Caucasus and Central Asia halve undernourishment

By bne IntelliNews July 31, 2015

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The Caucasus and Central Asia have managed to halve undernourishment levels since the delicate transition from a state economy to a market economy that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations highlighted in its latest report on global food security.

“After a difficult transition in the early 1990s, often characterised by political instability and economic austerity, economic conditions have improved significantly and the political situation has stabilised,” the report reads. “This progress has translated into lower hunger burdens throughout the region.”

The proportion of undernourished in the total population fell to the current 7% from over 14% in the region in the early 1990s, the report shows. In absolute figures, the number of undernourished people fell to 5.8mn, from 9.6mn soon after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

At the same time, the FAO report says progress on reducing the incidence of hunger from the 1990-1992 baseline has been slow in Central Asia. The Caucasus countries – Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia – and Kazakhstan achieved the Millennium Development Goal target of halving the proportion of undernourished (PoU) people, with undernourishment at less than 5% as early as 2006, but Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan achieved this goal in 2014-2016, it said. “Indeed, most countries have attained PoU levels close to, or below, the 5% threshold.”

However, Tajikistan and Mongolia still have a serious undernourishment problem.

“The prevalence of undernourishment in Tajikistan was estimated at 28.1% in 1990-1992, climbing to 33.2% in 2014-2016,” the report says. “Civil war (1992-1997) and rapid population growth (5.5mn in 1991 to 8.2mn today) influenced these results.”

Further East, Mongolia is also struggling to close the gap with a current PoU of 20.5%, from 29.9% in the early 90s.

The region has already attained a high level of dietary energy supply (DES), the average total number of calories available per person. All countries of the region except one have a DES above 2,500 calories per person per day. The average calorie availability is 2,885, quite close to the world average of 2,902, the report said.

Again, in Tajikistan, the average dietary energy supply reached 97% of the level recommended for a healthy life: “Thus, overall in the region, food availability measured in average calorie availability is not of concern and the country that has not reached the level – Tajikistan – is also making progress,” the report concludes.

The average dietary energy supply is calculated as the caloric equivalent of food available to the population per day divided by the population, FAO explained. It thus depends partially on the domestic production of food. In the region the average value of food production has been steadily increasing over the past 15 years. Between 2000-02 and 2011-13, the value of food production per capita in the CCA countries increased by 41%, more than double the rate of global agricultural growth, the report notes.

FAO singles out Georgia and Tajikistan where the value of food production per capita is very low, much below the world average of $331 per capita and the average for developing countries of $272.

Child malnutrition is also concern in many countries in the region, the report says. “Though underweight (low weight for age) and stunting (low height for age) have improved dramatically in the region, a stunting rate of 18% (2010) in the CCA countries is quite high. Some of the countries where stunting for children under 5 is particularly high are Azerbaijan (26.8% in 2006), Tajikistan (26.2% in 2012) and Kyrgyzstan (17.7% in 2013).”

In addition to stunting, an “alarming level” of anaemia in children under 5 across the region is observed in Armenia (34.4%), Azerbaijan (35.2%), Kyrgyzstan (35.8%) and Uzbekistan (43.2%). It has also been quite high in Georgia and Tajikistan (26-28%). The prevalence of anaemia among pregnant women in the region has been steadily decreasing since 1990, but it still remains high in Armenia (27.6%), Azerbaijan (30.7%), Kyrgyzstan (29.9%), Tajikistan (27.8%), Turkmenistan (31.8%) and Uzbekistan (34.8%).

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