THE BLOG

We Need to Ensure Food Quality and Quantity If We Want to Tackle Hunger in All Its Forms

13/10/2014 14:44 BST | Updated 13/12/2014 10:59 GMT

This week the 2014 Global Hunger Index was published and the good news is that, overall, levels of hunger have decreased in the last nine years. So, does that mean we are winning the fight in reducing hunger for the world's poor? The answer is yes and no.

While there are fewer hungry people than 10 years ago, there is another dimension of hunger that is being overlooked and that has devastating consequences: hidden hunger, also known as micronutrient deficiencies.

Hidden hunger is caused by a lack of nutritious food and results in insufficient essential vitamins and minerals being absorbed into the body. It can have long-term, irreversible health effects as well as socioeconomic consequences that can erode a person's well-being and development. By affecting people's productivity, it can also take a toll on countries' economies.

A staggering two billion people around the world are suffering from hidden hunger, more than double the 805 million people who do not have enough calories to eat on a daily basis. Much of Africa south of the Sahara and the South Asian subcontinent are hotspots where the prevalence of hidden hunger is high.

Zambia is one of the many countries suffering the effects of hidden hunger. Diets in Zambia, like in many developing countries, are based mostly on staple crops such as maize. Staple crops provide a large amount of energy but low levels of essential vitamins and minerals resulting in people not realising that they are in fact suffering from hidden hunger.

This gets to the crux of the issue; victims of hidden hunger often don't understand the importance of a balanced, nutritious diet. Nor may they be able to afford or access a wide range of nutritious foods such as animal products, fruits or vegetables.

I recently returned from Zambia where almost half of all children are stunted due to a lack of proper nutrition. I visited one of Concern Worldwide's programmes, RAIN (Realigning Agriculture to Improve Nutrition) which is tackling hidden hunger and its devastating effects. Concern is working with people to increase household consumption of crops based on nutritional value. I saw women learning how to farm a wider range of crops, learn better ways to prepare and preserve food to minimise micronutrient loss as well as how to rear small livestock such as goats and chickens.

These simple steps are making a huge difference. In less than three years, the production of a diverse range of food, rich in vitamins and minerals has increased significantly. Mothers and children are eating a wider variety of foods which would suggest that diet quality has also improved helping families to become healthier and stronger.

This is just one example of how the problem can be tackled. We need to ensure hidden hunger is not overlooked; deficiencies cannot stay in the shadows when there are ways to eliminate the kind of hunger they cause.

As decision makers start to look at finalising the Sustainable Development Goals we are calling on the international community to ensure that the post-2015 framework includes a universal goal to end hunger and malnutrition in all its forms.