Ending hunger: the role of agri-food financing

April 13, 2023


Ending hunger: the role of agri-food financing

April 13, 2023

Rory Meryon

Senior analyst, Policy & Insights team, Economist Impact

Rory Meryon is a senior analyst in the Policy & Insights team at Economist Impact, and is based in London. He previously worked at HM Treasury, the U.K. government's economic and finance ministry. Rory holds a master's degree in International Public Policy from University College London and a bachelor's degree in Biological Sciences from the University of Oxford

An estimated 150 million more people were suffering from hunger in 2021 than there had been in 2019. Reversing this worrying trend - and restoring progress towards zero hunger - will require a significant uplift in financing for agri-food systems.

Hunger is on the rise, with 150m more people affected by hunger in 2021 than in 2019 [1]. Manifold threats—including the covid-19 pandemic, war in Ukraine and escalating climate crisis—underpin this trend, which risks reversing decades of progress in the fight against world hunger. In fact, current projections estimate that nearly 670m people will face hunger in 2030 [2].

This gloomy outlook should not dissuade the international community from action [3]. “Ending hunger isn’t unattainable; it is actually quite an affordable goal,” emphasises Carin Smaller, executive director of the Shamba Centre for Food and Climate. Realising this goal will require a substantial uplift in funding, in order to strengthen the productivity, sustainability and resilience of agri-food systems worldwide. In fact, in 2020, Ceres2030 (a partnership between academia, civil society and other global partners) estimated that an additional US$33bn would need to be spent annually to end hunger sustainably by 2030 [4].

Sourcing such funds will require a shift in mindset from a myopic focus on short-term crisis response to emphasising interventions that strengthen food security in the long term. Such interventions include extension services, agricultural R&D, digital information services and small-scale irrigation expansion. Similarly, additional funding may be mobilised through the repurposing of existing agricultural support measures—many of which do little to reduce the prevalence of hunger and contribute an outsized portion of the sector’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Ending hunger: the role of agri-food financing is an Economist Impact report, sponsored by CGIAR. Drawing on our analysis of secondary data sources and interviews with experts, this report examines the role of agri-food financing in ending world hunger. It concludes with three broad strategies to increase the volume and impact of financing for agri-food systems, with the goal of accelerating progress towards zero hunger. These include:

  1. Scaling up targeted development funding in the short term; for example, through leveraging of alternative sources of development assistance and reform of international financing institutions.

  2. Realising the potential of the private sector; for example, through promotion of public-private partnerships, blended finance and digitisation.

  3. Maximising the impact of existing investment; for example, through prioritisation of investment in high-impact, low-cost interventions such as extension services, as well as allocation of development funding to geographies most in need of external assistance.

Ending world hunger is an enormous task—but by no means an impossible one. Crucially, delaying progress not only risks humanitarian tragedy today; it will also increase the overall socioeconomic costs of ending hunger in the long term. There is no time to lose.

[1] FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP and WHO. 2022. The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2022. Repurposing food and agricultural policies to make healthy diets more affordable. Rome, FAO.
[2] ibid.
[3] ibid.
[4] Laborde, D., M. Parent, and C. Smaller. 2020. Ending Hunger, Increasing Incomes, and Protecting the Climate: What Would it Cost Donors? Ceres2030: Sustainable Solutions to End Hunger. 

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