The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, 2020: Transforming Food Systems for Affordable Healthy Diets


The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations released its annual report The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World on July 13, 2020. It was co-published by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Food Programme (WFP), and the World Health Organization (WHO).

The report was prepared by FAO’s Agricultural Development Economics Division in collaboration with their Economic and Social Development Department’s Statistics Division, along with a team of technical experts from FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP and WHO.

The two parts of this 320-page report are ‘Food security and nutrition around the world in 2020’ and ‘Transforming food systems to deliver healthy diets for all’. It contains projections for 2030, if trends of the last decade continue – considering that the second goal of the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is ‘Zero Hunger’. The report also predicts some of the impact of the global Covid-19 pandemic on food security and nutrition.


  1. Roughly 8.9 per cent of the population or 690 million people are hungry worldwide. This is 10 million more than last year, and 60 million more than five years ago. If the trend continues, this figure is expected to surpass 840 million – 9.8 per cent of the global population – by 2030.

  2. While 746 million people worldwide are facing severe ‘food insecurity’ (limited access to food due to a lack of money or other resources), more than 1.25 billion have experienced it at moderate levels. In 2019, around 25.9 per cent of the world’s human beings faced moderate and severe levels of food insecurity. Globally, and in every region, the prevalence of food insecurity is slightly higher among women than in men.

  3. In 2019, the prevalence of 'moderate' and 'severe' food insecurity was highest in Africa (51.6 and 19 per cent of the population), followed by Latin America and the Caribbean (31.7 and 9.6 per cent), Asia (22.3 and 9.2 per cent), Oceania (13.9 and 4.2 per cent) and Northern America and Europe (7.9 and 1.1 per cent).

  4. The regions with the most severe food insecurity in 2019 were Eastern Africa (24.7 per cent), Sub-Saharan Africa (21.3), Southern Africa (19.8), Southern Asia (17.8) and Western Africa (17.2).

  5. The Covid-19 pandemic may add between 83 and 132 million persons to the total number of undernourished people in the world in 2020. It is expected to increase malnutrition levels in vulnerable households through increased food insecurity, overwhelmed health systems, high infant and child morbidity, the discontinuation of community-level health activities and other causes.

  6. In 2019, 144 million or 21.3 per cent of children under 5 years were ‘stunted’ (too short for their age); 47 million or 6.9 per cent were ‘wasted’ (weighed less for their height); and 38.3 million or 5.6 per cent were overweight. Globally, 44 per cent of infants below six months of age were exclusively breastfed, receiving no additional food or drink, not even water. The report assesses malnutrition using these four indicators: childhood stunting, wasting, being overweight and exclusive breastfeeding.

  7. Apart from the health and social costs of undernutrition, poor quality diets increase the risk of death and disabilities due to non-communicable diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases, cancers and diabetes.

  8. The current global food system is responsible for 21 to 37 per cent of total greenhouse gas emissions, and so it is a major driver of climate change.

  9. The report cites four alternative healthy diet patterns to improve healthy eating and environmental sustainability: a ‘flexitarian’ diet containing small to moderate amounts of all animal source foods, a ‘pescatarian’ diet containing moderate amounts of fish but no other meat, a vegetarian diet containing moderate amounts of dairy and eggs but not fish or meat, and vegan diet which is completely plant-based. These were listed in the article Food in the Anthropocene: the EAT–Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems, published by medical journal The Lancet in February 2019.

  10. The cost of nutritious food is increasing because of reasons related to low levels of agricultural productivity, high production risks and insufficient diversification in food production; inadequate storage, poor infrastructure and limited preservation capacity in food supply chains; lack of physical access to food markets, especially for fresh fruits and vegetables; an increased demand for highly processed or ‘convenience’ foods; and trade policies, which often incentivise the domestic production of staple foods like rice and maize to the detriment of other nutritious fruits and vegetables.

  11. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, affordable and healthy diets are expected to be further out of reach for more than 3 billion people. This is because of reduced access to diverse and nutritious food, increased food losses due to strained supply chains and rising prices in the absence of ‘urgent and coordinated’ policy measures.

    Focus and Factoids by Aaira Mitra.


Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, United Nations Children Fund, World Health Organization and International Fund for Agricultural Development


Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, United Nations Children Fund, World Health Organization and International Fund for Agricultural Development


13 Jul, 2020