School meals are one of many "safety nets" that can prevent the most vulnerable children from falling into hunger--providing them with a reliable source of nutrition while keeping them in school. Copyright: WFP/Amor Almagro
The latest figures on global hunger show that progress is being made. But despite the downward trend, achieving the hunger target contained in the first Millennium Development Goal will require a substantial extra push. School meals and programmes based on cash or vouchers are among the approaches that could help the world meet the challenge.
ROME -- The number of hungry people in the world is now 842 million, down from 868 million reported a year ago. Since 1990-1992, the number of hungry has fallen by 17%. Read press release | See report.
This latest reduction means that we are almost, but not quite, on course to achieve the first Millennium Development Goal – halving the proportion of hungry people in the world by 2015. As the graph below shows, if the current trend continues, 13% of the world’s population will be hungry in 2015; to achieve MDG 1 we need to get that figure down to 12%.
“We need immediate and substantial action,” say the authors of the State of Food Insecurity in the World report, indicating a need for “programmes that deliver quick results.” Among the approaches that the authors have in mind are ‘social safety nets’ – schemes which try to ensure that the most vulnerable always have access to adequate nutritious food.
One example of a social safety net is a school meals programme. By distributing food to children in school, governments can ensure children from poor families get a source of nutritious food daily. This becomes especially important in times of crisis, when a family’s other sources of food and income are cut off.
Another example is a cash transfer -- providing support to the poorest of the poor by giving them cash. When the money is spent at local shops, it goes to support local food systems. Clearly this approach can only work in situations where food is available but out of reach to the poorest.
Food vouchers can play a similar role, helping families deal with hunger in the short-term, while at the same time having a positive effect in the long–term. More people buying food means there is more demand and farmers are encouraged to invest in their production techniques.
As the new SOFI report notes, these sorts of programmes lie at the heart of the twin-track approach to reducing hunger that WFP, FAO and IFAD agree is the way forward. It involves increasing access to food for the most needy in the short term and enhancing the ability of the poor to produce or buy food in the longer term.
A goal within reach
To get a better idea of how these programmes work, look at the examples below of real people who have benefited from school meals, cash transfers and vouchers.
The first MDG – halving the proportion of hungry people -- has in fact already been reached by 62 countries. These successes show that with political commitment and good policies the fight against hunger and poverty can be won.
At a global level, the world is currently on course to miss the target by a single percentage point. But the latest drop in the number of hungry suggests that - with an extra, final push - the goal is within reach.
Malawi - cash
With food prices high in Malawi's markets, many families are struggling to find enough to eat. A programme by WFP is sending cash to the most vulnerable people through their mobile phones. This assistance enables them to buy more food and stimulates local farmers to produce more. Find out more
Afghanistan – vouchers
Two years ago WFP began distributing vouchers to some of Afghanistan’s most vulnerable citizens, giving them the novel experience of going to shops with the ability to buy something. Local shopkeepers were equally excited about the food vouchers because they mean new customers and more business. Find out more
Haiti – school meals
Many Haitian schools are now serving their children with food grown locally. Knowing they have a buyer, farmers are motivated to produce more food. Knowing they'll get good food, kids are keen to go to school - where they get the nutrition they need, plus an education. Find out more