Kenyan man holding a handful of maizeKenyan man holding a handful of maizeKenyan man holding a handful of maize

How much will it cost to end world hunger?

How much will it cost to end world hunger?
Story4 August 2022Olivia Giovetti

A combination of conflict, the climate crisis and the ripple effects of Covid-19 have caused the world to lose progress in the fight for Zero Hunger. That doesn’t mean that all hope is lost, however.

There are several ways to end world hunger that, taken together with political and collective action, can lead to lasting change. Many of these solutions attack hunger — along with poverty — at its root causes. But with one in nine people around the world going to bed hungry each night and 23% of the world’s countries experiencing food security crises, those solutions need a lot of support to work at scale.

So, how much will it cost to end world hunger?

Adding up the costs of ending world hunger

In May of this year, the World Bank announced a $30 billion (£24.7bn) plan to address the global hunger crisis, an amount that would fund both new and existing projects that address the causes of hunger around the world.

This includes funding projects like: 

  • The Food Systems Resilience Program for eastern and southern Africa, which helps countries in the region to increase the resilience of their food systems in the short- and long-term, beginning with work in Ethiopia and Madagascar. ($2.3 billion pledged) 
  • A multi-phase regional program to improve food system resilience and disaster risk reduction for countries in west Africa, including Niger. ($570 million pledged)
  • An emergency action plan, mobilised as part of a Livestock Dairy Development project in Bangladesh, which provides cash transfers to 407,000 vulnerable dairy and poultry farmers in Bangladesh. Participants also receive necessary items like farm equipment and veterinary services provided by mobile clinics. ($87.8 million pledged)
  • Distribution of food kits to 437,000 people experiencing malnutrition and food insecurity in both urban and rural areas of Chad, along with the distribution of seeds and farming equipment to 25,000 smallholder farmers. ($30 million pledged)

That $30 billion pledge is designed to last for just 15 months and only addresses four key priorities: Supporting production and producers (e.g. agriculture and farmers), facilitating increased trade to avoid import and export restrictions that affect low-income countries, supporting social protection and nutritional health for vulnerable families, and investing in sustainable food and nutrition security. 

Kitchen gardens in Tounji Illy, Niger
Kitchen gardens in Tounji Illy, Niger. (Photo: Ed Ram/Concern Worldwide)

The $6 billion… or $383 billion… or $3 trillion question

The World Bank’s investment is one figure that could help to end hunger. In 2020, Germany’s Centre for Development Research (ZEF) estimated that, in order to help 500 million people beat hunger and malnutrition by 2030, G7 governments would need to increase their investments by somewhere between $11 and $14 billion (£9.1bn - £11.5bn) per year over the next ten years. That would add up to a total of up to €49 billion per country per year for ten years. 

Last autumn, the World Food Programme proposed another number: $6 billion (£4.93 billion) to create “global food stability.” You may remember this number after Elon Musk questioned its legitimacy, prompting a social media debate with the UN organisation. 

Arif Husain, the WFP’s Chief Economist, went over this figure with Devex in November of 2021: The average cost to provide one meal for one person is $0.43. Multiply that by 42 million — the number of people facing famine-levels of food insecurity — and 365 days in a year, and you get approximately $6.6 billion. This does, however, only account for one meal per day and just one year of support for those facing the direst levels of hunger. 

Food aid distribution in Ukraine
A food kit distribution in the Donetsk region of Ukraine. 1,100 people received food kits and hygiene products. (Photo: PiN/Concern Worldwide)

So let’s do our own back-of-the-napkin maths, assuming that there are 815 million people currently experiencing hunger (one of the higher estimates for 2022, based on World Bank calculations). The cost of $0.43 per meal multiplied by a recommended three meals per day, that would mean $1.29 per person per day. For 815 million people, that’s $1,051,350,000 — per day. In a year, that would be $383,742,750,000 (£315,827,958,105).

Would we need all of that £315.8 billion? Probably not. Not everyone currently experiencing hunger will need all of their meals fully supplemented for a year. However, the price of feeding the hungry is just one of the costs associated with ending hunger.

The other issues and costs of ending world hunger

Even if Musk had donated $6.6 billion to the WFP last year, Concern Worldwide’s Policy and Advocacy Manager, Makayla Palazzo, offers a caveat: “They’d just be hungry again once the aid ran out.” 

The costs of ending world hunger don’t stop at feeding people at risk of starvation. As mentioned above, the real solutions to hunger are those that address its root causes — which vary depending on the circumstances of a country, region, community, or even individual people. With the right intervention, many of the 815 million people experiencing food insecurity today wouldn’t need a full year of food rations. 

This is where many of Concern’s programmes that address hunger come in. It’s important to treat the immediate emergency — whether it’s providing food rations to refugees or a course of Plumpy’Nut to a child diagnosed with severe acute malnutrition. However, the stronger investment for long-term, sustainable hunger solutions are along the lines of what the World Bank is currently supporting with its $30 billion pledge. Some of these activities for Concern include: 

Climate Smart Agriculture

Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) helps farmers, regardless of the size of their land, adapt to the impacts of climate change in communities most affected by the crisis. This includes introducing new techniques around soil and water management, irrigation, and post-harvest management, as well as improving and diversifying harvests with climate-resilient crops.

Esime Jenaia in Chituke village, Malawi, with neighbour Esnart Kasimu.
Esime Jenaia in Chituke village, Malawi, with neighbour Esnart Kasimu. Photo: Kieran McConville/Concern Worldwide

Disaster Risk Reduction

A crucial part of our work is protecting people, their livelihoods and their assets from the disasters that are likely to affect them. Disaster risk reduction strategies can range from having evacuation procedures in place for areas prone to cyclones to infrastructural measures such retaining walls in flood prone areas or natural resource management, such as reforestation in areas prone to extreme climate conditions.

A slope in Dessie Zuria, Amhara, Ethiopia, which has been terraced, planted with leguminous and fodder crops, and open grazing prohibited as part of a broader watershed management initiative within a community resilience building programme. Photo: Dom Hunt.
A slope in Dessie Zuria, Amhara, Ethiopia, which has been terraced, planted with leguminous and fodder crops, and open grazing prohibited as part of a broader watershed management initiative within a community resilience building programme. Photo: Dom Hunt.

The Graduation Model

Graduation is an approach to ending poverty that allows families to sustainably break the cycle of poverty through developing their own practical and business skills and, with the help of cash grants and village savings and loans associations (VSLAs), financing a small business. This sets families up with livelihoods that they can continue throughout their lives, thereby developing a reliable source of income that they can use to put food on the table. Variations on the Graduation programme have helped to fight both poverty and hunger in communities, and — in a recent project in Kenya — eliminated the need for food aid in one region for the first time in over a decade.

Female farmers in Kenya's Tana River County
For the first time in three decades, there was no need for humanitarian food distributions among 20 communities in Tana River County, Kenya. This transformation was thanks to the Lifesaving Education and Assistance to Farmers (LEAF) Project, conceived by Concern Worldwide with support from ADM. Programmes in Kenya and Ethiopia were based in part on the Graduation model. (Photo: Concern Worldwide)

Supporting social protection systems

Social welfare systems have proved to be a hugely effective social support. But for many of the world’s most vulnerable communities, there is no such social safety net in times of crisis. We aim to provide this support through our cash transfer programme in countries like Somalia

Fowzia Hassan (pictured on the left in purple) is part of a community organisation. Her and other women in the village joined this committee. It was established in 2018. The women learned how to survive hardships such as drought. They have weekly meetings to discuss issues raised by members and discuss how to work and develop these issues. (Photo: Mustafa Saeed)
Fowzia Hassan (pictured on the left in purple) is part of a community organisation. Her and other women in the village joined this committee. It was established in 2018. The women learned how to survive hardships such as drought. They have weekly meetings to discuss issues raised by members and discuss how to work and develop these issues. (Photo: Mustafa Saeed)

These initiatives often cost more than the price of food aid packages, but lead to higher impact in terms of people reached and the longevity of the solutions.

Will $30 billion actually end world hunger?

Ultimately, as Palazzo points out, “hunger is caused by bad policies and conflict. Unless those are addressed, it won’t ever end.” 

While there are many solutions we can use to address the global hunger crisis in both the short- and long-term, none of these will be permanent if government policies aren’t addressed and conflicts are peacefully resolved and complemented by a strong reconstruction process. 

Policies that need to be addressed include those relating to climate justice, social welfare and protection (especially in the wake of the pandemic), gender equality, and international trade and imports/exports. But the cost of conflict will be the toughest to address — or even calculate, for that matter. This would require peace negotiations, and then the policies and international support to help with reconstruction, including the repatriation of some 30 million refugees and ensuring that conflicts don’t break out in response to the terms of peace treaties.

Women at a food distribution in South Sudan
Women at a food distribution in South Sudan. The young country has faced decades of food insecurity due to conflict.

With the costs so high, does my money help at all?

Yes, absolutely. There is likely no one price tag that will solve global hunger. It’s an issue that is so inextricably linked with other issues, as we’ve seen with COVID-19. Unfortunately, as we’ve seen this year, we’re also further from peace halfway through 2022 than we were at the beginning of the year. 

In the meantime, your individual donations to Concern work together to change the lives of tens of millions of people each year. Last year alone, we reached 39 million people in 24 countries with programmes that address both hunger directly and many of its causes.

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