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.The poorest in Sub-Saharan Africa already spend 70% of their household income on food so any increase is unsustainable. 1 in 6 people worldwide are chronically hungry and malnutrition is the biggest killer of Under 5s. The hunger crisis is not caused by a lack of food, although food reserves are decreasing year on year, it is rooted in a global system which is fundamentally flawed in terms of both production and distribution. Therefore it is at a global level that the problem needs to tackled.

The question then becomes what can we do about the problem?  Here I suggest 10 ways in which global hunger can start to be tackled:

  1. Micronutrient interventions for children are an effective way of reducing malnutrition. By fortifying food with Vitamin A and Zinc, for example, children’s development can be severely improved, but realistically this only scratches the surface.
  2. There needs to be more focus on growing agricultural crops for food. Bio fuel programmes need to change. At the moment 40% of US corn goes for bio-fuel and across the developing world poor farmers grow crops for the EU and American bio-fuel market instead of being able to feed themselves.
  3. Remove the hypocrisy of free trade where the rich are highly protectionist, yet developing countries have been forced to liberalise. Recognise that unequal rules are what have allowed developed countries to be so effective on the global market.
  4. Stop subsidies which allow developed countries to produce goods at artificially low prices and reduce developing countries ability to compete and increases there dependency.
  5. Food aid also needs to stop undercutting local markets – to do this there needs to be a major reform in the way in which it is delivered.
  6. Regulation to prevent financial speculators gambling on food prices because it unnecessarily pushes up food prices.
  7. More investment needs to be made in sustainable agriculture – which balances social, environmental and economic needs. This involves changing the ways in which food is grown in line which changes in the climate.
  8. This includes increasing the support for low-input food systems which are more environmentally sustainable and are therefore a better long term solution.
  9. Support land ownership for poor farmers as there is a clear link between land ownership and food security. This involves monitoring ‘land grabbing’ by rich multinationals from rich countries who threaten the livelihoods of poor farmers.
  10. Encourage and help small holder farmers to ensure that they are not pushed out by large corporations and for example can choose the best crops for them to grow.

Solutions such as removing the hypocrisy of free trade have been repeated again and again by campaigners and NGOs. While there have been efforts to look into changing the way things are done, these have mainly been empty promises. However with the clock ticking, now is the time to act. These 10 solutions are in no way comprehensive but they give an overview of the range of ways in which global hunger needs to be tackled. It needs to be tackled at the top, by changing the rules which create inequality, and at the bottom by ensuring that farmers are able to farm in the most effective and sustainable way for them and their communities.


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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