Seen as the probably greatest solvable problem on the planet hunger affects the lives of over 840 million people who go to bed hungry every night. That fact leaves us with a number of 795 million people undernourished. The vast majority of those people live in developing countries. Neither unusual nor very surprising large-scale problems like hunger affect mostly the weakest, but most important part of our society and our future – the children. Poor nutrition causes nearly half of the deaths of children younger than five years old, which sums up to 3.1 million deaths each year. One in four of the world’s children suffers stunted growth, mostly due to hunger and malnutrition. Just in Africa 23 million primary school-age children have to attend classes hungry. Those overwhelming and dramatically high numbers of human suffering display the inequity and ineffectiveness in the global production and distribution of human kind’s basic need – food.
Fortunately, researchers and especially the United Nations take on the challenge to fight hunger and develop various strategies on different levels to accomplish the second Sustainable Development Goal: “Zero Hunger”.
Zero Hunger as the ultimate goal to achieve by 2030 implements actions and policies that reduce and finally erase hunger, making sure that everyone will have access to adequate food supplies all year long.
To do so, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon launched the Zero Hunger Challenge in 2012. This big vision shall reflect the following five essential elements of the SDG concept, shown in the picture, which taken together, can end hunger, eliminate all forms of malnutrition, and build inclusive and sustainable food systems.
To provide solutions we first have to understand where the lack of access to food comes from. Unlike in western industrialised countries, most of the poor people in developing countries must spend the majority of their income on food. Hence local prices have the greatest impact on access to food but are also dramatically affected by international prices. Consequently, when international prices increase, their money will simply be worth less and buy less food. There does not exist a simultaneously rapid change in the people’s income at all, as some devotees of market theories might argue. The consequences are easy to anticipate – people are skipping meals, eating cheaper, less healthy and less nutritious food. Adopting measures to ensure proper functioning of food commodity markets and their derivates might help to limit the extreme and sprawling food price volatility. There does not exist symmetric access to market information, which makes developing countries extremely vulnerable to the mentioned price changes and unexpected market events.
The U.N. paper on the SDG Zero Hunger mentions the importance to correct and prevent trade restrictions and distortions in world agricultural markets to create more similar conditions for the agriculture in developing countries to become marketable. Furthermore, all forms of agricultural export subsidies, especially in industrialised countries should be eliminated if we want to stop destroying the small local farmers, who have significant backlogs in productivity and technology compared to the industrialised agriculture techniques used in western countries. Through high subsidies and great advantages in productivity the big farming corporations can export agricultural goods cheaply as well as a lot more effectively. Small local farms are simply not able to compete with the unnatural low food prices created by subsidised exports. The dangers of a possible destruction of local markets might show the following numbers. Worldwide exist more than 500 million small farms. Up to 80 percent of the food consumed in vast areas of the developing world is provided by small farms, which makes agriculture still to the single largest employer in the world, providing livelihoods for 40 percent of the global population. These farmers must be protected from the highly risky and volatile food markets. Proactive government policies and some stronger regulation might be a reasonable solution to decrease the vulnerability of small farms. Critics might argue that those can tie and limit farmer’s possibilities as well as block innovation, but without any protection there will not be any innovation but rather the simple destruction of the vulnerable.
U.N. researchers calculated that by sharing the existing technical and scientific knowledge agricultural productivity and incomes of small-scale food producers could be doubled. Locally appropriate solutions in equal partnerships with farmers and scientists are one possibility to compensate the often existing lack of good quality seeds, fertiliser and equipment.
This empowerment can help to maintain a healthy population of local farmers, that, as we have seen in the numbers above, are indispensable in the provision of access to food for large parts of developing countries’ populations and furthermore can act as a kind of buffer between the consumer and global market. The farming practices need to be strengthened and supported to be adaptive to the inevitable climate change correlating with rather extreme weather conditions and disasters such as drought or flooding.
Strongly associated with the climate change and being the last challenge I want to mention in this article is the distribution of the already available food we have and produce around the world. The overall produced food divided by the world’s population makes 2700 Calories and 75g protein per person a day, which would be more than enough for everyone to have some good and nutritious meals. Unfortunately and very sadly we waste about 20-30 percent of the food produced. An additionally not much smaller part is also “wasted” to feed the unreasonable large amount of animals that are finally used for meat production. Not only is a large amount of the produced food wasted in the industrial animal production process, but also it exhausts big amounts of resources like water and soil. Additionally, the animals produce an incredibly high amount of greenhouse gas emissions. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (UN FAO) estimates that approximately 18 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions worldwide come from livestock production.
On the large-scale public policy makers and scientist as well as local governments have to cooperate in order to accomplish the high set goal of Zero Hunger and fight all the challenges on the way. But we should not underestimate the individual opportunities to improve the lives of so many people. An individual reduction of food waste, meat consumption and reasonable handling of resources can lead to significant changes and improvement in the overall distribution of available food.
Solutions exist and hopefully there can be a world with Zero Hunger one day, solving the greatest solvable problem on the planet.