The Sustainable Development Goal for food, approved by the UN in 2015 as one of 17 Goals, aims to “end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture (by 2030).” The targets linked to this SDG reiterate the intention to “end” hunger, with a separate target to “end all forms of malnutrition.”

The future of food and agriculture – a simple animation charts the principal trends and challenges in eliminating global hunger by 2030
from UN Food and Agriculture Organization

These details are important because they address the shortcomings of the previous regime, known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The MDG for hunger failed the concept of food security by seeking only to reduce by half the proportion of the world’s population experiencing hunger, to be assessed between 1990 and 2015. This Goal reneged on several decades of political promises to eliminate hunger.

The MDG outcome fell short, even of this unambitious goal to halve hunger. The percentage of people classified as chronically undernourished in developing countries fell from 23.4% to 12.9% over the MDG period, against the target of 11.7%.

Due to population growth, the decline in the absolute number of people experiencing hunger was even more disappointing, falling just over 20% from 1,011 million to 795 million. In sub-Saharan Africa hunger actually increased over the MDG period from 176 to 218 million. Data for the first year of the SDG period (2016) reveal a disturbing rise in global hunger to 815 million, including 224 million in sub-Saharan Africa. The increase was attributed to the incidence of violent conflicts around the world, together with prolonged drought in East and Central Africa.

Although this reversal of the trend of falling world hunger was unexpected, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) had already warned that the SDG target of eliminating  hunger figures to zero is daunting. Its own research, based on current national and international commitments to reducing hunger, suggests that 637 million people will remain undernourished in 2030, almost as many as the current figure. About 50 countries are off course, including India, Nigeria and Indonesia.

A 2016 report, “Ending Hunger: What would it cost?” tackles the question of the resources necessary to overcome current sluggish performance and achieve the SDG for food. The report’s publishers, the International Institute for Sustainable Development and the International Food Policy Research Institute, put this figure at $11 billion per year of additional public spending up to 2030, of which $7 billion would be sourced from domestic governments and $4 billion from international donors. This latter sum would represent a 45% increase over current foreign aid for food security.

The principal indicators for monitoring the food goal are the prevalence of undernourishment and the prevalence of malnutrition. The former measure dominated the monitoring of the MDG target, being largely based on the “minimum dietary energy requirement” declared for each country by the FAO. Depending on age and gender profile, the figure is typically around 2,000 kilocalories per day for light activity.

A shortcoming of this indicator is the over-emphasis on quantity rather than quality of food. Any absence of vital protein and micro-nutrients such as iron and iodine impairs the ability to learn and reduces resistance to disease, especially in young children. Over one third of child mortality is attributed to malnutrition. Hence the significance of the target to end malnutrition in the new SDG for food.


more Food Security briefings (updated May 2018)
Food Security Definition and Global Divide
Right to Food
Causes of Food Insecurity
Governance of Food Security
Solutions to Food Insecurity
Source material and useful links