Framing Hunger: A Response to SOFI 2012

Framing Hunger: A Response to SOFI 2012

A critique of 'The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2012' report and estimates, by a group of hunger researchers led by Frances Moore Lappe and Jennifer Clapp.

March 2013

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) created a stir last October with its revised estimates of global hunger. After revising the methodology used in its annual State of Food Insecurity (SOFI) reports, the FAO reported that the number of hungry had not surpassed one billion following the 2008 food price spikes. Indeed, the new estimates showed barely an upward blip. Moreover, new trend lines based on revised estimates of past hunger suggested significant progress in reducing the incidence of hunger.

"New estimates show that progress in reducing hunger during the past 20 years has been better than previously believed," the FAO concluded, "and .  given renewed efforts, it may be possible to reach the MDG hunger target [of halving world hunger] at the global level by 2015."

Now, a group of hunger researchers led by Frances Moore Lappe and Jennifer Clapp, and including GDAE's Timothy A. Wise, have published a detailed critique of the SOFI 2012 estimates and report. "Framing Hunger: A Response to 'The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2012'," offers recommendations to the FAO as much in relation to the presentation of its hunger estimates as on the methodology itself.  Key recommendations include:

  • The estimate represents a lower-bound because it is based on food availability and the caloric requirements required only to lead a "sedentary lifestyle." A less restrictive FAO threshold leads to an estimate of 1.33 billion hungry in the world rather than SOFI 2012's widely cited 868 million.
  • The words hunger, food insecurity, and chronic undernourishment are used interchangeably, but the FAO methodology is designed to estimate the latter: undernourishment lasting more than one year.
  • Partly for this reason, the methodology is poorly designed to capture the hunger impacts of short-duration events such as food price spikes.
  • The focus on global hunger masks wide regional variation. In fact, progress in China and Vietnam alone account for more than 90% of the estimated reductions in the number of hungry people in the world. National success stories - Ghana, Brazil - are lost in the global estimates, as are countries and regions in crisis.
  • SOFI 2012 implies that a return to pre-recession economic growth will allow the world to resume progress in reducing hunger, but this obscures the many other enabling government policies that are needed to harness growth to guarantee the right to food.

"Framing Hunger" has already prompted a very productive dialogue with FAO officials, who share the goal of improving the measurement and eradication of hunger.

Read "Framing Hunger" from the Small Planet Institute, by Frances Moore Lappé, Jennifer Clapp, Molly Anderson, Richard Lockwood, Thomas Forster, Danielle Nierenberg, Harriet Friedmann, Thomas Pogge, Dominique Caouette, Wayne Roberts, Timothy A. Wise, Sophia Murphy, Brother David Andrews, Susan H. Holcombe, Robin Broad, Ellen Messer, and Christina Schiavoni.

View the Small Planet Institute fact sheet "World Hunger: Mainstream Messages & What We Need To Know".


CROP News and Events

Poverty as Ideology: Rescuing Social Justice from Global Development Agendas

August 2019

OPEN ACCESS PUBLICATION: Book by Andrew Fischer, Institute of Social Studies (ISS), winner of the International Studies in Poverty Prize awarded by CROP and Zed Books

The SDGS, Inequality and Aid Eligibility – Should the Criteria be Re-visited?

June 2019

CROP POVERTY BRIEF 51: by Riina Pilke (University of Turku).


May 2019

This report presents CROP's activities for the period January-December 2018.

News from CROPNET

Launch and Workshop Event: CALL FOR PROPOSALS (Deadline 15 July)

Friday 18 October 2019

‘Putting Children First: New Frontiers in the Fight Against Child Poverty in Africa’ Institute of Development Studies (IDS), Brighton, UK

The Breakthrough of the Social: Practical Utopias, Wisdom and Radical Transformations - Social work

2-6 September 2019 | Dubrovnik, Croatia

CONFERENCE commemorating 30 years of social work courses at the Inter-university centre (IUC).

EADI ISS Conference 2020

29 June - 2 July 2020 | The Hague, Netherlands

CALL FOR PANELS: Solidarity, Peace and Social Justice (deadline 6 September)