The number of hungry people in the world is down slightly, but not enough to meet development goals, according to a new United Nations report.
The report, written by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), said one in eight people worldwide, or 842 million, suffers from chronic hunger. That figure is a decrease from last year’s estimate of 868 million, and down 17 percent from the early 1990s, but it is not low enough to reach the goal world leaders set of reducing the proportion of hungry people in developing nations by half by 2015.
“This goal is close and has been reached in many countries,” said FAO statistician and study author Piero Conforti.
The target for all developing regions is 12 percent undernourishment by 2015. At the current pace, a figure of 13 percent will be achieved instead. Conforti said that that final percentage point will be the toughest.
“In sub-Saharan Africa or in Western Asia, you have more than one country that is really not showing much progress,” he said. “It’s difficult to tackle those situations where food insecurity is very high.”
Conforti said investments in agriculture, and in small-scale agriculture in particular, can make the biggest impact on hunger and poverty reduction.
“In the countries where you see food security being really mainstreamed among economic policies and where you see real commitment from government, that is where you see results,” he added.
The FAO report says hunger is most prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa, where progress has been modest. Improvement has been slow in Southern Asia and Northern Africa, and non-existent in Western Asia. Latin America and Eastern and Southeastern Asia have seen the most progress.
Conforti said the recent economic downturn and food price spikes in recent years had a smaller than expected impact on global hunger, as farmers responded to higher prices by increasing production.
The report noted the positive impact of money sent home by people working in other countries.
“They’ve become significant flows, sometimes bigger than the total inflow of foreign aid,” Conforti said.
In the right investment environment, these remittances can provide a significant boost to small-scale farmers and improve food security, he added.