Skip to main content

Research plays an important role in achieving Zero Hunger


Delphine Larrousse

Senior Program Officer, IDRC

Laura Husak

Program Management Officer

Adrian Di Giovanni

Senior program specialist, IDRC

After a prolonged decline, the estimated number of undernourished people globally actually increased to 815 million in 2016 — affecting 38 million more people than in 2015 — according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Multiple forms of malnutrition coexist, with countries experiencing simultaneously high rates of child undernutrition, anemia among women, and adult obesity. The impact of malnutrition also reaches beyond global health, with negative repercussions on the economy, the environment, and migration.

The FAO’s The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World report warns that the trend of declining rates of undernourishment is at risk of being reversed, in large part due to the increased number of ongoing conflicts and the adverse impact of climate change. These and other findings will be explored at a jointly hosted IDRC and FAO event on November 27, when an expert panel will gather to discuss Canadian perspectives on the key findings of the report’s 2017 edition.

Achieving the UN’s second Sustainable Development Goal, Zero Hunger, by 2030 is a driver of The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World. IDRC-supported research on fortifying food, reducing drudgery, diversifying diets, and securing land rights is building the evidence that policymakers, markets, farmers, and consumers need to take action toward this goal.

Investing in women to prevent food loss and increase incomes

Preventing food losses is increasingly recognized as a quick win for Zero Hunger. IDRC Senior Program Specialist Jemimah Njuki says “About 80% of this food loss happens during harvesting and storage. And studies across most African countries show that women provide the majority of the labour for harvesting and storage. This is where investing in women can make a difference.” For example, solar tent dryers reduce the time needed to dry fish while protecting the fish from contaminants such as flies and dust. This innovation not only frees up time for women to take up other work, but with access to financial credit they can also invest in more efficient fish processing, thereby increasing incomes and the quality of nutritious fish as a source of protein and nutrients.

Boosting nutrition for all

Maximizing agriculture's contribution to nutrition is necessary to address multiple burdens of stunting and wasting, and overweight and obesity, which increasingly coexist within households and countries.

IDRC’s investments in pulses is increasing dietary diversity and micronutrients for tens of thousands of people. The Centre is also investing in research to address micronutrient deficiencies. In India, a staggering 56% of women of childbearing age and 70% of children are affected by anemia, which is largely due to iron deficiency. To tackle anemia, researchers in Canada and India developed a method to double-fortify salt with iodine and iron — a potential game-changer in India that is being manufactured at scale and reaching more than 15 million rural people.

Securing land rights for smallholder farmers

Land rights provide the basis for food security for the most vulnerable, yet large-scale land acquisitions have dramatically increased in Africa. Experience has shown that even when communities welcome outside investment, they can face a number of potentially destabilizing risks such as expropriation, reduced access, or displacement from lands; loss of livelihoods and cultural heritage; and increased conflict brought on by competition for land.

Findings from IDRC-supported research on land rights in 10 countries show that many communities are unaware of their rights, are left out of land concession-granting processes, or have little power to advocate for fair compensation. This is particularly true for communities that manage land use and ownership through customary rules, and have no formal legal title to their lands. Women are often disadvantaged under both formal legal frameworks and customary land governance, which is a barrier to their agricultural productivity. IDRC-supported research is developing better evidence on how to work most effectively within both of these systems to protect women’s rights.

Achieving Zero Hunger

The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World sends a clear message that Zero Hunger is one of the greatest challenges we face on a global level. Meeting this challenge by 2030 requires a diversity of approaches supported by research-based evidence that addresses all of the factors that undermine food security. IDRC’s investments in research focused on agriculture, food security, climate change, conflict, and women’s participation in the economy make important contributions to attaining Zero Hunger, but the true test lies in how they will be applied as part of a common and larger effort to ensure food security and nutrition for all.

Delphine Larrousse is a senior program officer for the Canadian International Food Security Research Fund at IDRC.

Laura Husak is a program management officer for IDRC’s Agriculture and Food Security program.

Adrian Di Giovanni is a senior program specialist for IDRC’s Governance and Justice program.