October 16 marks World Food Day, a day to bring people together to demonstrate their commitment to eliminating hunger within our lifetime. World Food Day was first observed in 1979, and was established to celebrate the anniversary of the creation of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Various events and campaigns are hosted by governments and non-profits on World Food Day to engage people in action against hunger. In North America, for example, such happenings typically include food drives and packaging events. Around the globe, people participate in advocacy marches to encourage people to participate in the fight to end hunger and malnutrition.
Though the number of people living in extreme poverty has been cut in half since 1990, approximately 800 million people worldwide are still living with chronic hunger. Almost five million children under the age of five die of malnutrition related causes every year. The good news is that it’s still very possible to end hunger in our lifetime. Since 2000, 40 countries have cut the proportion of their population who live in hunger by half. There is much work to be done, but there is also much hope.
This year’s World Food Day theme is “Social Protection and Agriculture: Breaking the Cycle of Rural Poverty.” The theme highlights the importance of social protection initiatives, which reduce hunger by providing the means to access a stable food supply. Social protection is defined as “a blend of policies, programs, and interventions that aim at protecting poor and food-insecure people.” For example, social insurance programs enable people to protect themselves against risks by pooling resources among a larger number of similarly exposed individuals. Households that participate in such interventions are better equipped to manage risks and keep their finances secure.
Despite this, only 36 percent of the world’s population today receives some form of social protection, and the majority of those not reached are agrarian households. The resources and networks of farmers in developing countries are often not sufficient to deal with economic or environmental shocks. This leaves them and their families vulnerable to severe income loss when disaster strikes. Evidence shows that “when poor rural households are provided with social assistance, they are better able to manage risks and shocks; feeling financially more secure and perceiving their time horizon as longer, they tend to increase their investments in agricultural assets and engage in more profitable livelihoods.” The increased income boosts agricultural productivity which is beneficial not just to the farmer, but to the entire local economy.
The FAO estimates that agricultural production must increase by 60% globally to meet the food demand that will be required to feed the 9.2 billion people who will inhabit the planet by 2050. Farmers will be key actors in the search for remedies to grow enough food to meet this enormous demand. Without access to infrastructures, credit and functioning markets, however, farmers won’t be able to make a decent living let alone provide a secure food supply for others. Smallholder farmers in developing countries are important allies in the fight against hunger, but they need support establishing a sustainable livelihood to live comfortably and do their job well. This World Food Day will shine a light on what needs to be done to help farmers. Hopefully, people will listen and work together to take care of those at the front lines of agricultural development.