Hungry for change: the state of hunger and food security 2014

By Bronnie Anderson-Smith

Next year is the deadline for Millennium Development Goal (MDG) One: eradicating extreme poverty and hunger. The 2014 Global Hunger Index (GHI) and State of World Food Insecurity (SOFI) reports help paint a fuller picture of the progress that has been achieved and the challenges that remain in eradicating hunger.

The GHI is produced the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), Welthungerhilfe, and Concern Worldwide and measures the state of hunger in 120 countries where data on undernourishment, child mortality, and child underweight are available. 

The SOFI is produced by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and World Food Program (WFP) and provides a stock-take of where we stand on hunger and malnutrition, monitors the different dimensions of food security and discusses the enabling environment needed to overcome hunger and malnutrition.

We are making progress in eliminating hunger. According to FAO estimates in SOFI 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 developing countries.

The GHI report has found that since 1990, hunger in the developing world has fallen by 39 percent, and 26 countries have reduced their scores by 50 percent or more. See the GHI interactive map to track global hunger.

On track to reach hunger targets?

The MDG 1c target aimed to halve the proportion of hungry people in the total population between 1990 and 2015. This hunger target is within reach. The 2014 MDG report says that hunger continues to decline, but results have been uneven and progress has slowed in the last decade. It warns that major efforts are still needed to achieve the hunger target globally by the 2015 deadline.

SOFI reports that since 1990-92, 63 countries (of the 136 countries and territories monitored by FAO), have reached the hunger target of MDG 1c and 25 countries have achieved the more ambitious World Food Summit (WFS) target of halving the number of hungry people between 1990 and 2015. However while the MDG target is within reach, SOFI is not optimistic about reaching the WFS goal which would require lifting more than 300 million people out of hunger by next year.

SOFI reports that China alone has reduced the number of undernourished people by 138 million in this period. The countries that have achieved greatest success in reducing the total number of hungry people in proportion to their national population are: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Brazil, Cuba, Georgia, Ghana, Kuwait, Saint Vincent and Grenadines, Thailand and Venezuela.

Regional performance

SOFI reports that despite the overall positive trend, progress across regions has been uneven. Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest prevalence of undernourishment, with only modest progress in recent years. 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. Yet it is three Asian countries that have made the most progress reducing the absolute number of undernourished people: China, India and Vietnam. 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. Oceania has the lowest number of undernourished people, although hunger has been on the increase over the last two decades.

Food security in focus

More food is available now than ever before. However SOFI has found that food availability is a major element of food insecurity in poorer regions, notability Sub-Saharan Africa and parts of South Asia.

Thanks to income growth and poverty reduction access to food has improved in many countries. It has improved quickly in countries showing rapid economic progress, notably East and South East Asia. Access has improved in South Asia and Latin America largely due to social protection programs.

Utilisation remains the greatest challenge. Despite progress over the past two decades stunting, underweight and micronutrient deficiencies remain stubbornly high, even where availability and access no longer pose problems.

The least progress has been made in stability, reflecting the effects of growing political instability and international food price volatility. Stability remains a challenge in regions heavily reliant on international food markets, such as Near East, North Africa and the Caribbean.

As with hunger, not all regions are making equal progress in improving food security. SOFI notes that Sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia have made the least progress, with almost all indicators still pointing to low levels of food security. Eastern (including South Eastern) Asia and Latin America have made the most progress in improving food security, with Eastern Asia experiencing rapid progress on all four dimensions over the past two decades.


Both reports find that globally we have seen progress towards eradicating hunger however progress has been uneven across regions. SOFI found that in general, Africa is making slow progress in achieving international hunger targets, with the Sub-Saharan region especially lagging behind global trends. The region has been afflicted by conflict and natural disasters, and one in four people remain undernourished in Sub-Saharan Africa – the highest prevalence of all the regions.

An increase in a country’s GHI score indicates that the hunger situation is worsening, while a decrease in the score indicates improvement in the country’s hunger situation. Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest (worst) regional GHI score, at 18.2, closely followed by South Asia at 18.1. Progress since 1990 has been stronger in South Asia than Sub-Saharan Africa.

Since 2000, mortality rates for children under the age of five have declined in Sub-Saharan Africa. This is attributed to the decreasing prevalence of malaria together with higher immunisation rates, a greater share of births occurring at medical centers, better access to clean water and sanitation facilities, and increasing levels of income, which lead to better nutrition and access to medical care. Displaced populations and their host communities face a high risk of food insecurity, malnutrition, and epidemics.

The GHI found that Burundi, Eritrea, and Comoros have the highest proportion of undernourished people—more than 60 percent of the population. Angola, Chad, and Sierra Leone have the highest under-five mortality rate, ranging from 15 percent to more than 18 percent.

Burundi (GHI 35.6), one of our focus countries, and Eritrea (GHI 33.8) are the only two countries in the world where hunger levels are ranked ‘extremely alarming’.

Recognising the unacceptable burden of hunger in the region, African Heads of State committed to end hunger on the continent by 2025 at this year’s African Union summit in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea. This commitment will be guided by the Africa-led Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD). African nations have committed to increased South-South Cooperation efforts within Africa, as signalled by the Africa Solidarity Trust Fund for Food Security established in 2013.

Hidden hunger

Hidden hunger is a form of undernutrition that occurs when the intake or absorption of vitamins and minerals (such as zinc, iodine, and iron) is too low to sustain good health and development. Hidden hunger afflicts more than 2 billion people globally. For the individual the effects can be devastating, particularly within the first 1,000 days of a child’s life, from conception to the age of two, leading to mental impairment, poor health, low productivity, and even death. The economic costs of micronutrient deficiencies is also considerable, the GHI reports that they reduce gross domestic product (GDP) by 0.7 to 2 percent in most developing countries. Global losses in economic productivity due to macronutrient and micronutrient deficiencies reach more than 2 to 3 percent of GDP.

We know that action is needed and we know what is effective. Diet diversity has a vital role to play in preventing and combating hidden hunger. Biofortification can also make a positive contribution to this important issue.

Roadmap for action

Preventing and treating hidden hunger and tackling food insecurity requires action from the global to the national level in many sectors including agriculture, health, water and sanitation, social protection, education, and empowering women. Both reports recommend:

  1. Sustained political commitment to tackling hunger and food security, including recognising the right to food as a fundamental human right and supporting it through appropriate actions and legal frameworks
  2. Enhanced accountability and continuity of policies with expanded monitoring, research, and evidence base to increase accountability
  3. Comprehensive multi-sectoral policies and approaches and improved coordination across government and other sectors
  4. Investing in human capacity building and allocate the necessary funds to build expertise and capacity in nutrition and food security at all levels.

How is the Food Security Centre contributing?

The Food Security Centre is working to tackle hunger (including hidden hunger) through research to improve food security. How are we doing this? Through our VINESA project examining the production of vegetables in peri-urban areas, our poultry project focused on reducing child malnutrition and our trees for food security project supporting planting trees (including fruit trees) in agricultural systems across eastern Africa. We are also looking at the broader production systems with work on better irrigation, inputs like seeds, labour saving tools like small-scale tractors and understanding how farmers make decisions about adopting these innovations. We are working to strengthen institutions such as CAADP’s regional nutrition capacity workshops and by improving national biosecurity capacity across eastern and southern Africa.