The Committee on World Food Security is holding its 40th session this week at the headquarters of the UN’s Food & Agriculture Organisation (FAO). Attending members will be discussing how to improve international policies to address the millions of people who still routinely go hungry every day across the world.
According to the newly published 2013 FAO report, ‘The state of food and agriculture’, the number of chronically undernourished people in developing countries has fallen to 852 million in the period 2011–13 (compared with 980 million in 1990–92). This means that while 23% of people in developing countries were undernourished in 1990–92, this has now dropped to around 15%.
While this decline represents significant progress, it doesn’t meet the millennium development goal of seeing hunger halve by 2015. In addition, the top-line estimates for those who are chronically hungry do not include all forms of malnutrition, with a further 2 billion people believed to suffer from one or more micronutrient deficiencies. These are deficiencies in essential nutrients, such as iron, zinc and vitamin A, which are necessary to ensure people are healthy. Without such nutrients or through lack of food generally, children are unable to develop normally.
Reductions in stunting
Through inadequate diet, there are still an estimated 160 million stunted children (28.8% of under-fives) in developing countries today. Though this figure remains shockingly high, it also represents a significant decline compared with the 248 million stunted children in 1990 (according to data from UNICEF, the World Health Organisation and World Bank).
However, all the members attending this week’s meeting will be keen to discuss programmes which can bring the number of undernourished children down much further. In its report, the FAO refers to just a few initiatives which have proved successful in addressing hunger, such as a scheme to improve harvests and the processing of beans in Rwanda and Uganda. Here, small growers, often women, have been given support by universities, research institutions and non-governmental organisations to improve yields of common beans
Techniques for harvesting, drying and storing beans have also been improved, as have processes to raise the nutrition content of the crop. Different de-hulling, soaking, milling, fermenting and germinating processes can reduce the elements in the beans which limit iron uptake, thus making them more protein-rich for children and adults. And when turned into flour, the beans can be used to make a whole variety of porridges, cakes, biscuits and bread. Schemes such as this one, which help small growers maximise nutrition from the most suitable crops, are seen as the ideal way to reduce hunger and under-nutrition in developing countries.