A Critical Overview: Global Food Shortages

A Critical Overview: Global Food Shortages

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.

International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Socitie's / Creative Commons License
International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Socitie’s / Creative Commons License

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.

The Advocacy Project / Creative Commons License
The Advocacy Project / Creative Commons License

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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Starving for Change: World Food Day

Starving for Change: World Food Day

In honour of World Food Day, Tal Tyagi explores why in a world of plenty, millions go to sleep with empty stomachs. Volunteering in the summer holidays, fundraising and putting a red nose on are all very well and good. However, only when we recognise the structural failings of the global production and distribution of the food supply, can we genuinely make hunger history.

Behind every meal, every mouthfull and every grain of rice is a chain of processes that occur so that food falls onto our plates. What is so scandalous about this process is that the wealthiest countries contribute the least to the production of the world´s food supply. On the other hand, the world´s poorest countries produce the most. Tonnes and tonnes of wheat, fruit, corn, dairy products, vegetables and all kinds of meats are produced in Asia, Africa, Central and Latin America. It is hard to stomach why starvation, malnourishment and deprivation plague these parts of the earth.

If Karl Marx in the late nineteenth century saw the primary contradiction as being that of worker and boss, in the twenty-first century, the same exploitative relations exist between the ´first´ and the ´third´ worlds. First world countries are largely shopping centres where commodities are sold, not where they are made. They are matrix societies, parasitic on the rest of the world. Here, childhood has been extended into late twenties where the norm and possibility of university education means that we consume for a long time before we work. In the ´third world,  childhood was put up for sale along time ago. The sweetness of chocolate, coffee and sugar is diminished by the fact that the cocoa and coffee beans and the sugar cane is often cultivated by young children whose own family have no other option but to sell them into slavery.

On world food day, those of us lucky enough to be born in the opulent West need to reflect. As beneficaries of the status quo, we are in some ways responsible for the plight of our brothers and sisters. Too often their situation is out of sight and out of mind.  It may be hard to swallow but we have in our cupboards, our fridges and our lunch boxes, a share of other people´s starvation. Evidence that we have more than our fair share can be highlighted by the obesity epidemic. In the UK alone 67% of men and 57% of women are either overweight or obese. Binge, boredom and comfort-eating is a luxury afforded by our position in the world. An even more pressing example for our part in this plunder  is the West´s willingness to waste. We should be absolutely ashamed that every year consumers in industrialized countries waste almost as much food as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa!

Nestle/Creative Commons License

Nestle/Creative Commons License

So what can we do? The work of NGOs such as this one should not be played down and donations and awareness-raising activities are admirable to say the least. There is also a place for ´conscious consumerism.´ Not only do the virtues of vegetarianism include a healthier and cheaper lifestyle, a large proportion of the grain is transported away from the starving masses of the global South towards the cattle of the global North. Understanding supply and demand, we can use our wallets as weapons against food poverty.

Nevertheless, no country has been brought out of poverty through philanthropic endeavour alone. What is needed is an acknowledgement of the disease at the heart of this issue, ignoring this is only to tackle symptoms. Fundamentally, food is not produced to be eaten, it is produced to be sold. Naturally, this means it goes where the money is. Attempting to alter this will require globalization´s main players, transnational corporations, to change their ways. Either voluntarily or through force.

Pressure groups, recycling commandos and direct action foraging movements have given rise to a second French Revolution whereby big supermarkets are now forced to give unsold food to charities. If this could be emulated on a global scale, the potential for poverty alleviation would be enormous.

Fundamentally, food is fuel. Only when you are nourished, do you have the energy to play, study, grow and develop intellectually. Education and infrastructure programmes are also a necessity but  food security along with access to clean drinking water should be our primary concern. Without food, you don´t have energy to do anything and the little you have, you use to scamble an existence (not a life) together. Food insecurity does not only lead to empty stomachs but wasted talent and wasted lives. There are Beethovens in Honduras, there are Shakespeares in South Africa, the person with the potential to cure cancer could be starving as you read this. By not adequately addressing food insecurity, the growth of humanity itself is stunted.

 

Tal Tyagi is currently a Politics Student at The University of Warwick.


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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Food Consumption: Does recent French legislation signal the end of huge wastage?

Earlier this year, France made a landmark judgment passing legislation that ensured that supermarkets must donate their unused food to charities. The legislation comes as a response to the global food waste crisis and ongoing efforts from citizen groups to tackle it. Here, Amira Aleem questions whether this policy change represents a wider move towards positive action against vast food waste in Europe.

Apart from the obvious moral argument, that food waste is excessive when hundreds of people go hungry all over the world – it is important to remember that food waste also affects our economy and our planet in huge ways. John Oliver provides an excellent overview of the issues in the United States.

In comparison, the UK wastes an estimated 7 Million tones of avoidable food every year, costing the economy close to £12.5 billion annually. Since throwing away food involves a waste of all the resources that went into growing, producing, packaging and transporting the food, the long-term environmental effects are disastrous. Some studies claim that unconsumed food causes greenhouse gas emissions of over 3.3 billion tones annually and is responsible for water wastage equal to the volume of Russia’s river Volga.

Deliberate wasting is a particularly insensitive social problem at a time when religious leaders are lobbying the government to pay attention and provide support to families living under the breadline. The demand for food banks and emergency services has gone up a record 54% in the last year alone, with many parents frequently going hungry to feed their children.

France’s decision is heartening at a time when the European Union has outlined its intention to implement policies to enable Member States reduce food waste by It aligns closely with the EU agenda to combat food waste by promoting a circular economy. The bill navigates the complexities of making out of date food available to consumers by ensuring food that is unfit for human consumption is used as agricultural compost or as animal feed, thereby also having a knock-on effect of driving down the prices of food.

Although the law is definitely a step in the right direction, and hopefully will set an example for other countries in the EU to consider the effects of large-scale food wastage it is worth remembering that supermarkets and restaurants are not the prime accused in the fight against food waste. The largest amount of avoidable food waste in fact, comes from consumers themselves. For example, in France, an overwhelming 67% of food is wasted by consumers.

©P T/Creative Commons License
©P T/Creative Commons License

The problem then, becomes a larger discussion on behavior and the consumer culture of choice and excess. Fundamental attitudes to food waste are what need to be addressed. In the UK, and supermarkets around the world fresh fruits and vegetables have to conform to strict cosmetic standards before they are harvested.

This means that large amounts of perfectly edible food are discarded because they do not look visually appetising although they have the same amount of nutritional value as their ‘good-looking’ counterparts. UK supermarket giant Sainsbury’s was lauded when it decided to relax cosmetic standards in 2012 as a response to the worst harvest in decades.

In another example, although British supermarkets are still under no legal compulsion to donate food, Tesco has trialed a ‘Buy One Get One Free Later’ offer that allows customers to take advance of competitive offers but return to claim them the following week, to facilitate less waste at home. Although small steps, creative strategies like these can be incredibly effective at holding larger corporations responsible and helping consumers to be aware of the consequences of their buying habits.

For the rest of us, learning how to store groceries is a great first step in keeping food fresh and edible and these tricks will help make the same food last longer. There are also several food waste reduction apps that handle the process of planning meals and managing leftovers. Ultimately, it can be argued that the growing awareness of the issues surrounding food waste will allow policymakers to underpin food waste as a critical issue of our time. It will also leverage the power of conscious consumerism to push market forces towards demanding a service – less food waste.

Interestingly enough, the claim for many UK supermarkets not donating their surplus food is that it becomes a legal liability for food poisoning cases and that it is an issue of health and safety. The Good Samaritan law in the United States actually protects food donors who donate food in an act of goodwill, allowing them legal protection. It may be worth asking if a similar law would provide traction for the food waste reduction movement in the UK and may in fact be more relevant to the nature of food waste in the UK.

Ultimately, as the Atlantic puts it, we need to establish whether throwing away food should be made illegal in order to best tackle it. And ultimately, as is characteristic with these things it may be far more likely that a combination of efforts and initiatives working together will redefine the landscape of the issue to create lasting change.

 


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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Decentralising food distribution in india

Decentralising food distribution in india

India, with its abundant and cheap labour, has potential for rapid growth and development. This resource can be particularly well applied in the agricultural and manufacturing sectors. However, here Kartikeya Rana disucsses the role of a corrupt government and high levels of red tape in decreasing the efficiency of work conducted and results in avoidable costs.

One important measure of the country’s development is whether the people are able to gain a staple diet. India is currently facing a serious problem of undernourishment and malnutrition. It has the highest number of poor people, in terms of percentage of population, in the world.

© Balazs Gardi/Creative Commons License
© Balazs Gardi/Creative Commons License

Apart from being a source of damage for the populous, it has also cost the taxpayer a tremendous amount of money. Schemes such as subsidised grain have led to a loss of around 2 billion rupees worth of crops in 2012 alone. This has not helped to improve public perception of the government, which sees the government as a corrupt and criminally intended organisation.

The issue in India is not only one of policy paralysis but also of implementation. Although the government has implemented legislature to overcome the problem of hunger in the country, high levels of graft and lower level management has resulted in poor implementation.

Policy paralysis

The issue of policy paralysis in India can be explained by the dysfunction of the parliament. Poor attendance and regular disruption in parliament leads to a lack of effective policy development and implementation. As a result, archaic policies implemented over 30 years ago are still used in India today for a number of sectors. This is particularly problematic because of the rapidly changing nature of the world and the growth of the Indian population. This results in high levels of red tape and complicated regulations. As a result, policies such as food subsidies become particularly hard to implement.

Implementation problems

There are a number of policy’s in place to ensure children are able to gain a nutritious diet. The scheme of mid-day meals was implemented wherein kids attending government schools were able to gain a lunchtime meal. Furthermore, a scheme of highly subsidised grains to the poor was implemented to ensure that every person was able to gain a basic level of nutrition necessary for survival. Both important policies for advocates of redistribution to those in need.

However, both these schemes have undergone failure due to issues of poor implementation. The mid-day meal scheme has failed as poor cooking techniques have led to the poisoning of a number of kids and their subsequent death. This led to a severe public outcry and consequential derailment of the scheme. The government has promised to re-engage in the scheme once stronger guidelines are put in place.

© Ajay Tallam/Creative Commons License
© Ajay Tallam/Creative Commons License

The distribution from the suppliers for the subsidised grain to the rest of the population was necessary to be undertaken via government food storage facilities. Much of the food was left in place for a very long period of time. This is due to poor implementation standards within the country. These poor standards can be because of the large regulations that have to be overcome for procurement and distribution.  This has led to the rotting of the food crops and further increased the level of malnutrition. Furthermore, a number of ill-intentioned suppliers have used the food grains as fodder for their cattle.

Although there has been severe media scrutiny and public outcry about this problem, the government is yet to take concrete steps to curtail this problem.

 

What steps could they take?

India tends to follow a system of self-designated village governments or ‘Khap Panchayats’. this system involves unique policies and guidelines, which the community follow. Since their views are highly respected, they are more likely to be implemented. If these local governments were given the resources to ensure effective distribution of the grains, they are more likely to be implemented. Furthermore, a fear of social isolation will also reduce the number of cases of implementation failure.

However, a control of such a large number of food produce will also provide the self-elected bodies with a tremendous amount of power. A Panchayat with views which are less aligned with those of the government may take the resources and utilise them for less favourable intentioned. It is known that these panchayats have previously implemented very conservative diktats, which have hampered women, minority and general citizen rights. Therefore, the government must have a local authority in place to ensure that an even distribution of the resources between the people regardless of class, religion or other racial aspects, takes place.

 


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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The hunger alarm: hear the scream

What is the relationship between the changing climate and food poverty? DiA blogger Hannah Loryman outlines the grave challenges we face and the measures we need to take to lift the world out of its food crisis

Hurricane Sandy caused a food crisis in Haiti. Photo by Feed My Starving Children (FMSC)/ Creative Commons
Hurricane Sandy caused a food crisis in Haiti. Photo by Feed My Starving Children (FMSC)/ Creative Commons

There has been a global alarm screaming at us about world hunger since 2008 and this year is predicted to see the highest ever food prices.

Climate change is already having real and severe effects on the way people eat. Severe weather conditions throughout the summer in the USA, South America and Russia wiped out entire harvests and changing rainfall patterns and increasing temperatures are gradually pushing prices up. Predictions suggest that one or more extreme weather events in a single year could cause two decades of price inflation to occur in a matter of months. Despite not actually hitting Haiti, Hurricane Sandy caused a severe food crisis putting 450,000 people at risk of acute malnutrition. We cannot just use technology to increase the amount of food we create because falling water tables, rising temperature and soil erosion all place huge challenges on increasing production. This demonstrates how vulnerable we are to the climate and that solutions to hunger need to take into account the new and increasing challenge of climate change. Keep reading →


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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