ROME -- A new UN hunger report published today put the number of hungry people in the world at 868 million and said social ‘safety nets’ such as school meals programmes and food voucher schemes would be crucial if the world was to bring that number down further.
As well as protecting the most vulnerable populations from hunger, safety nets can also help these same people to become protagonists of future economic growth, ensuring they and their communities become less prone to hunger, the report said.
The State of Food Insecurity in the World (SOFI) report, released jointly by the three Rome-based UN agencies, underlined the importance of economic growth in overcoming poverty and hunger. It noted that strong growth on developing countries in recent decades has been a key factor in reducing the global number of hungry people by 132 million between 1990-1992 and 2010-12.
But it acknowledged that growth by itself is not always sufficient, or rapid enough. Social protection systems are needed to ensure that the most vulnerable are not left behind and can contribute to and benefit from growth.
“The world has the knowledge and the means to eliminate all forms of food insecurity and malnutrition,” said the heads of the three agencies. A “twin-track” approach is needed, they continued, based on support for broad-based economic growth (including in agriculture) and safety nets for the most vulnerable.
The term ‘safety nets’ is used to describe programmes aimed at ensuring that the poorest people always have access to adequate nutritious food. They include school meals, food vouchers, cash transfers, and mother and child health and nutrition initiatives.
An important part of WFP’s mission is to work with national governments to develop food safety nets – systems that can be scaled up in times of crisis.
Laying the foundations
They are seen not just as a way of supporting the hungry now but also of laying the foundations for a hunger-free future. School meals draw children to school, so they get an education and go on to become stronger, smarter adults who can contribute to a national economy. Mother and Child Health initiatives ensure babies get the nutrition they need to develop healthy minds and bodies, with long-term benefits for their health.
Cash transfers are another type of safety net. WFP sometimes uses them as part of cash-for-work projects which provide assistance to vulnerable groups as they work on projects which will make their communities more resilient and food secure.
World Bank studies show that 60% of people in developing countries live without any form of social protection mechanism. In the poorest countries that figure rises to 80%. The SOFI report strongly recommended concerted efforts to implement more protection systems.
“We call on national governments to use the additional public resources generated by economic growth…to build comprehensive social protection systems to support those who cannot help themselves in their efforts to secure adequate nutrition,” the report’s authors said in a foreword.