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Towards ending hunger: economic recovery obstructed by new challenges to food security

By Vittoria Acampora

At the end of 2021, global concern about food security emerged. This apprehension stemmed from several factors, including the lingering impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, ongoing conflicts, and weather-related crises. A key contributor to this situation was the uneven economic recovery following the decline witnessed in 2020, which led to rising costs in food, fuel, and transportation impeding progress in ensuring food security.

In 2022, thanks to more favorable global economic conditions, it became possible to reduce hunger and food insecurity; however, the Ukrainian war impacted the global economy, including reverberating through the global food and agricultural markets because of the involvement of two major worldwide producers of agricultural goods, Russia and Ukraine. As a consequence, the added uncertainty induced by the war caused an increase in international food prices and global food commodity prices. The FAO Food Price Index reached an all-time peak in March 2022, and despite it gradually declining throughout the year, it remained significantly elevated compared to pre-pandemic levels. As a result, the cost of food imports increased, impacting countries that heavily rely on imported food.

Worldwide, fertilizer prices experienced a significant increase as well, primarily due to the surge in energy and natural gas prices which contributed to elevated food prices at local and national levels, consequently exacerbating overall inflation. In this context, global hunger trends are shaped by the interplay of two key factors at the household level:

  1. Firstly, the economic recovery in 2022 likely led to an increase in household disposable income and improved food access, especially benefiting the poorest households that had suffered significant income losses during the pandemic. Globally, employment rates grew by 2.3% in 2022.

  2. The second factor is the effect of rising food prices and general inflation.

These factors can erode the income gains made and worsen access to food, particularly affecting the most economically vulnerable populations, who allocate a larger portion of their income to food expenses. However, over the long term, some households may adapt their consumption patterns to mitigate these impacts, and impoverished rural populations involved in agriculture may even benefit from higher prices for their agricultural products.

At the regional level, the interaction of income and price effects had different impacts. In Southern Africa, during 2022 hunger has increased due to rising inflation driven by global commodity prices and domestic challenges, such as high unemployment. Despite GDP growth, the living conditions of the poorest population segment didn't improve, with agriculture facing challenges from extreme weather and high fertilizer costs. In Middle Africa, hunger has risen due to food price inflation, increased food imports, and extreme climate events, offsetting economic growth driven by oil exports. Western Asia saw increased oil revenue, but hunger levels remained high due to political instability, conflicts, and domestic inflation. Southern Asia improved food security through economic growth, agricultural support measures, and subsidies. The Caribbean faced food price inflation and reduced export revenues, resulting in increased food insecurity. South America, a food exporter, experienced a hunger decline caused by labour market improvements, social protection, and higher oil and gas prices.

At the country level, Low-Income Countries (LICs) faced the greatest challenges in recovering from the pandemic's impact on hunger, with 77% not returning to pre-pandemic levels in 2022. At the global level, 58% of countries still had elevated hunger levels in 2022 compared to before the pandemic. Projections suggest a slowdown in poverty reduction in 2023 due to weaker global economic growth and higher food, energy, and agricultural input prices, with an estimated 5 million fewer people escaping extreme poverty compared to 2021.

An analysis conducted to estimate the potential number of people who might experience chronic hunger in 2030 anticipated that nearly 600 million individuals will face chronic undernourishment by that time. This underscores the significant challenge of achieving the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target to eradicate hunger. This number represents approximately 119 million more undernourished individuals compared to the scenario where neither the pandemic nor the war in Ukraine had occurred, and roughly 23 million more than in the scenario without the war.

The expected developments in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean differ significantly. The trajectories illustrate that nearly all progress in combating hunger is projected to occur in Asia, where the number of undernourished people is expected to decline from the current 402 million to 242 million by 2030. In Latin America and the Caribbean, the number of undernourished individuals is projected to remain relatively stable. In contrast, Africa is anticipated to witness a substantial increase, with close to 300 million people potentially facing hunger in 2030. Addressing the fundamental structural issues affecting the African continent will require much more robust efforts.

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