Since 2017, the number of hungry people around the world has been rising again. Poverty, war and natural disasters threaten food security especially in Africa and south Asia.
In 2015, the world community set itself the goal of ending hunger and all forms of malnutrition by 2030. But figures from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) tell a different story. Since 2017, hunger and undernourishment have been increasing. In 2020, 768 million people had too little to eat – almost 10 percent of the world’s population. A major reason for this is poverty. Some 1.8 billion people worldwide live in poverty and have to make do with less than 3.20 US dollars a day. Nearly 700 million are subject to extreme poverty, living on less than 1.90 US dollars a day.
The corona pandemic has exacerbated this situation. The World Bank estimates that almost 100 million more people have fallen into poverty as a result of COVID-19, a rise of 12 percent between 2019 and 2020. The pandemic has caused a global economic downturn. Lockdowns, job losses, declining investment and falling exports, along with the collapse of the tourism sector, have led to severe losses of income in many countries and have worsened poverty.
While the population of developed countries have long had to spend a declining proportion of their income on food, poor households in the Global South still have to devote most of their income to food. Rising food prices are therefore an acute threat to food security. FAO’s food price index has risen continuously. In comparison to 2020, it is about 30 percent higher in 2021.
The majority of poor people live in rural areas and make their living from agriculture. In many countries in the Global South, far more than 50 percent of the people work in agriculture, which provides them with both food and work. That is why employment-intensive, smallholder farms will continue to be central in the fight against poverty. But the situation of the urban poor is also an increasing concern. While less than 40 percent of humanity lived in cities in 1980, by 2020 the figure was over 56 percent. That means that cities must also be part of a comprehensive strategy in the fight against hunger, and that urban agriculture, for example, should be promoted. Local initiatives in urban agriculture generate employment in production, processing and marketing, and are especially useful in improving income opportunities for women.
In 2021 FAO emphasized that hunger is essentially caused by poverty and inequality. Fighting hunger means fighting inequality too. The land rights of vulnerable groups must be recognized and secured. This protects against chronic poverty and enables investments in sustainable land use. Long-term investment in climate-adaptation measures also become profitable for smallholders if their land tenure is secure. It is especially important that women have secure access to land. Combating inequality is also necessary within the family: equality generally has a positive impact on the food security of the household and the well-being of children.
People who live in poverty are less resilient than those who are better off. They are less able to react to acute economic or ecological crises. This is serious because the frequency and intensity of ecological crises has greatly increased. Since 1960 the number of natural disasters worldwide has risen tenfold. For millions of people around the world, climate change brings more frequent and more serious flooding, drought and storms, which account for 90 percent of all climate-related disasters each year.
Around a billion people live in countries, mainly in the Global South, where the official structures are not in a position to cope with the ecological crises that are to be expected by 2050. To deal with the challenges of climate change, systemic approaches such as agroecology are needed that take a holistic view of agriculture and food production. To prepare for the impact of the climate crisis, it is not enough to focus only on individual elements of agricultural production, such as the development of drought-tolerant crop varieties.
Economic and ecological crises are often made worse by violent conflict. In many countries, such crises occur in combination. The world community can therefore successfully fight hunger and malnutrition only if it raises the ability of vulnerable groups to respond to crises and ensures their access to food. A focus just on agricultural productivity will not be sufficient. Policies against hunger can be successful only if they strengthen resilience.