One of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), SDG 2, aims to achieve zero hunger by 2030. Recent official data tracking the indicators for progress in this specific goal reveals a troubling trend: SDG 2 data is not on the right trajectory. In particular, data related to SDG 2.1.2, which measures the Prevalence of Moderate or Severe Food Insecurity, has been consistently increasing since the inception of the data series in 2014.
To assist in monitoring progress toward SDG 2, the World Bank has introduced the World Food Security Outlook (WFSO) database, a novel data series based on a machine learning model. This database is specifically designed for the monitoring and analysis of global severe food security issues.
What is the World Food Security Outlook (WFSO)?
The WFSO is released three times annually, synchronized with the International Monetary Fund’s World Economic Outlook (WEO) and the Food and Agricultural Organization’s State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World (SOFI) report.
Its key components encompass various aspects, including the prevalence of severe food insecurity, estimates for countries lacking official data, the population sizes of severely food-insecure individuals, and the required financial support for safety nets.
A primary objective of the WFSO is to supplement the official data provided by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World (SOFI) report.
The WFSO receives support from Food Systems 2030, a multi-donor Trust Fund initiated by the World Bank. The fund aims to establish a sustainable food system that enhances livelihoods and ensures safe, affordable, and nutritious diets for all.
It focuses on innovative business practices, reshaping market and institutional incentives for improved food systems. The fund also offers policy advice, analytical products, and engages with the private sector to achieve a food system that is beneficial for health, the planet, and the economy.
Food Security overview: where do we stand and where are we heading to?
As highlighted by the map, the calculation of the Prevalence of Severe Food Insecurity indicator is based on the Food Insecurity Experience Scale (FIES), which may encompass psychological aspects of food insecurity not necessarily reflected in historical malnutrition data.
However, when examining the time-lapse, it becomes evident that the global improvements in food security conditions observed in the early 2000s were predominantly propelled by advancements in larger countries in Latin America and Asia.
Contrastingly, many smaller-populated African countries have witnessed a prolonged deterioration in food security, particularly exacerbated after the significant financial crisis of 2008 and the coinciding global food price crisis that resurfaced in 2011.
Subsequent to the Arab Spring, commencing around 2010, some Middle Eastern and North African countries experienced a worsening of their food insecurity indicators.
On a global scale, the situation mirrors a similar trend. Official data from 2014 onwards reveals a persistent increase in food insecurity, with a notable acceleration during the pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
However, looking into the future, forecasts indicate an expected stabilization of global food insecurity conditions. The World Bank Food Security Update for December 2023 provides a more in-depth analysis of the trends projected in the October 2023 WFSO.
In essence, the most recent projections propose that global food security conditions are slowly stabilizing, but there is a growing gap between different income groups.
2024 and beyond
In 2024, food security is poised to remain a critical global challenge. Recognizing its significance, the World Bank has identified food and nutrition security among the eight major challenges to be addressed on a large scale.
To tackle these issues and safeguard livelihoods globally, the World Bank has mobilized $45 billion in resources, surpassing its initial commitment of $30 billion announced in May 2022.
Effectively addressing and anticipating the evolution of food security and its responses to future trends is crucial for informed policy-making and the formulation of responsive plans.
The World Bank’s World Food Security Outlook (WFSO), updated three times a year with the latest release in October 2023, stands as a comprehensive resource designed to support these efforts.
This blog aims to distil the key insights from the WFSO’s most recent findings and shed light on their implications for food security in 2024 and beyond.
Global Food Security Conditions Are Slowly Stabilizing
The global recovery from the challenges posed by COVID-19 and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine remains sluggish, exerting strain on economic stability.
Factors such as heightened inflation, more stringent monetary policies, reduced fiscal support, and the impact of extreme weather events contribute to sustained pressure on global economic growth.
The October 2023 Outlook cautiously suggests that the world may have experienced a peak in the prevalence of severe food insecurity, reaching 11.9% globally during 2020-2022. While a slight improvement is anticipated in the near term, with rates of 11.8% (2021-2023) and 11.6% (2022-2023), substantial regional and income group variations persist.
Short-term improvements in food security may face challenges, posing a risk of reaching a new high of 943 million people experiencing severe food insecurity by 2025.
Looking ahead to 2028, the global population facing severe food insecurity is projected to reach 956 million, narrowly avoiding the billion mark in a downside economic scenario where central banks struggle to control inflation and respond effectively, leading to suppressed growth.
What will it take to address food security globally?
The World Food Security Outlook (WFSO) underscores the importance of establishing a fundamental social safety net, covering 25 per cent of daily caloric needs for those acutely food insecure.
The estimated annual global financing needs for this initiative stand at approximately $90 billion until 2030, based on projections up to 2027-2029, assuming no significant deviations. However, scenarios characterized by heightened inflation, lower economic growth, and elevated commodity prices could significantly escalate these needs, potentially reaching 1.3 times the current estimates, amounting to around $120 billion annually.
Additionally, addressing malnutrition among women and children is anticipated to cost over $11 billion annually, while the transformation of the global food system may demand a substantial $300-400 billion each year. In total, these expenses could reach up to $500 billion annually, a figure equivalent to roughly 0.5% of global GDP.
Notably, this estimate may be conservative, as it does not fully encompass complete caloric needs, adequate nutrition, or the long-term consequences of existing malnutrition.
Moreover, low-income countries bear a disproportionately heavy burden, requiring funding equivalent to about 95% of their total GDP, emphasizing the imperative for a shared global responsibility in addressing these challenges.