Developing World Has Less Than 5 Percent Chance of Meeting UN Child Hunger Target

A new study published in The Lancet suggests that developing countries as a whole have a less than 5% chance of meeting the UN’s Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target for the reduction of child malnutrition by 2015( The Article analyses trends in the weight and height (two simple indicators that can permit to define if the malnutrition is chronic or acute) of more than 7•7 million children worldwide between 1985 and 2011 in 141 countries. They also looked how levels are likely to change if current trends continue.  It is the first large-scale study to provide a detailed examination of trends in children’s weight and growth in all developing countries.

Why this study is important?

The phenomenon of hunger does not only weigh on the individual, it also imposes a crushing economic burden on the developing world as economists estimate that every child whose physical and mental development is stunted by hunger and malnutrition stands to lose 5-10 percent in lifetime earnings. Moreover, the first two years of a child’s life are particularly important, as optimal nutrition during this period will lead to reduced morbidity and mortality, to reduced risk of chronic diseases and to overall better development. In fact, optimal breastfeeding and complementary feeding practices are so critical that they can save the lives of 1.5 million children under five every year.

Progresses are made …..

Professor Majid Ezzati, from the School of Public Health at Imperial College London, UK, and the article’s senior author, said: “Our analysis shows that the developing world as a whole has made considerable progress towards reducing child malnutrition, but there are still far too many children who don’t receive sufficient nutritious foods or who lose nutrients due to repeated sickness. Severe challenges lie ahead.”

To summarize the key results

• 61 of these 141 countries have likely a 50—100% chance to achieve the target – particularly in some parts of Asia and Latin America.

• The prevalence of moderate-and-severe stunting (insufficient growth in height for their age) declined from 47•2% to 29•9% and underweight from 30•1% to 19•4% between 1985 and 2011 in developing countries as a whole.

• In 2011, over 300 million children were mildly to severely stunted and over 250 million mildly to severely underweight, with 17 countries – mainly in sub-Saharan Africa and Oceania – seemingly undergoing no improvement in the number of children who are underweight or restricted in growth.

• Undernutrition worsened in sub-Saharan Africa from 1985 until the late 1990s, when height and weight scores began to improve. The deterioration may have been due to economic shocks, structural adjustment, and trade policy reforms in the region in the 1980s and 1990s. In Ivory Coast and Niger, nutritional status was measurably worse in 2011 than it had been in 1985.

• South Asia, the region with the worst nutritional status in 1985, has improved considerably, but undernutrition is still a major issue. About one half of the world’s underweight children live in South Asia, mostly in India.

• China has undergone the largest improvement in children’s height over the last 25 years, with Latin America and the Caribbean region also experiencing significant improvements in this area. The authors suggest that, in many of these countries, the improvements seen are down to overall improvements in the populations’ nutrition, rather than specific interventions targeting children at high risk.

• Some countries in Latin America, such as Chile, now have almost no undernutrition. The proportion of underweight children almost halved per decade in Brazil.

What’s next?

The statistics presented in this article suggest that in most countries, the improvements are due to population-wide improvements in nutrition, rather than interventions targeting high-risk children.

Moreover, according to Professor Ezzati, “There is evidence that child nutrition is best improved through equitable economic growth, investment in policies that help smallholder farmers and increase agricultural productivity, and primary care and food programs targeted at the poor. We mustn’t allow the global economic crisis and rising food prices to cause inequalities to increase, or cut back on investments in nutrition and healthcare.”

To continue in the same direction – strategies that can contribute to the improvement of the overall nutritional status of children:

In a book entitled “Just Give the Money to the Poor, The Development Revolution from the Global South”, the authors showed through a specific example that equitable economic growth at the community level permits  a population-wide nutritional improvement, among other social and economic improvements.  

In  this book, the authors discussed a new strategy – direct cash transfers (CTs). These are regular payments by the state directly to poor people, similar to welfare in developed countries.  The authors showed that this strategy can have a significant social and economic impact. CTs are affordable and the recipients use the money well and do not waste it. As a result, cash grants are an efficient way to directly reduce current poverty, and they have the potential to prevent future poverty by facilitating economic growth and promoting human development.

Something that perhaps you don’t know! And we didn’t know before reading this book.

45 countries in the Global South now give CTs to more than 110 million families. Every program is different, from universal child benefits in Mongolia to pensions in Africa to family grants in Latin America. Some grants are tiny – only $3 a month – whereas others give families more than $100 a month; some cover more than one-third of the population, and others aim only for the very poorest. The size of public spending varies from 0.1% of GDP to 4%, although most programs fall in the range of 0.4% to 1.5%.

What are the outputs/outcomes of this kind of program?

  • Social protection and security for the young, old, disabled
  • Development and economic growth – CTs give poor people the security they need to invest in higher risk/return options like new crops, or migrating in search of work
  • Breaking intergenerational poverty by ensuring children are better nourished and educated than their parents
  • Rights and equity – reducing income inequality and promoting the status of women

To give you a concrete example on how this strategy can impact the life of people

The villagers of Otjivero village (a very destitute rural community) in Namibia have received each month the equivalent of 15 US$ as part of a pilot study to evaluate the socio-economic impact of direct cash transfer.

One of the first and immediate results was the creation of a whole range of economic activities in this small village.

After two years, the program team that managed this pilot study was able to report:

• A decrease of the number of people living below the poverty line from 76 to 37%

• Less than 10% of the children were malnourished – before the experiment, almost half of children were malnourished

• 90% have finished their education – before, they were only 60%

• And crime has dropped

This pilot study has also shown that CT has an impact not only on production but also on demand. In Africa, the purchasing power is usually centered in a few centers, forcing people to leave the countryside to cities, where slums eventually spread. The CT allows rural to grow, it creates local markets and allows people to be self-sufficient.

When you know that you will recieve each month some cash to support your family, this brings some sort of financial security. This kind of initiative helps to ensure that the basic needs for the family are covered but also helps to invest in the future. It creates the first step to equitable economic growth.

Something to meditate! 



Hunger eradication essential to achieve sustainable development – UN Food Agency

Sustainable development will not be achieved unless hunger and malnutrition are eradicated, stated by the United Nations food agency in a recent report.

One of the great flaws in current food systems is that despite significant progress in development and food production hundreds of millions of people are hungry because they lack the means to produce or purchase the food they need for a healthy and productive life.

“We cannot call development sustainable while this situation persists, while nearly one out of every seven men, women and children are left behind, victims of undernourishment,” said the Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), José Graziano da Silva, in a news release.

In the report – entitled Towards the future we want: end hunger and make the transition to sustainable agricultural and food systems – was prepared for the UN Sustainable Development Conference (Rio+20), which will be held in Brazil next month.  The FAO stresses the need to address the flaws in the current food system so that hundreds of millions of people in developing countries have the means to produce or purchase the food they need for their own consumption and income.

“The quest for food security can be the common thread that links the different challenges we face and helps build a sustainable future,” Mr.Graziano da Silva said. “At the Rio Summit we have the golden opportunity to explore the convergence between the agendas of food security and sustainability to ensure that happens.”

The key points in this report are:

  • To establish and protect rights to resources, incorporate incentives for sustainable consumption and production into food systems, promote fair and well-functioning agricultural and food markets, and invest public resources in public goods, especially innovation and infrastructure, among other measures.
  • To help farmers who operate 500 million small farms in developing countries and whose resources are limited due to insufficient access to food and nutrition.
  • The need to change consumption patterns in the developed world to reduce food waste. FAO estimates that global food losses and waste amount to 1.3 billion tons per year, which represents roughly one-third of the world food production for human consumption.
  • To be able to feed the expected global population of nine billion people in 2050, an improved governance of the food and agricultural system is required.

“Unless purposeful action is taken, the increase in food production of 60 per cent needed to meet effective demand will still leave over 300 million people behind who are expected to suffer from chronic hunger in 2050 because they will remain without the means to access food,” FAO noted.

To read more on this issue, go to:

Millennium development goals: Two down, six to go

The United Nations has met two of its eight development goals, well ahead of the 2015 deadline. Six goals are still on the road (

The achievements:

1)     Halve the number of people living in extreme poverty (or on less than $1.25 a day): For the first time since the World Bank started recording statistics in 1981, and despite the economic recession, poverty fell in every region of the world ( However, hunger is still an important issue that can compromise the long term benefice of this improvement as well as others. It is why focusing on sustainable agriculture development and food security is more and more an obligation.

2)     Halve the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water : which is part of the environmental sustainability goal: More than 2 billion people gained access to safe drinking water between 1990 and 2010, meaning 89 percent of the world’s population now has access. Meeting the basic sanitation target will be much harder to achieve but together, this will have a major impact on preventable dieases.  diseases that are preventable.

Room for improvements and long term achievements:

1)     Achieve universal primary education: Although enrollment in primary education rose to 89 percent in the developing world in 2008, the pace of progress is “insufficient” to ensure that all girls and boys will complete a full course of primary schooling by 2015, according to the U.N. Ethiopia, one of Africa’s poorest countries, is one of the countries on track to meet the goal. We can learn from them which integrated strategies work. Some local NGOs have shown that getting children in classrooms is just a start — they also need to be brought up to basic literacy levels (

2)     Promote gender equality and empower women: The U.N. reports that gender gaps in university-level education and in some developing regions remain high. The proportion of women employed outside agriculture is still as low as 20 percent in Southern Asia, Western Asia and northern Africa.  While the proportion of women in government is rising globally, it’s happening very slowly.

3)     Reduce child mortality: While child deaths are falling — the U.N. reports they fell by 28 percent between 1990 and 2008 — they are not falling fast enough. Almost 9 million children still die annually before they are 5. In sub-Saharan Africa in 2008, one in seven children died before their 5th birthday. Is this a bad result? Not sure about this. And as it was highlighted in an article published in the Lancet a few years ago, what is important is not necessary to reach the goal but to see an acceleration of the decrease/improvement over the past few years– this trend shows that we are moving in the right direction. Moreover, what we need to keep in mind is the fact that any improvement in child mortality is a more complex result than some other MDGs. In fact, a reduction in child mortality appears to be a good marker of poverty reduction. In contrast to access to water (simple as building a well), we need to observe improvements of a combination of different sectors like infrastructure, economic growth, education, access to primary health, pandemic disease eradication, nutrition security, food security…. before to observe the normalization of child mortality in developing countries. Several interesting articles related to this achievement have been published recently – discussing more details of ideas we have summarized here.  We will highlight some of them in upcoming next blogs.

4)     Improve maternal health: Although serious progress has been made in maternal health, mortality for mothers remains very high. The millennium development goal calls to reduce by three quarters the maternal mortality ratio. While some sub-Saharan African countries have halved those levels, and other regions have done even better, others are still missing the mark. The Guardian argued ( that the World Bank should cut health-care user fees and expand grants in spending on reproductive health if there is a desire to truly improve the health of mothers. Other aspects are important like sanitation and access to diversify and nutritious food!

5)     Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases: The number of new HIV infections fell from a peak in 1996 of 3.5 million to 2.7 million in 2008. Deaths from AIDS-related illnesses have also dropped, and the epidemic appears to have stabilized in most regions. However, HIV infections are still rising in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria must now reach the local non-governmental organizations in Africa to ensure that achieving these results continues.  (

6)      Develop a global partnership for development: In some way, the Millennium Development Goals actually are the global partnership for development. But the U.N. says that in order to declare that it accomplished this goal, levels of official development assistance need to continue to rise, especially in Africa. Good governance, efficiency and transparency regarding the use of official development assistance funds are still an important corner stone for effective global partnership for development.

This discussion is based on a blog published in the Washington Post – To read more go to:



Certified Organic Farming Generates $60 Billion US Dollars

Something that you may not know….

The UN reports that the world now has an estimated 2 million certified organic farmers, 80% of whom are in developing countries. Of these,  34% are in Africa, 29% in Asia, and 17% are in Latin America.

“Developing countries account for 73% of land certified for organic wild collection and beekeeping…other countless developing country farmers practice organic agriculture without being formally certified,” the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) noted. Organic agriculture relies on healthy soils and active agroecological management rather than on the use of inputs with adverse effects such as artificial pesticides and fertilizers.

It combines tradition, innovation, and science. According to the UNCTAD, benefits of organic farming include higher incomes, more stable and nutritious diets, higher soil fertility, reduced soil erosion, better resilience to climate extremes such as drought and heavy rainfall, greater resource efficiency, lower carbon footprints, less dependence on purchased external inputs, and reduced rural/urban migration.

The UN agencies that cater for trade and development pointed out that organic products are increasingly fetching higher prices globally, averaging 15-150% more than conventional products.

An encouraging and promising statement when we know the pressure to do research on and use genetically engineered organisms.

For more information go to:

~~Stay tuned for updates about the wonderful things happening around the world~~

The Toxic Truth About Sugar

Last September, for the first time in human history, the UN declared chronic non-communicable diseases as a greater health burden worldwide than infectious diseases.  This is a worldwide issue, with trends indicating that countries who have adopted Westernized diets (low cost, highly processed foods) are suffering from higher rates of obesity and related diseases.

Although obesity often is thought of as the root cause of the increase of non-communicable diseases, stats indicate that there are other culprits.  Since 20% of obese people have normal metabolism and will have a normal lifespan while 40% of normal-weight people will develop the diseases that constitute the metabolic syndrome indicating that obesity is not the main culpritObesity is not a cause, but a marker for metabolic dysfunction.  The announcement from the UN targets tobacco, alcohol and diet as the central risk for non-communicable diseases, yet governments are only regulating 2 (tobacco, and alcohol) to protect public health. The regulation of tobacco and alcohol, being that they are non-essential consumables, is easier than regulating food; a required human need.  What needs to be questioned is which aspect of the Western diet should be the focus of intervention?

The consumption of sugar has tripled worldwide in the past 50 years. Countries are relying on high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and sucrose- equal parts glucose and fructose mixtures. Sugar is not just “empty calories”. Scientific evidence has showing that fructose can trigger processes that lead to liver toxicity and other chronic diseases.  International bodies must consider limiting fructose, HFCS, and sucrose as they pose a major threat to individuals and society as a whole.  Our whole food system is saturated with sugar laden foods.  As discussed in an earlier post corporate giants are saturating the global food market with toxic levels of glucose.

If one applies the same criteria that are widely accepted by the public-health community to justify the regulation of tobacco and alcohol, sugar consumption warrants some form of social intervention.  There are 4 criteria:

1) Unavoidable (pervasiveness in society)

Sugar was only available to our ancestors for a couple of months per year at harvest time or as honey. Now, sugar is just about added to all processed food.  On average we are consuming 500 calories of added sugar per day.

2) Toxicity

Epidemiological evidence suggests that excessive sugar impacts ones health more than just adding excessive calories but also induces all of the diseases associated with metabolic syndrome- hypertension, high triglycerides, insulin resistance, diabetes, aging. It can also be argued that fructose exerts toxic effects on the liver that are similar to those of alcohol.  This is no surprise since alcohol is derived from the fermentation of sugar.  Some early studies have also linked sugar consumption to human cancer and cognitive decline.

3) Potential for abuse

Like alcohol and tobacco, sugars act on the brain to encourage increased intake.  Sugar consumption suppresses the hormone ghrelin (signals hunger in the brain) and interferes with the normal signals of leptin (feeling of satiety).

4) Negative impact on society

Just as dunk driving and second hand smoking are reasons for alcohol and tobacco control, high sugar consumption has a long term economic, healthcare, and human cost of metabolic syndrome lending to reasons for higher levels of government control.   In the US, 75% of healthcare dollars are being spent on treating metabolic diseases and their resultant disabilities.


Sugar is a naturally occurring nutrient, but in excess it can become toxic.  When looking at successful tobacco and alcohol control strategies,there have been propositions to add taxes to processed foods (sugar-sweetened beverages, sugared cereals).  Already, Canada and European countries have imposed small additional taxes on some sweetened foods.  Another strategy is to limit hours of distribution through retailors and who can legally purchase the products.  With sugar, a parallel approach to this would mean tightening licensing requirements on vending machines and snack bars that sell sugary products in schools and workplaces.  But the question still exists as to the efficacy of this approach.


Government-imposed regulations on the marketing of alcohol to young people have been quite effective, but there is no attempt to follow suite with sugar.  A limit, or ideally a ban, on television commercials for products with added sugars could further protect children’s health.  Reduced fructose consumption could also be fostered through changes in subsidization towards more wholefoods instead of processed foods.

Ultimately, it comes down to a need for food producers and distributors to commit to reducing the amount of sugar added to foods.  Large government food agencies (ex:FDA, Health Canada) must commit to adjusting regulations and consider removing fructose from the Generally Regarded as Safe List (GRAS) that allows manufacturers to add an unlimited amounts of sugar to any food.  This larger industry change must be initiated through regulations because sugar is cheap, sugar tastes good, and sugar sells, so companies have little incentive to change unless required by policies.

Reducing sugar will not be easy, especially within the emerging markets of developing countries where soft drinks are often cheaper than potable water or milk.  For change to happen, all stakeholders must become actively engaged.   Population wide alterations to sugar consumption can occur just as bans on smoking in public spaces and the use of designated drivers has become the norm. With enough clamor for change, major adjustments with policy becomes possible.  It is critical for attention to be put towards sugar and its consumption in order to improve the state of public health and well being of populations .

Information from this post comes from an article in Nature titled The toxic truth about sugar.

Wishes for the One billion

Recently, the world’s population has surpassed 7 billion and unfortunately,

One billion are still hungry

Although the number of undernourished people worldwide has decreased since 2009, nearly 1 billion people go to bed hungry each night. In fact, malnutrition contributes to the death of half a billion children under age 5 every year. In Africa alone, one child dies every six seconds from hunger. 

One good initiative is the home-grown school feeding (HGSF – World Food Program) that works to alleviate hunger and poverty. HGSF programs connect local producers with schools, helping to provide children with nutritious and fresh food while providing farmers with a stable source of income.

One billion tons of food is still wasted

Roughly 1.3 billion tons of food – a third of the total food produced for human consumption – is lost or wasted each year.

Within the USA, food retailers, services, and households waste approximately 40 million tons of food each year – an amount that has been estimated to be enough to feed the close to 1 billion hungry people.

In Canada, $27 million in food is wasted each year. “This wasted food represents approximately 40% of all the food produced in Canada ( In England, about 1/3 of food purchased in the UK is thrown out every year. This equates to £10bn (about CDN$19.5 billion) (

Between 25-40% of most fruit and vegetable crops are in fact rejected by Western supermarkets. One British supermarket insists that all carrots be perfectly straight—“so customers can peel the full length in one easy stroke,” a store manager explained to Tristram Stuart, author of a new book, Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal.

Supermarket waste is just one part of a colossal and growing environmental problem: food waste. Consumers share the blame. Food production in the West has changed more the past 50 years than in the previous 10,000. The agricultural industry can now produce unlimited quantities of meat and grains at remarkably low prices, creating an abundance of food and profits. Consumers, lulled by cheap prices, are unaware of the hidden costs of this means of production, or the staggering waste involved in stocking the supermarkets (

Thankfully, organizations around the world are working to educate people on the importance of preserving food or collect surplus food from food providers and distribute it to shelters and other agencies. A great sustainable initiative!

In sub Sahara Africa, some projects teach farmers to use the power of the sun to dehydrate fruits. Experts estimate that, with nearly all of their moisture removed, the fruits’ nutrients are retained for up to six months, allowing farmers to save the 100,000 tons of mangoes alone that go to waste each year.

One billion are still micronutrient deficient

Nearly 1 billion people suffer from micronutrient deficiencies, including lack of vitamin A, iron, and iodine. Between a one quarter of a billion to half a billion children with vitamin A deficiencies become blind every year, and 1/2 of these children die within 12 months of losing their sight.

These problems could be fixed by ensuring access to nutritious foods. Organizations such as AVRDC – The World Vegetable Center and the Developing Innovations in School cultivation (Project DISC) have been working to combat this problem. AVRDC works to expand the vegetable farming sector across sub-Saharan Africa, increasing access to nutrient-rich crops. Developing Innovations in School Cultivation, Project DISC, educates youth in Uganda on the importance of agriculture and nutritious diets. Students in the program learn about vegetables and fruits indigenous to their communities, as well as how to process and prepare these foods for consumption.

One billion are overweight

Lack of access to healthy food does not only result in hunger. More than 1 billion people around the world are overweight. Of these, nearly half are obese. And nearly 43 million children under the age of five were considered overweight in 2010. Surging international rates of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and arthritis are being attributed to unhealthy diets, and 2.8 million adults die each year as a result of being overweight or obese.

UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food Olivier De Schutter has urged countries around the world to make firm commitments to improving their food systems. In Mexico, where 19 million are food insecure and 69.5% of the country is overweight or obese, De Schutter has called for a “state of emergency” to tackle the problem. He attributes the hunger-obesity combination to the county’s mono-cropping and export-led agriculture and argues that a change to agricultural policies could tackle these two problems simultaneously.

One billion are still illiterate

More than three quarters of a billion people – 793.1 million adults – are illiterate. Although the number of people unable to read has decreased from 1 billion in 1990, illiteracy prevents millions of people from moving out of poverty. For farmers, being illiterate can limit access to information such as market prices, weather predictions, or training to improve their production.

But there are innovative solutions!

Scientific Animations Without Borders, was developed by a team of researchers to educate illiterate farmers across the world.  Farmers are able to view educational training on how to create natural pesticides or prevent crop damage using solar treatments through the use of short animated videos accessible on mobile phones.

In India, farmers can receive daily updates via text or voicemail on weather and crop prices through subscription services set up by major telephone companies. Kheti, a system operated by the Sheffield Hallam University in the UK, even allows farmers to take pictures of problems they are having with their crops and send them in for advice. With more than 4.6 billion mobile phone subscriptions globally, projects such as these have the potential to reach and improve the lives of many around the world.

This article first appeared at Nourishing the Planet, a blog published by the Worldwatch Institute  and also by the Monitor (

More information at

Nigerian Agric Researchers Develop Vitamin-A Cassava

Cassava(pictured left)–also known as yuca, mogo, or manioc–is a staple food for many African families. It is their equivalent of rice in Asia or bread in Europe. Cassava originated in South America and was brought over to Africa in the 16th century, where it quickly adapted to the soil climate and was incorporated into diet patterns. More than 200 million people in sub-saharen Africa rely on this carbohydrate for over half of their daily energy intake .

This is terrific crop for the region because it requires very little water, can grown in poor soil, and can be harvested year round. Though maize has often overshadowed cassava, the latter is increasingly making its way into the African diet. Cassava produces the largest amount of food calories per hectare among all food crops, other than sugarcane.

In Nigeria where the average consumption of cassava is 600 grams per capita per day, about 30% of children under five suffer from vitamin A deficiency. In Ghana where cassava represents 30% of daily caloric intake, and cassava and yam combined represent 46% of GNP, about 26% of children under five suffer from vitamin A deficiency. Resultant health implications include low immunity and impaired vision, which often lead to blindness and even death.[1]

An international research team, guided by  the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), has developed three new strands of Vitamin A enriched cassava. The hope is that this will help alleviate Vitamin A deficiency malnutrition experienced by millions in Africa.

The yellow cassava is already being multiplied through stem cuttings. In 2013, when sufficient certified stems will be available, HarvestPlus and its partners will then distribute these to about 25,000 farming households initially. Farmers will be able to grow these new vitamin A varieties and feed them to their families. They can also multiply and share cuttings with others in their community, amplifying the nutritional benefits. After the mid-2014 harvest, more than 150,000 household members are expected to be eating vitamin A-rich cassava.

To read more about this, go to:

HarvestPlus is the global leader in developing biofortified crops and now works with more than 200 agricultural and nutrition scientists around the world. It is co-convened by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). HarvestPlus focuses on three critical micronutrients that are recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO) as most limiting in diets: iron, zinc, and vitamin A. HarvestPlus envisions that in fifteen years, millions of people suffering from micronutrient malnutrition will be eating new biofortified crop varieties.

To learn more about Harvestplus, go to:


~~Stay tuned for updates about the wonderful things happening around the world~~