UN Report says Global Hunger Numbers Rose to 828 million in 2021

ADDIS ABABA – The number of people affected by hunger globally rose to as many as 828 million in 2021, an increase of about 46 million since 2020 and 150 million since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a United Nations report.

The 2022 edition of the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World (SOFI) was jointly published by five UN agencies on Tuesday.

The report provides updates on the food security and nutrition situation around the world, including the latest estimates of the cost and affordability of a healthy diet.  

And the numbers in the report paint a grim picture.

As many as 828 million people were affected by hunger in 2021 – 46 million people more from a year earlier and 150 million more from 2019, the report says.

After remaining relatively unchanged since 2015, it says the proportion of people affected by hunger jumped, from  8%  in 2019 to 9.8% of the world population in 2021.

In the same year, the report also says around 2.3 billion people, or 29.3% of the world population, were moderately or severely food insecure, up by 350 million before the outbreak of the COVID‑19 pandemic.  

SOFI also says at least 3.1 billion people could not afford a healthy diet in 2020, up 112 million from 2019, reflecting the effects of inflation in consumer food prices stemming from the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the measures put in place to contain it. 

“These are depressing figures for humanity. We continue to move away from our goal of ending hunger by 2030,” said Gilbert F. Houngbo, head of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

“The ripple effects of the global food crisis will most likely worsen the outcome again next year,” he said. “We need a more intense approach to end hunger.”

Looking forward, UN projections are that nearly 670 million people, or 8% of the world population, will still be facing hunger in 2030 – even if a global economic recovery is taken into consideration. 

This is a similar number to 2015, when the goal of ending hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition by the end of this decade was launched under the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. 

“There is a real danger these numbers will climb even higher in the months ahead,” said WFP Executive Director David Beasley. 

“The global price spikes in food, fuel, and fertilizers that we are seeing as a result of the crisis in Ukraine threaten to push countries around the world into famine,” he said. “We have to act today to avert this looming catastrophe.”

Repurposing agricultural policies

The report notes as striking that worldwide support for the food and agricultural sector averaged almost USD 630 billion a year between 2013 and 2018. 

The lion’s share of it goes to individual farmers, through trade and market policies and fiscal subsidies. 

However, not only is much of this support market-distorting, but it is not reaching many farmers, hurts the environment, and does not promote the production of nutritious foods that make up a healthy diet. 

“That’s in part because subsidies often target the production of staple foods, dairy and other animal source foods, especially in high- and upper-middle-income countries,” the report notes.

Rice, sugar, and meats of various types are the most incentivized food items worldwide, while fruits and vegetables are relatively less supported, particularly in some low-income countries.

With the threats of a global recession looming, and the implications this has on public revenues and expenditures, the report says a way to support economic recovery involves the repurposing of food and agricultural support to target nutritious foods.  

“The evidence suggests that if governments repurpose the resources they are using to incentivize the production, supply and consumption of nutritious foods, they will contribute to making healthy diets less costly, more affordable, and equitably for all,” it says.

Finally, the report also points out that governments could do more to reduce trade barriers for nutritious foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and pulses.

Featured Image Caption: The 2022 SOFI report provides updates on the food security and nutrition situation around the world [Photo FAO]