Hunger is costing the world's poorest countries £290 billion a year, according to a report out this week.
The amount is more than 10 times the sum needed to halve hunger by 2015, which is the first Millennium Development Goal.
Twenty out of 28 poor nations risk not reaching that goal by the target date, said hunger charity ActionAid which ran the study.
Hunger has a cost not only in premature deaths, the charity underlines, but also in lost economic potential. Developing countries are losing £290bn a year because their people are too hungry to work or because hunger in childhood has irreversibly damaged people, both mentally and physically.
"Fighting hunger will now be 10 times cheaper than ignoring it,” said ActionAid's Joanna Kerr. “Every year, reduced worker productivity, poor health and lost education costs poor countries billions.
"And the cost is not just financial. If governments don't act now, over a million more children could die by 2015 and half of Africa won't have enough food in 10 years."
She said recent food riots were a "sharp reminder" that poor countries could not rely on unstable global food markets. "Investing in local farms where the world's hungry live is the best way to avert another food crisis."
The Who’s Really Fighting Hunger? report comes as the latest United Nations figures say there are 925 million chronically hungry people worldwide. That’s down from around one billion people last year. But despite the improvement, UN agencies warn food security is still fragile and more investment in farming is needed.
"Malawi and Ghana are shining examples of how supporting small scale farmers is key to halving hunger," said ActionAid's Africa coordinator, Henry Malumo. “With only five years left and a billion people hungry, it's critical the world follows their example," he said.
The Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Sierra Leone, Pakistan and Lesotho ranked bottom of the score card. "But surprisingly, not just the poorest, war-torn or disaster-struck countries rank low,” said the report. “Despite a radical fast increase in India's economy, drastic cuts in agriculture and support farms mean nearly half the country's children are malnourished and one in five of the population is hungry."
As well as Malawi and Ghana, Brazil, China and Vietnam all had top ratings for tackling hunger.
“The reason is,” says ActionAid’s Alex Wijeratna “they have made tackling hunger a big political priority. It’s about political will. Brazil, in particular, has a big campaign headed by the president of Brazil…and he made fighting hunger a priority.”