Today, 17 percent of the population in the world’s developing countries have inadequate access to food. According to new projections, however, that number should drop to just 6 percent by 2026. Considering that fact alone, it appears the world is on the brink of eradicating humans’ oldest and worst enemy – hunger – for the first time in history.
The prediction is part of the findings in the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s most recent International Food Security Assessment. But the report’s authors are quick to acknowledge what most already know: projections on global trends can, and probably will, change.
“There’s nobody who has the crystal ball,” said Birgit Meade, one of three leading authors of the report, in an interview with Humanosphere. “The model is always based on assumptions, on the information you have at the time.”
The USDA report uses data from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). It evaluates food security by estimating who is unable to reach a nutritional target of 2,100 calories per capita per day. Year after year, the predictions are revised in response to new world events and changing markets. And for the last 20 years, the USDA has been using a long-term modeling approach to make predictions about global hunger.
But the newest report uses what the authors call a demand-oriented framework, which includes information on domestic prices, consumer responsiveness to changes in prices and incomes and food quality differences by income groups. The new model makes it possible to study the impact of income and prices shocks to global trends in food demand and insecurity.
“One of the reasons we were able to develop this new modeling framework is we have access to data that didn’t used to be available,” said Karen Thome, another author of the report, to Humanosphere. After the world food crisis of 2008, she added, there have been more efforts to collect this kind of data.
“Finding price data was a big challenge,” she said, “and now I think it’s getting a lot easier.”
Still, there are major challenges to obtaining data on food price and consumption in many developing countries. Unfortunately, it is often the countries that suffer most from food insecurity that lack reliable data. According to Meade, even the IMF, FAO and the World Bank – the world’s most reputable organizations in determining these global trends – fail to obtain sufficient information in countries such as Somalia or the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
“You will always have trouble finding data in countries that lack the institutions to collect this data and work with them,” Meade said.
The report notes the dropping cost of grains, which make up the bulk of the diet in the 76 developing countries studied. Among the major grains, corn is projected to decline fastest in price, at roughly 1.6 percent annually – in inflation-adjusted terms – over the next decade. The prices of wheat and rice are also expected to decline, at annual rates of 1.3 percent and 0.3 percent, respectively.
According to the report, Asia is expected to make the largest strides, with the share of the population that is food insecure projected to decline from 13.2 to 2.4 percent by 2026. This is driven by improving conditions in India, which is enjoying cheaper food prices and a high per capita income growth of nearly 7 percent per year.
Sub-Saharan Africa’s food security situation is also projected to improve, but at the slowest rate of all the regions. Among all the food insecure people accounted for in the report, those in Sub-Saharan Africa account for 45 percent.