Food and Water

This is the state of food security in 2023

According to the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World (SOFI) report, an additional 122 million people have been pushed into hunger since 2019.

According to the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World (SOFI) report, an additional 122 million people have been pushed into hunger since 2019. Image: REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

Ewan Thomson
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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Food Security

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  • Compounding crises are threatening to delay the goal of eradicating world hunger by 2030.
  • A new United Nations report found that the number of people facing hunger has increased since 2019.
  • Here’s why more people are hungry now than before the pandemic, and how initiatives by the UN and the World Economic Forum initiatives seek to reverse the trend.

The global pandemic, coupled with conflict and climate crisis-related weather patterns has delayed the goal of eradicating world hunger by 2030.

A new report by the United Nations (UN) has shed light on an increase in the number of people facing hunger in recent years. According to the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World (SOFI) report, an additional 122 million people have been pushed into hunger since 2019.

Although global hunger numbers have plateaued between 2021 and 2022, there are still many regions facing deepening food crises, prompting calls for a global effort to address the root causes of food insecurity.

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Here’s why more people are facing hunger, and what can be done to reverse this recent trend.

Stalled progress: causes and calls to action

Last year, nearly 30% of the global population – equivalent to 2.4 billion people – did not have constant access to food. The UN’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 2) of ending hunger by 2030 is in jeopardy, and action is required to identify and highlight regional issues, and reverse the increase in global hunger levels since before the pandemic.

A chart showing the number of undernourished people from 2005 to 2022.
World hunger levels in 2019 increased from 7.9% of the population, or 613 million people, to 9.2% in 2022. Image: UN

Although global hunger numbers have plateaued between 2021 and 2022, there are still many regions facing deepening food crises. While Asia and Latin America have made progress in reducing hunger, Western Asia, the Caribbean, and all sub regions of Africa have witnessed an increase. Africa remains the worst-affected region, with one in five people facing hunger, more than twice the global average.

In response to the report findings, UN Secretary-General António Guterres called for an intense and immediate global effort to address the root causes of food insecurity, emphasising the need to build resilience against crises and shocks, such as conflict and climate crisis.

The state of food security in 2022

The SOFI report highlights the food security and nutrition challenges in 2022. Of the 2.4 billion people facing a lack of constant access to food, around 900 million individuals faced severe food insecurity. Moreover, access to healthy diets has deteriorated since the global pandemic, with 3.1 billion people unable to afford a nutritious diet in 2021, an increase of 134 million people compared with 2019.

The impact of these conditions is particularly pronounced for children. The report reveals that 148 million children under five years of age were stunted, 45 million were wasted, and 37 million were overweight in 2022. While exclusive breastfeeding rates have seen some progress, by boosting women’s nutrition, more concerted efforts are needed to meet the malnutrition targets by 2030.

A chart showing how the number of children living with hunger and malnutrition is improving.
The number of children living with hunger and malnutrition is improving, but more efforts are needed to reach 2030 malnutrition targets. Image: UN

Urbanization: Changing agrifood systems

The SOFI report also highlights the complex balance of increased urbanization on agrifood systems. With nearly seven in ten people projected to live in cities by 2050, policymakers are seeking to understand what urbanization means in terms of addressing hunger and malnutrition.

The availability of fruits and vegetables is insufficient to meet the daily requirements of a healthy diet in almost every region of the world.

Access to affordable, nutritious food is generally greater in cities than in rural areas, but there are “stark inequalities” within urban populations.

As agrifood value chains evolve, policymakers must ensure that food nutrition and security initiatives do not unintentionally create more areas with little to no access to nutritious foods. These are known as food deserts, or food swamps – areas with an overabundance of high-energy dense foods with little nutritional value.

A table showing the three stages of transformation of agrifood value chains.
As agrifood value chains evolve, policymakers must ensure they become more equitable and continue to deliver nutritious food. Image: UN

Addressing food security

The UN report serves as a wake-up call to address the worsening hunger crisis. By taking comprehensive measures, outlined below, we can work towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goal of ending hunger by 2030.

The report emphasizes the urgent need for comprehensive policy interventions, actions and investments to tackle food insecurity. Key recommendations include:

1. Transform agrifood systems: Achieving SGD 2 is dependent on how and where food is grown and delivered. Investments in small-scale farmers, climate crisis adaptation, access to technology and finance can enhance food production, and supply nutritious food to both rural and urban areas.

A graphic showing the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 2 - zero hunger.
The UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 2 aims for a world free of hunger by 2030. Image: UN

2. Prioritize child nutrition: the report underscores the importance of prioritizing child nutrition by ensuring access to affordable, nutritious diets and essential nutrition services. It also highlights the need to protect children and adolescents from nutrient-poor, ultra-processed foods.

3. Strengthen food supply chains: efforts to address food insecurity must include strengthening food and nutrition supply chains, particularly for fortified and therapeutic foods for children. This requires collaboration between governments, international organizations, and other stakeholders.

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4. Address urbanization challenges: Policymakers need to understand the implications of urbanization on food security and nutrition. Building resilient agrifood systems that cater to the needs of urban and rural communities is crucial. This includes addressing spatial inequalities and ensuring equitable access to food and nutrition resources.

The World Economic Forum’s food systems initiative seeks to advance insights and policies that accelerate transformation of the global food system in a way that meets the needs of the planet and its people. In the last 15 years, the initiative has brought together over 1,000 organizations to form partnerships that advance knowledge, insight and future policy.

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Food and WaterIndustries in DepthClimate Action
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