by Marion Nestle
Oct 17 2012

The latest dismal report on world hunger

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has just released the latest iteration of its annual report on the State of Food Insecurity in the World 2012.

It’s bottom line estimate: 870 million people in the world are hungry, 852 million of them in developing countries.

The good news is that this figure represents a decline of 132 million people from 1990-92 to 2010-12, or from 18.6 percent to 12.5 percent of the world’s population.  In developing countries, the decline is from 23.2 percent to 14.9 percent.

The not-so-good news: Since 2007-2008, global progress in reducing hunger has slowed and leveled off, and hunger in Africa has gotten worse.

Much of the press attention to the report yawned at the major message but instead focused on errors in the previous estimates, which were higher.

the projections were wrong. They were calculated using figures from non-U.N. sources that were fed into the U.N.’s number-crunching model, because FAO was expected to quickly come up with an estimate of how many people might go hungry from the dual crises of high food prices and the global downturn

The UN bases its hunger projections on figures on population, food supply, food losses, dietary energy requirements, food distribution, and other factors.

The report contains other bad news.  While 870 million people remain hungry, the world confronts a double burden of malnutrition: 1.4 billion people are dealing with the consequences of overweight and obesity.

Focusing on the need to address world hunger Sir Gordon Conway, Professor of International Development, Imperial College, London writes in the Huffington Post:

as I set out in my latest book One billion hungry: can we feed the world?, I believe there is reason for optimism. Yes we can feed the world, but only if we accept that agricultural development is the best route to achieving sustainable economic growth in developing countries, and achieve an agriculture that is highly productive, stable, resilient and equitable.

Sounds like a good plan to me.  Let’s get busy.

  • Greg

    I can tell you right now those numbers at the beginning are complete bullshit. There are far more people in develop*ed* countries going hungry or suffering from food insecurity than 28 million…. Many of them are children right in the USA, too. I don’t know how they count things, but there is something wrong with it.

  • Greg

    Yeah, ok. I looked up some stuff, and it looks like they mostly decide on the calorie requirements of the population and then try to estimate actual consumption and then divide the difference by the requirements for one average person.

    Obviously that is a completely different and grossly misleading approach which cannot be fairly represented as X number of people going hungry. It’s just like employment statistics; people who say they are no longer actively looking for a job perhaps because they have moved on to other things in the meantime after being without for so long, like education, are considered *not part of the unemployed fraction of the population*. Which is obviously grossly misleading bullshit when you consider the context these numbers are typically and can be expected to be used.

    If the actual numbers of people tallied up who suffer physiological harm from involuntarily not being able to eat enough on a regular basis, and really wish they could, the numbers would be far higher. It would include many of the lower class people right in America who only gross $18k or less, for example (largely due to theft on the part of others of the fruits of their labors and denial of opportunity and access to the commons). I know some of them, and hunger is a very real problem.

    After rent clothing medication and time limitations access to a kitchen limitations these things really do all add up , right for people, including many children in your own backyard.

  • Chart on page 3 of Executive Summary is worrisome. “Share of Food Groups in total dietary energy supplies (percentage).”

    Cereals make up the bulk of it. Fruits and vegetables are so marginalized. No wonder there is a health crisis worldwide. I don’t expect the “Fruits & Vegetables” to be a lot but it’s very very small compared to others.

    Skimming through the report, I get the feeling that stopping food hunger doesn’t quite mesh together with proper nutrition as the entire report is for macronutrients and not the vital micronutrients that are important for disease prevention (not sure what is a good health term so I’m just using that).

  • Katie

    I stumbled upon foodpolitics when I googled “soda is not food per the FDA.” A family member had said as much to me so I am trying to research the definition of food per the FDA all in lieu of California’s Right to Know Prop 37. I am all for labeling. I am unfamiliar with food politics but in reading through your blog have found interest. I intend to look further into it as a personal resource. Upon this entry and further research on Gordon Conway, Can We Feed the World, and CGIAR, I found that they are in support of biotechnology or Genetic Engineering of foods to support the world. Is this a correct understanding and is this a solution you support?
    Thank you 🙂