Trends in World Food Security (Tendencias Mundiales En La Seguridad Alimentaria)

Debate Agrario, Vol. 37, pp. 109-160, 2004

35 Pages Posted: 15 Oct 2004 Last revised: 23 Jul 2009

Date Written: 2004


The world food situation has significantly improved over the latest decades. Fears of an impending global food crisis have largely vanished. Along the last 40 years world population grew by 98% but food supply increased by 155%. Per capita food availability grew at an annual rate of about 0.5% from 1960 to 1990, and at about 1.0% in the 1990s and early 2000s. Average dietary energy consumption increased from 2280 to 2795 kcal/person/day over the same period.

Hunger, however, persists: FAO estimates nearly 800 million people eat insufficient food, below the minimum allowance to maintain good health, and their number has not gone down in recent years in spite of an international pledge to halve it by 2015.

Persisting hunger is not a result of world food scarcity but unequal access. Encouragingly, low-income poverty, the chief determinant of access to food, has also declined. The overall prevalence of poverty (people with income below a certain poverty line) has also decreased. Measurements differ in the absolute level of poverty rates (due to different income estimates and different ways of setting the poverty line) but all agree on the declining trend.

The developing-world rate of undernourishment (percent of people consuming less than the minimum amount of food compatible with good health) has correspondingly gone down, according to FAO estimates, from 35% in 1969-71 to 17% in 1999-2001. Some analysts dispute FAO figures on technical grounds, but nobody disputes the trend. The nutrition and health effect is also perceptible. Life expectancy is increasing, and preschool children's chronic malnutrition, measured by height growth retardation, has declined in the developing world (by World Health Organization estimates) from 47% in 1980 to 32.5% in 1995 and a projected 29% in 2005. Their number is also dwindling from 221 to 165 million over the same period.

The developing world in general led the overall growth in food availability and consumption. But some regions improved more than others, and some (chiefly Sub-Saharan Africa) actually worsened or improved only slightly. Progress was largest in Asia, especially in China, but it is also evident in Latin America, the Middle East and other parts of the world. Some temporary downturns also existed, viz. in the former socialist countries during their often chaotic years of transition to a market economy in the early 1990s, and also in some developing regions like the Caribbean (mostly due to the dismal conditions in Haiti, and the difficulties faced by Cuba after the fall of the URSS).

Progress in food security was also correlated with changing food consumption patterns, chiefly through an increased consumption of animal products, especially chicken and milk, and substitution of wheat and vegetable oil for some traditional foods like cassava, maize or lard.

There is also, as a side effect of the same trends towards improved food consumption, a worrying increase of overweight and obesity rates in the developing world, mirroring the trend observed in developed countries.

Remarkably, progress was faster during the 1990s, marked by market-oriented reforms, than the 1970s and especially the stagnant 1980s, often nicknamed the lost decade, when many developing countries were struggling with debt crises and the breakdown of import-substitution industrialization schemes, often leading to prolonged recession cum high inflation. Progress was also faster in countries that undertook profounder market-oriented reforms and carried them out thoroughly, than in countries failing to do so.

During this process, internal inequality has increased in many countries, but world inequality has decreased due to rapid economic growth in many key developing areas.

Note: Downloadable document is in Spanish.

Keywords: food security, food supply, food consumption, nutrition, poverty, undernutrition, undernourishment, malnutrition

JEL Classification: F01, I12, I31, I32, N3, N50, O13, O15, Q11, Q

Suggested Citation

Maletta, Hector E., Trends in World Food Security (Tendencias Mundiales En La Seguridad Alimentaria) (2004). Debate Agrario, Vol. 37, pp. 109-160, 2004, Available at SSRN:

Hector E. Maletta (Contact Author)

Universidad del Pacífico ( email )

Av Salaverry 2020
Lima, 11

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