Halving global hunger off-track but still possible

By Oxfam

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Washington, DC — Ten years after world leaders committed to halve world hunger by 2015, little progress has been made to reduce the number of people who go to sleep hungry, and many hard-won achievements have been undone by the global economic, food and fuel crises, according to a new report released today by international relief and development organization Oxfam America. 

The launch of “Halving Hunger: Still Possible” coincides with an announcement by the UN Food and Agriculture Committee (FAO) that the number of hungry people worldwide has dropped by 98 million to 925 million in the past year.  This is good news and a welcome reversal of the upward trend in hunger in recent years.  However, it’s not nearly enough progress to meet goals set in 2005.  In the ten years since the MDGs were agreed, the proportion of hungry people in the world has decreased by just half a percent - from 14 percent in 2000 to 13.5 per cent today.

However it warns that the decline is incidental, due largely to two years of good harvests which had, until recently, led to a fall in global food prices.  The policies and increased investment which are needed to address the underlying causes of hunger remain unfulfilled.

“The fact that 925 million people are hungry is a scandal when the world has enough food and money to ensure that all have enough to eat.  The food crisis has not gone away, it’s happening every day for these people,” said Gawain Kripke, Policy Director for Oxfam America.   “The dip in the number of hungry people has more to do with luck and a weak economy than action.  In places like Pakistan, Mozambique and Niger, millions of people around the world are on the brink of hunger every day and disasters great and small can push them into desperate situations.  A new global food crisis could explode at any time unless governments tackle the underlying causes of hunger, which include decades of under investment in agriculture, climate change, and unfair trade rules that make it difficult for families to earn a living through farming,” added Kripke.

The report shows that drastic cuts to agricultural investments in the developing world, unfair trade, poorly coordinated donor efforts, unfulfilled commitments by developed countries and increasing weather volatility due to climate change are pushing the world’s poorest people to the limits of subsistence.  But with a coherent and coordinated global response, halving hunger is still possible. 

 “A billion hungry people is more than a food crisis, it’s a political crisis,” said Kripke. “Political crisis must be met with political action.  World leaders have made grand promises before, but promises don’t make nutritious meals and viable livelihoods.  We need action”

Oxfam called on President Obama and other world leaders to create a rescue package to save the MDG goals - including cutting hunger - at an upcoming summit in New York.  This will require pursuing a twin-track approach; needs of vulnerable populations must be met in the short term, while poor countries are enabled to develop long term agricultural production through investments in small producers, especially women.

To achieve these goals by 2015, Oxfam estimates that an annual increase of $75 billion is needed to tackle hunger and malnutrition.  Developed nations should provide $37.5 billion as overseas development aid, with developing countries contributing the other half from national budgets.  The US can do its part by meeting its existing commitments to support agriculture and providing its assistance more wisely, based on the principles outlined in President Obama’s promising Feed the Future initiative. Ensuring long-term US commitment to supporting agriculture, especially by passing the Global Food Security Act, is another important and needed step.  President Obama should make a strong push for these policies as part of a comprehensive development strategy he has promised to deliver at the MDG summit this September.

The report also highlights countries, including Malawi and Brazil, which have made tremendous advances in hunger reduction through effective policies and investments.  Malawi is no longer dependent on food aid and has become an agricultural exporter after it made smart choices to support small producers.

“There is no ‘one-size–fits-all solution’ to reducing hunger around the world,” said Kripke.  “But experience shows that when the right locally-led measures are backed up with political commitment and adequate funding, it can be done and it has been done.  Hunger is not inevitable; we can end it if we choose to.”

To read the report, please go here.