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UN report: Number of hungry people down by 200 million since 1990

The number of hungry people in the world declined by about 200 million over the last 25 years, according to the United Nations’ annual hunger report. The report marks the end of the monitoring period for the Millennium Development Goals.

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    Zimbabwean villagers collect their monthly rations of food aid from Rutaura Primary School in the Rushinga district of Mt. Darwin on March 7, 2013. The number of hungry people around the world is down by 200 million since 1990, with developing countries seeing the most pronounced progress, according to a new report released May 27, 2015 by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.
    Philimon Bulawayo/Reuters/File
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Global hunger continues its gradual decline.

In the last 25 years, the number of hungry people in the world fell by about 200 million, with the most pronounced decreases found in developing countries, despite a population surge, according to the United Nations’ yearly hunger report, released Wednesday by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development, and the World Food Program.

The report marks the end of the monitoring period for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a list of eight objectives established by the international community and the UN in 2000, and sets the stage for the way forward, post-2015. In the report, the FAO documents global progress towards eradicating hunger by looking at efforts that succeeded, as well as those that didn’t.

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Among the most critical initiatives are those that tie inclusive economic growth to improved agricultural productivity and greater social protections for the poor, the report found.

“The key factor is … growth that promotes access for everyone to food, assets, and resources, particularly for poor people and women so they can develop their potential,” according to the report.

Agriculture, for instance, is vital not only in terms of food production, but also as an avenue through which the poor can participate in an economy’s growth process, according to the FAO. Small farms, which make up about 90 percent of the 570 million farms worldwide, have lower labor productivity than their larger counterparts, and many small farmers are poor and food-insecure, the report found.

Public policy that gives small farm owners access to technological innovations in agriculture and that takes into account the diversity of family farms in terms of size, technology used, and market integration, go a long way toward ending hunger, the FAO noted last year.

Social assistance such as school feeding programs and cash transfer and public asset initiatives, have also contributed to hunger reduction over the last 15 years, according to the report. It continued:

Economic growth is necessary for sustaining progress in efforts to reduce poverty, hunger, and malnutrition. But it is not sufficient.

Inclusive growth – growth that provides opportunities for those with meagre assets, skills, and opportunities – improves the incomes and livelihoods of the poor, and is effective in the fight against hunger and malnutrition.

In urging holistic efforts to combat hunger, the FAO report is consistent with a growing trend in the development community that looks at extreme poverty as a multidimensional concept that includes the need for food security, as well as access to housing, basic health services, and education.

“If we truly wish to create a world free from poverty and hunger … we must work to create a transformation in our rural communities so they provide decent jobs, decent conditions, and decent opportunities,” Kanayo F. Nwanze, president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development, said in a press statement.

All this is easier said than done. In parts of Africa, more than a third of the population remains hungry. Natural disasters, political instability, and civil strife have impeded progress as well, and nearly 800 million people worldwide still suffer from hunger.

Still, the global situation has improved significantly in the last 15 years, according to the FAO. Of 129 developing countries, 72 hit the target of reducing by half the proportion of hungry people in their populations.

In developing regions, the rate of undernourished people, or those unable to consume enough food for a healthy and active life, has also fallen from about 23 percent in 1990 to about 12 percent today, according to the report.

“The near-achievement of the MDG hunger targets shows us that we can indeed eliminate the scourge of hunger in our lifetime,” FAO Director General José Graziano da Silva said in a statement. “That goal should be mainstreamed into all policy interventions and at the heart of the new sustainable development agenda to be established this year.”

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