FeaturedInternationalVolume 14 Issue # 06

The challenge of world hunger

World Food Day is observed on 16 October every year, a day the FAO has designated to bring attention to how governments and individuals can help combat world hunger, malnutrition and food insecurity.

On Oct 16, 1945, representatives from 42 countries gathered in Quebec, Canada, to create the FAO. World Food Day commemorates the group’s founding, celebrates the progress that has been made and highlights the need to do much more to fight hunger-related issues including malnutrition and food insecurity.

The right to food is a basic human right. Investing in sustainable food systems and rural development means addressing some of the major global challenges – from feeding the world’s growing population to protecting the global climate, and tackling some of the root causes of migration and displacement. Achieving the 17 SDGs cannot happen without ending hunger, and without having sustainable and resilient, climate-compatible agriculture and food systems that deliver for the people and the planet. Reaching Zero Hunger is possible: out of the 129 countries monitored by FAO, 72 have already achieved the target of halving the proportion of people who suffer from hunger by 2015; over the past 20 years, the likelihood of a child dying before age five has been nearly cut in half, with about 17,000 children saved every day; extreme poverty rates have been cut in half since 1990.

The U.N. has set a goal of achieving zero hunger worldwide by 2030, and on World Food Day the FAO asks governments, farmers, organizations and individuals to get involved in working toward a world where everyone has reliable access to enough nutritious food — i.e. food security. With that goal in mind, the World Food Day slogan is “Our actions are our future.”

Chronic hunger currently affects a staggering 821 million people around the world, according to statistics from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Since its creation 1945, the FAO has been working toward its goal of freeing humanity from hunger and malnutrition.

This year’s theme “Our Actions are our Future. A Zero Hunger World by 2030 is possible” reminds us of the need to ensure that everyone has access to safe, affordable and nutritious food at all times to live a healthy and happy life. According to the latest State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2018, for the third year in a row, there has been a rise in world hunger. The absolute number of undernourished people has increased to nearly 821 million in 2017 from around 804 million in 2016. Pakistan in 2015-17 had a Prevalence of Undernourishment in the total population of 20.5%. This has barely improved since 2004-06 when it was 23.3%, and has actually risen since 2014-16 when it was 19.9% reflecting a worldwide trend of increasing hunger.

On the 2017 IFPRI Global Hunger Index, Pakistan ranked at 106 among 119 countries, with a score of 32.6. This level is described as “serious”, and is on a par with Afghanistan, which ranked 107. Food security is a fundamental element of poverty alleviation. However, achieving it is a necessary but not sufficient condition to prevent malnutrition and ensure adequate nutrition for all. When there is an uncertain access to nutritious, safe and varied food for a household or an individual, that household or individual is food insecure. Food insecurity can both directly through compromised diets, and indirectly through impact on infant feeding cause child wasting, stunting and micronutrient deficiencies. Recurrent infections and disease are serious contributing factors to wasting and stunting in children. Nutritional knowledge and food habits and improved sanitation may play a role by moderating the effects of household food insecurity on diet, health and, consequently, on nutritional outcomes.

The link between food insecurity and overweight and obesity also passes through diet, which is affected by the cost of food. Nutritious, fresh foods often tend to be expensive. So what should be done? There is need for implementing and scaling up interventions aimed at guaranteeing sustainable production and access to nutritious foods, breaking the intergenerational cycle of malnutrition perpetuated by undernourished girls becoming undernourished mothers at risk of giving birth to infants with low birth weights. Any action plan or policy implementation must pay special attention to the food security and nutrition of infants and children under five, school-age children, adolescent girls and women.

The first National Food Security Policy and the Water Policy provide the framework for action, putting emphasis on agriculture diversification among other things, and a National Zero Hunger Programme. Key pillars of a Zero Hunger Programme are school-feeding programmes combined with educational modules on nutrition, hygiene, food preparation and homestead kitchen gardens in rural and peri-urban areas; conditional income support targeting women in the most vulnerable households; knowledge, technology and asset creation (such as quality seeds, modern irrigation systems, processing equipment) and market linkages.

Further pillars such as nutritional supplements, essential basic services would also be required in the most vulnerable and poor areas. Close inter-ministerial and cross-sectoral coordination among the ministries of food security, water, health and climate change, and a strong alliance with civil society is also needed. Zero hunger is a definitive call for a transformation of the rural economy, coupled with a change in the diets of households and individuals. Common citizens at their own level can help by looking at what they eat in one day and compare that with Pakistan Dietary Guidelines for their age group and if there is anything they should change; seeing how much food and water goes wasted in a day in their home and what can be done to reduce it. We should leave no stone unturned to attain the target of zero hunger by 2030.