One of the main Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 is to reach Zero Hunger. But what does that actually mean? Here’s what we mean by a phrase that’s both fairly straightforward and a tall order.

Zero Hunger: Definition and targets

The UN’s definition of Zero Hunger goes beyond a single number. A more complete rundown of the second Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) is to “end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.”

To measure the success of achieving this, the UN outlines five targets to indicate our progress towards Zero Hunger (more on each of these below):

  1. Access to safe, nutritious, and sufficient food year-round
  2. End malnutrition in all its forms
  3. Increase agricultural productivity
  4. Sustainable food systems and agricultural resilience
  5. Diversified crops and seeds

Why Zero Hunger matters

Simply put, we can’t achieve truly sustainable development around the world if we don’t end hunger and malnutrition. As much as poverty causes hunger, hunger is also a key cause — and maintainer — of poverty.

If a person doesn’t get enough food, they’ll lack the strength and energy needed to work. Or their immune system will weaken from malnutrition and leave them more susceptible to illness that prevents them from getting to work. This can lead to a vicious cycle, especially for children. If a mother is malnourished during pregnancy, that can be passed on to her children. The costs of malnutrition may be felt over a lifetime: Adults who were stunted as children earn, on average, 22% less than those who weren’t stunted. In Ethiopia, stunting contributes to GDP losses as high as 16%.

Beyond that, however, we all want our families, friends, and loved ones to live long, creative, happy lives. Having enough food that provides the nutrients we need is a key ingredient.

Here’s how Concern is working to reach this goal across each of the five UN SDG targets.

Stand With Concern in Ending Global Hunger

Access to safe, nutritious, and sufficient food year-round

By 2030, the goal is to end hunger and ensure that everyone (particularly those most vulnerable) has access to safe, nutritious, and sufficient food year-round. What’s key here is the issue of vulnerability. Many groups who are traditionally more susceptible to hazard and risk in an emergency — including women, infants, people living in extreme poverty, or in areas especially susceptible to the climate crisis — are those who struggle to meet their dietary requirements year-round.

Women standing in a field
Participants in Concern's LEAF Project tend their crops in Tana River County, Kenya. For the first time in three decades, there was no need for food aid distribution in the communities where LEAF was active.

Regardless of the roadblocks, however, the world still produces enough food to feed its entire population. Kenya’s Tana River County, for example, has borne the brunt of the country’s climate-related impacts over the last few decades, leading to rising hunger levels. In 2020, Concern worked with communities in this county on an integrated agriculture and livelihoods program called the LEAF Project, which took two approaches to a common challenge: Provide lifesaving treatment for acutely-malnourished children and pregnant/lactating women, and prevent future cases of malnutrition through sustainable livelihoods that allow people living in poverty and marginalization to generate long-term incomes.

In the end, food security levels among those communities participating in LEAF rose dramatically. So much so that, for the first time in three decades, there was no need for food aid distribution in the communities where LEAF was active.

Woman holding bucket of grain
Hadija Hassan (purple) and other farmers winnow mung beans in Makere village in Tana River County. Photo: Lisa Murray/Concern Worldwide

End malnutrition in all its forms

There are a few different types of malnutrition, which in and of itself is a side effect of extreme hunger. Regardless of the specific diagnosis, each can have a lifetime of ramifications — especially for young children. Malnutrition in all its forms costs the global economy as much as $3.5 trillion USD, owing to human capital lost, premature mortality, increased healthcare costs, compromised school performance, and adult productivity.

In 2000, Concern was part of a revolution in the treatment of malnutrition in extreme low-income communities, particularly those where other factors like conflict and remote locations posed barriers to getting medical treatment. A combination of community-based health workers and treatment through portable, shelf-stable therapeutic food has helped to save millions of lives in the last two decades.

Woman cooking meal in kitchen
Mother-of-four Hermine Kounougoue (27) prepares a meal of amaranth leaves, peanut paste, and plantain after a cooking demonstration with her neighbor Nadine Doko, a Concern-supported Maman Lumière. (Photo: Chris de Bode)

Increase agricultural productivity and resilience, and diversified crops and seeds

These last three targets go hand-in-hand in many of the countries where Concern works. The effects of climate change on agriculture have been devastating in many parts of the world, and many of the methods and crops that farmers have relied on for generations are no longer able to yield the same quality and quantity of food. Countries in the Horn of Africa and south of the Sahara have contended with decades of droughts which lead to lost harvests and livestock. Communities along the coastline of India and Bangladesh have had to contend with rising sea levels, which either wipe away plants or destroy crops due to increased salinity. Small farms, women, and indigenous peoples are especially at risk in this context.

Climate Smart Agriculture is one solution that helps farmers use the resources available to them in order to see more fruitful harvests, using techniques like soil preservation and crop rotation to improve the conditions for growth. Farmers like Esime Jenaia in Mangochi, Malawi, have been able to find more efficient methods of producing, processing, and even marketing their harvests, based on their land and climate. Our gender equality trainings in Malawi also help female farmers achieve the same results with their work as their male counterparts do, both in the field and at market. “With the same field, I used to harvest one bag of maize, but now I harvest eight bags,” Esime told us in 2019.

Concern working standing in field
Esime Jenaia, a Lead Farmer for conservation agriculture, at her plot in Mangochi, Malawi. Concern has been carrying out Conservation Agriculture programming in Malawi since 2012.

Sometimes, trying a new crop is also the key. As far as anyone can remember, barley was the norm in South Wollo, Ethiopia. However, the country’s highlands were not ideally suited to the plant, which isn’t drought-resistant. Potatoes were better suited to the land, and held a higher payoff — as Ali Assen discovered. Barley in South Wollo fetches 6,400 Ethiopian Birr ($220) for every 2.5 acres. The same area’s equivalent of potatoes can sell for up to 62,000 Ethiopian Birr ($2,150).

Are we on track to achieve Zero Hunger by 2030? 

The sad answer is: No. Conflict and climate change were both major barriers to ending hunger before 2019, and while there was steady progress still being made, much of it has been reversed since the rapid spread of COVID-19. In east Africa, a locust invasion that decimated crops coincided with pandemic-related shutdowns, creating a crisis as multifaceted as it is damaging. In low-income countries, small-scale food producers have been hit especially hard — and these farmers can make up as much as 85% of food producers in their region.

Beyond food production, stunting and wasting among children are also likely to worsen due to the events of the last two years. We still don’t know the full effects of the pandemic on child hunger, but one estimate suggests that the number of children suffering from malnutrition could increase by over 10 million between 2020 and 2022.

Woman cooking
Jene Migaliza is a cook at Gatoto Community School, Nairobi. Concern helps support the school to provide a porridge breakfast and lunch such as cooked maize, beans, cabbage and fruit, to children enrolled in school. There are currently just over 1,000 children attending school. (Photo: Jennifer Nolan / Concern Worldwide)

Zero Hunger: What can I do to help?

The US is a leader in moving the humanitarian system to be more anticipatory, responding early before a crisis takes hold. Addressing the current hunger crisis as well as the data-informed indicators we have around future hunger crises will be a clear test of that legacy. Here are some ways that you can take action and contribute to a solution:

  • Eliminate food waste in your home. Food waste is one of the leading causes of hunger in the world, and one of the easiest steps you can take. Use that you purchase while it’s fresh, or freeze items to extend their shelf-lives.
  • Shop local and sustainably. Supporting your local farmers and food systems helps to make your consumption more sustainable — and often the quality of food is much better.
  • Let your representatives know that Zero Hunger is a priority. As a constituent, your voice matters to elected officials. Ask that your representatives continue to honor foreign aid commitments that the United States makes towards countries — many of which are earmarked for food aid and agricultural interventions that could help eliminate hunger levels in certain areas.
  • Join the conversation. A number of culinary creators from around the world stand united with Concern Worldwide in the fight against global hunger with Chefs United, calling on individuals, corporations, and governments to guarantee humanitarian assistance for the 41 million people who stand at risk of famine.
  • Vote with your wallet. Supporting organizations like Concern allows us to continue our proven, value-for-money work in ending malnutrition. A one-time, tax-deductible gift of $50 can provide a full course of therapeutic food to save a child’s life. A recurring, tax-deductible monthly gift of $120 can feed an entire family for the year.

Support Concern in Ending Hunger