“Starvation is the characteristic of some people not having enough food to eat. It is not the characteristic of there being not enough food to eat” (Amartya Sen)
No one should go to bed hungry. Access to food is a moral right for all. But hunger and malnutrition persist, with levels of hunger remaining “alarming” or “extremely alarming” in 16 countries in 2014. Eliminating hunger (SDG Goal No. 2: “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.”) goes hand in hand with nutritional security; neither can be achieved without an integrated approach to people, poverty, food, rights, food production, land, water, sanitation, peace and finance, amongst others (recognized for the most part in target 2.3). Moreover, seeing hunger as simply food deprivation (not having enough food) ignores other factors that shape food prices, how long food lasts, what types of products are available, what is available where (distribution) and what people can afford. If wages are not in line with inflation and prices, too many people will continue to spend more than 50% of their income on food alone. As poverty persists, so does hunger.
The persistence of food insecurity and hunger occurs alongside a steady decline of investment in agriculture in the last 2 to 3 decades in many developing countries, the inequality of investment between developed and developing countries resulting in skewed access to food products and the acute reliance of many rural people on the sector for jobs and livelihoods. Large-scale agriculture often competes with small-scale production, making the latter less economically viable.
Furthermore, rapid environmental change affects the land, soil, water, biodiversity and ecosystems in general (see our SDG Land blog) and reliance on rain-fed agriculture in a time of more variable and changing climate is a source of food insecurity (recognized in target 2.4). Increasingly poor water quality and enduring sanitation gaps (see our SDG Water and Sanitation blog) also play a role e.g. in India, there is a recognizable link between poor sanitation and hygiene and child undernourishment.
The fact that famine can result in massive migrations as well as conflict, which, in turn, increases the likelihood of hunger and other insecurities, means that we cannot ignore the links between SDG 2 and SDG 16 (See blog on Peaceful societies). Peace and stability are important factors for countries and regions heavily reliant on international markets for food and supplies, not to mention the several conflict regions currently facing hunger emergencies.
Maximizing human capital and potential to meet the challenges and opportunities in the next 15 years cannot happen in a food insecure world. The SDGs call us to address the needs of, and be accountable to:
- The 1 in 9 people who were chronically undernourished between 2012 and 2014, despite a 40+% reduction in the prevalence in undernourished people.
- Citizens in Asia represent 2 out of 3 of the world’s undernourished people.
- Women whose empowerment and education is pivotal to reducing malnutrition (see blog on Gender Equality).
- Persons Living with and Affected by HIV/AIDS who have specific nutrition needs particularly for the effectiveness of the antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) they take.
As SDG 2 also focuses on improved nutrition, it is important to note that malnutrition and obesity can often exist in the same household, side by side, creating a double-burden. Linked to poverty, food prices and unhealthy eating patterns as well as limited alternative options, the increase of obesity in developing countries is becoming a severe health problem in some nations.
Every action we take on the SDGs should be a step towards a better tomorrow. In a tangible way – that makes a real difference in the lives of people, particularly those millions currently left behind in multiple ways. Political commitment, at the individual and collective level, particularly at the highest level, is necessary to keep SDG 2 as a high priority. When commitment translates into action and engagement with stakeholders, impressive change can take place e.g. in Africa and Latin America.
Countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, the first to commit to eradicating hunger by 2025, have been amongst the most successful, as a region, in increasing food security. Brazil’s Zero Hunger Programme, Bolivia’s Framework Law of the Mother Earth and Integral Development to Live Well and Haiti’s Aba Grangou (National Programme for the Fight against Hunger and Malnutrition) have combined policies and legal frameworks, with human and financial resources, effective coordination within government and between government and other partners, as well as decision-making based on evidence. These ‘means of implementation’ already shed light on a number of possible paths for other countries.
Let’s take a first step together today to make hunger history! Join in and get to know the rest of the SDGs at www.globalgoals.org!