World Hunger: Causes, Effects, and Solutions

In this blog post, we explore the causes and effects of world hunger, as well as how we can stop it. Learn more about the impact of poverty, climate change, conflict, and economic factors on food security and find out how targeted interventions can help reduce world hunger and malnutrition.

World hunger: feeding people soup

Why care about world hunger? Because hunger is a basic human need that everyone deserves to satisfy. Yet too many people around the world suffer regularly from hunger. According to the World Food Programme, more than 345 million people are facing high levels of food insecurity this year. That’s more than the population of the United States!

Family sitting on floor eating a meal - world hunger

So where does hunger stem from and what can be done to alleviate its effects? Let’s dive in. 

What is World Hunger?

World hunger refers to the chronic and widespread lack of access to enough nutritious food among populations worldwide. It is a complex problem that affects people of all ages and genders.

The Scope of World Hunger

World hunger affects hundreds of millions of people in different regions, with sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia being the most affected areas. Although most widespread in low-income countries, hunger also affects developed countries, where poverty and inequality persist.

What are the Causes of World Hunger?

What is the Number One Cause of World Hunger: Poverty and Inequality

According to the United Nations, “Hunger is increasing in many countries where economic growth is lagging, particularly in middle-income countries and those that rely heavily on international primary commodity trade.” Poverty and inequality are among the leading causes of world hunger. Even though the world produces enough food for our global population, it can be out of reach for people living in poverty either because it quite literally doesn’t reach their community or because they can’t afford a diet with adequate nutrients. They are also more vulnerable to the effects of economic downturns and natural disasters, which can further exacerbate hunger.

Climate Change and Environmental Degradation

Climate change and environmental degradation, including deforestation and soil degradation, significantly impact food production and availability. Additionally, severe weather events like droughts and floods can decimate crops and contribute to food shortages. According to the World Food Programme, 1.7 billion people have been affected by extreme weather and climate-related disasters over the past decade.  

Conflict and Displacement

Conflict and displacement are significant causes of world hunger, especially in regions affected by wars and civil unrest. Marie Haga, the Associate Vice-President of External Relations and Governance the UN’s International Fund for Agricultural Development notes that, “conflict is the main driver of hunger in most of the world’s food crises.” Conflict disrupts food production, distribution, and access, leading to widespread hunger and malnutrition.

Economic Factors

Economic factors, including trade policies and market dynamics, also contribute to world hunger. Dr. Mukhisa Kituyi, Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference

on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) writes that, “enhanced international and national measures on transparency and regulation are needed to ensure incomes arising from agriculture value chains are fairly shared by all actors. We also need improved market access and risk management tools for smallholder farmers, including for female farmers, to expand opportunities and reduce income volatility.” Unequal distribution of wealth, lack of investment in agriculture, and volatile food prices can all affect food availability and affordability.

What are the Effects of World Hunger?

World hunger has far-reaching effects on individuals, communities, and nations. 

Physical Effects

Hunger can lead to malnutrition, which can cause various physical health problems, including stunted growth, weakened immune systems, and increased risk of disease.

Almost nowhere are malnutrition’s human and economic costs more stark than in Nigeria. The country has the second-highest number of malnourished children in the world. Fifteen million children under the age of five are stunted, and 30 million are anemic, according to figures from UNICEF. Seven percent of women of childbearing age also suffer from acute malnutrition. 

As a result, Nigeria loses an estimated $1.5 billion in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) annually due to diminished productivity and increased healthcare costs caused by malnutrition. 

There are solutions to world hunger that can alleviate the burden on hardworking men, women, and families. Fortifying staple foods with essential vitamins and minerals, for instance, is one of the most effective ways of improving a population’s nutrition. 

The Micronutrient Fortification Index (MFI) developed by TechnoServe is a platform that enables food processing companies to publicly disclose and monitor their staple food fortification levels along with other quality system metrics. This groundbreaking platform is the first to offer a transparent and incentivized method to measure industry-wide progress on fortification.

Mental Effects

Hunger also has significant mental health consequences, particularly for children. Malnourished children may experience cognitive delays, difficulty concentrating, and behavioral problems.

As of November 2021, more than 26% of children under five years suffered from chronic malnutrition in Kenya. This can lead to serious health consequences like anemia, blindness, and brain damage. In addition to its devastating impact on families, malnutrition limits a country’s economic potential, decreasing the productivity of its people and increasing healthcare costs.

The Strengthening African Processors for Food Fortification (SAPFF) program – a partnership between TechnoServe, Partners in Food Solutions, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation – is working with food companies in Nigeria, Kenya, and Tanzania to improve their capacity to produce and sell fortified foods for local markets.

Social and Economic Effects

Hunger also affects social and economic development. It can decrease productivity, lower educational attainment, and increase healthcare costs. Additionally, hunger can perpetuate poverty and inequality, creating a cycle of deprivation.

Maria Castillo and her husband facing the camera and looking happy because they have overcome world hunger.

In Jicarito, Honduras, María Castillo is a bean farmer. While southern Honduras has rich farmland, María and her family still struggled over the years with hunger. “We used to grow bad quality beans and have low productivity because we did not know the best practices,” she recalls. Although María eventually worked with TechnoServe to improve her crops and income, her struggle with food insecurity isn’t uncommon. Smallholder farms in Latin America and worldwide produce nearly 30% of the world’s food supply, and close to 2 billion people depend on those farmers for food

TechnoServe works with small- and medium-scale coffee and bean producers in Honduras, like María Castillo, to train them in better agronomic techniques. Staff is also working to improve the operations of more than 600 farmer organizations and to facilitate an improved environment for public policies related to climate change resilience.

As a result, nearly 30,000 producers in Honduras have access to $15.5 million in credit for inputs, farm maintenance, and infrastructure investments. After four crop cycles, bean farmers increased productivity by an average of 54%, substantially increasing incomes and reducing food insecurity.

María herself worked with TechnoServe to launch a rural savings and loan association, which sells agricultural inputs such as drought-resistant seeds. This helps prevent other community farmers from facing the same food insecurity that she once did. 

How Can We Stop World Hunger?

Addressing world hunger requires a multifaceted approach that considers the complex nature of the problem. Some potential solutions include:

Increasing Agricultural Productivity

Investing in agriculture can increase food production and promote food security. This includes improving access to technology and training for farmers and providing financial incentives to increase production.

Rosa González is one of nearly 9,000 fruit and vegetable farmers in Guatemala and Nicaragua who learned how to improve the value of their produce, connect to new markets, and earn higher incomes.  

This income is critical for Rosa, a single mother who relies on her farm to provide for her family, including her son, Ángel. He is “my greatest motivation,” she says. “I want to give him an education. I want to teach him many things that I didn’t get.” 

These dreams seem more possible for Rosa and Ángel since she joined TechnoServe’s Smallholder Market Access Program with grant funding from the Walmart Foundation. TechnoServe worked with farmers like Rosa to help them escape poverty by providing agricultural training, helping them strengthen farmer business organizations, connecting them with agricultural exporters, and working across the value chains to make them more inclusive for women farmers.

Promoting Sustainable Food Systems

Sustainable food systems can help reduce the impact of climate change on food production while ensuring equitable access to nutritious food. This includes promoting agroforestry, regenerative farming, and sustainable land use practices.

Food processors are the linchpins of the food supply chain and play an essential role in local economic growth, with the potential to drive a positive impact for smallholder farmers, consumers, and other actors across the food system.

TechnoServe helps processors identify and analyze business constraints and provides tailored guidance to help them improve operations, strengthen supply chains, connect to new markets, and access finance. With our support, food processors are able to grow, increase profits, and strengthen their local food system. Through this growth, they help create jobs, expand markets and trade, and increase access to safer, nutritious foods.

Severina Paul Mwakateba founded AA Nafaka in 2012, excited to help raise the incomes of local farmers and increase the supply of high-quality food available to Tanzanian consumers. This small, woman-owned business provides consumers with nutritious food like fortified flour, polished rice, and sunflower oil. It also provides a reliable market for smallholder farmers selling their crops.

In 2019, AA Nafaka made more than $60,000 in sales, with schools making up an important segment of its customer base. The company had the opportunity to expand even further in 2019 as well, as a result of the installation of additional milling equipment. However, the COVID-19 pandemic would confront the company with serious challenges.

With transportation restrictions and school closures in place, the company experienced both product distribution difficulties and the loss of an important part of its market. With the resulting drop in sales, AA Nafaka had to lay off seven of its employees and decrease its purchases from smallholders and aggregators by 60%.

With the pandemic threatening the operations and survival of food businesses like AA Nafaka, the Visa Foundation stepped in in 2021 to provide resiliency grants to eight African food processors. These grants were complemented by technical assistance from the Coalition for Farmer-Allied Intermediaries (CFAI), a group of pioneering organizations, including TechnoServe, that work with over 600 African food companies to strengthen the continent’s food systems. TechnoServe and Partners in Food Solutions provided technical assistance to these firms through the Alliance for Inclusive and Nutritious Food Processing program, which is funded by USAID’s Feed the Future initiative. As a result of this partnership, these African food businesses increased their sales by 70%, supporting stable markets for 1,500 farmers and creating new employment opportunities for nearly 100 workers. 

In the case of AA Nafaka, TechnoServe’s business advisors worked with the company’s managers to help improve the company’s sourcing and marketing strategies. Like many small food businesses, the company needed to shift its approach in order to survive the volatile market conditions.

TechnoServe also helped Severina and her team to develop an inclusive business plan that would enable the company to purchase its crops. The team also helped the company to improve the utilization rate of its processing facilities and adapt its marketing strategy.

With this support, AA Nafaka was able to persevere through the challenges of the pandemic and even rehire three of its employees who had been laid off. The company was also able to purchase more than $20,000 of crops directly from 112 smallholder farmers–80% of whom were women. And it purchased roughly the same amount from an aggregator that bought directly from smallholder farmers. 

Supporting Vulnerable Populations

Targeted support for vulnerable populations, including women, children, and refugees, can help address the root causes of hunger. 

When violence broke out in Rwanda in 1994, Athanasie Musabyimana was 20 years old and eight months pregnant. She fled to a refugee camp in Tanzania with her husband and son. The trip was arduous as she was nauseous and could barely walk. When they arrived, conditions were challenging. “We were packed together like blades of grass,” Athanasie explains. 

Athanasie gave birth to a daughter in the refugee camp. Because food supplies were limited in the camp, she couldn’t breastfeed her daughter and feared the baby would die. Three of her children had tragically passed away previously, and so Athanasie named the little girl Nzamwitakuze, or “I will give you a name if you survive.”

Athanasie Musabyimana standing with her children looking happy because they are not among those suffering from world hunger

But her daughter did survive. They returned to Rwanda to settle down as farmers. Shortly afterward, Athanasie’s husband died from malaria, leaving her a young widow, now with two children and her parents to support. She constantly struggled to make ends meet and feed her family.

So Athanasie turned to coffee farming. She joined TechnoServe’s agronomy and business training program as part of the Coffee Initiative. Using what she learned from the program, Athanasie increased the yields and the quality of her coffee harvest. “From TechnoServe, I learned better composting, better pruning, and how to use fertilizer for coffee.”

As her income grew over the years, Athanasie continued to invest in her farm, buying more land and doubling her coffee holdings. By 2014, Athanasie had tripled her income, earning approximately $420 for the year. 

Athanasie now runs a successful coffee farm and has expanded into growing maize. The boost in income has enabled her to support her household of six, affording medical insurance for her extended family and school fees for her children. Athanasie’s son, Ndimubanzi Jean Bosco, farms with his mother, and her younger daughter, Uwineza Denise, attends school.

Her daughter, Nzamwitakuze Dina, has not only survived but thrived: she recently completed the first phase of secondary school and hopes to attend college. The profits from her farm have also allowed Athanasie to start renovating and expanding her house.

Addressing Climate Change

Addressing climate change is critical to reducing the impact of severe weather occurrences on food production and availability. We can do this by working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, promote renewable energy, and invest in climate adaptation strategies.

TechnoServe is among many non-profits, businesses, and other groups around the world that are stepping up to meet this challenge. Our Regenerate 30 initiative aims to achieve the following impact by 2030:

  • 30 million people with increased resilience
  • 30% average income increase for farms and businesses
  • 30 million tons of CO2e mitigated or sequestered
  • 30 million acres of land under sustainable management or improved conservation
  • $300 million in private-sector investment

Find out more by downloading our PDF fact sheet on the initiative and by watching this YouTube Short about Regenerate 30.

Comprehensive Strategies for Addressing World Hunger

Global hunger is a complex problem with far-reaching effects on individuals, communities, and nations. Addressing hunger requires a comprehensive approach considering the various factors contributing to the problem. We can work towards a world free of hunger through targeted interventions and investments in agriculture, sustainable food systems, and vulnerable populations.

Test your understanding of the factors contributing to global hunger, its consequences, and possible remedies. Take our brief four-question quiz to assess your knowledge regarding hunger on a global scale.