Myths and Mistakes


Small-holder farming in Africa (© Michael Welling)

Many mistakes have crept into the public perception of global food security. We have asked questions and given answers. Did you know:

1. How many people go hungry?

According to the latest statistics, 805 million people worldwide are suffering from hunger. That is one out of every eight people who go hungry.

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2. What “Hidden Hunger” mean?

Hidden hunger is a form of malnutrition, when the caloric supply is adequate but vital vitamins and minerals are missing. This often results in stunted growth for children and a limited mental capacity, often in conjunction with a weakened immune system. Especially for young children, a permanent deficit might be fatal or lead to lifelong mental and physical impairments. More than two billion people suffer from a lack of vitamins and minerals, especially iron, zinc, iodine and vitamin A.

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3. If there has been any progress in fighting hunger?

Fortunately, due to targeted measures the number of hungry people has been reduced by 200 million over the last 25 years. Unfortunately, this does not apply equally everywhere. During the same period the number of people starving in Africa increased by 45 million. Especially in southern Africa, the 25%proportion of hungry people is unacceptably high. This calls for further efforts. With 526 million, most hungry people still live in Asia -- - in India alone there are 191 million.

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4. Who suffers more from hunger, urban or rural populations?

The rural population is most affected. This is shown in numerous studies of various developing countries. Under- and malnutrition are widely present. This is mainly due to lower income levels of the rural population. In addition, the supply of food is often limited and hygienic conditions are inadequate. Children are particularly affected. Malnourished children are often very vulnerable because of poor or non-existent health care. According to 2013 UNICEF figures, malnutrition of children in 82 of 95 developing countries is more common in rural areas than in urban areas.

5. That the income level matters?

Yes. People in poor countries spend up to 80% of their income on food. The poorest of the poor are especially affected by rising food prices. This lack of income hinders health and education, and many are forced to provide themselves with inferior food. As a result, deficiency in protein, minerals and vitamins is common, especially in vulnerable children, pregnant women and lactating mothers. Children’s growth can be retarded possibly with lifelong consequences in their personal development.

6. If developing countries are able to solve their malnutrition problems domestically?

Food security is affected by many factors that are not in the hands of developing countries - for example, natural disasters and food price spikes. To sustainably fight malnutrition in their own countries, however, it is necessary that governments implement good economic, social, and agricultural policies which include developing

  • Infrastructure,
  • Education,
  • a financial sector for rural areas or
  • Agricultural research and agricultural extension services.

Examples of political progress are Vietnam, Thailand, Brazil or Ghana. Since 1990, these countries have already reduced the number of hungry people by more than 40%. Compared with other developing and emerging economies, this is a far above-average decline.

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7. How developing countries can end hunger?

There is no panacea in the fight against hunger. The impact of policy measures can be as varied as the causes of hunger, even in different countries. Let's take a look at Vietnam, Brazil, Thailand and Ghana:

  • Vietnam has developed mainly in the agricultural sector, for example through land reforms ("de-collectivization"), gradually liberalized agricultural markets and investments in the education of rural population.
  • Brazil boosted its economy through macroeconomic reforms with lower inflation rates, implementing social transfer programs and nutrition initiatives such as public school feeding programs.
  • Thailand’s rural development scheme included infrastructure programs, a reform of land property rights and the support of agricultural marketing chains. Since the late 1990s this scheme also covered nutrition initiatives and primary health care.
  • Ghana’s government implemented an economy-wide reform program through liberalization, devaluation of the currency and lower inflation rates – to the benefit of both farmers and poor people in rural areas.

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8. Whether high food prices harm food security?

Consumers who don’t produce food themselves depend on the purchase of food and suffer from price increases. However, food producers selling their products and gaining cash income benefit from high food prices. Basically, high food prices can secure producer incomes, but only in countries with a functioning market infrastructure. In these countries, products arrive on markets, not as in the least developed countries.

When farmers sell their products successfully, positive forward and backward effects may be generated: expenditure on equipment, inputs and also private spending create positive economic effects. Processing of agricultural products will also provide additional job opportunities and income. For poor countries, however, like most countries in Africa, high food prices are a problem. These countries are often net-importers of food with only few opportunities to export high-value food products. Increasing expenditures for food imports often exacerbate the high debt of these countries.

9. If we can feed 9 billion people?

Many measures are important in order to feed the world in 2050. We have to

  • Stem food losses and waste,
  • Promote a sustainable, efficient, climate-smart agriculture adapted to regional and local requirements,
  • Strengthen rural development including education and infrastructure
  • Enforce land property rights to curb land grabbing.
  • Organize globalization more fairly to allow developing countries a larger share of global agricultural value-added.