Worldwide, one in nine people are undernourished. More than 30 million children under the age of five are dangerously underweight and poor nutrition is responsible for the deaths of nearly 3.1 million children under five each year.
Researchers at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis together with the Ritsumeikan University and the National Institute for Environmental Studies in Japan have explored different ways to end hunger.
One option is a general increase in food production associated with sustained economic growth. This would lead, not only to a reduction in the prevalence of undernourishment but also to an increase in over-consumption. Many decades of economic growth would be necessary to achieve the required 20% or more growth in food production. It would require 48 million hectares of additional agricultural land and would increase greenhouse gas emissions by 550 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year in 2030.
An alternative strategy is to introduce policies focused on bridging the nutrition gap of the undernourished population. This could be done, without the need to wait for economic growth, through targeted government support. Such a strategy would include food and nutrition programs that provide school-feeding programs, vouchers for food, income support programs and safety-nets.
A third strategy is to focus on producing more food for the undernourished only. Eradicating hunger by 2030, would mean providing sufficient food for an additional 410 million people who would otherwise remain undernourished under a business as usual scenario. The additional global agricultural production necessary to achieve this would only be 3%, with corresponding limited negative effects on the environment.
The researchers concluded that undernourishment is not a problem of agricultural production capacity but of the current economic and political system and that, if equity of food distribution is accompanied by a reduction in over-consumption and food waste, undernutrition could be eradicated while at the same time reducing agricultural production. So, to end hunger without pressuring the environment, we need not only policies that address hunger but also policies related to food waste and over-consumption.