According to the World Food Program (WFP), 842 million people in the world do not eat enough to be healthy. That is one in every eight humans and shockingly, the numbers are on the rise. Simultaneously, of the 4 billion tonnes of food produced each year, one third is wasted, costing the global economy nearly $750 billion annually. Most importantly, hunger costs lives, traps people in poverty, and stunts future opportunities.
The number of people going hungry has increased since 2014. An estimated 821 million people were undernourished in 2017. The prevalence of undernourishment has remained virtually unchanged in the past three years at a level slightly below 11%. This reversal in progress sends a clear warning that urgent action must be taken if the Sustainable Development Goal of Zero Hunger is to be achieved by 2030.
By 2050 there will be over 2 billion more people to feed. Most of this population growth is predicted to happen in the developing world, where the vast majority of malnourished people live and where a third of all child deaths are linked to hunger. In addition to the over 800 million suffering from hunger, 2 billion people in the world are macronutrient deficient, 1.9 billion overweight or obese, and 160 million under the age of five stunted. Malnutrition is a complex issue that, in one form or another, affects every single country on earth – it is in fact the leading cause of death and ill health worldwide.
The perilous cycle of hunger
There are many ways hunger can trap people in a cycle of poverty and need. Due to its cyclical nature, hunger can impact a person for a lifetime and even be passed on to the next generation: In children, poor nutrition stunts physical and mental development, possibly leading to chronic health problems that keep youth out of school. In adulthood, a lack of education limits the ability to work and in the family context, poor health during pregnancy leads to an undernourished child, starting the cycle again.
With SDG2 we aim to end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture by 2030. The goal includes several targets that highlight aspects of hunger related to health, social justice, food production, environment, productivity, and economics. It is a key piece of building a better future for everyone. A world with zero hunger can positively impact our economies, health, education, equality, and social development. Reversely, with hunger limiting human development, we will not be able to achieve the other sustainable development goals.
Food and agriculture sectors play a crucial role, not just to end hunger
The food and agriculture sector offers key solutions for development and is central for hunger and poverty eradication. Right now, our soils, freshwater, oceans, forests, and biodiversity are being rapidly degraded. Climate change is putting even more pressure on the resources we depend on, increasing risks associated with disasters such as droughts and floods. In many places inhabitants of rural regions can no longer make ends meet on their land, forcing them to migrate to cities in search of opportunities. A profound change of the global food and agriculture system is needed if we are to nourish today’s over 800 million hungry and the additional 2 billion people expected by 2050. If done right, agriculture, forestry and fisheries can provide nutritious food for all and generate decent incomes, while supporting people-centred rural development and protecting the environment.
Pathways to Zero Hunger
Fighting hunger is not merely a question of increasing food production: Climate-induced shocks and civil insecurity have also contributed to food scarcity and high food prices. Ending extreme hunger and malnutrition requires a holistic approach.
- Responding to urgent needs:
When war, a pandemic like COVID-19, or natural disasters like the current locust crisis in parts of Africa and Asia creates a hunger crisis, an immediate response is needed. This can be in the form of emergency food, cash, or vouchers to buy food, treatment for malnutrition, or short-term employment so people can earn the money to buy food locally. Generally, it is advisable to strengthen government nutrition programmes to increase resilience in the face of such emergencies but also to improve overall public health and nutrition in the long-run as well as develop Good Governance mechanisms in the sense of just and inclusive policies related to food and nutrition.
- Facilitating access to food:
Technically, there is more food available per person than there was 30 years ago. If all the world’s food were evenly distributed, there would be enough for everyone to get 2,700 calories per day – even more than the minimum 2,100 required for proper health. The challenge is not a lack of food, it is making food consistently available to everyone who needs it.
Investment in the agriculture sector is critical for reducing hunger and poverty, improving food security, creating employment, and building resilience to disasters and shocks. On average, an estimated additional $267 billion per year are needed to end world hunger by 2030. There will need to be investments in rural and urban areas and in social protection, so those furthest behind increase their purchasing power to have access to food and improve their livelihoods. Furthermore, innovation and investments are required to make supply chains more efficient by developing sustainable, durable markets. To support these markets, we must also improve rural infrastructure, particularly roads, storage, and electrification, ensuring farmers’ ability to reach a wider consumer base.
- Building a more food-secure future:
Smallholder farmers provide 80% of the food consumed in the developing world. Being mostly rainfed, their agriculture is particularly vulnerable to droughts and floods. Connecting farmers to the resources they need to grow healthy crops and boost their incomes is a powerful tool to alleviate rural poverty. Investments in small-scale food producers, especially women and indigenous people, empower them to improve their resilience against and management of natural disasters and increase food security and nutrition for the poorest. With the trend towards urbanization, however, almost one-quarter of undernourished people now live in an urban environment. Recently, there has been a big push for urban farming which will empower families to gain control over their own food source.
- Curbing food waste:
Besides boosting production, all food systems need to be adapted to eliminate loss or waste of food. In developed countries, food waste often happens on the plate, while in developing countries food is lost during production, as crops go unused or unprocessed because of poor storage or because the farmers cannot get their goods to market. New farming techniques in agriculture, forestry, and fisheries as well as improved seeds and methods for crop storage need to be complemented by policies and practices that fight climate change and animal health care.
- Supporting overall health:
Improving nutrition and hygiene education and establishing social programs with a focus on supporting mothers, children, and the elderly is crucial in the fight against malnutrition in all its forms. To guarantee access to adequate food or healthy diets, for all people, all year round, a variety of diversified crops and farm animals needs to be protected. Today, four crops (rice, wheat, corn, and soy) represent 60% of all calories consumed worldwide. To address the challenges of climate change, food availability and access, as well as balanced nutrition, we need to identify and grow a more diverse range of crops. To achieve this, farmers must have the skills and tools required to cultivate these crops and communities must be educated about the nutritional importance of eating a wide range of foods.
- Fostering sustainability:
To make all food systems sustainable from production to consumption, communities must be empowered to manage their resources to improve crop and livestock production. Self-sufficiency is the ultimate goal for impoverished areas in order to not be reliant on aid (which often causes debt) but instead be able to create their own, steady, supply of food.
Businesses in the fight against food waste: TerraLoop
Established on the firm belief that food waste is a solvable problem, TerraLoop environmental consulting helps reduce food waste at source, through conducting waste audits and designing practical solutions tailored to businesses’ operations. The Dubai-based company also advocates for public policy solutions and helps communities divert food waste from landfills.
Their four-step approach consists of detailed waste auditing, individualized solution design, implementation, and ongoing optimization. Additional services are waste consulting, e.g. for events with minimal environmental impact, and the empowering ZeroWastED training program designed for schools, universities, and businesses alike.
Businesses in the fight against hunger: Half United through One Good Thing
Half United sells products that “blend a passion for compassion with a love for fashion” with each purchase funding feeding programs for children in developing countries. The US based brand, distributed in the UAE through the online store One Good Thing, offers luxurious jewellery that makes a tangible difference in the lives of poor people by empowering the customer to support sustainable programs in marginalized communities. For every Half United product purchased, seven meals are given to a child in need as part of feeding programs in the USA, Cambodia, Fiji, and Haiti. The luxurious and timeless fashion pieces and accessories are made using the highest quality materials, ethical processes, and a clean, classic design. All the jewellery manufacturing takes place in the USA with employees paid a fair wage, while they also employ local Haitians through Haiti Made, empowering them to provide for themselves and their families. Half United visualizes the power of consumers to make lasting change in the lives of children and communities by choosing an ethical social enterprise.
The impact goes even beyond the more than 800,000 meals given to children in need to date. As a funding partner of the Food Bank and a volunteer partner at Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard, Half United works closely with organisations that support impoverished and marginalised communities with a focus on long-lasting sustainability. They have funded after-school meal programs and the planting and maintenance of community gardens as well as the construction of bread ovens providing fresh grain whilst teaching local people a new trade to support and boost their economy.
Ways for individuals to contribute to zero hunger
We all have the power to make changes in our own lives – at home, at work and in the community – by supporting local farmers or markets and making sustainable food choices, supporting good nutrition for all, and fighting food waste. It cannot be emphasized enough that individuals can and must use their power as consumers and voters, demanding businesses and governments make the choices and changes that will make Zero Hunger a reality.
Join the conversation, whether in your local communities or on social media platforms, e.g. by entering the Zero Hunger Challenge where you can learn more about SDG2, including ways to take action.
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Carolin started her career at a grassroots NGO in Cairo working on various projects ranging from economic development and community empowerment to health and social inclusion.
Since coming to the UAE in 2009, Carolin has balanced working at the country’s biggest German-speaking publication and completing her Master’s degree in Sustainable Development Cooperation.
Carolin’s goal is to make a difference for the public. For her that means working on a few key issues, with an emphasis on social and environmental projects that can foster new ideas, establish cross-sectoral partnerships, and achieve tangible results that serve the public interest.
Carolin joined Goumbook in 2020.