The world's economic travails have combined with a large increase in the price of staple foods in poor countries to force the number of undernourished people to the highest level since 1970. The total has risen by at least 100 million in the last year alone.
The UN's survey of the "state of food insecurity" found the gains of the 1980s and early 1990s – when the number of hungry people fell every year – were steadily being reversed. Instead, the total is rising in both relative and absolute terms for the first time in four decades.
Five years ago, about 15 per cent of people in the developing world were undernourished, today the figure approaches 20 per cent.
This is not primarily because of poor harvests or bad weather, although drought has brought immense suffering to Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia this year. Instead, the main factor is the increase in global food prices since 2007, together with cuts in aid from wealthy countries and the loss of jobs and remittances caused by the world recession.
While retail food prices have fallen in rich countries over the last year, they have stayed high in poor nations.
"As usual, it is the poorest countries – and the poorest people – that are suffering the most," said Jacques Diouf, the head of the Food and Agriculture Organisation, and Josette Sheeran, the head of the World Food Programme, in their joint introduction to the annual study.
Staple foods in poor countries still cost more in real terms than they did before the recession. Of the 56 nations surveyed by the WFP, basic food prices in 47 were about 19 per cent higher than in 2007.
Consequently, many people simply cannot afford to feed themselves or their families, while others are forced to buy cheaper and less nutritious products.
Caroline Hurford, spokesman for the WFP, said: "The cost of food in developing countries has not come down, while the world's economic troubles have reduced employment opportunities and remittances.
"Many families have already sold off all they own to pay for food and they've been pushed into destitution as jobs disappear."
She said the only solution in the long term is to increase agricultural output and cause prices to fall by boosting the supply of food. But rich countries have steadily reduced the share of their aid budgets devoted to agriculture, from 20 per cent in 1979 to about five per cent today.
Their own economic difficulties have also caused them to cut the amount they donate to the WFP for emergency aid. This organisation has a long-standing target of feeding 10 per cent of the world's undernourished people – or 100 million this year.
It needs £4.2 billion to achieve this, but donors have provided only £1.7 so far.
"That will inevitably mean cutbacks and that's going to hurt the poor," said Ms Hurford.
The overall picture, however, is less gloomy than in the past. Four decades ago, one in three people in poor countries was undernourished – today that figure is one in five.
For a bit of "raw research" take a read here...
The countries that make up two thirds of the world's agricultural output are experiencing drought conditions. Whether you watch a video of the drought in China, Australia, Africa, South America, or the US , the scene will be the same: misery, ruined crop, and dying cattle.
With the Australian experience just across the ditch (as it were) and having seen the effects that drought was having within a very small area of a few hours drive of Cairns including the levels of the local water supply reservoirs I can appreciate in a very small way what it might be like in east Africa, or north China. Take a look at the article because it presents two (admittedly statistically invalid) global maps which outline one part of the problems involved.
However, I would guess that it is also likely source of the article in Telegraph and Herald.
Forget the emotive language for just a little and try to put this into the context I have been presenting.