional and local levels. Countries have a range of policies and programmes that promote food security and nutrition: interventions to increase productivity, policies to promote access to markets for both inputs and outputs, social protection programmes, such as school meals and conditional cash transfers. In all countries we examined, the policy range is broad and involves a large number of government departments and ministries, civil society, farmers, cooperatives, traders, schools, hospitals, and others. Institutional mechanisms that promote cooperation and coordination among ministries and stakeholders and clearly define responsibilities for each of them facilitate coordination of actions and policy coherence. Uncoordinated actions result in a diffusion of responsibility and accountability among institutions and other actors.

–         Broad participation of stakeholders
Broad participation in policy formulation and implementation is necessary to ensure that the views of all are taken into account, creating space for civil society and, more importantly, to empower the poor and the vulnerable to voice their needs. Such inclusion results in equitable policies that address the needs of the vulnerable.

–         Linking policies
Good coordination results in linking policies to maximize benefits and impacts. For example, school meal programmes can be designed to procure safe and nutritious food from smallholder farmer cooperatives. This provides markets for farmers, promotes their productivity, raises their incomes and stimulates local economies.

Such policy instrument integration is implemented in Brazil and Haiti.

Cash and in-kind transfers that raise incomes and improve diets also have positive spill-over effects. Cash transfer programmes can influence the productive capacity of beneficiary households, in particular by helping households with limited access to financial services for investment and risk mitigation. The provision of regular and predictable cash transfers to poor households in the context of missing or malfunctioning markets generates economic and productive impacts at the household and local levels. Cash transfers lead to increasing local wages, and can enhance small producers’ accumulation of productive resources, thereby stimulating production and productivity increases, both on- and off-farm.