Twenty-seventh Session

Rome, 28 May - 1 June 2001


Table of Contents


1. The 1996 World Food Summit (WFS), attended by 185 countries plus the European Community, pledged to achieve a measurable and monitorable goal "... to eradicate hunger in all countries, with an immediate view to reducing the number of undernourished people to half their present level no later than 2015. " The World Food Summit laid special emphasis on monitoring progress towards this target, specifying, under Objective 7.3 of the WFS Plan of Action, the arrangements for the monitoring and reporting process. For this purpose, the FAO secretariat has proposed, and the CFS has endorsed, the use of the number and the proportion of undernourished as appropriate indicators.


2. The concluding decade of the twentieth century was punctuated by a series of Summits and Conferences relating to development goals. A distinguishing feature of many of these events was the adoption of clearly defined and time-bound targets. The Millennium Summit, held in New York in September 2000 adopted a Millennium Declaration which, inter alia, brought together these various goals into a development agenda. In this Declaration, the WFS Summit target is reflected in the section relating to "Reducing Extreme Income and Poverty Deprivation". FAO will assist the UN Secretary-General with the preparation of his annual reports on follow-up to the Millennium Declaration, by providing information on progress in meeting both the WFS and Millennium goals.

3. In early1996, the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) published a report entitled: "Shaping the Twenty-First Century: The Contribution of Development Cooperation", in which it selected seven goals for development drawn from agreements and resolutions of the Conferences organized by the United Nations in the first half of the 1990s. As this report pre-dated the Habitat II (June 1996) and the WFS (November 1996), their outcomes are not included in its goals.

4. The seven OECD goals then became the basis for the recent report: "A Better World For All: Progress Towards the International Development Goals"1, submitted by the United Nations, OECD, International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the World Bank, in June 2000, to a meeting of the G8 countries held on 22 July 2000 in Okinawa, Japan. A list of 21 indicators has been developed for monitoring these seven goals, including one on child malnutrition. However, as the Summit goal had not been included in the original report, no indicator regarding the number of undernourished has been included in the list.


5. There are compelling justifications for treating reduction of hunger as a specific goal and these have been put forth in the document: CFS:2001/Inf.6 - Fostering the Political Will to Fight Hunger. Some of the justifications summarised from the document are as follows:


6. It has been suggested that the proportion of underweight children (already in the list of 21 indicators), could be used as an indirect measure for hunger on the understanding that it is a proxy for nutrition in the whole population. Whilst information on underweight children is a useful indicator, it is not a sufficient indicator of the nutritional status of a society as a whole. If policies and programmes were to be geared to address such a segmented target, there is the risk that the major causes that lead to widespread underweight children may not be addressed. There is a risk that such an approach would be treating the symptom and not the major cause of the problem. The main cause for the widespread prevalence of underweight children, under five years of age, is generally household food insecurity and inadequate food intake by mothers. The problem of underweight children thus cannot be addressed effectively and on sustainable basis without addressing the causes of poverty and undernourishment at household level. Specific targeted measures to tackle the problem of underweight children under five could only have lasting results, if undertaken as part of overall measures to improve household income and food security which lead to the wellbeing of mothers and the household as a whole.

7. FAO has developed a practical, easy-to-use measure of undernourishment, based on the distribution of the dietary energy supply within a country's population. This measure is used to estimate the number and proportion of undernourished annually, and the results are reported as a three-year moving average to the Committee on World Food Security and in the annual FAO publication: the State of Food Insecurity in the World (SOFI).

8. The FAO measure of undernourishment is already in place and is already being used to monitor progress toward the World Food Summit goal. It would also be an extremely useful indicator for monitoring the progress in reducing poverty - especially in its extreme form of hunger and food deprivation - and could be included in the list of Indicators of the Millennium Development Goals at no additional cost.

9. There exist some differences of opinion among specialists concerning the use of the FAO estimates of the number of undernourished versus anthropometry, especially since they are measuring two different aspects of the same problem of poor nutritional status. However, although the FAO estimate has its limitations, it has a very big advantage in that it is calculated each year in a consistent way for all countries.

10. The majority of experts advocate using both food-based and anthropometry-based measures. The Inter-Agency Working Group (IAWG) on FIVIMS (involving more than 25 international, bilateral, and non-governmental organisations) in its work has defined undernourishment as "food intake that is insufficient to meet dietary energy requirements continuously", with the measure adopted being that of FAO


11. Extreme poverty is a multi-dimensional phenomenon and hunger is its most extreme manifestation . The eradication of hunger is instrumental to the eradication of other dimensions of poverty. Hunger therefore needs specific targeting within broader poverty reduction initiatives. Also, implementation of the WFS and Millennium goals relating to hunger need to be closely monitored, together with the other Millennium goals. The Committee may wish to recognize the importance of the number of undernourished as a key indicator in monitoring hunger and poverty and to call on Member States to include this indicator in all national and international work related to follow-up of the World Food and Millennium Summits.


1 IMF/OECD/UN/World Bank: A Better World for All - Progress towards the International Development Goals, Paris, 2000.