SOFI Report-2022: Moving away from goal of ending hunger
By Dr. Santosh Kumar Mohapatra*
It is reprehensible that despite enormous wealth being created in the world, a large number of people are made to sleep with an empty stomach. Given scientific discovery, and invention, food grain stocks, a single person should not die due to hunger. But our exploitative, oppressive unjust, unequal system with concomitant neo-liberalism stands as a great impediment to hunger-free India and the world. Eliminating hunger remains elusive as portrayed in the “State of Food Security and Nutrition in The World (Sofi) Report 2022”.
STATE OF FOOD SECURITY AND NUTRITION IN THE WORLD (SOFI) REPORT
The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World (SOFI) report is an annual flagship report jointly prepared by UN agencies Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), UNICEF, World Food Programme (WFP), and the World Health Organisation (WHO).
It seeks to inform on progress towards ending hunger, achieving food security, and improving nutrition and to provide an in-depth analysis of key challenges for achieving this goal in the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
The 2022 edition of the SOFI report (July 6, 2022) presents updates on the food security and nutrition situation around the world, including the latest estimates of the cost and affordability of a healthy diet. The report also looks at ways in which governments can repurpose their current support to agriculture to reduce the cost of healthy diets, mindful of the limited public resources available in many parts of the world.
But according to the report, the challenges to ending hunger, food insecurity, and all forms of malnutrition keep growing. The world is moving further away from its goal of ending hunger, food insecurity, and malnutrition in all its forms by 2030.
82.8 CRORE PEOPLE ARE HUNGRY IN THE WORLD IN 2021
According to a report, globally, hunger levels remain alarmingly high. According to the SOFI report 2022, there is no longer any doubt that the prime Sustainable Development Goal of eliminating hunger by 2030 is bound to remain elusive. About 67 crore people, or around 8 per cent of the world population, would remain underfed in 2030 even if the global economy, marred by the Covid-19 pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine conflict, recovers to the desired extent— are adding to the worrying situation.
The report said that the number of people affected by hunger globally rose to as many as 82.8 crore in 2021, an increase of about 4.6 crore since 2020 and 15 crore since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Around 230 crore people worldwide (29.3 per cent) were moderately or severely food insecure in 2021 — 35 crore more compared to before the COVID 19 pandemic. Nearly 9.24 crore people (11.7 per cent of the global population) faced food insecurity at severe levels, an increase of 20.7 crore in two years.
The report noted that after remaining relatively unchanged since 2015, the proportion of people affected by hunger jumped in 2020 and continued to rise in 2021, to 9.8 percent of the world population. This compares with 8 percent in 2019 and 9.3 percent in 2020. World hunger rose in 2021, with around 230 crore people facing moderate or severe difficulty obtaining enough to eat — and that was before the Ukraine war, which has sparked increase in the cost of grain, fertilizer, and energy, according to the report.
According to the new report estimates, almost 310 crore people could not afford a healthy diet in 2020, up from 11.2 crore in 2019, showing the effects of inflation on consumer food prices. It is pushing up the prices of grain, fertiliser, energy, and ready-to-use therapeutic food for children with severe malnutrition.
In addition, WFP and FAO warned that acute food insecurity could worsen in 20 countries or areas from June to September 2022.
Rapid phone surveys done by the World Bank in 83 countries show a significant number of people running out of food or reducing their consumption in the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic. Reduced calorie intake and compromised nutrition threaten gains in poverty reduction and health and could have lasting impacts on the cognitive development of young children.
Despite progress in some regions, global trends in child malnutrition continue to be of great concern, including stunting and wasting, deficiencies in essential micronutrients, and overweight and obesity. Trends in maternal anaemia and obesity among adults especially also continue to be alarming.
GROWING GENDER GAP IN FOOD INSECURITY
The gender gap in food insecurity continued to rise in 2021 — 31.9 percent of women in the world were moderately or severely food insecure, compared to 27.6 percent of men — a gap of more than 4 percentage points, compared with 3 percentage points in 2020. Almost 310 crore people could not afford a healthy diet in 2020, up 11.2 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.
97.33 CRORE OR NEARLY 70.5 PER CENT OF INDIANS IN 2020 COULD NOT AFFORD A HEALTHY DIET
According to a report, while the world is moving backwards in its bid to banish hunger, India is among the few lower- and middle-income countries that are bucking this trend.
While, globally, the count of undernourished people swelled by nearly 4.6 crores over the past 15 years, it has shrunk in India by nearly 2.35 crore, though the scale of malnutrition still remains worrisome and obesity among adults on a rise. In India, the number of undernourished people declined to 22.43 crore in 2019-21 from 24.78 crore in 2004-06. In percentage terms, the prevalence of undernourishment in the total population in India stood at 21.6 per cent in 2004-06 and declined to 16.3 per cent in 2019-20, though highly deplorable.
But the most disconcerting news is that 70.5 per cent of people in India were unable to afford a healthy diet. The people who were unable to afford a healthy diet touched 97.33 crore in 2020 or nearly 70.5 per cent, up from 94.86 crore in 2019 (69.4 per cent). In 2017, about a billion ( i,e., 100 crore) people were unable to afford a healthy diet in India and this number has declined to 96.66 crore in 2018. This shows the ugly face of the New India.
At the same time, the incidence of obesity among both adults and children is burgeoning demonstrating unhealthy food consumption even among well-fed people. The rampant malnutrition, including imbalanced nutritional intake, is, therefore, a serious issue that still awaits resolution. This has been borne out also by the National Family Health survey-5 (2019-21).
The prevalence of obesity in India’s adult population increased to 3.9 percent in 2016 from 3.1 per cent in 2012. However, the number of obese adults in India, which has a population of over 138 crore grew to 3.43 crore in 2016 from 2.52 crore in 2012 and the number of women aged 15 to 49 years affected by anaemia also grew to 18.73 crore in 2019 from 17. 15 crore in 2012.
An estimated 4.5 crore children under the age of five were suffering from wasting, the deadliest form of malnutrition, which increases children’s risk of death by up to 12 times. Furthermore, 14.9 crore children under the age of five had stunted growth and development due to a chronic lack of essential nutrients in their diets, while 3.9 crore were overweight.
It said that the number of children under 5 years of age who are stunted declined to 3.61 crore in 2020 from 5.23 crore in 2012, the number of children under five years of age who are overweight declined to 0.22 crore in 2020 from three million in 2012. The report added that the number of children up to 5 months of age exclusively breastfed touched 1.4 crore in 2020 from 1.12 crore in 2012.
In term of percentage, the prevalence of stunting in children under 5 years of age declined to 30.9 per cent in 2020 from 41.7 per cent in 2012 and the prevalence of overweight children under five years of age was 1.9 per cent in 2020 from 2.4 per cent in 2012.
NOT ONLY(SOFI) REPORT BUT THE GLOBAL HUNGER INDEX REPORT REVEALS PANGS OF HUNGER
The GHI is a tool designed to comprehensively measure and track hunger at global, regional, and national levels. Data for the indicators come from data collection efforts by various UN and other multilateral agencies including Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), United Nations Interagency Group for Child Mortality Estimation (UN IGME), a joint database of UNICEF, WHO, and the World Bank, as well as from WHO’s continuously updated Global Database on Child Growth and Malnutrition, the most recent reports of the Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) and Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS), and statistical tables from UNICEF.
The global estimate shows that without action, between 2020 and 2022, an additional 3.6 million children will become stunted, and an additional 13.6 million children will become wasted. This will result in an additional 2,83,000 deaths of children under-five in the world.
However, it is important to note that any developments in 2021 were not yet reflected in the latest prevalence of undernourishment data, which covers 2018-2020 in the recent Global Hunger Index (GHI) report. The full effects of the COVID-19 pandemic will only be reflected in the GHI data in the coming years.
The level of hunger in India has been called serious with an overall score of 27.5. India now ranks at 101 out of 116 countries assessed, down from 94 out of 107 in 2020. This is worse than neighbouring countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal. India is better than only 15 countries including Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia.
As per the findings of the GHI, since 2000, India has made substantial progress, but there are still areas of concern, particularly regarding child nutrition. Here are some key findings: – The proportion of undernourished in the population has come down from 18.4 per cent in 2000 to 15.3 per cent in 2021. However, there is a 0.3 per cent increase when compared to 2012. Similarly, the under-five child mortality rate is relatively low at 3.4 per cent compared to 9.2 per cent in 2000.
Though child stunting (low-height-for-age) has seen a significant decrease – from 54.2 per cent in 2000 to 34.7 per cent in 2020 – it is still considered very high, as per the GHI report. At 17.3 per cent, India has the highest child wasting (low-weight-for-height) rate of all countries covered in the GHI. The prevalence has increased from 15.1 per cent in 2012.
MAJOR DRIVERS OF FOOD INSECURITY
This report repeatedly highlights the intensification of these major drivers of food insecurity and malnutrition: conflict, climate extremes, and economic shocks, combined with growing inequalities, the heads of the five UN agencies wrote in this year’s Foreword. “The issue at stake is not whether adversities will continue to occur or not, but how we must take bolder action to build resilience against future shocks”.
The report also talks of food inflation, which has been on an unprecedented rise worldwide, triggered by two years of the COVID-19 pandemic-induced disruption and now the Russia-Ukraine war.
As such, farmers have constantly faced price disincentives in aggregate terms (negative NRPs). Input subsidies and expenditure on general services such as in R&D and infrastructure have been widely used as a means of compensating them for the price disincentives generated by trade and market measures, and for boosting production and self-sufficiency in the country.
The COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted the fragilities in our food systems and the inequalities in our societies, driving further increases in world hunger and severe food insecurity.
The report suggested repurposing food and agricultural support to target nutritious foods where per capita consumption does not yet match the recommended levels for healthy diets as one of the ways to support economic recovery. It also pointed out that governments could do more to reduce trade barriers for nutritious foods, such as fruits, vegetables and pulses.
This report shows that governments can invest in food systems equitably and sustainably, even with the same level of public resources. Governments’ support for food and agriculture accounts for almost USD 630 billion per year globally. However, a significant proportion of this support distorts market prices, is environmentally destructive, and hurts small-scale producers and indigenous people, while failing to deliver healthy diets to children and others who need them the most.
The evidence suggests that if governments repurpose the resources, they are using to support producers and consumers, to incentivize the sustainable production, supply and consumption of nutritious foods, they will contribute to making healthy diets less costly and more affordable for all.
In all contexts, reforms to repurpose support to food and agriculture must also be accompanied by policies that promote shifts in consumer behaviours, along with safety net policies to mitigate the unintended consequences of reforms for vulnerable populations. Finally, these reforms must be multisectoral, encompassing health, environmental, transport and energy policies.
The report noted that subsidies to consumers provided in Lower- Income Countries and Middle-Income Countries most often take the form of in-kind or cash transfers under the social protection programmes. India and Indonesia, for example, provide substantial subsidies to final consumers under the Targeted Public Distribution System for grains in India, and the food assistance programme (BPNT) based on electronic vouchers for rice, in Indonesia, it said.
However, the report did not explain why 97.33 crore of Indians are found unable to afford a healthy diet when the number of undernourished people declined. The reason is that what the Indian government spent on food security was taken away from people through a higher excise tax on petroleum products and GST on items consumed by poor and vulnerable sections of society. The imposition of GST on food items is going to exacerbate hunger more. If the foods wasted and overconsumed by the rich are given to the poor, then the rich will escape from obesity problem while the poor will not die of hunger and starvation.
The author is an Odisha-based eminent columnist/economist and social thinker. He can be reached through e-mail at [email protected]
DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not in any way represent the views of Sambad English.