The Sustainable Development Goals & Decade of Action — explained
We’re less than 10 years away from the deadline to meet the UN's 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Here’s what that means.Read More
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.
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):
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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: