Eliminating hunger and malnutrition, and achieving wider global food security is imposing enormous challenges on the world’s policy agenda. A combination of factors are disrupting the balance of the global food supply – rising population, price volatility, energy crisis, water scarcity, climate change and political instability. Unless we change how we grow our food and manage our natural capital, slowly but surely industrial civilisation will essentially collapse due to catastrophic food shortages.
The effects of global warming and climate change are the leading causes of food shortages. Recent years show increasing temperatures in various regions causing extremities in weather patterns, resulting in storms becoming more volatile and droughts becoming more severe. Some of the weather conditions that are associated with climate change are extreme cold, extreme heat, and excessive amounts of rain and snow. The land, biodiversity, oceans, forests, and other forms of natural capital are being depleted at unprecedented rates. These conditions will have a devastating effect on crop production around the world. A report by the Washington International Food Policy Research Institute predicts by 2050, irrigated wheat yields will fall by 30 per cent in developing countries, while prices will be pushed up to 121 per cent.
Another clear indication that a food crisis is imminent is that the global population is growing at an alarming rate. The United Nations records that each day 200,000 more people are added to the world food demand. The World Bank states the world needs to produce at least 50% more food to feed 9 billion people by 2050. Richer diets will also mean higher meat intake imposing greater strain on energy, cereal and water. This is on top of a longer-term crisis of agriculture and food that has already left billions hungry and malnourished especially in the deprived countries.
The price spike in 2007-2008 has continued to create economic uncertainties. For almost two decades, production has grown at a slower rate than population growth. Consumers are now paying more for basic staples and this is having the hardest impact on poorer nations. With increased demand from developing economies that rely on exports and international aid, rising fuel prices and a shift to biofuel production makes it increasingly difficult for over three billion poor people around the world where 60-80 per cent of their incomes are spent on food. With food prices predicted to rise by an annual rate of 10 percent over the next 10 years, the number of hungry people is expected to rise from around 890 million today to around 1.2 billion by 2025.
In the event of a food shortage, the possibility of riots and chaos against governments pose a significant risk. Not only will less wealthy countries suffer from starvation and death, but the increase in malnutrition from lack of food will cause pandemics of diseases that could spread globally.
To prevent the likelihood of a food crisis requires both a local and national response. In 2008, The United Nations High Level Task Force on the Global Food Security Crisis (HLTF) developed the first Comprehensive Framework for Action (CFA). The framework provides a catalyst for action by providing governments, international and regional organisations with policies and actions aimed to draw appropriate responses to food shortages. It pursued a twin-track approach: It outlined activities related to meeting the immediate needs of vulnerable people such as investing in food assistance and social safety nets, and longer structural needs such as scaling up investment in agriculture within developing countries, increasing opportunities for producers, and post-harvest technologies.
Another response to tackle food shortages requires more efficient distribution of food. The United Nations’ data shows that we produce enough food for everyone to have an adequate diet, but poor distribution means that 805 million people are hungry while over 1.4 billion people are overweight or obese. Equally, the world should be more creative on recycling food and the reduction of waste.
Mitigating the exposure of vulnerable populations to this volatility means avoiding excessive reliance on trade, and ensuring resilient local food production systems. We need to identify ways small-scale farmers can increase their production of basic foods to support local and regional markets. A large emphasis is on the formulation of effective domestic and international policies involving public and private investments to raise agricultural productivity. Such policies could be based on paying farmers for managing well cared for environments or by taxing pollution such as carbon emissions. On the other hand, we should utilise science and technology to empower small-scale farmers by providing them with better infrastructure and opportunities to adopt better methods to help protect wildlife, and the preservation of water quality. This requires scientists, engineers and governments to engage with small-scale farmers across South America, Asia and Africa to provide technical and financial support to produce food. Amongst this, famine-prone regions and countries hit by natural disasters should have enough contingency reserves as a source of emergency food. This would require partnerships between non-governmental organisations, national governments and the World Food Programme.
Increasingly, we understand the challenges imposed on building food security and awareness that the present availability of food to people reflects very unequal economic and political power relationships within and between countries. Essentially, there must be a solid framework where there will be enough resources for our growing population, driven by our desire to support those requiring the most immediate need.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.
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