Authors: FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP and WHO
Site of publication: World food programme (wfp)
Type of publication: Report
Date of publication: 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. This situation could deteriorate if we do not act immediately and boldly.
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 global economic prospects in ways no one could have anticipated, and the situation may only get worse if we do not act urgently and take unprecedented action.
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. This estimate is based on new data on population, food supply and more importantly, new household survey data that enabled the revision of the inequality of food consumption for 13 countries, including China. Revising the undernourishment estimate for China going back to the year 2000 resulted in a significantly lower number of undernourished people worldwide.
Preliminary projections based on the latest available global economic outlooks, also presented in this report, suggest that the COVID-19 pandemic may add an additional 83 to 132 million people to the ranks of the undernourished in 2020
This is because China has one-fifth of the global population. Despite this, the trend reported in past editions of this report still stands: 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, also presented in this report, suggest that the COVID-19 pandemic may add an additional 83 to 132 million people to the ranks of the undernourished in 2020.
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; thus, we are facing a global problem that affects us all.
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.
Clearly, then, 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. However, 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.
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.
Food security and nutrition around the world in 2020
Five years into the 2030 Agenda, it is time to assess progress and to question whether continuing efforts implemented thus far will allow countries to reach SDG 2 targets. For this reason, this year’s report complements the usual assessment of the state of food security and nutrition in the world with projections of what the world may look like in 2030 if trends of the last decade continue.
Importantly, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve, this report attempts to foresee some of the impacts of this global pandemic on food security and nutrition. However, given that the full extent of the devastation that COVID-19 will cause is still largely unknown, it is important to recognize that any assessment at this stage is subject to a high degree of uncertainty and should be interpreted with caution.
Progress towards hunger and food insecurity targets
- Current estimates are that nearly 690 million people are hungry, or 8.9 percent of the world population – up by 10 million people in one year and by nearly 60 million in five years.
- Despite the re-assessment of the extent of hunger in China, the majority of the world’s undernourished – 381 million – are still found in Asia. More than 250 million live in Africa, where the number of undernourished people is growing faster than in any other region of the world.
- The number of people affected by severe food insecurity, which is another measure that approximates hunger, also shows an upward trend. In 2019, close to 750 million – or nearly one in ten people in the world – were exposed to severe levels of food insecurity.
- Considering the total affected by moderate or severe levels of food insecurity, an estimated 2 billion people in the world did not have regular access to safe, nutritious and sufficient food in 2019.
- The world is not on track to achieve Zero Hunger by 2030. If recent trends continue, the number of people affected by hunger will surpass 840 million by 2030, or 9.8 percent of the population.
The reasons for the observed increase of the last few years are multiple. Much of the recent increase in food insecurity can be traced to the greater number of conflicts, often exacerbated by climate-related shocks. Even in some peaceful settings, food security has deteriorated as economic slowdowns challenge access to food for the poor.
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.
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. The region has seen a rise in hunger in the past few years, with the number of undernourished people increasing by 9 million between 2015 and 2019.
In terms of the outlook for 2030, Africa is significantly off track to achieve the Zero Hunger target in 2030. If recent rates of increase persist, the PoU will rise from 19.1 to 25.7 percent. Latin America and the Caribbean is also off track, even though at a much lower level. Mostly due to deterioration in recent years, the trend will bring the PoU from 7.4 percent in 2019 to 9.5 in 2030. Asia, while making progress, will also not achieve the target by 2030 based on recent trends.
At the time of this writing, the COVID-19 pandemic was spreading across the globe, clearly posing a serious threat to food security. Preliminary assessments based on the latest available global economic outlooks suggest that the COVID-19 pandemic may add between 83 and 132 million people to the total number of undernourished in the world in 2020 depending on the economic growth scenario (losses ranging from 4.9 to 10 percentage points in global GDP growth). The expected recovery in 2021 would bring the number of undernourished down but still above what was projected in a scenario without the pandemic. It is important to recognize that any assessment at this stage is subject to a high degree of uncertainty and should be interpreted with caution.
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
Progress towards global nutrition targets
- Globally, the burden of malnutrition in all its forms remains a challenge. According to estimates, in 2019, 21.3 percent (144.0 million) of children under 5 years of age were stunted, 6.9 percent (47.0 million) wasted and 5.6 percent (38.3 million) overweight.
- The world is making progress but is not on track to achieve the 2025 and 2030 targets for child stunting and low birthweight, and for exclusive breastfeeding, is on track only for the 2025 target. The prevalence of wasting is notably above the targets.
- Central Asia, Eastern Asia and the Caribbean have the largest rates of reduction in the prevalence of stunting and are the only subregions on track to achieve the 2025 and 2030 stunting targets.
- Most regions are not on track to achieve the targets for child overweight. Adult obesity is on the rise in all regions.
Worldwide, the prevalence of child stunting was 21.3 percent in 2019, or 144 million children. Although there has been some progress, rates of stunting reduction are far below what is needed to reach the World Health Assembly (WHA) target for 2025 and the SDG target for 2030. If recent trends continue, these targets will only be achieved in 2035 and 2043, respectively.
In 2019, more than nine out of ten stunted children lived in Africa or Asia, representing 40 percent and 54 percent of all stunted children in the world, respectively.
The global prevalence of overweight among children under 5 years of age has not improved, going from 5.3 percent in 2012 to 5.6 percent, or 38.3 million children, in 2019. Of these, 24 percent lived in Africa and 45 percent in Asia. Australia and New Zealand is the only subregion with a very high prevalence (20.7 percent). Southern Africa (12.7 percent) and Northern Africa (11.3 percent) have prevalences considered high.
The critical link between food security and nutrition outcomes: food consumption and diet quality
- The exact make-up of a healthy diet varies depending on individual characteristics, cultural context, local availability of foods and dietary customs, but the basic principles of what constitutes a healthy diet remain the same.
- There are large discrepancies in the per capita availability of foods from different food groups across different country income groups. 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.
- Globally, only one in three children 6 to 23 months of age meets the recommended minimum dietary diversity, with wide variation among the regions of the world.
- Diet quality is negatively affected by food insecurity, even at moderate levels of severity. People who experience moderate or severe food insecurity consume less meat, and fewer dairy products and fruits and vegetables, than those who are food secure or mildly food insecure.
Worldwide, the prevalence of child stunting was 21.3 percent in 2019, or 144 million children. Although there has been some progress, rates of stunting reduction are far below what is needed to reach the World Health Assembly (WHA) target for 2025 and the SDG target for 2030. If recent trends continue, these targets will only be achieved in 2035 and 2043, respectively
Diet quality comprises four key aspects: variety/diversity, adequacy, moderation, and overall balance. According to WHO, a healthy diet protects against malnutrition in all its forms, as well as non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke and cancer. It contains a balanced, diverse and appropriate selection of foods eaten over a period of time.
A healthy diet ensures that a person’s needs for macronutrients (proteins, fats and carbohydrates including dietary fibres) and essential micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) are met, specific to their gender, age, physical activity level and physiological state. Healthy diets include less than 30 percent of total energy intake from fats, with a shift in fat consumption away from saturated fats to unsaturated fats and the elimination of industrial trans fats; less than 10 percent of total energy intake from free sugars (preferably less than 5 percent); consumption of at least 400 g of fruits and vegetables per day; and not more than 5 g per day of salt (to be iodized). While the exact make-up of a healthy diet varies depending on individual characteristics, as well as cultural context, locally available foods and dietary customs, the basic principles of what constitutes a healthy diet are the same.
Trends in food availability
Data on food availability at the country level show large discrepancies in the per capita availability of foods from different food groups across different country income groups. Low-income and lower-middle-income countries rely heavily on staple foods like cereals, roots, tubers and plantains. Overall, the availability of staple foods for the world has changed little between 2000 and 2017. Availability of roots, tubers and plantains increased in lower-middle-income countries, driven by a rise in Africa, whereas it decreased in high-income countries.
In low-income countries, cereals, roots, tubers and plantains represent nearly 60 percent of all food available in 2017. This percentage decreases gradually with country income groups, down to 22 percent in high-income countries. The world average availability of fruits and vegetables increased; however, only in Asia, and globally in upper-middle-income countries, are there enough fruits and vegetables available to meet the FAO/WHO recommendation of consuming a minimum of 400 g per day.
The hidden health and environmental costs of what we eat
- The first hidden cost: If current food consumption patterns continue, diet-related health costs linked to mortality and non-communicable diseases are projected to exceed USD 1.3 trillion per year by 2030. On the other hand, shifting to healthy diets is estimated to lead to a reduction of up to 97 percent in direct and indirect health costs, respectively, thus creating significant savings that could be invested now to lower the cost of nutritious foods.
- The second hidden cost: The diet-related social cost of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with current dietary patterns is projected to exceed USD 1.7 trillion per year by 2030. The adoption of healthy diets that include sustainability considerations would reduce the social cost of GHG emissions by an estimated 41–74 percent in 2030.
- Shifting to healthy diets that include sustainability considerations could help to reduce health and climate-change costs by 2030, as their hidden costs are lower compared with those of current food consumption patterns.
- Assessing the context-specific barriers, managing short-term and long-term trade-offs and exploiting synergies will be critical to achieve such transformations.
Hidden health costs
Assuming that current food consumption patterns accommodate expected changes in income and population, as per in the benchmark scenario (BMK), health costs are projected to amount to an average of USD 1.3 trillion in 2030. More than half (57 percent) of these are direct healthcare costs as they are associated with expenses related to treating the different diet-related diseases.
The other part (43 percent) accounts for indirect costs, including losses in labour productivity (11 percent) and informal care (32 percent). If, instead, any of the four alternative diet patterns used for the analyses are adopted (FLX, PSC, VEG, VGN), diet-related health costs dramatically decrease by USD 1.2–1.3 trillion, representing an average reduction of 95 percent of the diet-related health expenditures worldwide compared to the benchmark diet in 2030.
Hidden climate-change costs
What people eat, and how that food is produced, not only affects their health, but also has major ramifications for the state of the environment and for climate change. The food system underpinning the world’s current food consumption patterns is responsible for 21–37 percent of total anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, meaning originating in human activity, which reveals it to be a major driver of climate change, even without considering other environmental effects.
Policies to reduce the cost of nutritious foods and ensure affordability of healthy diets
- Reducing the costs of nutritious foods and ensuring the affordability of healthy diets for everyone requires significant transformations of existing food systems worldwide, including strengthening their resilience in the face of shocks from the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Given the diversity and complexity of food systems, countries will need to implement a set of context-specific policies and strategies, and step up public and private sector investments with significant policy coherence, improved planning and coordination across sectors and actors.
- This starts with an urgent rebalancing of agricultural policies and incentives towards more nutrition-sensitive investment in food and agricultural production, especially fruits and vegetables, protein-rich plant-based and animal source foods, such as legumes, poultry, fish and dairy products.
- Policy actions along food supply chains are critical in reducing the costs of nutritious foods. Such actions should enhance efficiencies in food storage, processing, packaging, distribution and marketing, thereby reducing food losses.
- The efficiency of internal trade and marketing mechanisms are key to reducing the cost of nutritious foods and determining the affordability of healthy diets for both urban and rural consumers.
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