The U.N. says hunger kills more people every year than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. Despite progress since 1990, it’s estimated more than 840 million people still do not have enough to eat. Nevertheless, the director of the Bread for the World Institute said recent efforts can bring a dramatic improvement.
Asma Lateef said that the opportunity exists to tackle hunger on a sustained basis -- and not just address emergency situations.
“Well, I think we are in a good space right now. I think for the first time in human history we have the prospect of ending global hunger within a generation – by 2030,” she said.
The Bread for the World Institute is a Christian-based organization providing strategies to end world hunger. Lateef said achieving the potential to ensure food security has been a joint effort.
“This has been due to a lot of deliberate work on the part of governments around the world, particularly the governments of countries that are hardest hit by hunger – but also by the support of the United States and the leadership of the United States,” she said.
The 1996 U.N. World Food Summit issued the Rome Declaration. It called for reducing by half the number of chronically undernourished people by 2015. However, Lateef said that at the time there was no unified strategy as to how to do that.
“There was a great focus on industrialization. I think people felt that if you helped countries develop and have economic growth that that would address hunger as well," she said. "And so you did find, actually, a huge reduction in extreme poverty around the world. But that didn’t translate into – necessarily at the same pace – a reduction in hunger.”
Lateef said the focus on how to fight hunger changed during the 2008 food security crisis – as high prices and shortages affected many countries.
“It was the global response that came as a result of that food price crisis. It was a real wake-up call," she said. "Riots around the world as people were really struggling to be able to afford and prices of basic commodities had just skyrocketed. That got the attention of a lot of policymakers, including U.S. leaders at the time. And since then, the Obama administration has really made food security and hunger a priority within global development programs and has galvanized global attention to this issue.”
Leaders realized that food insecurity was a threat to national security. Lateef said policies developed during the food crisis have made a difference.
“You know,” she said, “we’re very close to achieving the Millennium Development Goal of halving hunger by 2015. We won’t make that target because it’s next year and because of the food price crisis, but the effort that’s been put in over the last few years really puts us on track.”
The Bread for the World Institute director says currently enough food is being produced to feed everyone on the planet. The problem, she says, is that many people cannot afford it or gain access to it. And a lot of food is wasted every year by poor harvesting and inadequate storage and transportation.
It’s estimated the world population will grow from about seven billion to nine billion by 2050. As a result, the emphasis in recent years has been on investing in smallholder farms – and making them much more efficient.
Lateef said, “With growing population as well as with the impact of climate change on food security there will be a need to really become more innovative -- and make use of all the available arable land and get more out of the land than we currently do. In Africa, a lot of the land is not being used to its full potential.”
Lateef praised the U.S. government’s recent Feed the Future progress report, saying it links livelihoods to smallholder farm investments. She called on the U.S. and others to ensure those investments are made over the long-term.