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Food security

Eradicate hunger in ten years

by Ellen Thalman

In brief

Agricultural production must increase: women on a model farm in Tanzania.

Agricultural production must increase: women on a model farm in Tanzania.

The United Nations’ 2015 target date for halving the number of people suffering from hunger is approaching fast, but not all member countries will meet this first Millennium Development Goal. In view of huge challenges, it has become impossible to draft policies only based on past experience, warns IFPRI, the International Food Policy Research Institute.

IFPRI launched its 2013 Global Food Policy Report in Berlin in June. The document states that efforts to eradicate hunger have run into serious problems, including “the lack of mechanisms for tracking inputs and ensuring accountability, as well as the lack of a theory-of-change, linking drivers with outcomes”.

An evidence-based strategy is required, says Shenggen Fan, the director general of IFPRI. Countries need to make a greater effort to share knowledge and to engage with stakeholders, in particular the private sector. According to IFPRI, one of the main challenges is to establish comprehensive and accurate data and indicators that can easily be monitored (also note essay on page 282 ff.).

IFPRI states that it is unacceptable that one in eight people worldwide go hungry every day. What the Washington-based institute calles “hidden hunger” is compounding the problem: more than 2 billion people are said to suffer from a shortage of essential micro-nutrients such as iron, vitamin A and zinc. According to IFPRI, however, research in India, Nigeria and Ethiopia has shown that every dollar that is invested in fighting malnutrition generates 12 to 34 dollars in economic returns.

Fan considers it an ethical imperative to rise to the challenges fast. He says hunger and malnutrition should be eliminated fast, since these phenomena keep people from leading healthy productive lives and lock them in a vicious cycle of poverty. Fan wants the post-2015 development agenda to eradicate hunger by 2025, rather than by 2030, as some are calling for.

Setting the right example

Fan insists it can be done and points out that some countries have adopted policies that work. According to IFPRI, China and Vietnam are on pace “to virtually eliminate hunger by 2025”, while Brazil and Thailand “have already done so”. Fan says other countries should learn from that experience.

“A rapidly changing geopolitical and environmental landscape” is making it difficult to plan based only on past experience, the IFPRI report warns. To improve agricultural productivity, it proposes “sustainable agricultural intensification” to ensure growth in agricultural production. The initiative is meant to balance environmental necessities with the need to make food-production more efficient and the need to modify consumption patterns.

Civil-society organisations are campaigning on the matter too. Rafael Schneider of Welthungerhilfe, a Bonn-based agency focused on food security, says that political and financial incentives to promote agriculture in developing countries are still falling behind the promises. He cautions against simply focusing on policies that promote agriculture intensification and technology to improve yields. He stresses that it is crucial to increase the purchasing power, the incomes and the rights of poor rural people. In his eyes, support for small-scale farmers is indispensable.

The IFPRI report echoes this kind of sentiment, saying that investments to boost food production had to be flanked by a “long-term approach that promotes increased agricultural productivity for all farmers”. It explicitly calls for linking smallholders to markets and ensuring that their products are safe and nutritious (see D+C/E+Z 2014/06, p. 240 f.).

Ellen Thalman