Industries in Depth

How many hungry people are there in the world?

Chris Arsenault
Writer, The Thomson Reuters Foundation
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The number of people worldwide who don’t get enough to eat has fallen to 795 million, 10 million less than last year, U.N. officials said on Wednesday.

But now is not the time to celebrate, said Josefina Stubbs, a senior official at the U.N.’s agricultural bank.

“Nearly 1 billion people are still starving, still suffering,” said Stubbs, a director of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

About three-quarters of those who don’t have enough food are small farmers, she said, urging more international support for rural producers.

Social investments, including cash transfer programmes for the poor and free school meals, have helped reduce starvation in South America to close to zero, U.N. officials said.

East Asia and Southeast Asia have also shown major progress, officials said, while South Asia is lagging.

Internationally, 167 million fewer people face hunger today compared to a decade ago, said “The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2015” report.

Despite a growing population, the percentage of the world’s people who don’t have enough to eat has dropped to 13 percent compared to 23 percent in 1990, the report said.

“Economic growth alone does not solve the problem of hunger,” said Jose Graziano da Silva, Director General of the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). “We need specific policies to address the situation.”

A former Brazilian minister for food security, da Silva is widely credited for nearly eliminating starvation in South America’s largest country through social spending initiatives, including a cash transfer programme which subsidied poor families who kept their children in school.

Free school meal programmes, direct cash transfers and investments in rural infrastructure such as roads, food storage facilities as well as training for farmers have also helped reduce hunger, U.N. officials said.

These policies, along with economic growth, have helped reduce the number of hungry people worldwide by 216 million since 1990.

Some 20 percent of the world’s hungry people live in countries facing crises, including conflicts, natural disasters and chronic political instability, said Stanlake Samkange, a senior World Food Programme official.

In sub-Saharan Africa, the number of starving people has actually been rising, bucking the global trend, Samkange said.

The world came close to meeting the Millennium Development Goal of reducing the number of starving people by half compared to 1990, officials said.

Another round of U.N. Sustainable Development Goals, including revised hunger targets, will be decided in September in New York.

This article is published in collaboration with The Thomson Reuters Foundation. Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.

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Author: Chris Arsenault covers global food security and agricultural politics for the Thomson Reuters Foundation

Image: Traders sit amidst stacked sacks, filled with onions and potatoes. REUTERS/Amit Dave. 

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