The Sustainable Development Goal for food, approved by the UN in 2015 as the second 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.”
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.
Sadly, restoration of political ambition in 2015 has been followed by a period of disturbing annual increases in global hunger, now totalling 690 million, about 8.9% of the world’s population. In Africa, this percentage is over 19%, 250 million people.
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 is daunting. Its own research, based on current national and international commitments to reducing hunger, suggests that a large number of key developing countries are off course, including India, Nigeria and Indonesia.
Any analysis of the resources necessary to overcome this sluggish performance is unlikely to renew optimism. A recent study backed by the German government found that international donors would have to double existing commitments to food security of $14bn per annum over the full period to 2030. And this conclusion assumed that beneficiary countries would increase their own contribution through domestic taxation.
The principal indicators for monitoring the food goal are the prevalence of undernourishment and the prevalence of malnutrition. The former measure is 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 SDG for food.
more Food Security briefings (updated March 2021)
Food Security Definition and Global Divide
Right to Food
Causes of Food Insecurity
Governance of Food Security
Solutions to Food Insecurity
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