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The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2021

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The Food and Agricultural Organization (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). (2021). The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World: Transforming food systems for food security, improved nutrition and affordable healthy diets for all. Rome: FAO. Available from: https://www.fao.org/3/cb4474en/online/cb4474en.html

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the world was not on track to meet commitments to end world hunger and malnutrition in all its forms by 2030. This report presented the first global assessment of food insecurity and malnutrition for 2020.

The report found that the number of people affected by hunger increased in 2020 under the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic. After remaining virtually unchanged from 2014 to 2019, the prevalence of undernourishment1 increased to around 9.9% in 2020, from 8.4% a year earlier. An estimated 720 to 811 million people faced hunger in 2020. Approximately 660 million people may still face hunger in 2030; this represents 30 million more people than in a scenario where the COVID-19 pandemic had not occurred.

More than half of the world’s undernourished are found in Asia (418 million) with an additional one third residing in Africa (282 million). While the global prevalence of moderate and severe food insecurity has slowly been rising since 2014, the estimated increase in 2020 was equal to that of the previous five years combined, with the gender gap even larger in 2020 compared to 2019. The high cost of healthy diets combined with income inequality caused healthy diets to be too expensive for around 3 billion people in 2019; this figure is expected to increase for 2020. Globally, malnutrition in all its forms also remains a challenge.

Although it is not yet possible to fully account for the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic due to data limitations, in 2020 it is estimated that 22% (149.2 million) of children under five years of age were affected by stunting, 6.7% (45.4 million) were suffering from wasting and 5.7% (38.9 million) were overweight. Furthermore, in 2019 an estimated 29.9% of women 15 to 49 years of age were affected by anaemia.

When food systems are transformed with greater resilience to the major drivers of food insecurity and malnutrition, such as conflict, climate variability and extremes and economic slowdowns, they can provide affordable, healthy and sustainable diets for all. Such a transformation can be a powerful driving force towards ending hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition in all its forms. This report recommended six pathways towards food systems transformation depending on the context.

  1. Integrating humanitarian, development and peacebuilding policies in conflict-affected areas
  2. Scaling up climate resilience across food systems
  3. Strengthening the resilience of the most vulnerable to economic adversity
  4. Intervening along the food supply chains to lower the cost of nutritious foods
  5. Tackling poverty and structural inequalities, ensuring interventions are pro-poor and inclusive
  6. Strengthening food environments and changing consumer behaviour to promote dietary patterns with positive impacts on human health and the environment

Bold actions such as those described in this report are required to accelerate progress towards ending world hunger and malnutrition in all its forms by 2030.

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1 The prevalence of undernourishment is an estimate of the proportion of the population whose habitual food consumption is insufficient to provide the dietary energy levels that are required to maintain a normal active and healthy life.

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The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2021. Field Exchange 67, April 2022. p87. www.ennonline.net/fex/67/unicefsofi21

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