Improving access to safe and nutritious food is fundamental to ensuring the prospects of future generations. Children who are properly nourished during the first 1,000 days of their lives are 33% more likely to escape poverty as adults. Yet, currently 151 million children under the age of 5 have experienced chronic malnutrition. This represents an immense loss of individual and economic potential.

After many years of progress, the absolute number of undernourished people has actually increased in recent years, from 784 million in 2015 to 821 million in 2017. More than 2 billion people lack the micronutrients needed for growth, development and disease prevention And, over 2 billion people suffer from the adverse health effects of being overweight or obese.  

The widespread incidence of microbiological, chemical or other food safety hazards in food also continues to be a serious issue for the food system. There are some 600 million cases of foodborne illness globally each year—and children and poor people bear the brunt of this burden. Unsafe food not only represents a serious public health concern, but it also negatively impacts the incomes of farmers, the livelihoods of food vendors and the continuity of business and trade. 

Poor nutrition and food-borne illness both impose large current and future human, economic, social and fiscal costs on countries. Reducing these costs requires multi-sectoral approaches: There is great potential for effective interventions throughout the food system.

With the right investments and resources, agriculture and food systems can provide adequate, affordable, safe and nutritious food to everyone, everywhere, every day.  


The World Bank Group works with partners to build food systems that can feed everyone, everywhere, every day by improving food security, promoting ‘nutrition-sensitive agriculture’ and improving food safety. The Bank is a leading financier of food systems: In Fiscal Year 2018, there was US$ 6.8 billion in new IBRD/IDA commitments to agriculture and related sectors.

Activities include:

  • Promoting farming systems that use climate-smart techniques, and produce a more diverse mix of foods, to increase farm incomes and enable greater availability and affordability of nutrient-dense foods
  • Improving supply chains to reduce post-harvest food losses, improve hygiene in food distribution channels, and better link production and consumption centers
  • Supporting investments in research and development which enable increasing the micronutrient content of foods and raw materials.
  • Advocating for policy and regulatory reforms to improve the efficiency and integration of domestic food markets and reduce barriers to food trade.
  • Working with the private sector, government, scientists and others to strengthen capacities to assess and manage food safety risks in low and middle-income countries
  • Strengthening safety nets to ensure that vulnerable families have access to food and water
  • Applying an integrated One Health approach to managing risks associated with animal, human and environmental health.
  • Delivering expedited emergency support: In response to the 2017 food emergencies in several African countries and Yemen, the Bank delivered a financial package of more than US$ 1.6 billion to build social safety net programs, strengthen community resilience and deliver emergency food and water assistance.
  • Engaging in policy dialogue and coordinated activities with countries and development partners to address food security challenges. Instruments include rapid country diagnosticsand data-based monitoring instruments and partnerships such as the Agriculture Market Information System, the Famine Early Action Mechanism and the Agriculture Observatory.
  • Supporting long-term global food security programsThe Bank houses the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP), a multi-stakeholder partnership that pools development assistance resources and uses a common framework to selectively allocate them to where they are most needed, effective and catalytic, in line with country priorities and private sector opportunities. Since May 2010, the GAFSP Public Sector Window has allocated $1.2 billion to 48 projects in 31 countries and the Private Sector Window has deployed approximately $311 million to support 61 agribusiness investment projects in 27 countries.
  • The Bank also supports the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) which advances agriculture science and innovation to boost food and nutrition security globally.

Selected Results:

In Bangladesh until 2016, a World Bank project, increased the agricultural productivity of selected crops (rice, wheat, lentil, mung, and mustard), livestock (dairy cows, chicken, and ducks), and fisheries (tilapia, koi, and pangus) in economically depressed areas that are vulnerable to impacts of climate change. The project increased the generation and dissemination of new improved varieties, including 3,500 tons of certified seeds of rice, wheat, maize, pulses, and oilseeds.

In Rwanda, a program on land husbandry, water harvesting, and hillside irrigation aimed to better manage rainfall in watersheds to prevent hillside erosion. The program reached over 300,000 farmers through farmers’ organizations, erosion control, productivity enhancement, and policies which increased farmers’ access to finance. Nutrition training and the construction of over 54,000 kitchen gardens has also upgraded the quality of people’s diets in project areas, the percentage of households with quality food consumption increased from 71% in 2012 to 83% in 2018.   

In Samoa, which has some of the world’s highest rates of diabetes and heart disease, a Bank-supported project is working to improve agriculture and health outcomes. The program has increased fruit and vegetable yields and strengthened the connections between local farmers to markets. The percentage of locally produced fruit and vegetables sold domestically increased ten-fold between 2012 and 2018. The government’s “eat the rainbow” campaign also promotes healthy eating.

In Uganda, GAFSP funding is increasing the production and consumption of micronutrient-rich foods, including African indigenous vegetables, high-iron beans, and orange-flesh sweet potatoes. In addition, 60,000 people are receiving improved nutritional services, including deworming, cookery demonstrations, handwashing information, antenatal services, health talks on a variety of nutrition topics, and growth monitoring promotion.

In 2016, a livestock competitiveness and food safety project in Vietnam helped 105,000 people raise healthier livestock. About 11,000 livestock producer households adopted safer animal husbandry practices leading to a significant decrease in pig and poultry mortality rates (25%). In addition, 240 slaughterhouses and 381 wet markets have been upgraded and their operators trained, providing more hygienic pork and poultry meat to hundreds of thousands of consumers.

In Yemen, a World Bank project implemented by the FAO and funded by the GAFSP is providing poor Yemeni families with seeds, poultry and other inputs to resume agricultural production and increase income and nutrition.

Last Updated: Oct 25, 2018