In recent decades, there has been some improvement in the global hunger situation. The proportion of undernourished people has been reduced from one-fifth to one-sixth over the past 20 years (UN Millenium Project) while the number of underweight children in the developing world declined from 162.2 million to 135.5 million between 1990 and 2000.While this progress is important, it is not enough to achieve the targets that the international community has set for itself as a part of Millennium Development Goal 1: halving, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people who suffer from hunger. Understanding the relationship between hunger and learning requires a long-term perspective: what happens in one generation affects the next. Interventions can be identified to reverse the vicious cycle of hunger and reduced learning and create a virtuous one. Best practices demonstrate different patterns depending on the age:
To ensure that children reach the proper birthweight and are adequately nourished in infancy, a range of interventions can be considered: food supplementation; antenatal care (including health services and advice); exclusive breastfeeding for six months; and post-natal care (including immunizations and advice). The importance of stimulation also needs to be emphasized as postnatal clinics and in early childhood development programmes.
At this stage of a child’s development, interventions aimed at increasing access to education must shift the balance between the costs and the benefits of schooling. There are several ways to offset the opportunity costs of sending children to school, depending on the context: school feeding, take home rations, cash transfer and reduced fees (combined with investments in education infrastructure and capacity). Once in school, feeding programmes can also help children concentrate and learn. Children benefiting from education will become adults with more skills, ability and openness. While at school, they can also acquire skills and knowledge about hunger and development related challenges, including HIV/AIDS, sanitation and hygiene.
Learning at this stage creates opportunities to acquire and apply skills and knowledge that lead to increased agricultural production, higher incomes, better nutritional practices, and improved health and sanitation. This knowledge feeds back into improved conditions for the next generation. Adult can be motivated to take advantage of opportunities by offering economically-relevant training and by providing take home rations.