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Towards a Zero Hunger World

By Ertharin Cousin
Executive Director, World Food Programme

 While current projections indicate that the target for poverty reduction will be reached in 2015, progress in reducing global rates of hunger and malnutrition has proved to be one of the most difficult challenges faced by governments and civil society over the past fifteen years. Despite 40 countries having achieved the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) hunger target to date, over 805 million people remain undernourished around  the world and approximately 2 billion people suffer from micro-nutrient deficiencies.

The establishment of an enabling environment that creates incentives for key stakeholders to sharpen their focus on improving food security and nutrition outcomes is key to success in the fight against hunger. Recognising the need for coordinated action, in June 2012, the United Nations Secretary-General launched the Zero Hunger Challenge. It identified the five outcomes necessary to achieve a world without hunger. First, the end of chronic malnutrition, or stunting, in children. Second, the need to ensure access to adequate food all year round. Third, the centrality of food system sustainability. Fourth, the importance of doubling smallholder farmer productivity. Fifth, and finally, the elimination of food loss and waste. This challenge brings together, in one framework, all of the actions necessary to achieve the elimination of hunger within our lifetimes.


This framework, already in place in more than 30 countries around the world, reinforces the importance of complementarity and inter-sectoral collaboration to provide a solid foundation for promoting sustainable development. We often see the ownership of food security and nutrition programmes residing with separate ministries, such as health or agriculture, and poorly coordinated with the range of relevant actors whose actions are required to make lasting progress in reducing food security and malnutrition at the national level. Unless steps are taken to develop comprehensive and strategic whole of government as well as whole of community approaches to addressing hunger, the overall impact of individual initiatives will be diminished.

For humanitarian organizations, like the World Food Programme (WFP), focused on enabling at-risk populations to access nutritious food, this means we must coordinate with partners responsible for other sectors. Through partnerships with organizations, such as the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the United Nations’ Children Fund (UNICEF) and a broad range of NGO partners, we are more capable of effectively addressing all of the underlying causes of hunger and malnutrition in a given context.

Achieving sustainable food security and nutrition for all also requires the world to take a twin-tracked approach, one that gives equal priority to improving long-term, durable economic and agricultural productivity and the need to ensure access to nutritious food during times of crisis. To support this twin-tracked approach, we must have an international aid architecture with financing mechanisms that reflect the reality faced by the people we assist. Successful implementation of the post-2015 sustainable development agenda will only be possible if supported by a financial framework that breaks down the distinctions between development and humanitarian resources.


To be most effective, we must invest in food security and nutrition solutions for the most vulnerable both before and between crises. This would ensure that, when a crisis does hit, people are healthy and productive enough to more readily withstand the impact of a shock. When the impact of a crisis exceeds the ability of a population to cope, we need to step in and provide the assistance required for people to meet their food needs. This helps avoid negative coping strategies such as preventing families from selling off productive assets, withdrawing children from school, or depriving infants of the calories, vitamins and minerals that their growing minds and bodies demand. Our effectiveness is directly related to our ability to provide assistance rapidly, before the full impact of a crisis is felt. Taking such preventive measures to reduce exposure to disaster risks and build a community’s resilience is also more cost-effective than large-scale humanitarian response.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, political will, good governance and peace are the most critical factors that determine our ability to make sustained progress against food insecurity and nutrition objectives. By making zero hunger a political and domestic priority, countries including Brazil and Malawi have achieved dramatic reductions in the number of hungry and malnourished people.

We will achieve global zero hunger if food security and nutrition not only remain high on the agenda of local and national policy makers, but also on the agendas of the various international fora including the G-20. All of us working to achieve this result will recognize it requires sustained vocal public will combined with the financial resources to make the measurable and durable progress in the lives of those we serve. 



 Ertharin Cousin, Executive Director, World Food Programme

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