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Can we end hunger in the post-2015 frame with food as a commodity?

June 18, 2015

We need a new social contract whereby food is considered a commons and nutrition a public good, a necessary narrative to develop universal food coverage schemes at national level similar to those of health and education. The supply/demand rules will never get rid of hunger in the world as aspired by the post-2015 yet-to-be agreement, since the market does not have any incentive to provide food access to those who do not have money to pay for an essential resource. Re-commoning food would imply that hunger eradication would not solely be the State’s duty, as social enterprises and local communities should also live up to their obligations (food citizens instead of food customers).

Written by Professor Jose Luis Vivero Pol, Catholic University of Leuven.

Figure 1 350Figure 1 shows that for developing countries, undernourishment fell from 23.4% in 1990 to 13.5% in 2014. Hence, the Millennium Development Goal 1C (halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people who suffer from hunger) seems attainable, by reducing undernourishment by 1.8% in a year. It is extremely difficult but not impossible, although being close is already trumpeted by UN as a wonderful developmental achievement, if not a complete success.

Do the official figures reflect reality? 

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) collects and analyses data on undernourishment, and used a consistent methodology up to 2012. Before this revision, the developing world was falling short of the hunger goal, with a notable hunger rise in 2008-2009, due to the food crisis. The revised methodology drastically reversed the trend, showing significant progress in hunger reduction, with no rise during the worst years (it stalled in 2008-2009), as shown in this graphic produced by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

Several authors have criticized the manipulation of statistical parameters during the 2012 review (e.g. changing thresholds, reviewing departing points, modifying formulas during the MDG lifespan) so as to portray a successful trend towards achieving MDG1. The current figure of 805 million represents an assumed calorie consumption needed for a sedentary lifestyle. Moore-Lappé et al. (2013) estimated, from FAO data, assuming a higher caloric threshold required for non-sedentary activity, 1.33 billion chronically undernourished people in 2012. Caparros (2014) also described how hunger statistics are mustered by key institutions to present a positive trend. As absolute progress in hunger reduction (undernourishment) was not so remarkable, FAO reconsidered the absolute 1990 departing figure rising from 823 million to 994 million. Additionally, without questioning the FAO figures, Haddad (2014) stated that taking China's extraordinary performance out, the rest of the world is not doing so well. China’s economic and social development has lifted 138 million out of hunger, representing 65% of total undernourishment decline over the last two decades4. Africa has more hungry people now than in 1990, in absolute and percentage figures.