Improved agricultural productivity, especially by small and family farmers, leads to important gains in hunger and poverty reduction. High performers on that front in Africa met the MDG hunger target while those that made slower progress did not REUTERS

The number of hungry people in the world has dropped to 795 million from 1,011 million in 1990-92, according to the latest annual UN hunger report.

The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2015 – SOFI released in Rome on 27 May, notes that improved agricultural productivity, inclusive growth and expansion of social protection were the main reasons for this drop in hunger.

In the developing regions, the prevalence of undernourishment declined to 12.9% of the population, down from 23.3% a quarter of a century ago, reports SOFI 2015.

The report published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP) lauded the efforts of Africa, in particular western Africa, in achieving their MDG hunger target.

Best and worst

Severe food insecurity is close to being eradicated in North Africa.

However, sub-Saharan Africa is the region with the highest prevalence of undernourishment in the world – at 23.2%, or almost one in every four people.

Surprisingly, in southern Asia the burden of hunger was high with the notable exceptions of Bangladesh and Nepal.

India has the second-highest estimated number of undernourished people in the world. It is missing from the list of countries that have achieved or are close to achieving hunger targets.

Undernourishment in the southern Asia region has declined only modestly to 15.7% from 23.9%, despite progress in reducing underweight among young children.

A majority – 72 out of 129 – of the countries monitored by FAO have achieved the Millennium Development Goal target of halving the prevalence of undernourishment by 2015 and 29 countries, including Nepal, have met the more ambitious goal laid out at the World Food Summit in 1996, when governments committed to halving the absolute number of undernourished people by 2015.

"The near-achievement of the MDG hunger targets shows us that we can indeed eliminate the scourge of hunger in our lifetime. We must be the Zero Hunger generation. That goal should be mainstreamed into all policy interventions and at the heart of the new sustainable development agenda to be established this year," said FAO Director General José Graziano da Silva.

Large reductions in hunger were achieved in East Asia and very fast progress was posted in Latin America and the Caribbean, southeast and central Asia.

India figures puzzle

India with the highest estimated number of undernourished people in any single country, at an estimated 195 million, or about one in every four, posed a puzzle over lack of progress.

Explanations offered for the inconsistency between food consumption and income levels in India ranged from increasing inequalities, to poor data, to the challenges of capturing the changing energy requirements of the population. Low calorie consumption remained inexplicable, the report noted.

In comparison, China's achievements dominate the overall performance of Eastern Asia. The country saw a two-thirds reduction in the number of undernourished people during the period.

Progress towards fully achieving the 2015 food security targets was mostly hampered by challenging global economic conditions and extreme weather events, political instability and civil strife.

Many African countries still face food crises, twice as many as in 1990; around one of every five of the world's undernourished lives in crisis environments.