How did the Dominican Republic reduce hunger figures?
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) published its annual report: The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2022. It reaffirmed that the hunger situation is dire at the global and regional levels.
The document, a joint publication of FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP, and WHO, shows that of the total number of hungry people worldwide in 2021 (768 million), Latin America and the Caribbean will account for 7.4%, some 56.5 million people.
According to forecasts, some 670 million people will still suffer from hunger in 2030, or 8% of the world’s population—the exact figure as in 2015, when the 2030 Agenda was launched.
In contrast to these figures, the Dominican Republic significantly reduced levels of undernourishment (hunger) in the last year. Despite the pandemic, the country reports an undernourishment prevalence of 6.7% for 2021, while in the previous period (2018-2020), that figure was 8.3%.
This translates into a 1.6 percentage point reduction in undernourishment prevalence—a significant achievement for the Dominican Republic in the face of the current global food crisis.
But why did this happen? The answer is the impact of public policies on the most vulnerable groups in strategic sectors.
This indicator of undernourishment that we have called “hunger” refers to the Sustainable Development Goal #2 indicator on food availability, which measures the proportion of a country’s population with a level of dietary energy consumption below the dietary energy requirements. In our case, this minimum energy requirement is 2,889 kilocalories per person per day.
That is to say, the part of the population that cannot access enough food to cover their energy demands, allowing them to lead a healthy and active life for a year, was reduced from 900 thousand to 700 thousand people. In other words, 200 thousand families escaped the scourge of hunger. This is mainly explained by the increased resources and public policies to ensure the population’s access to basic foodstuffs.
Two critical aspects of this formula are the increase in the availability of food and the mechanisms for distribution and access to food.
The agricultural sector continued to operate and receive direct assistance from the Dominican State, maintaining stable availability of essential foodstuffs for the diet and considerable increases in the production of rice, onion, sweet potato, and cassava, among others. The above, accompanied by credit policies that facilitated national production over consumption to remain above 80%, both in 2020 and 2021.
Another highlight was the per capita consumption of agricultural products, which increased by 6% when comparing the three years 2019 – 2021 to 2016 – 2018, despite the impact of the pandemic. In addition, substantial growth in the consumption of eggs (30%); legumes, such as beans and pigeon peas (14%); and fruits (11%). This, in turn, shows an apparent trend towards diversification of the Dominican diet beyond calorie consumption.
On the other hand, the expansion of the school breakfast to a complete feeding program, together with the extended school day (breakfast, snack, and lunch), and the government’s decision to continue with the School Feeding Program even with the closure of classrooms, contributed to a better distribution of food. This allowed parents or guardians to obtain school rations for their children during the most critical time of pandemic confinement.
Similarly, the social protection programs, today SUPÉRATE, which incorporated new families into the food subsidy, reached more than 1.5 million, including the increase in the monetary amount of the complementary subsidies of this program. All this was accompanied by the action of civil society organizations, such as the food bank, churches, and other actors, which functioned as food distribution and collection centers.
However, we currently have another crisis: the rising cost of living. We cannot let our guard down. The current food crisis will continue to affect all countries, so today, more than ever, we must continue to work together. The risk of worsening levels of obesity and overweight is very high due to the replacement of healthy diets with diets based on ultra-processed foods. SOFI data show that 7.6% of children under five years of age in the Dominican Republic suffer from overweight and 5.9% from chronic malnutrition, figures above regional rates.
In this sense, it is necessary to support national agricultural production and advance in targeting financial support exclusively for small farmers, providing them with technical assistance for financial management. We also consider it essential to initiate the discussion on the Family Farming Law to guide public policies and state programs.
These positive results, which show the reduction of the SDG2 hunger indicator, confirm that targeted support is the way forward and remind us that the goal is eradicating hunger in the Dominican Republic.
The author is the FAO representative in the country.