The number of hungry people around the world has dropped below 800 million for the first time since the United Nations started counting the figure a quarter-century ago, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said in its annual report.
The Rome-based FAO said Wednesday that there are 795 million people around the world suffering from hunger — 216 million fewer than in 1990-92 — and that the world was on track to potentially eradicate the problem within the lifetime of today's young people.
"We must be the zero-hunger generation," FAO director general Jose Graziano da Silva said.
In the developing world, the prevalence of undernourishment has declined to 12.9 percent of the population, from 23.3 percent about 25 years ago, the report found.
A total of 72 out of 129 countries monitored by the FAO have achieved the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target of reducing the rate of undernourishment by half this year. Developing regions as a whole only missed the objective by a narrow margin.
“The near-achievement of the MDG hunger targets shows us that we can indeed eliminate the scourge of hunger in our lifetime,” da Silva said.
The improvement in food security was all the more striking given population growth. The world now has 1.9 billion more people than in 1990, the FAO noted.
Despite successes — East Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean and Southeast and Central Asia — progress in recent years has been hampered by what the FAO called “darker shadows”: natural disasters, extreme weather events, political instability and civil conflicts. The longevity of crises had also evolved over the years, morphing from “catastrophic, short-term, acute and highly visible events” to “protracted situations” fueled by conflicts, climate change and financial turmoil, according to the report.
In Africa, 24 countries currently face food crises, twice as many as in 1990. With nearly one in four people affected by undernourishment, sub-Saharan Africa was the region worst affected by hunger, the report showed.
The U.N. agency pointed to three factors as being critical in combating food shortages: improving agricultural productivity, promoting inclusive growth and expanding social protection.
The African countries that had achieved their U.N. food targets, mainly in West Africa, had done so by boosting the productivity of their farmers, the agency said.
The expansion of social programs, such as cash payments to poor families, as well as food vouchers and school meal programs, also “correlated strongly with progress in hunger reduction,” the report said. More than two-thirds of the world's poor have no access to any social support, it added.
Al Jazeera and Agence France-Presse