The State of Food Insecurity in the World (SOFI 2014) report confirmed a positive trend which has seen the number of hungry people decline globally by more than 100 million over the last decade and by more than 200 million since 1990-92. The report is published annually by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP).
The overall trend in hunger reduction in developing countries means that the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of halving the proportion of undernourished people by 2015 is within reach, "if appropriate and immediate efforts are stepped up," the report said. To date, 63 developing countries have reached the MDG target, and six more are on track to reach it by 2015.
"This is proof that we can win the war against hunger and should inspire countries to move forward, with the assistance of the international community as needed," the heads of FAO, IFAD and WFP, José Graziano da Silva, Kanayo F. Nwanze and Ertharin Cousin, wrote in their foreword to the report.
They stressed that "accelerated, substantial and sustainable hunger reduction is possible with the requisite political commitment," and that "this has to be well informed by sound understanding of national challenges, relevant policy options, broad participation and lessons from other experiences."
SOFI 2014 noted how access to food has improved rapidly and significantly in countries that have experienced overall economic progress, notably in Eastern and South-Eastern Asia. Access to food has also improved in Southern Asia and Latin America, but mainly in countries with adequate safety nets and other forms of social protection including for the rural poor.
Hunger reduction has accelerated, but some lag behind
Despite significant progress overall, several regions and sub-regions continue to lag behind. In Sub-Saharan Africa, more than one in four people remain chronically undernourished, while Asia, the world's most populous region, is also home to the majority of the hungry - 526 million people.
Latin America and the Caribbean have made the greatest overall strides in increasing food security. Meanwhile Oceania has accomplished only a modest improvement (1.7 percent decline) in the prevalence of undernourishment, which stood at 14.0 percent in 2012-14, and has actually seen the number of its hungry increase since 1990-92.
The agency heads noted that of the 63 countries which have reached the MDG target, 25 have also achieved the more ambitious World Food Summit (WFS) target of halving the number of undernourished people by 2015. However, the report indicated that time has run out on reaching the WFS target at the global level.
Creating an enabling environment through coordinated actions
With the number of undernourished people remaining "unacceptably high", the agency heads stressed the need to renew the political commitment to tackle hunger and to transform it into concrete actions. In this context, the heads of FAO, IFAD and WFP welcomed the pledge at the 2014 African Union summit in June to end hunger on the continent by 2025.
"Food insecurity and malnutrition are complex problems that cannot be solved by one sector or stakeholder alone, but need to be tackled in a coordinated way," they added, calling on governments to work closely with the private sector and civil society.
The FAO, IFAD and WFP report specifies that hunger eradication requires establishing an enabling environment and an integrated approach. Such an approach includes public and private investments to increase agricultural productivity; access to land, services, technologies and markets; and measures to promote rural development and social protection for the most vulnerable, including strengthening their resilience to conflicts and natural disasters. The report also emphasizes the importance of specific nutrition programs, particularly to address micronutrient deficiencies of mothers and children under five.
This year's report includes seven case studies - Bolivia, Brazil, Haiti, Indonesia, Madagascar, Malawi and Yemen - that highlight some of the ways that countries tackle hunger and how external events may influence their capacity to deliver on achieving food security and nutrition objectives. The countries were chosen because of their political, economic - particularly in the agricultural sector - diversities, and cultural differences.
Bolivia, for example, has created institutions to involve a range of stakeholders, particularly previously marginalized indigenous people.
Brazil's Zero Hunger program, which placed achievement of food security at the center of the government's agenda, is at the heart of progress that led the country to achieve both the MDG and WFS targets. Current programs to eradicate extreme poverty in the country build on the approach of linking policies for family farming with social protection in a highly inclusive manner.
Haiti, where more than half the population is chronically undernourished, is still struggling to recover from the effects of the devastating 2010 earthquake. The report notes how the country has adopted a national program to strengthen livelihoods and improve agricultural productivity by supporting small family farmers' access to inputs and services.
Indonesia has adopted legal frameworks and established institutions to improve food security and nutrition. Its policy coordination mechanism involves ministries, NGOs and community leaders. Measures address a wide range of challenges from agricultural productivity growth to nutritious and safe diets.
Madagascar is emerging from a political crisis and is resuming relationships with international development partners aimed at tackling poverty and malnutrition. It is also working in partnership to build resilience to shocks and climate hazards, including cyclones, droughts and locust invasions, which often afflict the island nation.
Malawi has reached the MDG hunger target, thanks to a strong and persistent commitment to boost maize production. However, malnutrition remains a challenge - 50 percent of children under five are stunted and 12.8 percent are underweight. To address the issue, the government is promoting community-based nutrition interventions to diversify production to include legumes, milk, fisheries and aquaculture, for healthier diets, and to improve incomes at the household level.
Conflict, economic downturn, low agricultural productivity and poverty have made Yemen one of the most food-insecure countries in the world. Besides restoring political security and economic stability, the government aims to reduce hunger by one-third by 2015 and to make 90 percent of the population food-secure by 2020. It also aims to reduce the current critical rates of child malnutrition by at least one percentage point per year.
The findings and recommendations of SOFI 2014 will be discussed by governments, civil society, and private sector representatives at the October 13-18 meeting of the Committee on World Food Security, at FAO headquarters in Rome.
The report will also be a focus of the Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2) in Rome from November 19-21, which FAO is jointly organizing with the World Health Organization. This high-level intergovernmental meeting seeks, at a global level, renewed political commitment to combat malnutrition with the overall goal of improving diets and raising nutrition levels.