Issue Post

The multibillion dollar question: How much will it cost to end hunger and undernutrition?

February 23, 2018
by Shenggen Fan

World leaders have committed to ending hunger and malnutrition by 2030 as part of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Yet we are not on track to achieve the goal—in fact hunger, measured as caloric deficiency, rose in 2016 after more than a decade of impressive progress. More investments are needed to end hunger—but how much will it cost?

In a new brief from IFPRI, we explain the differences in four models and frameworks that estimate the cost of ending hunger, and one that also examines the cost of reducing undernutrition. There are multiple approaches to ending hunger through different investment packages, specific targets, measures, and policy pathways on hunger and related development goals captured in these models, leading to a wide range of costs: Estimates range from $7 billion to $265 billion per year.

As Table 1 shows, these varied approaches include ending hunger by ending poverty first (Achieving Zero Hunger from FAO IFAD and WFP); reducing hunger by improving agricultural productivity in the context of climate change (IMPACT model from IFPRI); ending hunger by targeting vulnerable households (MIRAGRODEP model from IFPRI); and reducing undernutrition through select nutrition interventions (Investment Framework for Nutrition from the World Bank). Since ending hunger is intertwined with many other SDGs, policymakers may want to invest in packages that tackle multiple development challenges at once—at a cost.


On the other hand, there are significant benefits to ending hunger and malnutrition, including increased productivity and better health, more peaceful and stable communities and households, and improved educational attainment. Some of these benefits can be expressed in economic terms, which is useful for advocacy and policy prioritization. New research from MIRAGRODEP shows that eliminating global hunger would boost global GDP by $276 billion in 2030 (2011 constant dollars), equivalent to 0.5 percent of expected total developing country GDP for 2030. For some countries severely affected by hunger today, such as Ethiopia and Zambia, the gains would range between 4 and 6 percent of national GDP. New work on modeling the cost of improving nutrition through diet change through IFPRI’s Advancing Research on Nutrition and Agriculture (ARENA) project shows promise to model the cost of improving nutrition. And a new study from Alderman and others estimates an alternate set of benefits of reducing child stunting—the authors build on previous studies and provide cost-benefit ratios using different model assumptions, with consistent results showing substantial benefits relative to costs.

We all agree that the end of hunger and malnutrition is a moral imperative. These costing models also show that ending hunger can bring about the end of other major problems in global development, and usher in numerous social and economic benefits to the world. By boosting investments, we can better strive to end hunger and malnutrition and achieve many of the interconnected SDGs.

Shenggen Fan is IFPRI's Director General.