Zero hunger is the short title for SDG 2, but it means a lot more. This goal includes aspects regarding food security, nutrition and sustainable agriculture. The food and agriculture sectors offer key solutions to the sustainable development question and are central not only to eradicate hunger, but also poverty.
In order to be able to achieve the transformation needed, above all, we have to rethink how we grow, share and consume our food. If done right, agriculture, forestry and fisheries can provide nutritious food for all and generate decent incomes, while supporting people-centered rural development and protecting the environment. However, right now, the soils, freshwater, oceans, forests and biodiversity of our planet are being rapidly degraded and climate change is putting even more pressure on the resources we depend on.
A profound change of the global food and agriculture system is essential if we are to nourish the people who are hungry today and to prevent the expected undernourishment beyond 2030. Investments in agriculture are crucial to increase the capacity for agricultural productivity and sustainable food production systems are necessary to help alleviate the hazards of hunger.
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 almost unchanged in the past three years at a level slightly below 11%. This reversal in progress sends a clear warning that more must be done and urgently if the Sustainable Development Goal of Zero Hunger is to be achieved by 2030.
Hunger in the world
The fight against hunger has seen some progress over the past 15 years. Globally, the proportion of undernourished people declined from 15% in 2000-2002 to 11% in 2014-2016. However, more than 790 million people still lack regular access to adequate food. If current trends continue, the zero hunger target will be largely missed by 2030.
The persistence of hunger is no longer a matter of food availability. Rather, in many countries that failed to reach the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) hunger target, natural and human-induced disasters or political instability have resulted in food insecurity affecting large groups of the population.
Right now, estimates from the Food Insecurity Experience Scale—available for about 150 countries in 2014 and 2015—reveal that food insecurity is most prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa. More than half of the adult population in that region faced moderate or severe levels of food insecurity, and one-quarter faced severe levels. Southern Asia had the second highest prevalence: around 25% of adults there experienced moderate or severe food insecurity, and 12% experienced severe levels.
Achieving this goal will require improving the productivity and incomes of small-scale farmers by promoting equal access to land, technology and markets, sustainable food production systems and resilient agricultural practices. It also requires increased investments through international cooperation to bolster the productive capacity of agriculture in developing countries.
Hunger and children
Children are the most severely affected by the lack of food since it leads to undernutrition and, consequently, to stunted growth. In 2014, an estimated 158.6 million children under age 5 were affected by stunting, defined as inadequate height for age. Chronic undernutrition also puts children at greater risk of dying from common infections, increases the frequency and severity of infections, and contributes to delayed recovery. It is also associated with impaired cognitive ability and reduced school and work performance.
Globally, the proportion of stunted children has fallen in all regions except Oceania. Southern Asia made the most progress between 2000 and 2014, but the region is still home to the largest number of stunted children in the world — 63.9 million. In SubSaharan Africa, population growth outpaced progress: the number of stunted children increased from an estimated 50.1 million in 2000 to 57.3 million in 2014. Together, Southern Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa accounted for three quarters of children under 5 affected by stunting in 2014.
But, unfortunately and controversially, we can also find the flip side of this coin in the world: the proportion of children under age 5 who are overweight increased from 5% in 2000 to 6% in 2014. Overweight is a growing problem affecting nearly every region. Northern Africa has the highest prevalence of overweight children under 5 (16%), followed by the Caucasus and Central Asia (12%). Globally, 41 million children in this age group are overweight; almost half of them live in Asia and one quarter live in Africa.
What does this mean and what does this look like?
Searching for numbers and concrete examples regarding this SDG, I ended up in Bangladesh. Bangladesh is one of the countries in Southern Asia with still a very high rate of underweight children, 32.6% in 2014.
World Fish brought an aquaculture project to Bangladesh to enhance the incomes, diets and nutrition of smallholder families. Apart from getting to know the countryside in Bangladesh, in the videos it also becomes very clear how life and food are closely related. Even on the village market the amount of product each farmer sells leaves no doubt that each of them has been directly involved in the harvesting.
Fish in Bangladesh
Village market in Bangladesh
This surely is not the case in developed countries where food seems to “grow” in supermarket aisles. But we all do have something in common: food is essential for our wellbeing and our health, and there exist basic guidelines which are applicable to all of us and which we’d better follow. The reasons why we sometimes do not follow these guidelines however are very different, not only because of the country we live in, but also because of our habits and relationship to food.