In 2015, the countries of the United Nations committed to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This agenda recognized the importance of looking beyond hunger towards the goals of ensuring access to safe, nutritious and sufficient food for all people all year round, and of eradicating all forms of malnutrition (SDG 2 Targets 2.1 and 2.2). Five years into the 2030 Agenda, it is now time to assess progress and to question whether continuing efforts implemented thus far will allow countries to reach these objectives. For this reason, this year’s report complements the usual assessment of the state of food security and nutrition in the world with projections of what the world may look like in 2030 if trends of the last decade continue. Importantly, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve, this report attempts to foresee some of the impacts of this global pandemic on food security and nutrition. However, given that the devastation that COVID-19 will cause is still largely unknown, it is important to recognize that any assessment at this stage is subject to a high degree of uncertainty and should be interpreted with caution.
Food security and nutrition are closely interlinked. Food insecurity can lead to different manifestations of malnutrition. One vital element that explains this connection is the food that people eat; specifically, the quality of their diet. Food insecurity can affect diet quality in different ways, potentially leading to undernutrition as well as overweight and obesity. Ensuring access to a healthy diet is a prerequisite for achieving the SDG target of eradicating all forms of malnutrition. For this reason, this report examines several issues related to the quality of diets, including the challenges of assessment and monitoring of food consumption and diet quality at global level.
Section 1.1 presents the latest available evidence on progress towards achieving the hunger and food insecurity targets (SDG 2.1). This assessment is complemented with a first assessment of the potential for achieving these targets by 2030 at the global and regional levels based on the assumption that the trends observed in the last decade will continue.
Section 1.2 presents the latest figures on progress towards achieving global targets for seven nutrition indicators (including three SDG 2.2 indicators), with a spotlight on childhood stunting. The section also provides a glimpse of what the nutrition situation would be like in 2030 if current trends continue.
The analyses presented in Sections 1.1 and 1.2 use input data compiled up to March 2020, but with a reference period that ends in 2019. As such, they should be understood to represent the food security and nutrition situation before the outbreak of COVID-19. At this stage, it is not possible to undertake a complete and well-informed quantification of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Nonetheless, this report provides an assessment of how the pandemic might affect food security and nutrition, within the limitations imposed by the information that is currently available.
Section 1.3 describes the challenges of defining and monitoring diet quality. It also presents evidence on what people are eating around the world including global trends in food availability and assessments of diet quality at the global and national levels. It ends by examining the important link between people’s food insecurity (access) and diet quality. This segues into Part 2 of this report, which scrutinizes in depth the cost and affordability of healthy diets. Section 1.4 summarizes and concludes Part 1.
1.1PROGRESS TOWARDS HUNGER AND FOOD INSECURITY TARGETS
➔Updates for many countries have made it possible to estimate hunger in the world with greater accuracy this year. In particular, newly accessible data enabled the revision of the entire series of annual undernourishment estimates for China back to 2000, resulting in a substantial downward shift of the series of the number of undernourished in the world. Nevertheless, the revision confirms the trend reported in past editions of this report: the number of people affected by hunger globally has been slowly on the rise since 2014.
➔Current estimates are that nearly 690 million people are hungry, or 8.9 percent of the world population – up by 10 million people in one year and by nearly 60 million in five years.
➔Despite the re-assessment of the extent of hunger in China, the majority of the world’s undernourished – 381 million – are still found in Asia. More than 250 million live in Africa, where the number of undernourished people is growing faster than in any other region of the world.
➔The number of people affected by severe food insecurity, which is another measure that approximates hunger, also shows an upward trend. In 2019, close to 750 million – or nearly one in ten people in the world – were exposed to severe levels of food insecurity.
➔Considering the total affected by moderate or severe levels of food insecurity, an estimated 2 billion people in the world did not have regular access to safe, nutritious and sufficient food in 2019.
➔At the global level, the prevalence of food insecurity at moderate or severe level, and severe level only, is higher among women than men. The gender gap in accessing food increased from 2018 to 2019.
➔The world is not on track to achieve Zero Hunger by 2030. If recent trends continue, the number of people affected by hunger will surpass 840 million by 2030, or 9.8 percent of the population. This is an alarming scenario, even without taking into account the potential impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
➔COVID-19 is expected to worsen the overall prospects for food security and nutrition. Pockets of food insecurity may appear in countries and population groups that were not traditionally affected. A preliminary assessment suggests the pandemic may add between 83 and 132 million people to the total number of undernourished in the world in 2020 depending on the economic growth scenario (losses ranging from 4.9 to 10 percentage points in global GDP growth). The expected recovery in 2021 would bring the number of undernourished down, but still above what was projected in a scenario without the pandemic.
Ten years remain to eliminate hunger and ensure access to food for all
This edition of the report presents the latest available evidence on progress towards achieving the hunger and food insecurity targets. It also attempts to predict the state of food security in 2030 by assessing the current trajectory of hunger at the global and regional levels.
The assessment benefits from important updates for several populous countries. In particular, newly accessible data for China made it possible to update estimates of inequalities in dietary energy consumption in the country. This has in turn allowed us to revise the entire prevalence of undernourishment (PoU) series for the country back to 2000, and by extension to estimate hunger in the world with greater accuracy (see Box 1).
UPDATED INFORMATION FOR CHINA IMPROVES THE ACCURACY OF GLOBAL HUNGER ESTIMATES
Revising parameters to estimate the PoU is standard procedure, conducted annually as more data become available. This makes it impossible to compare PoU estimates across different editions of the report (see Box 2 and Annex 2). Even so, data are not available to update parameters for all countries every year. This year has been rich in updates, including revision of the crucial parameter of inequality in food consumption for 13 countries, among them some of the world’s most populous. As highlighted in previous editions, particularly problematic until this year had been access to more recent data to revise the parameter of inequality in food consumption for China. Given that the country hosts one-fifth of the world’s population, any update of Chinese parameters can be expected to make a significant difference to global estimates.
While still facing food security and nutrition challenges, China has made impressive economic and social development gains since the last update that were not reflected in previous assessments. Our conviction that an update of the PoU for China was needed was reinforced further by a recent assessment on the state of nutrition in China, the Report on Chinese Residents’ Chronic Diseases and Nutrition, published by the Chinese National Health and Family Planning Commission on 30 June 2015. The report showed considerable improvement in the nutritional status of the Chinese population, including a reduction of undernutrition in adults (measured as the percentage of individuals with Body Mass Index below 18.5 kg/m2) from 8.5 percent in 2002 to 6 percent in 2012, and of stunting in children under 6 years from 16.3 percent in 2002 to 8.1 percent in 2013.11,12* However, the data in the report could not be used for the update, as it does not provide information on inequality of food consumption in the population.
* See also Table 1 in Wang, Wang & Qu (2017, p.149).12 For the same period, the Joint Malnutrition Estimates of UNICEF, WHO and the World Bank for stunting among children under five years of age (SDG target 2.2) declined from 21.8 to 8.1 percent.
This year FAO obtained data from two surveys in China that could be used to update the PoU estimates. The first is the China Health and Nutrition Survey (CHNS)** conducted from 1990 to 2011, covering 12 provincial-level administrative regions of China. The second is the China Household Finance Survey (CHFS),*** which covers 28 out of 34 provincial-level administrative regions of China, and was conducted every two years from 2011 to 2017. With these data it was possible to update the information on inequality of dietary energy consumption across the Chinese population and, consequently, the estimates of the PoU for China, and to revise the whole series back to 2000 for consistency.
** CHNS is collected by the National Institute for Nutrition and Health (NINH), former National Institute of Nutrition and Food Safety, at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CCDC) and the Carolina Population Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
*** CHFS is collected by the Survey and Research Center for China Household Finance of the Research Institute of Economics and Management at the Southwestern University of Finance and Economics in Chengdu, Sichuan, China.
Although based on different sampling frames and designs, CHNS and CHFS provide sufficiently reliable estimates of average food consumption and average food expenditure, respectively, by province and income deciles. This allowed the estimation of a statistical function that links the daily dietary energy consumption of typical households in China to their monthly food expenditure. The estimated model was then used to predict the levels of energy consumption by income decile in each of the provinces and years based on the reported food expenditure data in the CHFS. The results, properly weighted by the current population in each income decile by province, were used to compute estimates of inequality in habitual dietary energy consumption due to income (CV|y) in 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2017. These estimates were then used to update the series of PoU for China.**** With the revision, the estimated PoU for China in 2017 is below 2.5 percent of the population, which is the lowest value that can be reliably reported using the PoU methodology. Without the revision, the 2017 estimate would be close to 10 percent.
**** A more detailed description of the input data, the methods and results can be found in Cafiero, Feng & Ishaq, 2020.13
The revisions to the China series have resulted in a new series of estimates of PoU and the number of undernourished in the world which, reflecting new information, are now more accurate than in the past. The result was a substantial downward shift of the entire series of global hunger numbers, as depicted in Figure A. Despite this shift in levels, the revision confirms the trend reported in past editions of this report: the number of people affected by hunger in the world has been slowly on the rise since 2014.
A. NUMBER OF UNDERNOURISHED IN THE WORLD, WITH AND WITHOUT THE REVISION FOR CHINA
In addition to the trends on improving nutrition in China from the 2015 report mentioned above, further validation for the revision comes from comparing the revised global estimates of PoU with the recent estimates of the prevalence of severe food insecurity based on the Food Insecurity Experience Scale (FIES). As explained in past editions of the report, the PoU and the prevalence of severe food insecurity based on the FIES are different, independent measures of the extent of serious food deprivation, based on different methods and data sources. However, they are two complementary ways to look at the extent of hunger in the world (see also the section on SDG Indicator 2.1.2 in this report).
The revised PoU estimates, both for the entire world and for the world excluding China (Figure B), display a remarkable convergence with the series of the prevalence of severe food insecurity in 2014–2019. This confirms the validity and urgency of the revision. The greater concurrence of these two indicators – for China and for the world – is a welcome step towards a unified baseline for gauging progress on the road towards the achievement of SDG 2.
B. PREVALENCE OF UNDERNOURISHMENT IN THE WORLD WITH AND WITHOUT CHINA, C
OMPARED TO THE PREVALENCE OF SEVERE FOOD INSECURITY BASED ON THE FIES
REVISED SERIES OF PREVALENCE OF UNDERNOURISHMENT ESTIMATES AND PROJECTIONS UP TO 2030
The PoU series is always revised prior to the publication of each new edition of The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World. This is done to take into account any new information that FAO has received since the release of the previous edition. As this process usually implies backward revisions of the entire series, readers must avoid comparing PoU series across different editions of this report. They should always refer to the most current report, including for past values. This is especially important this year, given the significant downward revision of the series of PoU estimates resulting from the updated PoU for China (see Box 1).
This edition extended the projections to 2030 to provide initial indications of whether the world was on track to achieve the SDG target of Zero Hunger in 2030. This was done in addition to the routine revisions due to the processing of new data and without anticipating the onset of COVID-19.
One of the routine revisions involves the series of population data used for all countries. National population figures were obtained from the World Population Prospects released by the Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations Secretariat in June 2019. It is worth noting that the new series of population estimates present different figures also for earlier years, as official statistical series are revised retrospectively each time new data become available and inconsistencies are corrected. Population figures, in terms of age and sex composition, have several implications for PoU estimates. They enter into the computation of per capita levels of Dietary Energy Supply (DES), estimates of the minimum dietary energy requirement (MDER), estimates of the coefficient of variation of food consumption that can be traced to differences in energy requirements (CV|r) and parameters that are used to calculate the number of undernourished people. The new data from the 2019 revision of the World Population Prospects reduced the levels of previously estimated MDER and CV|r, resulting in a reduction in PoU levels compared with assessments from previous years.
Another major revision that FAO regularly implements is the update of the Food Balance Sheet series used to estimate the average DES. Since May 2019, the Statistics Division of FAO has used improved methods for compiling Food Balance Sheets, leading to revised food supply series in all countries in the world. In December 2019, a new Food Balance Sheets domain was added to FAOSTAT with the series from 2014 to 2017. The series will be extended to 2018 for all countries by the end of 2020. Anticipating this release, the unpublished new Food Balance Sheets data for 50 countries in 2018 was used to update estimates of dietary energy consumption in the population, which informs the PoU estimates in 2018 presented in this report. The revision of the Food Balance Sheets has been substantial for a number of countries, pointing to even tighter food supplies in recent years than previously thought.
Finally, as new food consumption data from household surveys have been made available, revised estimates of the coefficient of variation (CV) of per capita levels of habitual, daily dietary energy consumption in the population were considered for a few countries and years. Since the last edition of this report, 25 new surveys from the following 13 countries have been processed to update the CV: Bangladesh, China, Colombia, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Mexico, Mongolia, Mozambique, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Sudan and Thailand. When a new estimate of the CV from a survey is available for a country, the whole series is revised reconnecting the last available data point to the most recent one through linear interpolation. For most countries, however, the latest available survey dates back to 2014 or earlier.
When a reliable estimate of the prevalence of severe food insecurity based on the Food Insecurity Experience Scale (FIsev) – see next section on SDG Indicator 2.1.2 – is available for countries, the component of the CV of food consumption, linked to the differences in income among households (CV|y), is further updated. The update is based on the trend in FIsev from 2015 or the year of the last available food consumption survey, if the latter is more recent. The update is made to capture recent trends in food consumption inequality. In making the connection between FIsev and CV, only the fraction of changes in the PoU values that could be attributed to changes in food consumption inequality were considered.
In extending the projections of the PoU to assess the prospects for achieving the Zero Hunger target by 2030, an approach was followed based on projecting each of the three fundamental components of the PoU estimates separately for each country. The PoU and number of undernourished (NoU) values were then aggregated at the regional and global levels.
First, projected population size and composition (median variants), readily available from the World Population Prospects, were used. This allowed the projections of values of MDER and CV|r up to 2030.
Second, the current time series of total DES from 2005 to 2017/2018 were forecast to 2030 using a simple version of Exponential Smoothing, which treats weighted averages of past observations with the weights decaying exponentially as the observations get older. In other words, the more recent the observation, the higher the associated weight. The total DES was then divided by the projected population numbers to provide an indication of the evolution at per capita levels.
Finally, trends in the CV as estimated from 2015 or from the date of the last available survey were extended to 2030, following the same principle that guided the update of the CV up to 2019.
The report presents an assessment through 2019 based on the data that was available in March 2020, just before the COVID-19 pandemic began to take hold. The challenge of eradicating hunger and ensuring access to safe and nutritious food for all now appears to be more daunting. The figures and projections reported in this section and in Section 1.2 provide a picture of how food insecurity and malnutrition in the world would have evolved had COVID-19 not appeared. In this sense, it is an important assessment to be used as a baseline against which to evaluate the impact of the pandemic on food security and nutrition.
SDG Indicator 2.1.1 Prevalence of undernourishment (PoU)
The three most recent editions of this report already presented evidence that the decades-long decline in hunger in the world, as measured using the PoU, had unfortunately ended. Additional evidence and several important data updates, including a revision of the entire PoU series for China (see Boxes 1 and 2), show that almost 690 million people in the world (8.9 percent of the world population) are estimated to have been undernourished in 2019 (Figure 1, Tables 1 and 2). Revision in light of the new data, which results in a parallel downward shift of the entire global PoU series, confirms the conclusion of past editions of this report: the number of people affected by hunger in the world continues to increase slowly. This trend started in 2014 and extends to 2019. There are nearly 60 million more undernourished people now than in 2014, when the prevalence was 8.6 percent – up by 10 million people between 2018 and 2019.
THE NUMBER OF UNDERNOURISHED PEOPLE IN THE WORLD CONTINUED TO INCREASE IN 2019. IF RECENT TRENDS ARE NOT REVERSED, THE SDG 2.1 ZERO HUNGER TARGET WILL NOT BE MET
PREVALENCE OF UNDERNOURISHMENT (PoU) IN THE WORLD, 2005–2019
NUMBER OF UNDERNOURISHED PEOPLE IN THE WORLD, 2005–2019
There are a number of reasons why hunger has increased in the last few years. Weak, stagnant or deteriorating economic conditions are underlying causes of increasing poverty and undernourishment. Economic slowdowns and downturns, particularly since the financial crisis of 2008–2009, have had significant impacts on hunger through various channels.1 Despite significant progress in many of the world’s poorest countries, and extreme poverty rate declining in the last two decades from more than 50 percent to about 30 percent, almost 10 percent of the world population still lives on USD 1.90 per day or less, especially in sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia.2 Debt has increased significantly in many poor economies during the last decade, with total debt reaching almost 170 percent of GDP in 2018,3 thus contributing to rising global risks and weakening growth prospects in many emerging and developing economies.
A high level of commodity-export and commodity-import dependence is another factor that makes several countries and regions more vulnerable to external shocks. Large inequalities in the distribution of income, assets and resources, together with the absence of effective social protection policies, also undermine food access, particularly for the poor and vulnerable. Economic conditions, structural imbalances and the inclusiveness of the policy framework interact with natural and man-made causes to trigger persisting poverty and hunger.
The increasing frequency of extreme weather events, altered environmental conditions, and the associated spread of pests and diseases over the last 15 years are factors that contribute to vicious circles of poverty and hunger, particularly when exacerbated by fragile institutions, conflicts, violence and the widespread displacement of populations.4,5,6,7 The number of displaced people in the world in 2018 was about 70 percent higher than in 2010, reaching some 70.8 million, mostly hosted by developing countries.2
Smallholder farmers and communities that rely directly on their ability to produce their own food are affected more by these phenomena. Moreover, the prevalence of hunger is higher in countries with fast population growth and poor access to healthcare and education. This establishes direct links between food security, nutrition and health conditions of the population, which in turn affect the prospects of economic growth and development.
Figure 1 reveals that the world is not on track to achieve the SDG 2.1 Zero Hunger target by 2030. Combined projections of recent trends in the size and composition of population, in the total food availability, and in the degree of inequality in food access point to an increase of the PoU by almost 1 percentage point. As a result, the global number of undernourished people in 2030 would exceed 840 million (see Box 2 and Annex 2 for a description of the projection methodology).
These projections for 2030 indicate that Target 2.1 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – “By 2030 end hunger and ensure access by all people, in particular the poor and people in vulnerable situations including infants, to safe, nutritious and sufficient food all year round” – will not be met unless relevant stakeholders at all levels, from the subnational all the way to the global level, undertake urgent and consistent actions to reverse the current trends.a
a The last three editions of this report presented a set of responses that are relevant going forward. The 2017 edition4 offered concrete recommendations for building and strengthening resilience to shield food security from the impact of conflicts (pp. 73–75). The 2018 edition