Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – How can Engineers contribute to build a zero hunger nation?

SDG 2 – Read online at:

There are many contributing disciplines to ‘end hunger campaign’ including agriculture, science, engineering, marine and ocean sciences, and education. It is agriculture, forestry, animal husbandry, and fishery that feed us to complete our nutritional needs. According to United Nation statistics, one in nine people in the world (around 815 million people) are undernourished and poor nutrition causes nearly half (45 per cent) of deaths in children under five, which amounts to 3.1 million children each year. Many questions arise – is this world with shortage of food or the hunger and malnutrition exist due to lack of access to minimum required food for survival or is it because of the deficiency in intake of nutritious food? How do Engineers contribute to stamp out hunger? and how can we do better in the future in the context of achieving Sustainable Development Goal 2 – ”Zero Hunger”, which is to end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture.

There are even fewer published articles regarding engineering and hunger, as compared to the subject of poverty. Engineering and technology can play a key role in increasing the food production and access to food. A approach such as ‘sustainable intensification’, which promotes the cautious use of agriculture inputs such as pesticides and fertilisers, climate change adaptation, reduction of greenhouse gases from agriculture, building up natural capital such as the quality of our soils, and becoming resilient is key to ensure achieving the global targets towards SDG 2 – zero hunger (RAE 2016). The use of new technologies such as GPS and mobile technology, drones and robotics starting at smaller scales can help to improve the overall increase in effectiveness and have much bigger impact in our large-scale agricultural production systems.

SDG 2 sets out five key targets and three additional targets for resource mobilisation and policy to be achieved by 2030. The five key targets are:


2.1 end hunger and ensure universal access to safe, sufficient, and nutritious food all year around.

2.2 end all forms of malnutrition and address the nutritional needs of people with specific needs such as adolescent girls, pregnant and lactating women, and older persons.

2.3 double the agricultural productivity and incomes of small-scale food producers.

2.4 ensure sustainable food production systems and implement resilient agricultural practices that increase productivity and production.

2.5 maintain the genetic diversity of seeds, cultivated plants and domesticated animals and their related wild species.

The resource mobilisation target is to increase investment to enhance agricultural productive capacity. The policy related targets are to correct and prevent trade restrictions and distortions in world agricultural markets and to adopt measures to ensure the proper functioning of food commodity markets and their derivatives, as well as facilitate timely access to market information.

The achievement of zero hunger is measured by many indicators including the following key indicators.

– Prevalence of moderate or severe food insecurity in the population

– Prevalence of stunting (short for their age), wasting (thin for their height), and underweight (thin for their age) among children under 5 years of age

– Volume of production per labour unit of farming/pastoral/forestry enterprise size

– Average income of small-scale food producers

– Proportion of agricultural area under productive and sustainable agriculture

– Number of plant and animal genetic resources for food and agriculture secured

– Proportion of local breeds classified as being at risk, not at risk

Detail indicator descriptions are available at website.

The current status of achieving SDG 2 in Sri Lanka was reported in the recent review by the Government of Sri Lanka. Household Food Insecurity Access Scale Score (HFIAS) was used to measure prevalence of moderate or severe food insecurity in the population. According to the 2013/14 baseline data, it was 9.2 on maximum score of 24 (the higher end towards 24 implies that the level of food insecurity for a household is highest). The food availability in Sri Lanka is on the rise, due to increased domestic food production, particularly after the end of war in 2009. At present, 80% of Sri Lanka’s food requirement is produced domestically and less than 20% is imported. Further, 90% of the households are food secure as per the household survey in 2014. Many parts of Sri Lanka are affected by annual severe drought and flood disasters, which make small scale farm-holders highly vulnerable and threaten the agricultural production. This scenario leads to high food insecurity among agriculture dependent families and reduce the overall agricultural productivity (linked to target 2.3.

Further, the prevalence of stunting, wasting and underweight among the children under 5 years of age, was between 15%-21% in 2016. This shows only a little variation/improvement from the 2006-7 data, hence, the current situation is not adequate enough to achieve target 2.2 that is to end all forms of malnutrition by 2030. There are some remote areas with high prevalence of malnutrition, such as Nuwaraeliya district with highest prevalence of stunting (32.4%) and underweight (29.6%) and Monaragala shows the highest level of wasting prevalence (25%). It was also reported that there are gaps in providing adequate nutrition counselling and education mainly due to lack of human resource capacities and the issue of compliance from the recipients.

The achievements of Young Engineers around the World in advancing the UN Sustainable Development Goals produced by World Federation of Engineering Organizations (WFEO) highlights two case studies that advanced the SDG 2, both of them were reported to be initiated by two Engineers who are also social entrepreneurs. The first project example is from Nepal, aimed to establish a renewable energy based, scalable, replicable and sustainable irrigation solution in the rural communities of Nepal through solar powered water pumps with an innovative financial model. The project reported to have produced over 1.7 million litres of water per day, increased crop yields, reduced labour, improved water use efficiency and doubled farmers’ revenue. Diesel consumption for irrigation has reduced by 75%, results in the families have better food security and nutrition, education and health. The second project example is introducing aquaponics systems to ensure food security in Peru. Aquaponics refer to a combination of raising fish or aquatic animals with growing of plants in water in one integrated system, in which the fish waste provides an organic food source for the plants, and the plants naturally filter the water for the fish. It can generate revenue from both fish and vegetables and also as a sustainable source of food for the community (for more about these projects, refer

The role of Engineers may come in many in direct ways in addressing the issue of hunger. The contribution with new innovative ideas in the irrigation sector, which is a critical driver of the agriculture sector in Sri Lanka and the engagement of technology improvement in agricultural practices, where new innovations can help to enhance the agriculture productivity and production yields such as the introduction of more efficient and eco-friendly mechanized equipment are some potential contribution from the Engineering sector. More research initiatives are needed to relate Engineering innovations in the agriculture sector such as the use of new technologies and artificial intelligence. Since the future direction of research becomes more inter- and trans- disciplinary, wide range of technical, economic, social and institutional issues that are integral to rural mechanization research and development interventions, make the case for adopting a more holistic approach.

Next month, we will continue with the snapshot of SDG 3: Health and wellbeing. All SDGs are well connected, and thus require a holistic view to address real development challenges. We will explore SDG 3 in the next issue of digital SLEN. Until then, let us reflect on SDG2-No Hunger and their implication to Engineering profession. Your comments on how we as Engineers can contribute to achieve SDGs can be posted in the following IESL Facebook page .




3. Achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, Engineering a better world, Royal Academy of Engineering, 2016.

4. Gass, G., Biggs, S., & Kelly, A. (1997). Stakeholders, science and decision making for poverty-focused rural mechanization research and development. World development25(1), 115-126.

5. Wong K. Global Goals and Contributing Disciplines in Higher Education, With a Focus on Sustainable Engineering. ASME. J. Energy Resources Technology. 2016; 138(3):034701-034701-4. doi:10.1115/1.4032426.

Eng. Saja A.A. Majeed
Lecturer, Faculty of Engineering,
South Eastern University of Sri Lanka.
PhD Scholar, Science and Engineering Faculty,
Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia.