World Hunger on the Rise — Causes, Consequences and Solutions

A map of all the countries Feed My Starving Children has partners in and is sending food to. The black dot on the far right is the country the volunteers were packing for at the facility in Mesa, Arizona, when the reporter visited. Photo: Jeff Rosenfield

—By Jeff Rosenfield

From 2005 to 2015, world hunger was decreasing, but it is once again on the rise.

Over two billion people do not have regular access to safe, nutritious and sufficient food, and in the past three years the number of people suffering from hunger has slowly increased, according to 2019 State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World (SFSNW) report.

This report was authored by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, UNICEF, the World Food Programme and the World Health Organization.

The report measured the percentage of undernourished people in the world to represent global hunger. Undernourished people may have access to food that is not nutrient-rich.

While hunger is a physical discomfort due to not eating food for a time, undernutrition is a condition resulting from lack of necessary nutrients, usually obtained from food, according to World Hunger Education.

Hunger and undernutrition are results of food insecurity, when one has limited or unreliable access to healthy and nutritious foods.

“About two billion people in the world experience moderate to severe food insecurity,” according to the 2019 SFSNW report.

“The lack of regular access to nutritious and sufficient food that these people experience puts them at greater risk of malnutrition and poor health,” according to the 2019 SFSNW report, in which maternal and child undernutrition reportedly contributed to 45 percent of deaths in children under 5 years old.

“These nutrient deficiencies lead to a lack of function,” registered dietitian and lecturer for the Nutrition Program at the College of Health Solutions at Arizona State University (ASU), Jessica Lehmann said.

The immune system can be suppressed if the “body doesn’t have enough protein to build antibodies,” Lehmann said.

Some examples of vital nutrients are carbohydrates, proteins, fats and water.

“If there’s not enough protein and not enough calories, then the body starts basically cannibalizing itself and its own proteins, in order to create enough energy to live,” Lehmann said.

The body will start by consuming the glycogen — or stored carbohydrates — and will ultimately consume its own skeletal muscles, Lehmann said.

Some other vital nutrients are vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin A, vitamin E, iron and zinc.

Vitamin A deficiency can result in blindness in children, according to Christy Alexon, a clinical associate professor at the College of Health Solutions at ASU.

“It’s completely heartbreaking,” Alexon said about the “number one preventable cause of childhood blindness.”

Vitamin A deficiency is preventable because there is enough nutritional food in the world.

According to Concern Worldwide U.S., Inc., “the world produces enough food to feed all 7.5 billion people.”

“Despite this, 1 in 9 people around the world go hungry each day,” according to Concern Worldwide U.S., a statistic confirmed in the 2019 SFSNW report.

“If you want to talk about why people are hungry, a lot of it is access to food,” Lehmann said.

Time and money are scarce, and people will often choose the cheaper meal, even if it is lacking nutrients, Lehmann said.

“Poverty is a huge reason,” Lehmann said.

In countries with greater income inequality, people with lower incomes spend a larger percentage of their income on food, according to the 2019 SFSNW report.

While enough food is produced worldwide, it is not readily available worldwide. As such, countries need to find a way to secure their own food source.

Countries lacking the necessary land and water resources to produce crops are forced to import, Mark Manfredo, a director and professor at the Morrison School of Agribusiness at the W.P. Carey School of Business at ASU, said.

Even if a country can afford importing food, it may not be able to afford importing nutritious food, which is typically more expensive.

Any nutritious food that is imported will be more expensive than non-nutritious foods in the domestic markets, according to the 2019 SFSNW report.

A country that produces its own food is not necessarily better off, either.

Prices may fluctuate due to weather and natural disasters destroying crops. Food safety scares can also create a lot of volatility, Manfredo said.

Additionally, poorer countries have fewer incentives to offer farmers to increase production, Clifford Shultz, a professor at the Quinlan School of Business at Loyola University, said.

Cambodia, as a previously communist country, used a model that “didn’t have incentives for farmers so they underperformed,” Shultz said.

Underperforming farmers hurt the economy, which also undermines efforts to end hunger and malnutrition, according to the 2019 SFSNW report.

“After they switched to a more market-oriented economies they were able to produce more food,” Shultz said.

Still, some countries have underperforming economies.

“In 2018, more than 96 million people in 33 countries suffering from acute food insecurity lived in places where economy had rising unemployment, lack of regular work, currency depreciation and high food prices,” according to the 2019 SFSNW report.

Another reason people have unequal access to food is war and violence.

Food waste and insecurity are greatly increased in times of war and violence.

“Food is a weapon,” Shultz said.

In war, “One of the first things you do is cut off the supply chain of your adversary,” Shultz said.

Destroying food supply chains causes crop failure and reduces the supply of food, and when the demand remains the same or increases, the result is an increase in food prices.

For example, South Sudan’s civil war has led to mass displacement and abandoned fields, resulting in crop failure. Combined with a soaring inflation rate, imported foods are unaffordable, leaving six million people food-insecure, according to Concern Worldwide U.S.

Many countries with food insecurity also face an increasing number of overweight people. This is not a result of well-nourished people overindulging.

“The most recent data show that obesity is contributing to 4 million deaths globally and is increasing the risk of morbidity for people in all age groups,” according to the 2019 SFSNW report.

“People are growing up and they’re just not sure where their next meal is coming from,” Lehmann said.

“It can create a very real need to make sure that someone has extra calories,” Lehmann said.

“Whenever food does appear they’re going to be much more likely to get as much as possible because they don’t know when their next meal is gonna arrive or be there,” Lehmann said.

Whether or not this food is nutritious is of little concern to the hungry person.

Countries around the world are food insecure and suffer from undernutrition, even though the world produces enough food to feed them all.

So, where does the excess food go?

It is wasted.

“Roughly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year — approximately 1.3 billion tonnes — gets lost or wasted,” according to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United States.

That is the equivalent of roughly 680 billion United States dollars being wasted annually.

“Food waste occurs at all points of the supply chain,” Manfredo said.

“Researchers and scientists and economists are all trying to address this problem,” he continued.

“There is a lot of agricultural investment right now, in new technologies, in land, in infrastructures and equipment, all of this to create more efficiency in food production.”

One example Manfredo gave was investments in robotics. Having a robot that can remove weeds from a farmer’s field could potentially remove the need for spraying chemicals and herbicides.

Another example was using data analytics to build models and predict how much fertilizer is needed for a field.

However, as Manfredo said earlier, “Food waste occurs at all points of the supply chain.”

Manfredo said waste occurs in fresh produce, in particular, as produce is not put on the market if it does not meet industry standards.

“Maybe it’s bruised or imperfect,” Manfredo said, “That’s the word they often use is imperfect.”

Imperfect Foods is a Public Benefit Corporation that sells groceries online and delivers them.

Imperfect Foods lists several reasons why a product may be classified as imperfect, including a product not being visually appealing or being outside the size parameter given by the buyer.

Usually, imperfect foods in the United States are discarded before they reach the market, not because they are unsafe to eat, but because they are significantly less marketable, meaning they are less likely to be bought by customers.

“People are demanding higher quality food,” Manfredo said.

Americans are particularly picky eaters, as Brian Hetzer from Feed My Starving Children, (FMSC) discovered.

FMSC has tried sending their Manapack bags to the Red Cross for disaster relief, such as hurricanes and flooding.

“The bottom line is most people in the U.S. won’t eat this,” Hetzer said.

Most people in the U.S. are used to high-quality food that tastes better.

In the U.S., “More times than not, the food ends up going to waste,” Hetzer said.

Because U.S. citizens are so particular, vendors must be very cautious about only using marketable foods.

Just because U.S. citizens do not want to eat imperfect food, does not mean hungry people around the world will not. So why is this excess food thrown away instead of being sent to those who need it?

Because it is cheaper.

“Getting it into the hands of someone to eat it isn’t free,” Harold McClarty, the owner of HMC Farms, said in a video clip used in the episode Food Waste (12:53) of “Last Week Tonight.”

“It’s a lot easier and cheaper to just throw it away,” McClarty said.

This behavior is not unique to the United States; it is practiced throughout the world.

Every year, consumers in rich countries waste about 222 million tonnes of food, according to the FAO.

Though much of the world’s food goes to waste, there are many organizations actively sending food and supplies to people in need.

Feed My Starving Children is one of these organizations.

They send Manapack rice to various countries in need.

“We pack 1 million meals a week,” Hetzer said, adding “there is still tremendous need.”

Feed My Starving Children has partner organizations around the globe in over 50 countries.

“There are other organizations that are willing to partner with us that we have to say no to because we can’t pack enough food to meet the additional need,” Hetzer said.

Moving food around the world is expensive, but FMSC does not charge its partner organizations for the food. They only pay for the shipping, Hetzer said.

Currently, FMSC cannot accept additional food partners because it does not have the money to purchase more food, beyond its commitments to its current partners.

FMSC said 999,110 children are fed each year because of volunteers and donors. The solution to world hunger is neither inexpensive nor easy, but it is more than a lack of food and resources.

The “problem is really one more of will rather than a lack of technology or resources,” Shultz said.


Jeff Rosenfield is a student at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

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