ROME, ITALY — The world is “off track” in meeting hunger, food security and nutrition targets that are part of the Sustainable Development Goal, the Food and Agriculture Organization said in a report released on July 18. 

“Being off track when it comes to reaching core pillars of the SDGs unquestionably puts at risk the achievement of the entire 2030 Agenda, and makes our overarching goal of ensuring an economically, socially and environmentally sustainable future for our planet and for present and future generations less attainable,” said Maria Helena Semedo, FAO deputy director-general for climate and natural resources.

In the first report of its kind, the FAO analyzed major global trends and data from up to 234 countries and territories on 18 indicators of four SDGs.

Key findings included: a rise in hunger; earnings for small-scale food producers is half that of larger food producers; there is high food price volatility in many developing countries; half of local livestock breeds are in danger of extinction; water is under stress; and more forest is being lost in the tropics.

More than 820 million people are still hungry today. The number of hungry people in the world has been on the rise for three years in a row, and is back to levels seen in 2010-11. In parallel, the percentage of hungry people out of the total population has slightly increased, to 10.8% in 2018 from 10.6% in 2015.

Small-scale food producers, who represent the majority of all farmers in many developing countries, face disproportionate challenges in accessing inputs and services, and as a result, their incomes and productivity are systematically lower compared to larger food producers.

During 2016-17, food price anomalies affected over a third of Land-Locked Developing Countries (LLDCs), one in four countries in Africa and Western Asia, and one in five countries in Central and Southern Asia. Moderate increases in general food prices, on the other hand, affected all regions.

There is also significant risk of local livestock breeds going extinct.

On average, 60% of local livestock breeds are at risk of extinction in the 70 countries that had risk status information.

The report also warns of “no progress in conserving animal genetic resources and notes that ongoing efforts to preserve these resources appear inadequate.” For example, less than 1% of local livestock breeds across the world have enough genetic material stored that would allow the breed to be reconstituted in case of extinction.

However, the conservation of plant genetic material is faring somewhat better.

At the end of 2018, global holdings of plant genetic materials conserved in gene banks in 99 countries and 17 regional and international centers totaled 5.3 million samples — a nearly 3% increase over the previous year. This is mainly due to the transfer of existing materials to better, indicator-compliant storage facilities, rather than a reflection of newly added diversity collected from the field.

Efforts to secure crop diversity continues to be insufficient, cautions the report, particularly for crop wild relatives, wild food plants and neglected and underutilized crop species.

One third of the world’s marine fish stocks are overfished today, compared to only 10% in 1974.

The report said that despite some recent improvements in fisheries management and stock status in developed countries, the proportion of stocks fished within biologically sustainable levels has decreased significantly in developing countries.

Along with overfishing, water stress is affecting countries on every continent. The majority of countries that have registered high water stress since 2000 are concentrated in Northern Africa, Western Asia and Central and Southern Asia.

Between 2000 and 2015, the world lost an area of forest the size of Madagascar, due mainly to the conversion of forestland for agricultural use. Most of the loss was recorded in the tropics of Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa and South-East Asia.

However, the rate of forest loss has slowed down globally in the period 2010-15 and this loss was partly compensated by the increase of forest area in Asia, North America and Europe.

The report puts forward a number of recommendations aimed at reversing these worsening trends.

Many of the problems would be less acute if there was sufficient investment in the agricultural sector, the report said. Public expenditure in agriculture has been declining with respect to its contribution to the Gross Domestic Product.

Promoting productivity growth and strengthening the resilience and adaptive capacity of small-scale food producers is also critical to reversing the trend of rising hunger and reducing the number of people living in extreme poverty, the report noted.

Price anomalies could be addressed by improving information on prices and on food supply and demand of basic food stuffs, allowing markets to function more efficiently.

Improvements in water productivity and irrigation in agriculture and reduced losses in municipal distribution networks, industrial and energy cooling processes are among the main issues to be tackled when it comes to water stress.