More to do on Measuring Hunger

Written by Joachim De Weerdt, Kathleen Beegle, Jed Friedman and John Gibson on VOX EU

“One of the first Millennium Development Goals is to reduce hunger by half between 1990 and 2015. To date, the global hunger count has fallen slightly, from 1 billion in 1990–1992 to 870 million in 2010–2012 (Food and Agriculture Organization 2013). As a proportion of the world’s population, this is just a one-third fall in the hunger rate, from 19% to 13%. In contrast, the other highly visible Millennium Development Goal – reducing extreme poverty by half – was achieved by 2010.

The failure of the hunger rate to fall as fast as poverty undoubtedly has many causes. Increased volatility of world food prices and the damaging responses by some countries hardly help (Rocha et al. 2012). But researchers also are starting to study measurement issues – the methodology for measuring the hungry differs from that for measuring the poor.

The Food and Agriculture Organization measures hunger by combining aggregate Food Balance Sheets (FBS) for every country with selected household survey estimates of the inter-household variance in calorie availability. Using an assumed distribution, with the mean calorie availability from the FBS and the variance from the surveys, the population falling below calorie requirements is estimated. This ‘top-down’ method has been criticised by researchers (e.g. De Haen et al. 2011), and contrasts with the ‘bottom-up’ approach of the World Bank, where global poverty counts are constructed directly from household surveys.”

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