• CIRPS

Committee on World Food Security

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

KEY MESSAGES

➔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).

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

BOX 2

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.

ROUTINE REVISIONS

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.

PROJECTIONS

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.

For further details, including on the methodology for projections to 2030, see the methodological note in Annexes 1B and 2.

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.

FIGURE 1

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

TABLE 1

PREVALENCE OF UNDERNOURISHMENT (PoU) IN THE WORLD, 2005–2019

TABLE 2

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 edition7 introduced policies and programmes to build resilience of livelihoods and food systems to climate shocks and stresses (pp 105–111). The 2019 edition1 presented a set of recommendations to reduce the effects of economic vulnerability on food security and create sustained escapes from hunger and malnutrition (pp. 102–118).

This is the projected situation in 2030 based on trends in recent years, without considering the unknown impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic will most likely accelerate the projected increase in the number of hungry people, at least in the immediate future. This reinforces the need for urgent action to get back on track towards achieving the Zero Hunger goal. The possible impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the food security outlook for the world in 2030 is discussed in Box 3.

BOX 3

HOW THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC MAY AFFECT HUNGER IN THE WORLD

This report presents projections (Figure 1) of what the extent of hunger in the world may be in 2030, if trends of the last decade, observed until late last year, were to continue (see Box 2 and Annexes 1B and 2). At the time of going to press (June 2020), the COVID-19 pandemic was spreading across the globe, clearly posing a serious threat to food security. There is no doubt the pandemic will expose more people to food insecurity and accelerate the projected increase in the number of hungry people, unless immediate actions are taken. As the extent to which the COVID-19 pandemic will persist is not known, both in terms of scope and severity, the projections provided here must be seen as preliminary.

There are multiple ways in which the pandemic may affect food systems and food security.14,15,16 It is clear that the COVID-19 pandemic is already delivering shocks to both the supply and the demand side of food systems throughout the world. On the supply side, COVID-19 itself may not necessarily create food shortages, as the production of the major food crops (wheat, rice, maize and soybean) is expected to remain above average in 2020.17 But the pandemic has already created disruptions along the food supply chain. COVID-19 containment measures are already limiting labour mobility in areas dependent on seasonal or migrant labour and making it difficult to access markets and transport food both within and across countries. Further disruptions of logistics could disrupt the new planting seasons.

On the demand side, the massive lockdowns across the world are expected to hamper people’s ability to access food and create serious economic downturns. This will make it difficult to afford food, particularly for the poor and vulnerable groups. Low- and middle-income countries will likely be the most affected, as they do not have the contingency mechanisms and funds to stimulate their economies and protect the most vulnerable. As a consequence, a pandemic-induced global economic crisis is likely to generate new pockets of food insecurity even in countries that did not require interventions previously.

HOW THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC MAY AFFECT HUNGER IN THE WORLD: THREE SCENARIOS

Estimating COVID-19’s effect on food security comes with a high degree of uncertainty due to lack of data and clarity about what the future of the world economy will look like. Potential scenarios may take different shapes, depending on the kind of policies that will be put in place and the time they will take to start showing their impact. At the time of writing, a so-called “U-shaped” recovery appeared to be more likely, which could mean a recession in 2020 followed by a recovery, whose length is uncertain, but starting in 2021. Such a recovery is conditional on second waves of infections not materializing or being easily contained.

Although it is still too early to quantify the full impact of the pandemic, this box presents the results of a quantitative analysis of the potential consequences in terms of the PoU, as driven by the global economic prospects. The analysis aims to show how the scenario described in Figure 1 might change once some of the potential effects of COVID-19 are factored in.

Because COVID-19 is triggering shocks on both the supply and the demand side of the global economy, the simplest way to gauge its potential effect on the PoU is through its impact on world economic growth. This is done by combining data from the International Monetary Fund’s World Economic Outlook (WEO) released in April and updated in June 2020,18 with a statistical analysis of the relationship between economic growth and food availability. It follows the methodology and country samples of an earlier exercise conducted by FAO using previously available data.19,20

Based on time series of total food supplies and GDP growth over 1995–2017 for most countries in the world, the statistical analysis shows that GDP growth reduction significantly affects the net food supply in net food-importing countries, and especially in low-income food-deficit countries (LIFDCs). On average, 1 percentage point of GDP growth reduction is estimated to reduce the food supply in net food-importing countries by 0.06 percent in net food-importing countries that are not low-income, and by 0.306 percent in LIFDCs.

The IMF’s WEO forecasts a contraction of 4.9 percent in the world GDP in 2020, followed by a recovery of 5.4 percent in 2021. It provides country-specific estimates of GDP change in 2020 and 2021. The aforementioned elasticities estimated by FAO were applied using the GDP growth forecasts for 2020 and 2021 to all net food-importing countries (distinguishing between LIFDCs and non-LIFDCs) in order to estimate the likely shift in the series of total Dietary Energy Supply. This is used to compute the PoU, under three scenarios, illustrated by three different lines in the figure presented below. The three simulated scenarios contrast with the projections presented in Figure 1, a world without COVID-19.

The first scenario builds on the WEO, which forecasts world economic growth to be -4.9 percent in 2020 and +5.4 percent in 2021, which closely approximates an earlier forecast by IFPRI.21 It is illustrated by the orange line in the figure. Such negative economic performance in 2020 would imply an increase of about 83 million undernourished in 2020 (from 695.7 to 778.3) attributable to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The second, less optimistic scenario (red line) foresees 2.1 percentage points lower GDP growth both in 2020 and 2021 compared with the base one (that is to say, world economic growth would be on average -7 percent and +3.3 percent in 2020 and 2021, respectively). In such case, the increase in the number of undernourished in 2020 would be of 103 million.

The third, more pessimistic scenario (dark red line) implies a reduction of 5.1 percentage points in the GDP growth rates compared to the first scenario, thus assuming a world economic growth of -10 percent and +0.3 percent, in 2020 and 2021 respectively. This scenario would bring the number of undernourished up to almost 828 million in 2020, out of which more than 132 million might be attributable to the impact of COVID-19. The expected recovery in 2021 would bring the number of undernourished down to 766 million, which is 62 million more than the already worrisome projection in the absence of the pandemic (indicated by the yellow line).

In all cases, the world economy would not fully recover in 2021.

The analysis is limited to the potential impact of the pandemic on net food supplies only, as the pre-COVID-19 projections for the population size and compositions and for the food consumption inequality are not altered. As a result, the analysis does not capture the full impact of the economic recession, as it does not consider possible consequences in terms of inequality in food access within countries. Therefore, it may underestimate the total potential impact of COVID-19 on food insecurity should the simulated economic growth scenarios materialize. It is also important to highlight that, as presented in the IMF’s WEO, the analysis assumes that the recovery will happen in two years. Considering the high degree of uncertainty around the duration of the recovery, this represents an important limitation of this assessment.

While it cannot be considered a precise, detailed analysis, it demonstrates that, if no action is taken to prevent foreseeable disruptions in the world food systems, especially in food-deficit countries, COVID-19 will further complicate the already daunting challenge of reaching the SDG target of Zero Hunger.

According to estimates, the PoU in Africa was 19.1 percent of the population in 2019, or more than 250 million undernourished people, up from 17.6 percent in 2014.b This prevalence is more than twice the world average (8.9 percent) and is the highest among all regions (Tables 1 and 2).

b The complete historical series of the PoU at global, regional and country levels can be found in the FAOSTAT database (available at www.fao.org/faostat/en/#data/FS).

The majority of undernourished people in Africa are found in the sub-Saharan subregion, which shows an increase of about 32 million undernourished people since 2015. Hunger has been on the rise throughout sub-Saharan Africa since 2014, though the increase has been especially significant in the Eastern and the Western subregions, as well as in Middle Africa where it has reached 29.8 percent of the total population in 2019 (Figure 2, Tables 1 and 2).

FIGURE 2

PoU IN AFRICA BY SUBREGION, WITH PROJECTIONS TO 2030. THE HIGHEST LEVELS OF UNDERNOURISHMENT ARE FOUND IN MIDDLE AND EASTERN AFRICA

Economic slowdowns and downturns help explain much of the observed increase in hunger in several parts of sub-Saharan Africa, especially in the last two to three years. For instance, in Western Africa, recent increases in undernourishment have occurred together with these adverse economic factors, as has been the case in Côte d’Ivoire, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Mauritania, Niger and Nigeria.1

Additionally, a number of conflicts have affected the subregion in recent years, including in Burundi, the Central African Republic, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Libya, Mali, northeast Nigeria and South Sudan.4,8 When such disruptions persist over long periods of time, they impair all dimensions of food security, from the ability to access food, to the availability of supplies and the livelihoods of rural communities, along with the production chains that ensure the distribution of food. Protracted instability can easily destroy the resilience of well-functioning food systems.

The recent rise in undernourishment in Middle Africa and parts of Eastern Africa results from a combination of widespread violence in countries such as Central African Republic and Somalia – where almost half of the population is undernourished – and a drop in crop yields due to climate variability. For instance, in the Great Lakes and the Horn of Africa areas, poor yields of key products, such as maize, sorghum and groundnuts, have fallen further in recent years.7 A significant presence of displaced persons from neighbouring countries has added to the challenges already faced by countries like Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya and Sudan.4

Furthermore, widespread droughts, generated by El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO), have contributed to the increase in food insecurity seen in recent years in several countries of the Eastern and Southern Africa subregions, including Madagascar, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.7

At the same time, changing environmental conditions and competition for key resources such as land and water, have played a significant role in provoking violence and armed conflicts, exacerbating the vicious circle of hunger and poverty. The conflict in Darfur, for instance, is largely attributed to prolonged drought conditions. Competition between pastoralists and farmers is a source of conflicts in the Horn of Africa, where reduced mobility due to violence has affected grazing patterns and access to land and water. Similar occurrences have fueled conflict in other parts of the Sahel, for instance in the case of Mali, where desertification is reducing available croplands.7

In terms of outlook for 2030 (Table 1 and Figure 2), Africa is significantly off track to achieve the Zero Hunger target, even without considering the impact of COVID-19. If recent trends persist, its PoU will increase from 19.1 to 25.7 percent. Undernourishment is expected to worsen, particularly in the sub-Saharan subregion. By 2030, the projected rise in the PoU would bring the number of hungry people in Africa to almost 433 million, 412 million of whom would be in sub-Saharan countries (Table 2).

Asia is home to more than half of the total number of undernourished people in the world – an estimated 381 million people in 2019. Yet, the PoU in the region is 8.3 percent of the total population, below the world average (8.9 percent), and less than half of that of Africa (Tables 1 and 2). In addition, since 2005, the number of hungry people in Asia has gone down by more than 190 million. This outcome reflects progress mostly in the Eastern and Southern subregions. The situation in other subregions is stable since 2015, except for Western Asia (Tables 1, 2 and Figure 3), where it has been worsening due to widespread protracted crises.

FIGURE 3

PoU IN ASIA BY SUBREGION, WITH PROJECTIONS TO 2030. WESTERN ASIA HAS BEEN OFF TRACK IN THE RECENT PAST AND IS THE ONLY SUBREGION IN THE CONTINENT WHERE THE PREVALENCE OF UNDERNOURISHMENT IS PROJECTED TO INCREASE

The two subregions showing reductions in undernourishment – Eastern and Southern Asia – are dominated by the two largest economies of the continent – China and India. Despite very different conditions, histories and rates of progress, the reduction in hunger in both countries stems from long-term economic growth, reduced inequality, and improved access to basic goods and services. Average GDP growth rates were 8.6 percent and 4.5 percent in China and India, respectively, in the last 25 years.1 In Southern Asia, significant progress was also made in reducing hunger in the last ten years in countries like Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, owing largely to improved economic conditions.

Conflicts and instability are the primary drivers behind the rise in hunger seen in Western Asia. In particular, conflicts in Syrian Arab Republic and Yemen have increased undernourishment. In Yemen, the economic downturn following the conflict that began in 2015 has resulted in the destruction of social protection networks and basic services, contributing to critical conditions of food security and nutrition. In Syrian Arab Republic, the civil war that started in 2011 has destroyed the economy, infrastructures, agricultural production, food systems and social institutions. All of this is exacerbated by a large presence of internally displaced populations, which is also affecting neighbouring countries.

The projections for Asia in 2030 (Tables 1, 2 and Figure 3) show that significant progress has been made in reducing undernourishment in all subregions, with the exception of Western Asia (see Box 2 for an explanation of how the projections are made), where undernourishment is increasing. Without considering the potential impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, Eastern and Central Asia are on track to meet SDG Target 2.1 by 2030. Southern and South-eastern Asia are making progress, but nevertheless are not on track to achieve the target by 2030. The current increasing trend in Western Asia is the opposite of what is needed to achieve the target by 2030.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, the PoU was 7.4 percent in 2019, below the world prevalence of 8.9 percent, which still translates into almost 48 million undernourished people. The region has seen a rise in hunger in the past few years, with the number of undernourished people increasing by 9 million between 2015 and 2019, but with important differences among the subregions. The Caribbean, the subregion with the highest prevalence, showed some moderate progress in the recent past, while in Central and South America, the situation has worsened (Figure 4).

FIGURE 4

PoU IN LATIN AMERICA AND THE CARIBBEAN BY SUBREGION, WITH PROJECTIONS TO 2030. PROJECTIONS POINT TO CONVERGENCE BETWEEN CENTRAL AMERICA, WHERE UNDERNOURISHMENT IS PROJECTED TO INCREASE, AND THE CARIBBEAN, WHERE IT IS PROJECTED TO DECLINE

As in other regions, progress and setbacks in reducing hunger are a result of economic conditions, extreme climate events, political instability and conflicts.

In the Caribbean, the most severe conditions are found in Haiti, which has been battered by depletion of natural resources and extreme weather events like droughts, floods, heat waves and earthquakes. They have contributed to dire economic conditions, widespread poverty and high levels of undernourishment. Despite some improvements in the last decade, about half of the population is still estimated to be undernourished.

In South America, the increase in undernourishment observed in recent years is mainly driven by the situation in Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of) where the PoU has increased from 2.5 percent in 2010–2012 to 31.4 percent in 2017–2019. The persisting political and economic crisis continues to fuel a decline in food security and nutrition levels and quality. Most of the food supply of the country is imported, and the devaluation of the Bolivar currency is making food imports increasingly expensive. As a consequence, these imports fell by 67 percent in 2016–2017, while hyperinflation curbed the purchasing power of households and their ability to access food and other basic goods. The severity of the situation in the country has driven up the number of refugees that flee to neighbouring countries, particularly Colombia and Ecuador.9

The Latin America and Caribbean region is not on track to achieve the SDG 2.1 Zero Hunger target by 2030 (Tables 1 and 2). The region is projected to have more than 19 million more hungry people in 2030 compared to 2019, even without considering the likely impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. A 3-percentage point increase in the PoU is projected for Central America. In South America, the PoU is projected to increase to 7.7 percent, equal to almost 36 million people, in 2030. The Caribbean subregion, while making progress, is not on track to achieve the target by 2030.

In summary, despite having achieved the most progress in reducing undernourishment, Asia is currently home to more than 55 percent of the undernourished people in the world. Africa has the highest PoU and the second highest number of undernourished people, accounting for 36.4 percent of the global total. A much smaller share is seen in Latin America and the Caribbean (almost 7 percent), and an even smaller share in Oceania and other regions (Figure 5, left chart).

FIGURE 5

IF RECENT TRENDS PERSIST, THE DISTRIBUTION OF HUNGER IN THE WORLD WILL CHANGE SUBSTANTIALLY, MAKING AFRICA THE REGION WITH THE HIGHEST NUMBER OF UNDERNOURISHED IN 2030

Even without considering the effects of COVID-19, projected trends in undernourishment would change the geographic distribution of world hunger dramatically (Figure 5, right chart). While Asia would still be home to almost 330 million hungry people in 2030, its share of the world’s hunger would shrink substantially, thanks to progress in highly populated countries of Eastern and Southern Asia. Africa would overtake Asia to become the region with the highest number of undernourished people, accounting for 51.5 percent of the total. Similarly, but to a lesser degree, Latin America and the Caribbean would host a slightly larger share of people suffering from hunger in 2030 than today.

The World Bank projections on extreme poverty offer a similar pattern, with sub-Saharan Africa, and particularly the conflict-affected fragile economies of the region, becoming home to a large share of the world’s poor people in 2030.10

The projections on undernourishment may be substantially altered by differential impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic across the regions. The full extent of the impact of the epidemic is still being assessed. More details, including a preliminary scenario analysis, are reported in Box 3.

SDG Indicator 2.1.2 Prevalence of moderate or severe food insecurity in the population, based on the FIES

Since being introduced by FAO in 2014, the Food Insecurity Experience Scale (FIES) has rapidly become a global reference for measuring food insecurity based on household and/or individual data. Many institutions responsible for food security assessments, including statistical offices and other governmental agencies, have adopted it as a standard tool for food security data collection in population surveys. As a result, many more national data sets are becoming available to complement FAO data collected through the annual Gallup© World Poll (GWP) to generate estimates of the prevalence of moderate or severe food insecurity (SDG Indicator 2.1.2).

In making the global assessment, preference is given to suitable and reliable FIES data available from large national surveys, whereas FAO data collected in the GWP are used to compile the estimates for countries for which there is no other data and/or to fill gaps in terms of time series. This year, FIES or equivalent food security experience scales data collected by national institutions were used for 30 countries, covering approximately 20 percent of the world population (see Annex 1B). As national data are often available only for one or two years over the monitored period, FAO data are used as a complementary source of information to infer trends and complete the series of annual estimates. In all cases, results are made comparable across all countries and regions regardless of whether the main source is FAO data or official national data, by calibrating the estimated country scales against the standard FIES global reference scale.22

Compared to SDG Indicator 2.1.1, this indicator focuses specific attention on moderate food insecurity (Figure 6). As noted in the 2019 edition of this report, people who are moderately food insecure do not have regular access to nutritious and sufficient food, even if not necessarily suffering from hunger. This level of food insecurity can have negative effects on diet quality (see Section 1.3) and increase the risk of various forms of malnutrition and poor health. This is a crucial aspect today, when people in many parts of the world are beginning to face the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. While FIES data have yet to be collected in the context of the pandemic, it is expected that some people who were previously food secure may face new difficulties in accessing food due to disruptions in food distribution systems, restrictions on movement and loss of income.

FIGURE 6

EXPLANATION OF FOOD-INSECURITY SEVERITY LEVELS MEASURED BY THE FIES IN SDG INDICATOR 2.1.2

SDG Indicator 2.1.2 reports on the extent of food insecurity at any level (moderate or severe) so that any reduction can be unambiguously interpreted as an improvement. As in previous editions of the report, it is nevertheless useful to also explore the situation in terms of the prevalence of severe food insecurity only, given its expected relationship to the PoU.

Severe food insecurity

Our latest estimates suggest that 9.7 percent of the world population (slightly less than 750 million people) was exposed to severe levels of food insecurity in 2019 (Tables 3 and 4).

TABLE 3

PREVALENCE OF FOOD INSECURITY AT SEVERE LEVEL ONLY, AND MODERATE OR SEVERE LEVEL, MEASURED WITH THE FOOD INSECURITY EXPERIENCE SCALE, 2014–2019

TABLE 4

NUMBER OF PEOPLE EXPERIENCING FOOD INSECURITY AT SEVERE LEVEL ONLY, AND MODERATE OR SEVERE LEVEL, MEASURED WITH THE FOOD INSECURITY EXPERIENCE SCALE, 2014–2019

Although obtained using different data and methods, the prevalence of severe food insecurity (FIsev) is conceptually comparable to the PoU. This is because people experiencing severe food insecurity, as measured by the FIES, are unlikely to be able to acquire enough food to continuously fulfil their dietary energy requirements.

Unsurprisingly, the prevalence of severe food insecurity in Africa (19 percent) is very close to the PoU in the region (19.1 percent, see Table 1), and is the highest among all world regions. In Asia, the prevalence of severe food insecurity (9.2 percent) is lower than in Latin America and the Caribbean (9.6 percent), but not as low as in Northern America and Europe (1.1 percent) (Table 3).

In all regions of the world except Northern America and Europe, the prevalence of severe food insecurity has increased from 2014 to 2019 (Figure 7, darker bars). This is also broadly consistent with recent trends in the PoU in the world and across regions, as noted in the previous section of this report. The only partial exception is Asia, where – contrary to what we noted based on our pre-COVID-19 PoU estimates – severe food insecurity appears to be slightly on the rise in 2018 and 2019 compared to previous years.

FIGURE 7

MODERATE OR SEVERE FOOD INSECURITY AFFECTS ONE QUARTER OF THE WORLD POPULATION, AND IT HAS BEEN INCREASING OVER THE PAST SIX YEARS. OVER HALF OF THE POPULATION IN AFRICA, ALMOST ONE-THIRD IN LATIN AMERICA AND THE CARIBBEAN AND MORE THAN ONE-FIFTH IN ASIA ARE FOOD INSECURE

The divergence can be explained by the different timeliness of the data used for the analyses. While FIES data are available almost in real-time, food consumption data are not collected in household surveys on a yearly basis. As PoU estimates rely on data that refers to a few, and sometimes several years back, they may fail to reflect phenomena that affect the actual extent of inequality in food consumption. When recent food consumption data are available, the two series tend to converge more closely.

Moderate or severe food insecurity

While the 746 million people facing severe food insecurity are of utmost concern, an additional 16.3 percent of the world population, or more than 1.25 billion people, have experienced food insecurity at moderate levels. The prevalence of both moderate and severe levels of food insecurity (SDG Indicator 2.1.2) is estimated to be 25.9 percent in 2019 for the world as a whole. This translates into a total of 2 billion people (Tables 3 and 4). Total food insecurity (moderate or severe) has consistently increased at the global level since 2014 (Figure 7), mostly because of the increase in moderate food insecurity.

Figure 7 shows also that the prevalence of food insecurity (moderate or severe) is still on an upward trend in Africa. This is explained by the increase in the sub-Saharan region. Although Africa is where the highest levels of total food insecurity are observed, it is in Latin America and the Caribbean where food insecurity is rising the fastest: from 22.9 percent in 2014 to 31.7 percent in 2019, due to a sharp increase in South America (Table 3). In Asia, the percentage of people exposed to moderate or severe food insecurity remained stable from 2014 to 2016, then started increasing from 2017 on. The increase is concentrated in Southern Asia where the total prevalence of food insecurity increased from less than 30 percent in 2017 to more than 36 percent in 2019.

The global crisis induced by the COVID-19 pandemic will certainly bring these figures to much higher levels, even in regions of the world like Northern America and Europe, which have traditionally been more food secure.

Figure 8 shows that today, out of the 2 billion people suffering from food insecurity, 1.03 billion are in Asia, 675 million in Africa, 205 million in Latin America and the Caribbean, 88 million in Northern America and Europe and 5.9 million in Oceania.

FIGURE 8

OVER HALF OF THE PEOPLE AFFECTED BY MODERATE OR SEVERE FOOD INSECURITY IN THE WORLD LIVE IN ASIA AND MORE THAN ONE-THIRD LIVE IN AFRICA

Gender differences in food insecurity

The FIES data collected annually by FAO in more than 140 countries at the individual (rather than household) level from 2014 to 2019 provide a unique opportunity to analyse the differences in the prevalence of food insecurity among men and women.

Figure 9 shows the prevalence of food insecurity at different levels of severity among men and women worldwide and in all regions, highlighting the evolution from 2014 to 2019. At the global level, the prevalence of moderate or severe food insecurity is higher among women than men, with significant differences found in almost all years for Africa and Latin America. For Northern America and Europe, the difference is small but statistically significant for most years. For severe food insecurity, the prevalence is also higher among women than men. The differences are statistically significant at the global level in 2019, and for Latin America in all years. At the global level, and more markedly in Africa and Latin America, the gender gap in accessing food increased from 2018 to 2019, particularly at the moderate or severe level of severity.

FIGURE 9

GLOBALLY AND IN EVERY REGION, THE PREVALENCE OF FOOD INSECURITY IS SLIGHTLY HIGHER IN WOMEN THAN IN MEN

An in-depth analysis conducted by pooling all FIES data collected by FAO from 2014 to 2018 provides more details about the socio-economic characteristics of individuals who lack access to adequate food.23 In addition to finding that food insecurity is more prevalent among women, regardless of the level of severity, people with higher risk of food insecurity were those in the lowest income quintile, with lower education, unemployed, with health problems, living in rural areas, belonging to the age group between 25 and 49 years old, and separated or divorced (see Annex 2 for a description of the methodology).

After controlling for socio-economic characteristics, women still had about a 13 percent higher chance of experiencing moderate or severe food insecurity than men, and close to 27 percent higher chance of being severely food insecure at the global level.

Globally, the gender gap in food insecurity at both moderate or severe and severe levels only decreased slightly from 2014 to 2018. The gender gap in food insecurity is larger among the poorer and less-educated strata of the population, and for individuals who are out of the workforce, with health problems and who live in suburbs of large cities compared with those who live in rural areas.

These findings point to the need for a deeper understanding of the forms of discrimination that make access to food more difficult for women, even when they have the same income and education levels and live in similar areas as men.

In summary, the continued gradual increase in the number of hungry and food insecure people in most regions of the world is alarming. It may only worsen in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, emphasizing the need to redouble efforts to achieve the SDG targets in the ten years remaining until 2030. The food insecurity trends described in this section can have nutritional consequences, potentially leading to different manifestations of malnutrition. The next section presents the latest figures on progress towards ending all forms of malnutrition, with projections for 2030. The section includes a special focus on childhood stunting.


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