By Sophie Wenzlau
“We have lost one of the world’s passionate defenders of the right to food,” said UN Food and Agriculture Organization Director-General Jose Graziano da Silva, upon learning of the death of Nelson Mandela, former president of South Africa.
“Mandela understood that a hungry man, woman or child could not be truly free,” he said. “He understood that eliminating hunger was not so much a question of producing more food as it was a matter of making the political commitment to ensure that people had access to the resources and services they needed to buy or produce enough safe and nutritious food.”
Graziano da Silva said that he and others at the FAO had been inspired over the years by Mandela’s repeated calls to address hunger, a systemic global problem.
A total of 842 million people, or around one in eight people in the world, suffered from chronic hunger in 2011-13, according to the FAO’s State of Food Insecurity in the World 2013.
This figure represents a 17 percent decline in the overall number of undernourished people since 1990-92, a marked achievement. Programs designed to increase access to education, school meals, agricultural inputs, small-scale loans, market information, fortified grain, and emergency rations have all contributed to this reduction in chronic hunger. Organizations, governments, farmers, and innovative community leaders deserve praise for this accomplishment.
Although this reduction is a significant achievement, we must resist complacency. Hunger continues to kill more people every year than AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis combined.
The rate at which hunger has been reduced has varied tremendously by region. Sub-Saharan African remains the region with the highest prevalence of undernourishment; Western Asia has shown no progress; while Southern Asia and Northern Africa have shown slow progress. Significant reductions in chronic hunger have occurred in most countries of Eastern and South Eastern Asia, as well as in Latin America.
“We owe Nelson Mandela a debt of thanks for speaking out on huger,” said Graziano da Silva. “More importantly, we owe it to the 842 million people in the world who suffer from chronic hunger to redouble our efforts to eliminate hunger in our lifetimes.”
Sophie Wenzlau is a senior fellow at the Worldwatch Institute.