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To Feed the Future, Let’s End Hunger by 2030

David Beckmann's picture

 The world has made impressive progress against hunger in the past few decades – mostly due to the hard work of poor people themselves. They are the most important stakeholders:  Who could be more invested in the struggle against hunger than a young woman with a hectare of land to farm and two children to feed? 
 
The State of Food Insecurity in the World (SOFI) 2014 tells us that the hunger target of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)—cutting in half the proportion of undernourished people—is within reach. Even better, the evidence shows that the world is making progress rapidly enough to end hunger by 2030. Setting and achieving a goal to end hunger and malnutrition in the post-MDG, post-2015 era can bring an end to widespread chronic hunger, which affects more than 800 million people today. 
 
Ending hunger is important for the present and the future. It is far better to prevent a crisis than to respond after it has occurred.
 
Ironically, people living with hunger are, by and large, the very same people the world needs to feed a growing population. Smallholder farmers often face structural barriers to food security—for example, they lack access to basic infrastructure, such as roads to get crops to the market, storage facilities, electricity, and irrigation. They lack access to credit and land. Helping them increase their incomes and build assets, strengthening safety nets, and focusing on health and education outcomes will help build their resilience to shocks that are beyond their control, such as climate change-related weather events.

We can address food insecurity by supporting efforts to strengthen national and local capacity:

  • Develop policies and cross-sectoral programs that support climate-smart agriculture, particularly among smallholder farmers.
  • Collect and share better information in a timely way, so that smallholder farmers can plan and respond rapidly to changing conditions. Mobile phones and ICTs are already being used in exciting ways in many different sectors and could be an effective tool in disseminating climate-related information.
  • Conduct research on context specific adaptation and mitigation techniques for smallholders
  • Examine issues using a gender lens and root out discrimination that creates and maintains inequality.
In the short run, we must focus on building the resilience of people and communities by targeting more closely those who are at risk of hunger, like that young smallholder farmer and her children. We know now that a country can achieve impressive rates of economic growth without any noticeable improvement in child malnutrition.
 
Ending hunger is, by and large, a localized task. It requires improving the availability, access, and utilization of nutritious food.
 
One major obstacle is the lifelong burden of poor health and reduced potential caused by malnutrition in early childhood. One in every four children bears the burden of stunting. The personal cost is devastating, and there are also considerable economic costs for the many countries with high rates of child malnutrition. Now that we know that good nutrition during the "1,000 Days"—the window between a woman’s pregnancy and her child’s second birthday—is absolutely critical to that child’s future and the future of her country, we must put the necessary resources into ensuring that pregnant women, babies, and toddlers get the nutrients they need.
 
The good news is that many of the essential actions are low-tech and low-cost, such as ensuring that new mothers are able to breastfeed exclusively for six months. Equipping smallholder farmers to grow and consume nutrient-rich crops such as sweet potatoes is one of several ways that agriculture can be an important part of the solution to stunting.
 
Another major impediment to ending hunger is gender discrimination. The world will simply not be able to make much more progress against global hunger until we reduce and ultimately end gender discrimination. In developing countries, women do much of the farming and nearly all the food processing, meal planning, and cooking. Denying them equal access to the resources needed to increase their productivity is counterproductive. Women are frequently kept from participating in the formal economy and/or paid less for the same work. Women and girls are often expected to eat last and least, so the hungry population is disproportionately female. Bread for the World Institute’s 2015 Hunger Report, to be released in November 2014, takes a much closer look at the intersection of gender bias and hunger.
  
At the end of the day, stakeholders on the ground—individuals, families, communities, and governments at all levels—are on the frontlines in efforts to end chronic hunger and malnutrition. Over the last decade, development partners have shifted towards a more country-owned, country-led model. There is a greater focus on the need to strengthen institutions and systems in country. This has to be where we put our energy in the post-2015 global development agenda.
 
This blog is part of a series exploring what different sectors can do to feed the world in the face of climate change. For more, tune in to Food for the Future, a high-level panel discussion on Friday, October 10 at 12:30 E.T. and join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter using #food4future.

Photo credit:  paulaphoto via Shutterstock
 

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