Food is essential to our existence; we literally cannot survive without it. Yet around the world, there are hundreds of millions of people who can't get enough to eat and who have no idea where their next meal is coming from.
Despite what you might think, the world is actually more than capable of producing enough food to feed everyone; the issue is that not everyone can access the food that's being produced.
After a decade of progress in cutting hunger levels, global hunger levels are again starting to rise — largely because of food shortages and food insecurity linked to conflict and climate change. As a result, the UN has declared the world’s food systems to be broken, and has called out world leaders to fulfill their duties in meeting the basic human right of feeding citizens.
The global food supply chain is a complicated system and even a slight disruption in one part of that system can create a cascade of problems ranging from malnourishment and starvation, to economic downturn and death.
Do you know how food gets to your plate?
Before we get into the global hunger crisis, what’s causing it, and what we can do about it, here is an (extremely) simplified breakdown of how food gets to your plate.
It generally takes three steps for food to get to you: production, processing, and distribution. Production happens when farmers grow food and package it for consumption, transforming it into specific ingredients. Those ingredients are then processed by food processing and packaging businesses before going on to be distributed to restaurants, markets, and consumers like you.
What are the main causes of today’s hunger crisis?
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), in 2022, 691– 783 million people in the world faced hunger, which 122 million more than in 2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, 345 million of those people are facing acute levels of hunger, including starvation. That’s nearly as many people as the entire US population.
The climate crisis is the second biggest driver of hunger in the world, undermining people's ability to feed themselves and their families through destruction of lives, crops, and income. While the WFP was able to raise a record-breaking $14 billion in 2022, it was still way short of the $40 billion it needs annually to feed the world’s hungry.
Meanwhile, nine of the biggest fossil fuel companies (you know, the thing that has contributed the most to the climate crisis) posted $100 billion in profits in the first quarter of 2023 alone.
The biggest factor that drives hunger, however, is conflict — 70% of the world's hungry people are in areas of conflict and violence. Most notably, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has caused a ripple effect around the world raising the prices of wheat, grain, and fertilizer, as the ongoing war has limited or entirely disrupted access to these vital food-producing essentials for the rest of the world.
The two countries supply nearly a third of the world’s wheat, barley, and more than 70% of its sunflower oil. Russia is the world’s largest producer of fertilizer too. All of this impacts farmers, how much food they can produce, how much food enters into the global food system, and ultimately how much gets to our plates. It also impacts food needed by aid organizations such as the WFP, which depended on the countries’ supplies to continue their operations and feed millions of people.
Perhaps the saddest part of this global food crisis is the pre-pandemic gains that have been eroded. Back in 1970, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimated that one in three people in "developing countries" experienced hunger. Rates then fell dramatically, reaching 12% in 2015.
Meanwhile, prior to the pandemic and Russia’s war in Ukraine, Africa was having its own Green Revolution. Farmers across the continent had increased production of some crops by 76% from 2004 to 2019, thanks to increased development support, access to markets, and better seeds. Now that growth and progress is threatened by climate shocks like flooding and droughts, while the war against Ukraine is affecting the cost of farming supplies and affecting farmers' incomes.
4 facts about the global hunger crisis you should know
- An estimated 50 million people around the world are currently facing emergency levels of hunger and urgently need assistance.
- One in every 10 people on earth is unsure where their next meal will come from.
- Global hunger has risen by 119% since 2019.
- Less than 5% of the US’ military budget could end world hunger for a year.
What can we do about it?
The WFP says a coordinated effort across governments, financial institutions, the private sector, and partners is the only way to mitigate an even more severe global hunger crisis.
As part of the Global Citizen Festival campaign, which will culminate in a live event taking place at New York City's Central Park on Sept. 23, we are calling for larger and more immediate investments into sustainable agriculture and smallholder farmers.
Long term, this is our best hope of ending world hunger. Providing smallholder farmers (who produce about a third of the world’s food) with the support they need to adapt to climate change and improve food security for their communities and families can only be a net positive for the world.
What's more, this investment also has the added benefit of job creation and has also been shown to deliver good returns — every $1 invested in agricultural research for climate adaptation generates $6 or more in benefits, including better income for farmers as well as improved health and educational outcomes for communities. We can feed everyone and create jobs at the same time, how amazing would that be?
As part of this, we're specifically campaigning for more investment in the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) as a way world leaders can fight the global hunger crisis as well as improving financing for agriculture adaptation and protecting against climate shocks. IFAD is looking to double its impact in the next decade to address poverty and hunger in rural areas, and for this, it needs funding.
Of course, stopping all the conflict in the world and mitigating the climate crisis (which we're also campaigning for) would make the biggest dent in ending world hunger but, as the WFP says: “Only political will can end conflict in places like Yemen, Ethiopia, and South Sudan, and without a firm political commitment to contain global warming as stipulated in the Paris Agreement, the main drivers of hunger will continue unabated."
What can you do to help?
The status quo is no longer working and global systems continue to fail the world’s most marginalized and vulnerable among us. We have to take action to build a world that works for us.
Whoever you are, wherever you live, join the movement of Global Citizens and take action by signing this global petition calling on world leaders to end the global food crisis NOW.
You can also take our quiz to learn more about why global hunger is on the rise, and lend your voice to our call to leaders from Norway about increasing their support to IFAD, the only UN agency dedicated to rural development, and discover more actions you can take to help tackle hunger.
On Sept. 23 — against the backdrop of world leaders gathering for the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) — we will return to Central Park for the Global Citizen Festival, bringing together 60,000 Global Citizens on the Great Lawn, each of whom will have earned their free tickets by joining us in taking action.
This will be our chance to drive actions to fill the funding gaps on food security, drive investment in the world's smallholder farmers, and make sure that calls to end the global hunger crisis are taken seriously by world leaders. Get involved by joining the movement, downloading the Global Citizen app, and taking action today.