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Rome (AFP) – The number of world hungry has dropped to one in eight people, making the goal of halving hunger by 2015 possible despite continued problems in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia, the UN food agency said Tuesday.

At the global level, 842 million people — 12 percent of the world’s population — did not have enough food for an active and healthy life, down from 868 million for the period 2010 to 2012.

The Rome-based Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) said it now appeared possible to attain the United Nations Millenium Development Goal of halving world hunger from its 1990 level by 2015.

A FAO report said the main reasons were higher economic growth in developing countries, an increase in farm productivity rates and more private and public investments in agriculture.

It also said that remittances from emigrants, which have risen to three times higher than development aid globally, were helping improve diets in countries like Bangladesh and Tajikistan.

“With a final push in the next couple of years, we can still reach the MDG target,” FAO director Jose Graziano da Silva said, along with the heads of the UN rural poverty and UN food aid agencies.

“Policies aimed at enhancing agricultural productivity and increasing food availability, especially when smallholders are targeted, can achieve hunger reduction even where poverty is widespread,” they said in the report.

The report said 62 countries have already reached the target of halving the proportion of hunger.

Despite overall progress, marked differences across regions persist, the report said.

“Africa remains the region with the highest prevalence of undernourishment, with more than one in five people estimated to be undernourished,” it found.

Sub-Saharan Africa is currently performing the worst on the hunger scale, though there has been some improvement over the last two decades, with hunger declining from 32.7 percent to 24.8 percent.

In terms of numbers rather than percentages, Southern Asia had the highest number of undernourished people — 295 million — followed by Sub-Saharan Africa with 223 million and Eastern Asia with 167 million, the report said.

Progress in Northern Africa, which has been impacted by the economic fall-out from the Arab Spring revolutions, has been slow.

Western Asia meanwhile showed no progress in tackling undernourishment: while there are fewer people going hungry here than in other parts of the region, the level of undernourishment has risen steadily since the 1990 to 1992 period.

The FAO said there had, however, been significant reductions in the estimated number of people going hungry in Latin America and Eastern Asia.

The most rapid progress was recorded in fast-growing economies of South-Eastern Asia, where since 1990 the proportion of hungry people has dropped from 31.1 percent to 10.7 percent.

“Those that have experienced conflict during the past two decades are more likely to have seen significant setbacks in reducing hunger,” FAO said.

“Landlocked countries face persistent challenges in accessing world markets, while countries with poor infrastructure and weak institutions face additional constraints,” it added.

As a whole, FAO said the total number of undernourished in developing countries had fallen since 1990-1992 by 17 percentage points from 995.5 million to the current level of 826.6 million.

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