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Towards A World Without Hunger

Twenty years after the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio, world leaders, the private sector, NGOs and other organisations met in June at Rio+20, the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, to map out how we can reduce hunger and poverty, and create growth that is “green”, people-based, fair and that also protects our ever more crowded planet.

Zero Hunger Challenge

"Food and nutrition are among my top priorities," says UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon who issued his Zero Hunger Challenge at the Rio+20 Conference.

WFP believes there can be no sustainable development unless concerted efforts are made to address hunger and malnutrition and reach those on the side-lines of mainstream development. Close to one billion people suffer from hunger, and more than twice as many from hidden hunger, malnourishment and food insecurity.

Most vulnerable

Any “green economy” must also address the needs of the most vulnerable. They need greater access to nutritious food along with more sustainable natural resource management practices, so they can take up opportunities to escape the poverty trap.

Creating a better future for these people will require food and nutrition safety nets – such as work schemes, asset creation and resilience building programmes, health and nutrition interventions, and school feeding programmes. Innovative risk transfer systems can help ensure vulnerable farmers, families and communities to protect lives, livelihoods and human capital during crises.

Many of the world’s hungry people live in fragile and marginal environments, and bear the brunt of climate change so we need integrated approaches that reduce hunger while building the resilience of families, communities and ecosystems.

Build resilience

Building resilience also means a shift from managing disasters to managing risks amid increasing extreme weather and climate patterns, deteriorating ecosystems, growing competition over natural resources, and highly volatile food and energy prices.

Community based disaster risk reduction and management approaches need to be scaled-up urgently to strengthen the resilience of food insecure households communities and  countries, as they face the growing challenges of climate change.

Women are the main food producers, processors and traders of food. Investing in the nutrition of rural women and their children, especially in the critical first 1000 days of life, is necessary to ensure the healthy development of children, and to increase their chances to contribute to and benefit from economic growth in their future.

WFP In Action

Friday 22 June

Towards a world without hunger

Rio + 20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development logo

1. Put hungry people first. WFP developed and advanced strong messages for Rio+20 that gave a voice to the hungry, positioned women as drivers of change and highlighted the power of safety nets and disaster risk reduction to strengthen the resilience of vulnerable communities. Those messages put nutrition and food security at the centre of the debate and stressed that there can be no sustainable development when nearly a billion people do not have enough to eat. In the run-up to Rio+20 and throughout the week, ED Cousin and the WFP delegation used those messages to:  

  • Support and inform intergovernmental negotiations on the Conference outcome document.  
  • Frame and advance WFP objectives for Rio+20 in interviews with Reuters, Le Figaro, Deutsche Presse Agentur and the Kyodo News.  
  • Advocate and influence broader discussions. WFP messages were picked up and repeated by the Secretary General and others throughout the week.  

2. Showcased solutions. What was transformative at Rio+20 is that the world increasingly knows how to beat hunger and under-nutrition in ways that also drive economic growth, promote social inclusion and protect the environment. Throughout the week, ED Cousin and senior WFP officials showcased sustainable hunger solutions by speaking or participating in:  

  • Multiple high-level side events organized by WFP's Office of Climate Change, Environment and Disaster Risk Reduction and the Centre for Excellence in partnership with the Rome-based agencies (FAO, IFAD and Bioversity) and other UN organisations. Those events brought together Heads of State, CEOs and other global leaders to make recommendations and call for action to address immediate needs and build lasting resilience.  
  • Nearly two dozen other parallel sessions hosted by governments, UN agencies, international organisations and the private sector on agriculture and rural development, women's empowerment, nutrition, community resilience, disaster risk reduction, sustainable land management, the Secretary General's High-Level Panel on Global Sustainability, the Istanbul Plan of Action and vulnerability analysis.

3. Built and strengthened partnerships. Achieving sustainable development will be the work of multiple partners, including governments, the private sector, NGOs and UN agencies. No one country or organisation can do it alone. Over the last six days, ED Cousin and the WFP delegation in Rio have built and strengthened collaboration by:  

  • Launching a new partnership with Haiti to expand school feeding and nutrition programmes using food produced by local farmers, working closely with FAO.  
  • Meeting with key government donors, partner countries, including Ministers from Brazil, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Norway, Russia and Sweden, who affirmed their continued strong support for WFP.  
  • Engaging private sector leaders Ð speaking at major business events, meeting with the CEOs of DSM and Unilever and other longstanding partners, and building relationships with new prospects.  
  • Engaging executives and top officials from other UN agencies, international organisations and NGOs, including UNICEF Executive Director Tony Lake, IFRC, ICRAF, EcoAgriculture and WVI.  

4. Welcomed a good outcome on nutrition and food security. WFP didn't participate in the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, and the terms hunger, nutrition and food security do not appear in any of the Summit Declaration's 40 chapters. But the Rio+20 outcome document agreed by delegations earlier today puts nutrition and food security at the centre of sustainable development. It launches a process toward sustainable development goals and includes good language on hunger, social protection, resilience, disaster risk reduction and women's empowerment throughout. While much more work lies ahead, what was essential this week was to get the building blocks right. That goal that was accomplished at Rio+20.

Thursday 21 June

• Announcing a new partnership with Haiti. At a press conference this afternoon, WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin and Haitian President Michel Martelly announced a bold plan to expand sustainable school meal programmes and address malnutrition across Haiti using production from local farmers.

• Uniting to meet the zero hunger challenge. Cousin joined Niger President Mahamadou Issoufou, UK Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and FAO Director General Graziano da Silva to rally the world to meet UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon’s Zero Hunger Challenge.

• Promoting hunger solutions. Senior WFP officials continued an active Rio+20 schedule, speaking at major events, engaging key partner organisations, and promoting women’s empowerment and proven anti-hunger programmes like safety nets that can reduce risks and strengthen the resilience of vulnerable communities.

Wednesday 20 June

• Welcoming the official start of Rio+20. WFP was there when Brazil’s President, Dilma Rousseff, opened Rio+20,highlighting the potential of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development to set the world on a path to the future we want. We applauded as UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon stressed the importance of sustainable development goals on food security and other themes.

• Advancing collaboration with key partners. Executive Director Cousin engaged top government, private sector and UN agency officials on concrete joint opportunities to meet urgent food and nutritionneeds and build lasting resilience in countries around the world. She met with Development and Foreign Affairs Ministers from Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Russia and with UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake, among others.

• Making every opportunity count. WFP’s Rio+20 delegation is making the most of every opportunity to share knowledge and advocate for action against hunger. Today, senior WFP officials showcased innovative initiatives that are making a difference at a gathering of global Agriculture Ministers and at major parallel events on community resilience,environmental sustainability and vulnerability analysis.

Tuesday 19 June

• Uniting for a food secure future. Executive Director Cousin joined leaders of other Rome-based food agencies to launch a day-long event “Aiming for a Food Secure Future.” In remarks to government, NGO and private sector leaders, Cousin stressed the need to move from managing crises to managing risks and emphasised the power of safety nets to build resilience and inoculate against vulnerability.

• Calling global attention to the Sahel. Cousin stood with top Niger government officials and UNDP Administrator Helen Clark to draw attention to the urgent plight of the poor and hungry in the Sahel and highlight opportunities to strengthen resilience to future droughts through disaster risk reduction and safety net programmes like school meals.

• Women driving change. ED Cousin addressed the Rio+20 Women’s Summit, showcasing the critical role women must play in building a food secure future. She and other speakers called for a global goal on women’s empowerment that promotes equal access to land and productive resources and further investment in the potential of women farmers to feed the world.

Monday 18 June

• Building partnerships with Brazil. Executive Director Ertharin Cousin met with Brazilian Foreign Affairs and Rural Development Ministers to strengthen joint actions against hunger and malnutrition around the world. They discussed ways to work together to further connect Haitian farmers to powerful food assistance programmes and opportunities to scale up an existing initiative that is creating new market opportunities for African smallholders.

• Highlighting sustainable development in action. Cousin visited a school in the Rio de Janeiro favela of Rocinha to learn first hand how Brazil is meeting the nutritional needs of poor children in ways that also benefit smallholder farmers. Local farms supply 30 percent of the food used to feed the school’s roughly 300 students. Through its Centre of Excellence, WFP is partnering with Brazil to share this and other successful models with countries across Africa and beyond.

• Advocating for the hungry poor. WFP officials headlined key sessions during a day-long programme on agriculture and rural development that highlighted the essential role of food and nutrition security in sustainable development. The event brought together leading researchers and advocates from around the world to recommend actions the Rio+20 Conference can take to strengthen the resilience of vulnerable communities to climate and other shocks.

True partnerships begin at home, and preparations for Rio+20 involved the work of multiple WFP divisions and offices from Policy Office of Climate Change, Environment and Disaster Risk Reduction and the Brazil Centre of Excellence to External Relations and the New York Liaison Office to Communications and Private Sector Partnerships. What was achieved? As the UN Sustainable Development Conference comes to a close and the ED departs Rio de Janeiro, the following is an overview of what the WFP delegation did and accomplished.

RIO DE JANEIRO—For the people of Abraha Atsbeha, a village in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia, hunger was once a daily reality. The soil was dry and barren after years of degradation and poor rains could easily lead to failed harvests.

Today, however, the hills around Abraha Atsbeha are green again with fields of coffee, grain and vegetables. Families have a steady of source of income and the means to get through the lean season, even when it rains less than usual.

Find out more about MERET
aerial view of Abraha Atsbeha

A joint venture between the Ethiopian government and WFP, the MERET programme gets chronically food-insecure communities involved in environmental rehabilitation and sustainable income- generating activities that improve livelihoods.

MERET's strongest supporter in recent years is Canada, which provided US$15 million in 2011.


This remarkable transformation earned Abraha Atsbeha official recognition at Rio+20 for its role in a joint project between WFP and the Ethiopian government to help families manage their land and improve their livelihoods.

The MERET project

The MERET (Managing Environmental Resources to Enable Transition) project in Abraha Atsbeha was among 25 initiatives to be awarded the 2012 Equator Prize by UN Development Programme (UNDP) Administrator Helen Clarke.

The award recognizes outstanding projects working to advance sustainable development solutions for people, nature and resilient communities.

Accepting the award on behalf of his community was chairman of the local famers’ association Gebremichal Giday, a zealous supporter of the project who has been instrumental to its success.

How it works

Through “food-for-work activities” that focus on land rehabilitation and income-generation, MERET aims to increase the long-term food security of poor households.

Communities work hard to combat land degradation and promote the sustainable use of natural resources while also increasing production and household income. Moreover, they are better prepared for future climate shocks in an area prone to frequent droughts.

“I am getting a reasonable income from a field that was previously covered by sand. I have good production from the rain-fed field and the irrigated land and orchard using my [new] shallow well,” said Hiwot Gebre-Tsadkan, a farmer in Abraha Atsbeha.

“All of this is thanks to MERET. The money I was getting enabled me to build a house. I can now send all three of my children to school.”

After years of hardship, a community in northern Ethiopia has found the route to a sustainable future through an innovative project which has helped to transform degraded hillsides into productive farmland. For its role in the project, the village of Abraha Atsbeha received official recognition at Rio+20 during an awards ceremony hosted by the UN Development Programme.

Rio + 20 presents an opportunity for agreement on the future we want.  It is a future that will be determined by global commitment towards sustainable development goals in the years ahead, and this can be achieved through support for initiatives that provide a strong foundation for reaching these goals. Read more
20 June 2012

Rio + 20 presents an opportunity for agreement on the future we want.  It is a future that will be determined by global commitment towards sustainable development goals in the years ahead, and this can be achieved through support for initiatives that provide a strong foundation for reaching these goals. Read more
20 June 2012

Burkina Faso is one of the Sahelian countries heavily affected by the crisis as its people are largely dependent on agriculture and livestock farming. Agriculture remains the main employment sector and income source throughout rural Burkina Faso, where 80 percent of the population resides.

Through Food and Cash for Work programmes, WFP helps improve future food security for the affected communities while at the same time making sure that people are provided with the food needed here and now to take them through to the next harvest.

Providing food in exchange for work makes it possible for the drought affected people to devote time and energy to taking the first steps out of the hunger trap.  In Burkina Faso, food is given in exchange for work in for ex. restoration and protection of small-scale productive assets and erosion control activities thereby building resilience against future natural disasters.

Food for Work projects are typically implemented between December and April, in-between of agricultural seasons.


This year, 18 million people will be affected by the unfolding hunger crisis in Sahel, according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).