The Road to Ending World Hunger

Paving the Way with Data

The Data For Good Initiative is a series of data visualization articles focused on the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals. This analysis addresses Goal #2, which is to “end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.”

These interactive data visualizations are created by analyzing hundreds of complex data sets gathered from government agencies and social organizations. The analysis aims to facilitate a data-driven discussion of potential solutions to the sustainable development goals and potential solutions, while encouraging readers to interact with the data. Despite improved food production, the fight to eradicate hunger is far from over. The United Nations created the Sustainable Development Goals to “end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all.” Their second goal is to end hunger by 2050.

The world produces enough food to feed its total population of 7.4 billion, but there are still hungry people. In fact, the number of chronically undernourished people rose in 2016* from 777 million to 815 million.1 And the majority of people going hungry live in developing countries, where 12.9% of the population is undernourished. Despite our ability to produce enough food to feed the world, there are many barriers to end world hunger, including political instability, famine, natural disasters, and other threats to food security.

Using data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the Global Nutrition Index, the World Bank, the United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service, and the International Food Policy Research Institute, we compared nations’ GDP and their hunger index score to a variety of possible indicators including access to water, the availability of arable land, access to electricity, refrigeration, and more. While there are many other facets affecting hunger, the most clear distinguishing indicator was the nation’s wealth.

It is no surprise that world hunger is clearly delineated by high-income and low-income countries. But in this analysis, we also concluded that all individual indicators of hunger (such as availability of refrigeration, electricity, and railways) also map back to the wealth of each nation. As such, world hunger is not simply solved with just food. World hunger can be solved by addressing infrastructural inadequacies, and these points can be addressed with help from global investment.

Data: Narrowing Down the Differences

Given our hypothesis, we looked at a variety of different indicators to find unique and interesting connections relating to hunger. We first looked at natural resources that may contribute to a country’s food production and their hunger index score.* The results of our research didn’t show us any strong correlations between available arable land and the cereal yield (which includes wheat, rice, barley, oats, and other grains), showing that usable land isn’t a determining factor in the crop yield. Comparing arable land to the global hunger index gives us similar conclusions.

*The hunger index scores the number of kilocalories needed to meet adequate calorie intake per person per day. A high hunger index score indicates a large daily caloric shortage.

We also looked at access to improved water sources, which are water sources that are protected from contamination, to determine if water was a large factor in food production and hunger index scores. Water is clearly a main component of agricultural success, and access to improved water sources removes a large obstacle for success.

The largest indicator for the hunger index and cereal yield was the country’s GDP. Countries with higher GDPs almost always had lower hunger index scores and higher cereal yields. All the other smaller data sets that we looked at led us back to this main fact: wealthier countries simply produced more food and have less hungry people.

Show Visualization

How to Use: Use the dropdown menu to select a country or set of countries to view the corresponding chart or simply click on the map to select your desired country. You can also customize the chart data by selecting or deselecting parameters on the legend, or changing the scale on the x and y axis. Using the button in the upper right-hand corner of the chart, you can download the chart as an image, add annotations, or download the raw data.

About the Data: We collected data from the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, the World Bank, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the International Food Policy Research Institute, and the United States Department of Agriculture in 2000–2016 (depending on available data and context) to compile these charts. The interactive map uses the 2016 hunger index data.

The top and bottom countries are ranked by the hunger index score, over each year. The "top" countries are the least hungry countries and the "bottom" countries are the most hungry countries by hunger index, per year.

*Correlation does not prove or imply causation.

Analysis: Looking at All the Indicators

While additional indicators all lead back to our basic premise that high-income countries have higher crop yields, we found some unique connections. For example, access to electricity has a strong a correlation to cereal yields and the hunger index.

Access to electricity plays a large role in farming. It powers water pumps for adequate irrigation, fuels equipment to speed up the process, helps farms rely less on manual labor, and extends work hours beyond natural daylight.

Refrigeration also plays a large part in food preservation, allowing the population to eat more nutritious foods with shorter shelf lives. Countries with access to refrigeration were more likely to have smaller calorie deficits.

Countries with extensive railway systems also have a low hunger index score, because they can easily distribute food to their population. It’s difficult, however, to separate the influence of smaller indicators such as these and the connection between these indicators and a high GDP. Counties with more railways are likely wealthier, so isolating the influence is nearly impossible without more-specific data.

Discussion: Assessing Possible Solutions

Low-income countries are more at risk for food security concerns, such as low crop yields, droughts, natural disasters, and more. Without the proper infrastructure, such as electricity for water pumps and farming machinery, food preservation capabilities, and reliable food distribution, there are few actions they can take should something go wrong. Without reliable infrastructure, low-income countries cannot feed their populations on their own.

In order to build the infrastructure necessary to maximize food yield produced by each piece of farmland, we need global economic investment. A global tax could be a potential solution to this, similar to CO2 taxing initiatives aimed at curbing climate change.

Advanced farming practices minimize the amount of gas emissions released into the air as a result. However, not everyone takes advantage of these practices, which results in the unnecessary release of harmful gases into the air.

In order to encourage environmentally-friendly farming practices, and to collect funds to improve farming practices in low-income countries, we propose a tax on methane and nitrous oxide emissions (notably caused by agriculture) for middle- and high-income countries.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, and the World Food Programme have outlined varied approaches to end world hunger by 2030. They believe this can be accomplished by 2030 with the injection of US$265 billion into poverty gap transfers and pro-poor public investment in irrigation, genetic resources, mechanization, agriculture processing, infrastructure, institutions, and agricultural R&D.7

At the current emissions rate, an income of $265,710,002,600 per year could be produced with the following tax scheme:

The standard unit for measuring carbon footprints. The idea is to express the impact of each different greenhouse gas in terms of the amount of CO2 that would create the same amount of warming.

The money would then be used to improve farming practices in low-income countries to reduce hunger around the world. As a secondary benefit, the cost of the proposed tax is likely to encourage farming practices that are less harmful on the environment.


In our analysis we found that infrastructure (electricity, railways, and refrigeration) along with GDP is more impactful than environmental factors like arable land. This is positive since funding and infrastructure can be influenced by the global community while natural resources cannot.

We recognize that a global tax is an oversimplified solution that doesn’t take into account political and practical concerns regarding monitoring, collecting, and distributing funds. However, the point is that we have the means as a global community to solve food insecurity in every nation and reduce harm to the environment.

Taking advantage of new data platform technologies that allow data from various sources and of various formats (structured and unstructured – such as graph and text) allows us to analyze data more deeply and easily than before. That way, we can make decisions based on facts and improve the future of global hunger and other UN Sustainable Development Goals. If you would like to see an in-depth review of how this data was compiled, analyzed, and presented as an article, a summary can be found here.

The insights in this article were brought to you by data analyzed and modeled with the SAP HANA database.


Goal 3: Good Health and Well-Being