ROME, ITALY — The United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) rallied global attention to what it says are the too-frequently-neglected issues of malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies and obesity.
Some 2 billion people — 30% of the planet's population — suffer from micronutrient deficiencies or other effects of inadequate diet. Meanwhile, many poorer countries now labor under a "double burden" of obesity combined with hunger and poor nutrition.
To help get the global nutrition agenda back on track, FAO partnered with WHO to convene the first major global event on such issues in 20 years, the 2nd International Conference on Nutrition, which took place in Rome, Italy, in late November.
At ICN2, Pope Francis urged world leaders to do more, and the event culminated with the adaptation by universal acclaim of a sweeping political commitment to do just that — "The Rome Declaration on Nutrition” — by 172 governments as well as a supporting framework for concrete action.
FAO said it is determined to take this new global momentum on nutrition forward into 2015 and beyond.
2014 also saw the world make strides towards a future with zero hunger.
The year started off with African heads of state making a historic commitment to end chronic hunger on their continent by 2025.
Latin America also had its sights set on hunger eradication. In May, governments from the region came together to review progress and bring to a successful conclusion their collective effort to wipe out hunger.
The region is close to its goal: FAO's annual regional analysis, published Dec. 10, found that as a whole, Latin America and the Caribbean has reduced hunger from 15.3% of its total population in 1990-91 to 6.1% in 2012-14. Fourteen countries have met the hunger target of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) before the 2015 deadline, while four others have nearly achieved it.
Elsewhere, progress is being made as well. During 2014, FAO gave kudos to China, Ethiopia, Gabon, the Gambia, Iran, Kiribati, Malaysia, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mexico, Morocco, and the Philippines for reaching the MDG-1 hunger target, while Brazil, Chile Cameroon and Uruguay were recognized for having attained the more ambitious WFS target of halving the number of hungry by 2015.
FAO’s annual State of Food Insecurity in the World report — released in October — confirmed a positive trend in hunger reduction, which has seen the number of hungry people decline globally by more than 100 million over the last decade and by 209 million since 1990-92.
Still, the report noted that 805 people remained chronically undernourished in 2014 and much remains to be done.
Indeed, despite progress in reducing chronic hunger, conflict poor weather and the emergence of Ebola in West Africa contributed to food insecurity concerns in a number of countries and regions during 2014, FAO said.
The emergence of the Ebola epidemic captured global attention — beyond the immediate human costs, the situation in affected countries has had serious implications for food security.
But other hunger hotspots posed cause for concern as well.
In the broader West African region of the Sahel, conflicts and recurring droughts continued to exacerbate food insecurity in 2014. To tackle recurring food security in the region, in February UN and humanitarian partners launched an ambitious three-year plan to support resilience over the longer-term by tackling the root causes of hunger.
In Somalia, late and erratic rainfall during spring and summer raised concerns regarding harvest prospects there. By September, over one million people were estimated to be at risk of acute food insecurity.
Violence in South Sudan contributed to widespread food insecurity in that troubled African nation during 2014, as FAO warned on numerous occasions. The organization has been working with partners on the ground to deliver emergency livelihood kits containing crop and vegetable seeds, fishing equipment and livestock treatment kits and vaccines for veterinary support to help farming families stay afloat and support local food production.
Fighting and conflict in Syria and Iraq were also cause for concern during 2014, and FAO responded.
Finally, conflict in the Central African Republic had major implications for rural livelihoods, food production, and food security as widespread looting and insecurity took a heavy toll on cropping, animal-rearing and fishing activities. In March FAO, the World Bank, and the World Food Program agreed to implement a major program to support food aid and agriculture production as hostilities eased. As part of that effort, FAO began a large seed and tool distribution program in May to support crisis-hit farming families.
On the brighter side, 2014 saw the dawn of a new era in development cooperation between nations of the global South.
In February, governments from the Near East and Africa pledged enhanced cooperation to tackle issues of water management, food waste and building more resilient rural communities.
A month later, the new Africa Solidarity Trust Fund — an Africa for Africa development initiative aimed at eradicating hunger, reducing malnutrition and poverty — funded i's first six projects.
In June, the FAO-managed fund gave the green light to four new, continent-spanning projects that will benefit 24 different African nations, and in December signed another three project agreements to support Ebola-hit countries, promote employment for rural youth, and advance South-South cooperation in Africa.
Later in the year, China took advantage of the occasion of World Food Day to announce a $50 million donation to FAO to support its program of South-South Cooperation.
And 2014 closed out with a major conference in Morocco which saw that northern African country team up with FAO to pledge both financial resources and technical know-how to support agricultural development in sub-Saharan Africa.
World food prices started out the year high, but steady and saw a rapid rise early in the year, partly due to tensions in the Black Sea region and poor weather in some regions.
However by May the FAO food index began to drop and that downward trend continued through August, which saw the index reach a four-year low. Since then, global food prices have remained broadly stable.
Agricultural recovery in the Philippines following the devastation of Typhoon Haiyan was one of the stand-out success stories of 2014, FAO said.
The typhoon struck between two planting seasons, damaging crops that were ready to harvest, harvested and newly planted. Around 1.1 million tonnes of standing crops were destroyed, primarily coconut, rice and corn. Infrastructure and production equipment such as storage, irrigation systems, boats and roads also suffered extensive damage. Damage to fisheries spanned the entire value-chain, from catch to market.
Six months after the disaster hit, Philippine farmers began to bring in their rice harvest thanks to this effort.
Today, just over one year has passed since Typhoon Haiyan hit. A second rice harvest has come in, and farmers and fishers are well on the road to recovery and building more resilient livelihoods.