Emerging Economies are Critical to Reducing Global Malnutrition

IFPRI Global Food Policy Report 2014-2015


Fast growing economies, including China, India and Indonesia, are home to half of the world’s hungry, and hold the key to reducing global malnutrition. This has been concluded in the annual Global Food Policy Report that was released this week by the Institute of Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), a Washington-based think tank. The report is a globally recognised annual peer-reviewed overview from key policy makers and practitioners focused on food policy developments.

2014 was marked by multiple advances and setbacks in agriculture, food security and nutrition, and that the report identifies that middle-income countries are key to reducing global hunger. 2014 saw a number of projects and initiatives aimed at addressing nutrition and there has been an increased recognition of the severity of not only micronutrient malnutrition (or “hidden hunger”) but also overweight and obesity. There is a need to produce more food, but it must be acknowledged that food production needs be linked to better nutrition and must be accomplished sustainably.

The dual burden of overweight and obesity remains a concern for the globe. Middle income countries such as India, China and Indonesia host the highest numbers of undernourished children. Concurrently, the incidence of obesity in these countries remain an equally grave concern, with 11% (India), 21% (Indonesia) and 25% (China) of the overall population overweight.

In order to tackle these growing concerns in nutrition, faster improvements can be achieved through investments in nutrition-specific interventions (such as micronutrient supplementation) combined with investments in nutrition-sensitive interventions (such as biofortification), according to the report.

In the realm of food safety, as 2014 witnesses some serious food safety issues, the report mentions that greater reliance on self-regulation and industry buy-in remains crucial. It highlights that initiatives such as the industry-led Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) and the World Bank–led Global Food Safety Partnership (GFSP) are gradually being extended to emerging and even least developed economies to address food safety concerns. In developing countries, capacity building is much required to improve practices and building systems with positive incentives for compliance.

Commenting on the findings of this valuable report, Shenggen Fan, Director General of IFPRI, said “It may seem counterintuitive, but these growing economies play a key role in our ability to adequately and nutritiously feed the world … We made some important strides toward global food and nutrition security in 2014. For example, nutrition shot up to the top of the global agenda and the concept of climate-smart agriculture has gained a foothold…. Now we need to keep these and other food-policy issues high on the global development agenda to ensure we eliminate hunger and malnutrition worldwide”


Key highlights from the report include:


  • Five fast-growing economic middle income countries (MICs) powerhouses—Brazil, China, India, Indonesia and Mexico—are home to half of the world’s hungry and hold the key to reducing global malnutrition.
  • The number of people afflicted with hunger in these middle-income countries is 363 million and governments need to redraw existing food systems to effectively combat it, according to the report.
  • The report contains a comprehensive timeline of the major food policy developments and major food safety issues that occurred in 2014.
  • The report also includes a perception survey of more than 1,000 respondents (most work with NGOs or in academia or the government) across 55 countries that shows dissatisfaction with food policies, while 46% believed that the world has the means to end hunger, only 13% believed that hunger “will” be eliminated.
  • Among the five countries indicated above, India fares the worst in child and overall undernourishment—47.9% of children are stunted in India compared to 7.1% in Brazil, 9.4% in China, 14% in Mexico and 35.6% in Indonesia.
  • On the flip side, the incidence of obesity is highest in Mexico—69% of its population is overweight compared to 11% in India, 21% in Indonesia, 25% in China and 54% in Brazil.
  • For faster improvements in nutrition, the report advocated that investments in nutrition-specific interventions (such as micronutrient supplementation) be combined with investments in nutrition-sensitive interventions (such as biofortification).
  • In the report, there is a dedicated section on Food Safety, which highlights that the problem of food safety issues is different at different levels of economic development, and therefore there is a need for more nuanced policy options to promote safer food production systems worldwide. It mentions the food safety issues faced in Taiwan in 2014.
  • The report highlights that in developed economies there is a greater reliance on self-regulation and industry buy-in. Initiatives such as the industry-led Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) and the World Bank–led Global Food Safety Partnership (GFSP) are gradually being extended to emerging and even least developed economies.
  • In developing countries, regulations have been largely ineffective. Possible approaches to addressing this include capacity building to gradually improve practices and building systems with positive incentives for compliance

Call for action on Middle-Income Countries (MIC)

  1. Reshape the food system, especially agriculture, for nutrition and health. The entire food system can make a greater contribution to nutrition and health. MICs should both increase incentives to produce, process, and market high-nutrient foods and reduce distorted incentives to produce just low-nutrient staple foods.
  2. Reduce inequalities with a focus on gender. Addressing inequalities can improve the food security, nutrition, and potential for advancement of poor and vulnerable people.
  3. Expand effective social safety nets. Scaling up properly designed and implemented social safety nets to protect the poorest is imperative if MICs are to address inequality, reduce hunger and malnutrition, and promote inclusive growth.
  4. Facilitate north–south knowledge sharing and learning. To further contribute to the reduction of global hunger and malnutrition, MICs should focus on the mutual exchange of innovative ideas, technologies, and policies that have worked with each other and other developing countries.


The full 2014-2015 Global Food Policy Report can be viewed here.



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