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What can be done?

We need to make a concerted effort to fight hunger. Governments, UN Agencies, Non-Governmental Organizations and individuals need to take action. But in order for this to happen, we need to start talking about hunger, and spreading the word by all means available.

There are almost 1 billion people on the planet affected by hunger – and yet we don’t talk about it. In contrast, there are around 1.6 billion active internet users in the world – if you are reading this, you’re one of them.

Online Action:
Spreading the word about hunger has never been easier – Facebook, Twitter, blogging, and the internet in general mean that we have more means than ever before to access information, and to communicate.

Try these links to find out more about what YOU can do to help:

How can we reduce hunger?

Since the core of the problem is not a global food shortage and simply giving people food can only be a short-term emergency solution, reducing hunger demands a two-strand approach to tackle its causes and consequences.

First, raise the incomes of the poor by helping them to earn a better livelihood so they can afford to buy food;

Second, provide immediate and direct access to food for those families most in need.

There is also need for a global food system with better governance at national and international level. Food insecure countries also need institutions based on their people’s right to adequate food with full transparency and accountability. These institutions should seek to empower the poor and encourage their full participation in decisions which affect them.

Farming for Development: Women working in a rice field in Palung, Nepal.

Farming for Development: Women working in a rice field in Palung, Nepal.

Seventy percent of the world's hungry live in rural areas, where agriculture and related activities like transport or food processing are how people make a living. The experience of countries that have succeeded in reducing hunger and malnutrition shows that economic growth originating in agriculture, in particular among small farmers, is at least twice as effective in benefiting the poorest as growth from non-agriculture sectors. Yet many countries all but ignore rural areas, instead spending tax money on the cities, where large popluations can take to the streets and even bring about the downfall of governments if the price of food is too high or life becomes too desperate. An effective strategy to combat hunger has to direct money to the countryside, to better roads, transport, markets, irrigation, farm programmes and education. Otherwise, most of the hungry will never be able to help themselves.

The end of Hunger?

The costs of ending hunger are not enormous. We have the tools and the resources, it’s just a matter of implementing them. To feed every one of the 66 million school children who go to school hungry every day would cost just US $3.2 billion. Putting this kind of figure into context is difficult, but this video might help: Human Rescue Plan/WFP

An investment in child nutrition is an investment in the future. Educating children means that those children are ultimately able to make better life choices, and have a healthier future.

Hunger and the Millennium Development Goals

Among the Millennium Development Goals which the United Nations has set for the 21st century, halving the proportion of hungry people in the world is top of the list. Whereas good progress was made in reducing chronic hunger in the 1980s and the first half of the 1990s, hunger has been slowly but steadily rising for the past decade.

At the UN Millennium Summit in New York in 2000 delegates reaffirmed their commitment to eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Together these comprise a priority list for developing countries. MDG 1 commits to halving the world population suffering from poverty and hunger by 2015. The UN decided on a proportion rather than a total figure because we cannot be certain what the global population will be in 2015.

The Eight Millennium Development Goals are:

  1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger.
  2. Provide universal primary education for the world’s children.
  3. Promote gender equality and empower women.
  4. Reduce child mortality.
  5. Improve maternal health.
  6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases.
  7. Provide a sustainable environment.
  8. Create a global partnership for development.

As part of the UN, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) focuses on poverty and hunger reduction in two ways:

First, it aims to improve agricultural production and incomes and promote better nutritional practices.

Second, it promotes programmes that enhance direct and immediate access to food for the neediest. In the countries in need it delivers practical assistance to fight hunger.

The slight decline in the total numbers suffering from hunger is encouraging but much more needs to be done if the world is to meet the first Millennium Development Goal and halve the number of hungry people by 2015.

Next steps

“I call on the international community at the highest level ... to adopt the target of halving the proportion of people living in extreme poverty, and so lifting more than 1 billion people out of it, by 2015.” - UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, cited in The Millennium Report

Confronting the hunger and poverty which affect almost a billion people is a major challenge as is meeting the Millennium Development Goal of halving the number living in poverty by 2015. Although the number of people affected is almost mind-boggling, progress is being made on several different fronts. One example of this is the Special Programme for Food Security which FAO supports in over 100 countries.

Special Programme for Food Security

Although about 70 percent of the world’s poor live in rural areas, agriculture is often overlooked when planning ways to challenge poverty and hunger. One example of an ongoing effort to fight hunger and poverty by placing agriculture centre stage is FAO’s Special Programme for Food Security (SPFS).

It aims to improve food security in poor households by helping governments create programmes that target the hungry with special help. For example, it encourages investment in rural infrastructure, rural job creation and urban agriculture. It helps small farmers apply simple, local solutions to farming problems.

FAO acts as a catalyst and facilitator and works to raise awareness among donors and key decision-makers about agriculture, food and nutrition.