Hunger is the world’s top health concern, killing more people than do AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis combined.The number of hungry people in the world exceeds the sum of the populations of the U.S., Canada, and the European Union. A quarter of children born in developing nations are underweight.Ten years after the drafting of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the world has yet to achieve the first goal of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger. Hunger and malnutrition are words that are often used interchangeably. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), following the advice of the Committee on National Statistics (CNSTAT), defines hunger as “an individual-level physiological condition that may result from food insecurity.”The World Food Programme (WFP) defines hunger as “the body’s way of signaling that it is running short of food and needs to eat something. Hunger can lead to malnutrition.”
The WFP defines malnutrition or undernutrition as “a state in which the physical function of an individual is impaired to the point where he or she can no longer maintain natural bodily capacities.” The average person needs approximately 2,100 kilocalories (calories) per day to maintain a normal, healthy body.Victims of hunger live on significantly less than 2,100 kilocalories per day for extended lengths of time. Hunger can cause adverse health effects—the calorie deficit can cause a person’s are lack of concentration, enervation, and weakened immune systems. Problems that result from malnutrition include being underweight, stunted, or micronutrient-deficiency.According to recent Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) statistics, most of the world’s hungry people live in developing nations. Hunger is approximately distributed among people as follows: 578 million peoplein Asia and the Pacific
239 millionpeople in Sub-Saharan Africa
53 million peoplein Latin America and the Caribbean
37 million people in the Near East and North Africa
That is compared to 19 million peoplein developed countries. Within any country, three-quarters of all hungry people live in rural areas.These people depend heavily on agriculture and often have no alternative source of employment or income. Women and children are typically hit hardest by hunger. The FAO estimates that 60% of the victims of hunger are women.Hunger is often inherited due to inadequate nutrition before and during pregnancy, so up to 17 million children are born underweight each year.An estimated 146 million children in developing countries are underweight due to acute or chronic hunger.Every year, 3.5 million of these children die from acute malnutrition. In developing nations, one third of all child deaths are associated with hunger Every day, over 1 billion people go hungry. The cost of food is a constant concern for impoverished people in developing nations, as they spend 50-80% of their budget on food.Poverty is the principal cause of hunger. In 2008, the World Bank estimated that nearly 1.4 billion people in developing nations live on less than $1.25 per day.
Several factors that contribute to hunger and poverty include war and conflict (which displace many refugees), restrictive economic systems, and climate change (which increases food volatility and food prices). Lack of fair trade laws and agricultural infrastructure also lead to hunger. According to the FAO, all of the countries on track to reach the first Millennium Development Goal (to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger) have significantly better agricultural growth than nations not on track. While many policies boost agricultural productivity, the policies implemented in Vietnam exemplify the benefits of supporting small-scale agriculture. From 1930 to 2006, Vietnam has halved hunger, reduced poverty from 58% to 18%, and transformed from being a rice importer to being the second largest rice exporter in the world.
This development began with agricultural land reform and the public approval of smallholder agriculture (in which crops are mainly grown on small farms instead of commercial or collectivized farming). Vietnamese agricultural systems started becoming more liberalized in 1981, following a decree that de-collectivized agriculture from communal farming to small-scale family farming.Furthermore, Vietnam opened up to fertilizer imports, which lowered the prices of fertilizers and thereby increased their usage, enabling increased food production. Equitable land distribution and investment in agricultural infrastructure allowed Vietnam to increase food security and reduce hunger by half. Brazil has similarly strengthened smallholder agriculture, which now produces 70% of Brazil’s domestic food.