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Hunger pandemic: Food security report confirms WFP’s worst fears

State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2021 points to rising hunger worldwide
, WFP Staff
Burkina Faso: Half-moon shapes are dug in Sirighin to ensure rainwater stays in place and seeps into the soil. Photo: WFP/Evelyn Fey

The newly released State of Food Security and Nutrition in the world lays bare the impact of COVID-19 on food insecurity and malnutrition around the world, with a further 161 million people believed to have gone hungry in 2020 — data-gathering efforts have been hampered by social distancing rules in the past year.

The SOFI report,  or “The State of Food and Nutrition in the World 2021”, estimates that up to 811 million people went hungry last year as climate extremes and economic slowdowns, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, continued to increase in frequency and intensity.  

WFP executive director David Beasley said it confirms “a devastating reality — the path to zero hunger is being stopped dead in its tracks by conflict, climate and COVID-19.“

He added: ”More people slid into chronic hunger in 2020 than in the previous five years combined, and one in five children around the world are stunted, meaning their future potential is being destroyed by hunger. The world needs to act to save this lost generation before it’s too late.”

Over 149 million under-5s are estimated to have been stunted, or too short for their age; more than 45 million wasted, or too thin for their height; and nearly 39 million overweight.

Carmen Burbano, Director of WFP’s School Meals Programme, said: ”As world hunger skyrockets, children are paying the heaviest price. Last year, 370 million children missed out on school meals because of school closures during the pandemic. Even today, we know 150 million of them still do not have access to these programmes.“

school feeding
Niger: Girls at a school supported by the World Food Programme in Dosso, Tillabery, in June. Photo: WFP/Mariama Ali Souley

Prior to the pandemic, the high cost of food had already locked 3 billion people, especially the poor, out of healthy diets in every region of the world.

Inflation, combined with job losses due to the COVID-19 and persistent income inequality, continue to aggravate food insecurity and malnutrition.

Over the past three months, the cost of a basic food basket has gone up by more than 10 percent in nine countries where the World Food Programme works, the organization said in a press release.

Evelyn Fey
Sierra Leone: 'I often return home tired, unable to eat. I will give my portion of food to the children,' says farmer Isata Sei, in Golahun Vaama, Kenema district. Photo: Evelyn Fey

“The tremendous challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic have exposed the fragility of our food systems,” said WFP.

The organization responds by facilitating training and insurance schemes for smallholder farms, running school meals programmes and investing in social protection  schemes to cushion blows resulting from conflict, extreme weather and the pandemic, ensuring that vulnerable people continue to meet their basic needs. Over the longer term, these build resilience and can be adapted to better link to food systems.

Below are three countries where WFP is working to save lives and change lives in the face of growing hunger and broken food systems.


When the pandemic struck in March 2020, informal traders lost income sources overnight. As well as providing food for their families, WFP’s cash assistance helped them to restart trade and get back on their feet. 

The organization worked with the Government and commercial partners to provide people throughout the country with access to nutritious food at affordable prices by supporting smallholder farmers among other initiatives. 


A fragile health system, poor nutrition, overcrowded and unsanitary living conditions all contributed to making coronavirus more lethal in Bolivia. Approximately 60 percent of the population is employed in the informal sector — as bus drivers, cleaners, street vendors — and rely on daily earnings.

A food distribution in Oruro, Cercado Province, in June 2020. Photo: WFP/Morelia Eróstegui 

People have lost their only source of income and are struggling to recover. In March 2020, WFP started distributing electronic cash cards to affected families. An initial US$123 was provided and recharged periodically, conditional on attending nutrition training via a messaging app and other channels, depending on the needs of each group. 

Central Sahel

In the Central Sahel (Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger), a region grappling with escalating conflict, climate shocks and high food prices, WFP is tackling different elements of food systems to respond to both short-term emergency needs while also boosting the resilience of communities.

Burkina Faso: Kadi, 23, feeds her malnourished boy at a WFP-supported health centre in Nessemtenga, Centre-Nord region in May. Photo:  WFP/Mahamady Ouedraogo

It helps farmers rehabilitate or create productive assets, with training in climate-smart agriculture practices and improved market access.

Burkina Faso: 'In this market garden, I grow onion leaves. I harvest the leaves and sell them in town,'  says Sisao Mariam In Louda, Centre-Nord. Photo: WFP/Evelyn Fey
Mali: A dike is rehabilitated to allow a community in Toya, near Timbuktu, to grow rice. Photo: WFP/Benoit Lognone

WFP also works with women’s groups and local agri-businesses to produce fortified blended foods and staples to improve the nutritional quality of food on the market.  


A keyhole garden is constructed at a home in Siloe village in Mohale’s Hoek district, in a project supported by WFP. Photo: WFP/Washi Mokati.

The food security situation has worsened following years of crop failures, low incomes, high food prices and the fallout of COVID-19 restrictions. But WFP has brought small rural businesses back to life. In addition to distributing food, it's introduced a buying club which boosts small retailers’ buying power by combining stock needs and allows them to procure the staple flour directly from the large government miller at low prices. 

The report is published jointly by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, UNICEF, the World Health Organization and the World Food Programme (WFP). It is regarded as a yardstick for measuring progress towards UN Sustainable Development Goal 2, Zero Hunger, by the year 2030. 

Click here to read the SOFI report

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