Table of Contents
Five years after the world committed to end hunger, food insecurity and all forms of malnutrition, we are still off track to achieve this objective by 2030. Data tell us that the world is progressing neither towards SDG target 2.1, of ensuring access to safe, nutritious and sufficient food for all people all year round, nor towards target 2.2, of eradicating all forms of malnutrition.
There are many threats to progress. The 2017 and 2018 editions of this report showed that conflict and climate variability and extremes undermine efforts to end hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition. In 2019, the report showed that economic slowdowns and downturns also undercut these efforts. In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as unprecedented Desert Locust outbreaks in Eastern Africa, are obscuring economic prospects in ways no one could have anticipated.
The most recent estimate for 2019 shows that prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, almost 690 million people, or 8.9 percent of the global population, were undernourished. Since 2014, the number of hungry people worldwide has been slowly rising. The new estimate for 2019 has revealed that an additional 60 million people have become affected by hunger since 2014. If this trend continues, the number of undernourished people will exceed 840 million by 2030. Hence, the world is not on track to achieve Zero Hunger, even without the negative effects that COVID-19 will likely have on hunger. Preliminary projections based on the latest available global economic outlooks suggest that the COVID-19 pandemic may add an additional 83 to 132 million people to the ranks of the undernourished in 2020.
Beyond hunger, a growing number of people have had to reduce the quantity and quality of the food they consume. Two billion people, or 25.9 percent of the global population, experienced hunger or did not have regular access to nutritious and sufficient food in 2019.
These trends in food insecurity contribute to increasing the risk of child malnutrition, as food insecurity affects diet quality, including the quality of children’s and women’s diets, and people’s health in different ways. Hence, as painful as it is to accept, it is unsurprising that the burden of child malnutrition remains a threat around the world: in 2019, 21.3 percent (144.0 million) of children under 5 years of age were estimated to be stunted, 6.9 percent (47.0 million) wasted and 5.6 percent (38.3 million) overweight, while at least 340 million children suffered from micronutrient deficiencies. The good news is that between 2000 and 2019, the global prevalence of child stunting declined by one-third. Furthermore, adult obesity is on the rise in all regions.
We can still succeed, but only by ensuring all people’s access not only to food, but to nutritious foods that make up a healthy diet. A key reason why millions of people around the world suffer from hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition is because they cannot afford the cost of healthy diets. Costly and unaffordable healthy diets are associated with increasing food insecurity and all forms of malnutrition, including stunting, wasting, overweight and obesity. Food supply disruptions and the lack of income due to the loss of livelihoods and remittances as a result of COVID-19 means that households across the globe are facing increased difficulties to access nutritious foods and are only making it even more difficult for the poorer and vulnerable populations to have access to healthy diets.
It is unacceptable that, in a world that produces enough food to feed its entire population, more than 1.5 billion people cannot afford a diet that meets the required levels of essential nutrients and over 3 billion people cannot even afford the cheapest healthy diet. People without access to healthy diets live in all regions of the world.
Current food consumption patterns also generate what this year’s report calls “hidden costs” related to health costs (SDG 3) and climate-change costs (SDG 13). If current food consumption patterns continue, diet-related health costs linked to mortality and diet-related non-communicable diseases are projected to exceed USD 1.3 trillion per year by 2030. The diet-related social cost of greenhouse gas emissions associated with current dietary patterns is estimated to reach more than USD 1.7 trillion per year by 2030. The environmental costs do not account for other negative environmental impacts and the health costs do not account for the negative impacts of undernutrition due to data constraints.
We must look throughout the food system to address the factors that are driving up the cost of nutritious foods. This means supporting food producers – especially small-scale producers – to get nutritious foods to markets at low cost, making sure people have access to these food markets, and making food supply chains work for vulnerable people – from small-scale producers to the billions of consumers whose income is simply insufficient to afford healthy diets.
We face the challenge of transforming food systems to ensure that no one is constrained by the high prices of nutritious foods or the lack of income to afford a healthy diet, while we ensure that food production and consumption contribute to environmental sustainability. There is no one-size-fits-all solution for countries, and policymakers will need to assess the context-specific barriers, manage trade-offs and maximize synergies – such as potential environment gains – to achieve the required transformations.
The recommendations in this report, once tailored to each country context, will help governments to reduce the cost of nutritious foods, make healthy diets affordable for everyone and enable vulnerable people working in food systems to earn decent incomes that enhance their own food security. Areas of policy emphasis should include rebalancing of agricultural policies and incentives towards more nutrition-sensitive investment; and policy actions all along food supply chains, with a focus on nutritious foods for healthy diets, to reduce food losses, create opportunities for vulnerable small-scale producers and others working in food systems, and enhance efficiencies. Nutrition-sensitive social protection policies will also be central to increase the purchasing power and affordability of healthy diets by the most vulnerable populations. An enabling environment should also be promoted by policies that, more generally, improve the nutritional quality of the food produced and available on the market, support the marketing of diverse and nutritious food, and provide education and information for fostering individual and social behaviour change towards healthy diets.
Low-income countries rely more on staple foods and less on fruits and vegetables and animal source foods than high-income countries. Only in Asia, and globally in upper-middle-income countries, are there enough fruits and vegetables available for human consumption to be able to meet the FAO/WHO recommendation of consuming a minimum of 400 g/person/day.
Healthy diets are estimated to be, on average, five times more expensive than diets that meet only dietary energy needs through a starchy staple. The cost of a healthy diet exceeds the international poverty line (established at USD 1.90 purchasing power parity (PPP) per person per day), making it unaffordable for the poor. The cost also exceeds average food expenditures in most countries in the Global South: around 57 percent or more of the population cannot afford a healthy diet throughout sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia. However, not all healthy diets are sustainable and not all diets designed for sustainability are always healthy.
The prevalence of undernourishment (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. This prevalence is more than twice the world average (8.9 percent) and is the highest among all regions.
Asia is home to more than half of the total undernourished people in the world – an estimated 381 million people in 2019. Yet, the PoU in the population for the region is 8.3 percent, below the world average (8.9 percent), and less than half of that of Africa. 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.
In all regions of the world except Northern America and Europe, the prevalence of severe food insecurity has increased from 2014 to 2019. 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. At the global level, the prevalence of food insecurity at moderate or severe level, and severe level only, is higher among women than men.
Source: FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP and WHO. 2020. The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2020. Transforming food systems for affordable healthy diets. Rome, FAO. https://doi.org/10.4060/ca9692en
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