The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World is an annual report jointly prepared by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2023, launched on 12 July 2023, provides a comprehensive overview of these complexities. The 2023 edition of the report reveals that between 691 and 783 million people faced hunger in 2022, with a mid-range of 735 million. This represents an increase of 122 million people compared to 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic.
While global hunger numbers have stalled between 2021 and 2022, there are many places in the world facing deepening food crises. Progress in hunger reduction was observed in Asia and Latin America, but hunger was still on the rise in Western Asia, the Caribbean and throughout all subregions of Africa in 2022. Africa remains the worst-affected region with one in five people facing hunger on the continent, more than twice the global average.
- Global hunger, measured by the prevalence of undernourishment (Sustainable Development Goal [SDG] Indicator 2.1.1), remained relatively unchanged from 2021 to 2022 but is still far above pre-COVID-19-pandemic levels, affecting around 9.2 percent of the world population in 2022 compared with 7.9 percent in 2019.
- It is estimated that between 691 and 783 million people in the world faced hunger in 2022. Considering the midrange (about 735 million), 122 million more people faced hunger in 2022 than in 2019, before the global pandemic.
- From 2021 to 2022, progress was made towards reducing hunger in Asia and in Latin America, but hunger is still on the rise in Western Asia, the Caribbean and all subregions of Africa.
- It is projected that almost 600 million people will be chronically undernourished in 2030. This is about 119 million more than in a scenario in which neither the pandemic nor the war in Ukraine had occurred, and around 23 million more than if the war in Ukraine had not happened. This points to the immense challenge of achieving the SDG target to eradicate hunger, particularly in Africa.
- The prevalence of moderate or severe food insecurity at the global level (SDG Indicator 2.1.2) remained unchanged for the second year in a row after increasing sharply from 2019 to 2020. About 29.6 percent of the global population – 2.4 billion people – were moderately or severely food insecure in 2022, of which about 900 million (11.3 percent of people in the world) were severely food insecure.
- Worldwide, food insecurity disproportionately affects women and people living in rural areas. Moderate or severe food insecurity affected 33.3 percent of adults living in rural areas in 2022 compared with 28.8 percent in peri-urban areas and 26.0 percent in urban areas. The gender gap in food insecurity at the global level, which had widened in the wake of the pandemic, narrowed from 3.8 percentage points in 2021 to 2.4 percentage points in 2022.
- More than 3.1 billion people in the world – or 42 percent – were unable to afford a healthy diet in 2021. While this represents an overall increase of 134 million people compared to 2019, before the pandemic, the number of people unable to afford a healthy diet actually fell by 52 million people from 2020 to 2021.
- Worldwide in 2022, an estimated 148.1 million children under five years of age (22.3 percent) were stunted, 45 million (6.8 percent) were wasted, and 37 million (5.6 percent) were overweight. The prevalence of stunting and wasting was higher in rural areas, while overweight was slightly more prevalent in urban areas.
- Steady progress has been made on increasing exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life and reducing stunting among children under five years of age, but the world is still not on track to achieve the 2030 targets. Child overweight and low birthweight have changed little, and the prevalence of wasting is more than double the 2030 target.
- Increasing urbanization, with almost seven in ten people projected to live in cities by 2050, is driving changes in agrifood systems across the rural–urban continuum. These changes represent both challenges and opportunities to ensure everyone has access to affordable healthy diets.
- Challenges include a greater availability of cheaper, convenience, pre-prepared and fast foods, often energy dense and high in fats, sugars and/or salt that can contribute to malnutrition; insufficient availability of vegetables and fruits to meet the daily requirements of healthy diets for everyone; exclusion of small farmers from formal value chains; and loss of lands and natural capital due to urban expansion.
- But urbanization also presents opportunities, as it results in longer, more formal and complex food value chains that expand income-generating activities in off-farm employment, especially for women and youth, and increase the variety of nutritious foods. Farmers often gain better access to agricultural inputs and services as urban areas grow closer to rural areas.
- Understanding the changes occurring throughout agrifood systems (i.e. from food production, food processing, and food distribution and procurement, to consumer behaviour) requires a rural–urban continuum lens, reflecting the growing connectivity and interlinkages across urban, peri-urban and rural areas.
- While already quite advanced in Asia and Latin America, changes in food demand and supply across the rural–urban continuum are accelerating in Africa, where the shares of the population that are food insecure and unable to afford a healthy diet are among the highest in the world. Here the expansive growth in off-farm employment and interconnected food markets and food supply chains is driving a diet transition across the rural–urban continuum.
- New evidence for 11 Western, Eastern and Southern African countries challenges the traditional thinking that food purchases make up a small share of rural households’ food consumption in Africa. Food purchases are high among urban households in these countries, but they are also surprisingly high across the rural–urban continuum, even among rural households living far from an urban centre.
- New evidence also challenges the conventional thinking that purchase patterns between urban and rural areas differ markedly. In the 11 African countries studied, although consumption of processed foods, including highly processed foods, is higher in urban areas, it only declines gradually moving to peri-urban and rural areas. Moreover, consumption of vegetables, fruits, and fats and oils is fairly uniform across the rural–urban continuum relative to total food consumption.
- The affordability of a healthy diet is becoming more critical to households living in peri-urban and rural areas because they rely more on food purchases. In the 11 African countries studied, despite the lower cost of a healthy diet in these areas, affordability is still lower than in urban centres. Low-income households living in peri-urban and rural areas are especially disadvantaged, as they would need to more than double their food expenditure to secure a healthy diet.
- In many of these African countries studied, food security is not exclusively a rural problem, as moderate or severe food insecurity across urban areas (large, intermediate and small cities and towns) and peri-urban areas (less than 1 hour travel to large, intermediate and small cities) is similar to and sometimes even slightly higher than in rural areas.
- The prevalence of child overweight is at risk of increasing with the emerging problem of high consumption of highly processed foods and food away from home in urban centres, which is increasingly spreading into peri-urban and rural areas.
- Increasing access to affordable healthy diets and achieving food security and nutrition for all require a policy approach and legislation that leverage the increasing connectivity between rural and peri-urban areas and cities of various sizes.
- The closer linkages among agrifood systems segments create opportunities for win–win situations in terms of greater economic development and access to affordable healthy diets, which can be seized through investments in infrastructure, public goods and enhanced capacities that improve rural–urban connectivity. Such investments should support the essential role of small and medium enterprises in agrifood systems, particularly in small and intermediate cities and towns.
- Public investment in research and development needs to be increased to develop technologies and innovations for healthier food environments and for increasing the availability and affordability of nutritious foods. Technology can be particularly important to boost the capacity of urban and peri-urban agriculture to supply nutritious foods in cities and towns.
- Leveraging connectivity across the rural–urban continuum will require adequate governance mechanisms and institutions to coordinate coherent investment beyond sectoral and administrative boundaries. To this end, subnational governments can play a key role in designing and implementing policies beyond the traditional top-down approach. Approaches to agrifood systems governance should ensure policy coherence among local, regional and national settings through the engagement of relevant agrifood systems stakeholders at all levels.
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