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As we close out 2017 and look ahead to 2018, one thing is certain: almost nothing is certain. 2017 was a roller coaster—an extremely challenging one, with unforeseen twists and turns seemingly around every corner.
For those of us who follow global progress against hunger, which has been steady although too slow, 2017 was a jolt. Newly-released data showed that for the first time in a decade, 2016 saw a jump in the number of people who suffer from hunger—from 777 million in 2015 to 815 million in 2016. Hunger now affects nearly 11 percent of the world’s population.
2017 also brought the first declared famine since 2011, in parts of South Sudan. Although it is nearly impossible for most of us to imagine what a place devastated by famine must be like, we know that famine means many young children suffering from a life-threatening level of malnutrition—by definition, at least 30 percent of all children under 5. Near-famine conditions caused by conflict and drought put millions more lives at risk in other parts of South Sudan, northeastern Nigeria, Somalia, and Yemen.
Rising inequality is a daunting trend in many parts of the world, including here in the United States. It threatens to reverse much of the progress the world has made against hunger and poverty.
All these challenges notwithstanding, funding for critical programs that serve low-income families and communities was on the chopping block, keeping anti-hunger advocates on their toes all year.
Recognizing that conversations are underway about key issues is perhaps a more positive way of looking back at 2017. Wider attention is now being paid to inequality, the value of U.S. investments in global health and development, how we can marshal a more coordinated and holistic response to humanitarian crises, discrimination based on race and gender, and the need for citizen engagement. Ignorance is not bliss. We cannot even begin to solve problems until they are uncovered so we can see them.
2017 also had some other bright spots that should be celebrated. There was a slight reduction in U.S. hunger, thanks partly to lower unemployment and a very strong safety net system. Around the world, the number of children stunted from early childhood malnutrition continued to decrease. More national leaders are recognizing the importance of maternal and child nutrition—and the consequences of stunting for their country’s economic growth and development. The Scaling Up Nutrition Movement welcomed its 60th member country, Afghanistan.
Bread for the World Institute had another productive year. We found new and creative ways to share the messages of the 2017 Hunger Report, Fragile Environments, Resilient Communities—please check out www.hungerreport.org. Institute staff testified before Congress. We produced countless briefing papers, fact sheets, blog posts, and tweets, and we organized and partnered on many events to help educate our networks and Congress.
We know that hunger is a solvable problem. With the right leadership and commitment, it is feasible to end hunger by 2030. The deep divisions in our country make it harder to identify and nurture that leadership. But it is still there, and in 2018, the Institute will do its best to make the case for perseverance. It took years of patient work on the part of countless global stakeholders to bring the world as close as it is to the end of hunger and malnutrition, and it is worth the effort to keep going until we reach the goal.
We in the Institute wish everyone a happy and productive New Year!
Asma Lateef is director of Bread for the World Institute.
By Jordan Teague
2017 proved to be an eventful year for global maternal and child nutrition. It was the second year of the Decade of Action for Nutrition, and the global community began to think seriously and broadly about what it will really take to end malnutrition in all its forms. The road to 2030 won’t be easy.
Both climate change-induced drought and conflicts across the globe pose serious threats to food security and nutrition. Near-famine conditions persist in multiple countries, especially in South Sudan and Yemen. Millions of children are at risk of death or lifelong disability from malnutrition. At the same time, the world is facing an ever-increasing burden of overweight, obesity, and diet-related diseases. The world is off track to reach most global nutrition targets, and according to the 2017 Global Nutrition Report, malnutrition rates are in fact increasing.
At the same time, continuing work on malnutrition has led to a growing understanding of the importance of food systems. A “food system” is simply a combination of everything related to food—ranging from agricultural production of foods, to food marketing and sales, to affordability of food for vulnerable populations, to how consumers choose what to eat, how they prepare it, and how they consume it.
As the recent report launched at the Committee on World Food Security noted, all of these elements can be influenced by non-food factors such as the environment, technology, infrastructure, the economy, policy, demographics, and culture.
Looking at food systems helps explain how undernutrition, overweight, and obesity are connected. Clearly, many parts of the food system influence people’s diets. In an ideal world, they would all lead to proper nutrition, but they often lead instead to undernutrition or overweight.
For example, one prime opportunity to influence people’s diets is at the very beginning of the food system, where food is being produced. If farmers produce only staple crops such as maize or rice, this filters down to consumers, who can become undernourished through their lack of dietary diversity.
It may turn out that other phases of the food system, affordability and choosing what to eat, are more important than whether diverse foods are produced and available. The poorest families, who purchase the least expensive foods out of necessity, are at risk of nutritional deficiencies or overweight since these foods are typically less nutritious and more calorie-dense.
A second emerging issue is the increasing realization that we absolutely cannot improve nutrition without action from multiple sectors, such as agriculture, water and sanitation, and health. Nutrition workers frequently work with colleagues in other sectors in the field, of course, but the community now knows that multi-sectoral work is not just a nice extra, but critical to success. The 2017 Global Nutrition Report encourages the global community to do nutrition differently and break out of our development “silos” to work together and create lasting change. This different way of working will require changes from donors, governments, the communities most affected by malnutrition, and a range of other stakeholders.
Finally, with the multiple ongoing humanitarian crises around the world, it has become increasingly clear that nutrition is critically important during both emergencies and during efforts to build resilience in the wake of a conflict or natural disaster. As Bread for the World Institute has said previously, while nutritious emergency food is clearly needed to save lives during hunger crises, it is not enough. To keep the cycle from repeating, it is also important to lay the foundation for people’s ongoing health and well-being once the acute crisis has passed.
Nutrition can help bridge this space between humanitarian response and development assistance. As the global community focuses on building resilience and rebuilding communities after an emergency, nutrition will be a key piece of the puzzle.
Clearly, the global nutrition community has a lot to think about, and a lot of work ahead of us. But moving forward is an exciting opportunity to do nutrition differently and move the world closer to ending malnutrition by 2030—a goal worth our time and effort.
Jordan Teague is international policy analyst with Bread for the world Institute.
By Todd Post
Bread for the World Institute’s 2018 Hunger Report, The Jobs Agenda: Working to End Hunger by 2030, will be out in the first part of 2018. A “jobs agenda,” plain and simple, is an anti-hunger agenda. No family is more vulnerable to hunger than one in which adult wage earners are unemployed.
A good job is not just any job. Low wages and poor working conditions don’t add up to the kind of jobs, or jobs agenda, that Bread for the World Institute supports. The 2018 Hunger Report focuses on the need to improve wages and working conditions, especially for workers in low-wage sectors such as food service, retail, hospitality, and personal care workers such as home health aides.
The report examines how policies over recent decades have made it much harder for low-wage workers to feed their families. Fifty years ago, workers in minimum wage jobs earned much more, when adjusted for inflation, than they are paid today. They had more money for necessities such as groceries.
I’m mainly interested in discussing more recent developments here. Our January newsletter is a good place to review the year that just passed. It has been a long slog out of the Great Recession of 2007-2009, but the economy is performing well and the gains are finally reaching workers at the bottom of the wage scale.
A low unemployment rate and several state-level minimum wage increases suggest that 2017 was another year that poverty and hunger rates in the United State continued to fall. The federal government will not issue its reports on poverty and food security for 2017 until much later this year, but we know that ups and downs in poverty and food insecurity rates are linked closely to the unemployment rate. At the beginning of 2017, the national unemployment rate was at 4.8 percent, and by the end was holding steady at 4.1 percent. This is the lowest unemployment rate since 2000.
Nineteen states gave minimum wage workers a raise at the beginning of 2017, lifting the wages of 4.3 million workers. In states that raised their minimum wage in 2016, wage growth among the lowest wage earners, the bottom 10 percent, was 5.2 percent, versus only 2.5 percent in states that did not.
Minimum-wage workers have gotten little help from federal policymakers. The federal minimum wage has been stuck at $7.25 per hour since 2009. For workers in more than half the states, the state minimum wage is now higher than the federal level. New York and California, the two most populous states, passed legislation to raise the state minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2020. This year, the federal government needs to take action—after nine years of inaction—to raise the federal minimum wage. About 40 percent of the workforce lives in states that follow the federal minimum wage rate.
Low-wage workers basically have two paths to higher wages. One is for federal or state policymakers to raise the minimum wage. Depending on the amount of the increase, this also raises the pay of workers higher up the wage scale. David Cooper of the Economic Policy Institute estimates that increasing the minimum wage to $15 per hour nationally would mean higher incomes for 41 million workers.
The other path to higher pay can be followed when labor markets are “tight,” meaning that the unemployment rate is very low. Over the past two years, with unemployment averaging less than 5 percent, men and women with a high school education or less have had wage increases of 3 percent and 2 percent respectively. This may not seem impressive, but most years since 2000, the wages of workers in this group, when adjusted for inflation, have decreased.
2017 reminded us of how important the minimum wage and the unemployment rate are for low-wage workers and their families. It can make a big difference in their ability to put food on the table.
Todd Post is senior researcher, writer, and editor for Bread for the World Institute.
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