- It is unlikely the world will be able to meet its goal of eliminating hunger by 2030.
- Progress has been made on tackling world hunger but food insecurity started rising in 2014 (see chart here)..
- Hunger and undernutrition has a real impact on the global GDP.
There are 7.8 billion people in the world and more than one in 10 of them go hungry on a regular basis.
At a global level, the problem is certainly not a lack of food. Quite the contrary. The world produces enough food to feed at least 10 billion people, according to a multitude of studies.
Still, 795 million people do not have enough food and about five million children die of malnutrition every year.
One problem is inequality.
Hungry people are overwhelmingly poor and live in areas where food might simply not reach. Inequality is a problem.
In developed countries, there are people who may go hungry because they cannot afford food. Not because there is not enough food for them. The same is often true of developing countries, where 12.9% of the population is undernourished, according to the Food Aid Foundation. Most of the hungry people in the world are in Asia, which is also the continent that produces the most food but also has the most people. Here again, inequality is an issue. It’s not that there isn’t enough food as “there are markets full of the stuff” but rather that they can’t afford it.
Another problem is logistics.
Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest incidence of hunger and here, in places, there isn’t enough food because it is not produced locally, and nobody takes it there. One in four people in Sub-Saharan Africa are undernourished.
A third issue is waste.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has estimated that as much as a third of the food produced around the world is wasted. About 14% of the waste happens after the harvest and before distribution.
Hunger has real consequences
Going hungry for a day is challenging. Going hungry for a week can be painful, even torturous. Chronic hunger, when a person does not consume enough calories per day on a regular basis, makes it impossible to lead a normal life, or for children to develop properly.
A moderate lack of food, say the lack caused by occasional food insecurity due to losing a job, or an unexpected expense, can create its own stresses.
Harder to track is the impact on the 162 million children that fail to develop from lack of nutrition.
The FAO estimates the cost of all this malnutrition is about 5% of global GDP or US$3.5 trillion per year. Roughly US$500 per person. Similarly, undernutrition cuts global GDP by 2% to 3%, as much as US$2.1 trillion every year.
In 2018, 9.2% of the global population was exposed to severe food insecurity, according to the FAO’s State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World (SOFI) 2019 report.
Efforts to eliminate hunger have been moderately successful, but progress stopped around 2014, when food insecurity started rising again (see chart here). At the current rate, the goal of eliminating hunger by 2030 will not be met.
The global population is increasing and will top 9 billion by 2050. In theory, we should have enough food. Food production is growing at a faster rate than population.
Still, with all the waste and lack of logistics and inequality, the FAO says global food production will have to increase by 60% to meet everyone’s needs.