7-8 JUNE 2017 / Tour & Taxis / Brussels

Ending hunger and undernutrition: It can be done faster

Ending hunger and undernutrition: It can be done faster

Accelerating the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 2

Thursday, June 16, 2016 - 14:45 to 16:00

Key points

•    Good existing programmes for tackling hunger must be brought to scale.
•    The drive will require new partnerships, new ideas and new approaches.
•    Hunger often hits small farmers who must sell their crops at low prices at harvest time, but working together, smallholders can devise solutions. 
•    Information and communications technology will play an increasingly important role. 
•    Local initiatives might be more effective than national ones, especially in fragile states.


One-third of the world’s population is malnourished. Two billion people are affected by ‘hidden hunger’, defined as micronutrient deficiency. Growing numbers of children suffer from obesity. The UN Secretary General’s Zero Hunger Challenge, as well as Sustainable Development Goal 2 and other initiatives, provide evidence of the political will to attack such problems. Policy statements need to be turned into action.

From Bangladesh to Ethiopia, successful programmes seem ripe for adaptation to other settings.

This scaling up process will require: 1) new partnerships among anti-hunger civil society organisations, academia, groups in the global South, private businesses and others; 2) new ideas, including those that make more and better use of information and communication technologies (ICT); 3) new approaches, such as market-based programmes. It might time for the old charity model to give way to one that favours social businesses, whereby one-time beneficiaries are treated instead as consumers and entrepreneurs. Donors and implementers must listen more closely to local people. Ways must be developed to better measure programme results.

When hand-outs remain necessary, cash transfers could replace expensive and cumbersome food distribution schemes. Not only are they less costly, cash transfers take less time to set up, require less administrative overhead and can be more easily taken to scale. They are also more dignified, as people have the freedom to make their own decisions. 

Hunger often hits farmers who are forced to sell their crops at low prices at harvest time, leaving them with little means to get by until the next harvest. Working together, smallholders can devise ways to tap into the value chain at a higher level. These might involve collective investments in warehousing, small-scale processing, the purchasing of inputs, quality improvements and more. 

Small farmers can also benefit from increased use of ICT – often supplied and delivered via mobile telephones. Tips on when to plant and harvest can be provided based on weather forecasts that rely on satellite data. Their business operations could be boosted by financial services and market information. In Kenya, herdsmen have launched an ‘eBay for cattle’ that allows them to sell livestock directly to butchers in Nairobi, bypassing price-gouging middlemen. 

When Ebola hit Sierra Leone, gatherings of more than five people were prohibited to reduce the risk of transmission. This forced one agricultural training outfit to create a ‘digital farmer field school’ for often illiterate farmers using audio and video to be watched on a handful of smartphones distributed by the programme. A similar effort is about to be launched in Zimbabwe. 

Many initiatives should be implemented locally instead of at the national level. This is especially true in fragile states, home to a disproportionate amount of the world’s hunger and malnutrition. Many programmes can be implemented and evaluated at the district level. Antiquated agricultural extension services need to be overhauled and upgraded. 

Young people must be encouraged to stay in rural areas, in part by providing these zones with electricity, educational opportunities and other amenities now associated with urban areas. Non-farming jobs must be generated.


Demographers expect Nigeria to be one of the world’s most populous countries by the end of the 21st century.

Organised by

    Morgane Danielou
    Vice-President Operations
    Michael Hailu
    Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation
    Connell Foley
    Director of Strategy, Advocacy and Learning
    Concern Worldwide
    Till Wahnbaeck
    Shenggen Fan
    Director General
    International Food Policy Research Institute
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