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  • Understanding the complexity, progress, and path forward

Every year, on October 16th, the world celebrates World Food Day. This global event is a powerful reminder of food’s critical role in our lives. Beyond being a source of sustenance, food is a fundamental human right and a cornerstone of cultural identity.

World hunger is not simply about food but there are a variety of reasons why this is such a complex problem worldwide with far-reaching consequences. While solving world hunger is a big challenge, we can still make significant progress by taking action in various ways. By addressing issues like poverty, inequality, and food insecurity, and by supporting sustainable agriculture and community-based initiatives, we can help reduce hunger globally. It’s important to invest in programmes that provide people with access to education, healthcare, and nutritious food, and to work together internationally to tackle this issue. While we may not be able to eliminate hunger, we can make a difference by ensuring that everyone has enough food to eat and can live a healthy life with dignity.

According to a World Health Organisation report from 2023, it is estimated that between 691 and 783 million individuals experienced hunger in 2022. This reflects an increase of 122 million people compared to the pre-pandemic year 2019. Asia and Latin America saw some progress in hunger reduction, but Western Asia, the Caribbean, and all sub-regions of Africa witnessed an upward trend in hunger. Africa continues to be the most affected region, with one in five individuals facing hunger—more than twice the global average.

An estimated 822 million people are undernourished. Of those, about 258 million are facing food insecurity at crisis levels or worse. Even though the world does indeed produce enough food to feed everyone, there are still millions of people going hungry. This is due to several factors, but the biggest factors are food loss and food waste. Food loss happens during the route from farm to table and food waste happens after it reaches your home, local market, or restaurant.

According to the United Nations, 14% of all the food produced in the world is lost between harvest and retail because of things like poor storage, damage during transportation, and failure to meet some retailers’ standards. Food waste, on the other hand, most commonly occurs when people or restaurants overbuy food and it spoils, leading to them having to throw it out. While reducing food loss and food waste won’t solve the problem of world hunger, it will drastically improve our ability to limit the number of people who go hungry. In a world of plenty, it is disheartening that millions still go to bed hungry. The statistics are staggering – Between 691 and 783 million people faced hunger in 2022 worldwide. These are not just numbers; they represent human lives, each one deserving of dignity, health, and the promise of a full stomach.

Famine is “an extreme lack of food and other basic needs” and happens when “starvation, death, destruction, and extremely critical acute malnutrition levels are evident” (Famine Early Warning Systems Network). In other words, famine happens when people don’t have enough to eat for an extended period of time and causes extreme physical detriment or death. By the time a famine makes headlines, it’s too late to prevent severe hunger and death.

Why is world hunger still a problem?
  1. Poverty: Many people facing hunger live in extreme poverty and are often unable to afford nutritious food or do not have access to basic needs for survival.
  2. Inadequate Access to Food: In some regions, there is a lack of infrastructure and resources to distribute food effectively to those in need. Additionally, conflicts, natural disasters, and political instability can disrupt food supply chains.
  3. Unequal Distribution of Wealth: The unequal distribution of wealth and resources globally means that while some people have an abundance of food, others struggle to access even the most basic necessities.
  4. Environmental Factors: Climate change, droughts, floods, and other environmental factors can destroy crops and livestock, leading to food shortages and price spikes, particularly in vulnerable regions.
  5. Poor Agricultural Practices: Inefficient or unsustainable agricultural practices contribute to reduced food production and soil degradation, making it challenging to meet the growing demand for food.
  6. Conflict and Instability: Conflict-ridden areas often experience food insecurity as violence disrupts farming activities, displaces populations, and prevents humanitarian aid efforts.
  7. Lack of Education and Infrastructure: Limited access to education and healthcare, particularly among women and children, can lead to cycles of poverty and malnutrition.
Causes of world hunger

There are many causes of world hunger are poverty and inequality. According to the United Nations, “Hunger is increasing in many countries where economic growth is lagging, particularly in middle-income countries and those that rely heavily on international primary commodity trade.” Poverty and inequality are among the leading causes of world hunger. Even though the world produces enough food for our global population, it can be out of reach for people living in poverty either because it quite literally doesn’t reach their community or because they can’t afford a diet with adequate nutrients. They are also more vulnerable to the effects of economic downturns and natural disasters, which can further exacerbate hunger.

Climate change and environmental degradation

Climate change and environmental degradation, including deforestation and soil degradation, significantly impact food production and availability. Additionally, severe weather events like droughts and floods can decimate crops and contribute to food shortages. According to the World Food Program, 1.7 billion people have been affected by extreme weather and climate-related disasters over the past decade.

Conflict and displacement

There are significant causes of world hunger, especially in regions affected by wars and civil unrest. Conflicts are the main driver of hunger in most of the world’s food crises. Conflict disrupts food production, distribution, and access, leading to widespread hunger and malnutrition.

Economic factors

Economic factors, including trade policies and market dynamics, also contribute to world hunger. The enhanced international and national measures on transparency and regulation are needed to ensure incomes arising from agriculture value chains are fairly shared by all actors. We also need improved market access and risk management tools for smallholder farmers, including for female farmers, to expand opportunities and reduce income volatility. Unequal distribution of wealth, lack of investment in agriculture, and volatile food prices can all affect food availability and affordability.

Effects of world hunger

World hunger has far-reaching effects on individuals, communities, and nations.

Hunger can lead to malnutrition, which can cause various physical health problems, including stunted growth, weakened immune systems, and increased risk of disease.

Almost nowhere are malnutrition’s human and economic costs starker than in Nigeria. The country has the second-highest number of malnourished children in the world. Fifteen million children under the age of five are stunted, and 30 million are anemic, according to figures from UNICEF. Seven percent of women of childbearing age also suffer from acute malnutrition.

As a result, Nigeria loses an estimated $1.5 billion in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) annually due to diminished productivity and increased healthcare costs caused by malnutrition.

There are solutions to world hunger that can alleviate the burden on hardworking men, women, and families. Fortifying staple foods with essential vitamins and minerals, for instance, is one of the most effective ways of improving a population’s nutrition.

From 1990 to 2015, the world saw a steady decrease in the number of people who were going hungry, but since 2015, that number has slowly been back on the rise. In 2015, the World Food Program estimated that the number of people who were undernourished was 785 million. In 2018, that number was up to 822 million. That’s not to say that it’s all bad news. According to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the number of stunted children has decreased from 165 million in 2012 to 149 million in 2018, but it is evident that there is still work to be done to ensure no one goes to bed hungry. Estimates range anywhere from 7 to 265 billion U.S. dollars per year. This is such a dramatic range due to potential climate events, pest outbreaks, economic downturns, pandemics, and other factors that could cause the number of people suffering from hunger to fluctuate.

In May 2022, the World Bank made a commitment of making available $30 billion over a period of 15 months to tackle the crisis. The World Bank has scaled up its food and nutrition security response, to now making $45 billion available through a combination of $22 billion in new lending and $23 billion from existing portfolio. The WB’s food and nutrition security portfolio now spans across 90 countries. It includes both short term interventions such as expanding social protection, also longer-term resilience such as boosting productivity and climate-smart agriculture.

The Bank’s intervention is expected to benefit 335 million people, equivalent to 44% of the number of undernourished people. Around 53% of the beneficiaries are women – they are disproportionately more affected by the crisis.

By 2050, it is expected that the world’s population will grow to nearly 9 billion; thus increasing our need for food by more than 100 percent. Currently, 1 in 8 people, or 842 million, struggle with hunger every day. Even more so, roughly 1 billion people in the world are food insecure, meaning they lack access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food. While agriculture has evolved in order to meet these intensely growing food demands, farmers will need to increase food production by 70-100 percent to meet global nutrition needs.
We already know that there is relatively little available land on which to cultivate food. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) projections indicate that 80 percent of the additional food required to meet demand in 2050 will need to come from land already under cultivation. The result is that our farmers and food producers must produce those higher yields using the same (or less) acreage than they use today while relying on fewer natural resources.

Promoting sustainable food systems

Sustainable food systems can help reduce the impact of climate change on food production while ensuring equitable access to nutritious food. This includes promoting agroforestry, regenerative farming, and sustainable land use practices.

Food processors are the linchpins of the food supply chain and play an essential role in local economic growth, with the potential to drive a positive impact for smallholder farmers, consumers, and other actors across the food system.

Genetically modified foods

Animal rights and their affiliated groups have far-reaching tentacles. Not only are they attempting to end the use of animals in agriculture, but they are also misinforming the public about one of the most important developments in the history of food production: genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Foods produced with genetically engineered (GE) crops are as safe and nutritious as organic products. They are sustainable; using fewer resources, like land and water, to produce greater yields. It is disheartening that our best hope to meet the world’s growing food demands is maligned by massive amounts of misinformation fed to the general public.

GE foods and the ecosystem

When farmers plant genetically modified crops, they can produce more end product per acre. This is because GE crops have been designed to produce more and to be resistant to pests, weeds, and diseases. GE crops have also been produced to be drought tolerant, requiring less water. With the resistance coded in the genetics of the crops, farmers can use fewer pesticides and herbicides, leaving a lower environmental impact. As with golden rice, GE food can be engineered to provide greater nutritional value, so it is healthier to eat than its similar counterparts. And, the shelf life of GMOs can be extended for less waste. All of this increases the efficiency and production capacity of food producers, making it easier to feed the world.

The author, Nazir Ahmed Shaikh, is a freelance, writer, columnist, blogger, and motivational speaker. He writes articles on diversified topics. He can be reached at