Thursday, November 24, 2005

Cutting World Hunger in Half

Cutting World Hunger in Half

Science 21 January 2005: Vol. 307. no. 5708, pp. 357 - 35

Pedro A. Sanchez and M. S. Swaminathan*


There are 854 million people in the world (about 14% of our population) who are chronically or acutely malnourished. [HN4] Most are in Asia, but sub-Saharan Africa is the only region where hunger prevalence is over 30%, and the absolute numbers of malnourished people are increasing (3). More than 90% are chronically malnourished [HN5] (4), with a constant or recurrent lack of access to sufficient quality and quantity of food, good health care, and adequate maternal caring practices. Acute hunger [HN6] (the wasting and starvation resulting from famines, war, and natural disaster) represents 10% of the hungry yet receives most of the media coverage and attention. In addition, hidden hunger from micronutrient deficiencies [HN7] affects more than 2 billion people worldwide. Chronic and hidden hunger deserve much more global attention and support.

Roughly 50% of the hungry are in smallholder farming households; 20% are the landless rural; 10% are pastoralists, fishers, and forest dwellers; and 20% are the urban hungry [HN8]. The Task Force has identified hunger hot spots, defined as the subnational units where the prevalence of underweight children (4) less than 5 years of age is at least 20%. The 313 hunger hot spots identified (see the figure below) indicate priority regions, as they cover 79% of the hungry.

Some recommendations

Agricultural research has been a major driver of hunger reduction. The Task Force recommends doubling investments in national research to at least 2% of agricultural GDP by 2010. It also recommends that donors increase funding to the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research to US$1 billion by 2010.

The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research is an alliance of countries, international and regional organizations, and private foundations supporting 15 international agricultural centers that has as its mission to contribute to sustainable improvements in the productivity of agriculture, forestry, and fisheries in developing countries in ways that enhance nutrition and well-being, especially for low-income people. IFPRI makes available an October 2003 discussion paper by R. Meinzen-Dick, M. Adato, L. Haddad, and P. Hazell titled "Impacts of agricultural research on poverty: Findings of an integrated economic and social analysis." The World Bank's Agriculture and Rural Development Department provides a resource page on agricultural research.

Increase agricultural productivity of food-insecure farmers. Small-scale farming families represent about half the hungry worldwide and probably three-quarters of the hungry in Africa. Raising the productivity of their crops, livestock, fish, and trees is a major priority. [HN15]

Restoring soil health and other measures to increase agricultural productivity. ITDG (Intermediate Technology Development Group) offers a presentation on food production. The 5 July 2004 seminar titled "Innovative approaches to meeting the hunger MDG in Africa" includes a presentation by P. Sanchez titled "Innovative investments in healthy soils and better land management." The FAO's State of Food Insecurity in the World 2002 includes a section on rehabilitating degraded lands. The Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology makes available in PDF format a 2004 issue brief titled "Feeding the world: A look at biotechnology and world hunger." The FAO's Land and Water Development Division provides resources related to meeting present and future food and agriculture demands on a sustainable basis; the FAO gateway to land and water information offers country profiles. The 15 March 2002 issue of Science had a Policy Forum by P. A. Sanchez titled "Soil fertility and hunger in Africa" (9). The 21 February 2003 issue had a Policy Forum by G. Conway and G. Toenniessen titled "Science for African food security."

Improve nutrition for chronically hungry and vulnerable groups. Adequate nutrition lies at the heart of the fight against hunger.SNIPThe Task Force recommends that, where possible, locally produced foods be used, rather than imported food aid.

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