Last month, headlines jubilantly announced a huge fall in the number of people going hungry. World Food Day has been taking place against a backdrop of widespread global hunger since its inception in 1979, and according to the World Food Programme, hunger had been “slowly but steadily on the rise”.
So, the FAO’s report of 100m fewer hungry people over the past decade (and 200m fewer since 1990-92) may be reason to celebrate indeed.
However, it’s also a good reason to take a look at how the trend has been reversed, and how to continue that trajectory.
Feeding the world, caring for the earth
This year’s World Food Day theme is ‘Family farmers: Feeding the world, caring for the earth’. It’s one that goes to the heart of supply chains and consumer concerns: Where does our food come from? And who’s growing it?
Increasingly, food companies have begun to acknowledge the importance of provenance, in terms of the ‘story’ of their products – and how they are marketed to consumers – as well as for the environment. A healthy environment and a healthy workforce go a long way toward creating a healthy business model.
And we’ve seen that food companies can make a difference to supply chains. Take the palm oil industry, for example, which reached a sustainability ‘tipping point’ in March this year. The majority of the world’s palm oil is now set to be sustainably sourced as palm oil producers have sought to match each other’s environmental commitments – and companies and consumers have demanded them.
As for family farming, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil has come up with a model that allows smallholder farmers to buy into sustainability too, even if they can’t process and sell their oil directly to users.
At first glance, it may not be obvious that improvements in the palm oil sector contribute to food security, but well-managed farmland is crucial to reducing hunger in a world with limited resources. Additionally, better conditions include those for farm workers – including better pay and, therefore, better nutrition.
Hunger reduction goal within reach
According to the FAO, the trend in hunger reduction in developing countries means that the Millennium Development Goal of halving the proportion of undernourished people by 2015 is within reach, "if appropriate and immediate efforts are stepped up.” And it’s that final clause that needs close attention.
Parts of the food industry are investing in local infrastructures, ensuring their raw materials are sustainably produced, protecting biodiversity and guaranteeing a fair income to workers.
The more fortunate among us – and food companies in general – must continue efforts such as these, all of which are important for food security.
However, there’s still much to be done, and World Food Day’s purpose of raising awareness of poverty and hunger is still all too relevant. After all, there are still 805 million hungry people in the world.
The trend may be going in the right direction, but let’s not rejoice just yet.