The 2011 World Disasters Report of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies focuses on hunger and malnutrition, and raises a fundamental question: why do so many people go to bed hungry each night, despite the fact that world food production is sufficient to feed everyone? Among the causes of hunger the report cites increasing inequalities, lack of investment in agriculture, the fact that food and land have become tradable commodities, climate change, volatile fuel prices, financial speculation and excessive corporate power in the food system. It highlights the role of poverty, which puts available food beyond the reach of many, and is the biggest single reason for undernutrition. It addresses the importance of smallholders in dealing with the question of hunger.
Concern about food must also include a look to the future. World population may reach 10 billion by 2060. The United Nations warns that a 70% increase in food production over current levels will be required to meet nutritional needs. At the same time everything needed to produce this food is already under severe pressure – water, land, soil, nutrients, oil, technology, skills, fish, finances and climate. There are no easy solutions, with an estimated one billion people suffering hunger and acute malnutrition, and another billion suffering varying degrees of malnutrition not defined as hunger. Further reflection can help us understand a bit more clearly some of the reasons for food insecurity:
Seventy-five developing countries are net importers of food, so price is critical to food stability, as two billion people spend 50-70% of their income on food. As poor countries are forced to open their markets due to controversial World Trade Organization regulations, richer countries, using protectionist policies at home, export their heavily subsidised food. In addition, the progressive impact of climate change on agriculture is likely to lead to a severe decline in food production. Climate change could put 63 million more people at risk of hunger by 2020. Increases in global temperatures, due primarily to fossil fuel dependency, is more severely impacting the poor. Many developed countries are initiating ‘food-for-fuel’ policies to lower their carbon output. This provides for energy needs at the expense of land needed to provide food for human consumption. Between 1979 and 2009 the share of overseas development aid to agriculture fell from 18% to 4%.
If you cannot produce, buy or beg your food, you starve. In conflict situations these factors are exacerbated. Increasingly land is being purchased by companies and foreign governments, for profit and food security for their own people. This phenomenon is known as ‘land grabbing’. With less arable land available, women are impacted most. They are the principal producers of food in the developing world, owning only 10%-20% of the farms. Unsustainable practices – use of water for irrigation, the loss of topsoil and the use of chemicals and artificial fertilizers – are combining to drive down production and increase food insecurity. Regulatory food stocks have been abandoned due to neoliberal policies, and have contributed to food price increases in times of crisis.
2011 World Disasters Report of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, pag 48.
Kanayo F. Nwanze (IFAD President) The Links Between Food Security And Climate Change (November 2009)
written by Gearóid Francisco Ó Conaire ofm