Gloomy outlook for malnourished children

Posted: 3 September 2002

Unless more aggressive measures are taken, progress against child malnutrition is likely to slow over the next two decades, according to a new report from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

The report, 2020 Global Food Outlook: Trends, Alternatives, and Choices, projects that child malnutrition will decline by only 20 per cent over the next 20 years.

"Progress in reducing child malnutrition is unconscionably slow. It leaves 132 million children malnourished in 2020," said Per Pinstrup-Andersen, director general of IFPRI and recipient of the 2001 World Food Prize. "Yet we have the power to change that. With modest alterations to policies and priorities, the rate of progress against child malnutrition could be more than doubled."

The report, published for the International Conference on Sustainable Food Security for All by 2020, held in Bonn, Germany, from 4-6 September 2001, uses IFPRI's state-of-the-art computer modelling to develop projections for food production, consumption, and demand for 16 major food commodities through 2020 and beyond.

The report projects that Latin America will virtually eliminate child malnutrition and China will cut it in half. However, not all regions will fare as well. India will remain home to one-third of all malnourished children. In Sub-Saharan Africa, the number of malnourished children will actually increase by 18 per cent, unless new action is taken.

More investment

"Alternative scenarios in this report show that decisions made now can have wide-reaching effects on food security and nutrition. In fact, our optimistic scenario - a 42 per cent reduction in child malnutrition worldwide - is achievable with only an additional $10 billion per year in investments. That's equal to less than one week of global military spending," noted Mark Rosegrant, senior research fellow at IFPRI and the lead author of the report.

More than 800 representatives of governments, non-governmental organizations, academia, and the media from Europe, Africa, Asia, Latin America, and North America participated in the IFPRI conference.

Participants identified three main priorities, in order of importance:

  • Investing in human needs: basic health care, primary education, and clean water.
  • Promoting good governance: ensuring the rule of law, creating transparency, and eliminating corruption.
  • Improving markets, infrastructure and institutions: assuring that agricultural markets are not biased against small farmers, less favoured areas, or poor consumers.

"The sad fact is, given the current reality, food security for all will not be achieved by 2020. Such a breakthrough would require a whole new level of commitment, focusing on priority policy actions and resources," said Rajul Pandya-Lorch, head of IFPRI's 2020 Vision Initiative and lead organizer of the conference.