The Global Food Crisis: Causes and Remedies
"We do not see many references these days to the food crisis in the news. It has been eclipsed by economic fears. But we are still not out of the woods. I call it our forgotten crisis - because it has not gone away. We have an historic opportunity to revitalise agriculture... I call on all nations to take bold and urgent steps to address the root causes of this global food crisis".
- UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon
Access to food is more than ever a question of interest. The food crisis in the perspective of chronic undernourishment has affected more than 946 million people since 1990 . Twice, in 1996 and 2000, governments unanimously and solemnly made a commitment with statistical targets for battling hunger. In the Rome Declaration on World Food Security and the World Food Summit Plan of Action in 1996, these governments pledged to cut the number of hungry people by half by 2015.
In 2005, more than half way towards the deadline, experts reluctantly acknowledged that these objectives could not be reached, since 848 million people were still chronically undernourished, 16 million in industrialised countries and 832 million in developing countries, with 212 million in Sub-Saharan Africa, 231 million in India and 123 million in China. These statistics include millions of children living without access to an adequate diet. Six million children die every year, directly or indirectly, from malnutrition, i.e. one child every five seconds. Between 1990 and 2009 the number of the hungry rose by eight million .
Since the food crisis further aggravated in 2007-08, governments, United Nations (UN) agencies and many social movements have taken up a position on its causes and the means to address it. For the first time a special high-level task force grouping all UN agency heads was set up by the Secretary-General with the goal of finding solutions to hunger and malnutrition.
Meanwhile, States have been participating in international meetings in an effort to coordinate responses to the unprecedented increase in the number of hungry people worldwide. Nations worldwide have provided aid towards humanitarian assistance and rural development and placed food security among its top priorities. Furthermore, several non-governmental organisations have launched campaigns on the food crisis and the fight against hunger.
The first Millennium Development Goal as per the Rome Declaration on World Food Security and the World Food Summit Plan of Action, i.e. to halve the percentage of people suffering from hunger and living in extreme poverty by 2015, already seems hard to realise as the food crisis it is clearly out of reach.
The global food crisis is hitting with alarming speed and force, challenging the United States, other nations, and key international organizations to respond with a strategic and long term approach. It is global in reach, not confined to a particular region of the world, or caused by a single disaster or event. The crisis poses three fundamental threats:-
- A Moral and Humanitarian Threat. An additional 100 million people may be pushed into poverty and deepening global hunger and chronic malnutrition, with the gravest impact among poor pregnant women and children. Efforts of the UN World Food Program (WFP) to meet immediate emergency shortfalls rose from $3.1 billion in 2007 to almost $6 billion in 2008 and further to approximately $8 billion as on date.
- A Developmental Threat. The economic gains of the past decades are under a threat of being erased, while putting at risk the investments in public health and nutrition, improved education, and community development in poor countries. Immediate action is needed to reverse these trends as the same would adversely affect physical and mental growth among the younger generation in developing countries.
- A Strategic Threat. The stability of developing countries is being endangered due to the rising rapidly rising cereal and fuel prices. The surge in prices has reduced the purchasing power of poor people and inhibited the ability of poor countries to import food. Thirty countries have experienced food-related riots and unrest during 2008-09, half in Africa. The forecast for the next several years is that a wide range of developing countries will struggle to access affordable, adequate food supplies, with uncertain consequences.
At a time when experts are glimpsing an emerging world food order, this dissertation is an effort to point out the conditions for effectively coming to grips with hunger. It starts by describing the scope, causes of the food crisis before presenting the worldwide response, including critical analysis of the proposed Global Food Security Act 2010 assessing its coherence and innovativeness and finally recommends the way ahead i.e. objectives for the 21st century for food and agriculture.
The global food crisis if not addressed earnestly is bound to cause serious ramifications. This paper seeks to prove that the proposed Global Food Security Act 2010 in its present form is inadequate to tackle the existing food crisis.
Statement of the Problem
What are the causes of the global food crisis and circumstances that have led to formulation of the proposed Global Food Security Act 2010? Is the proposed Global Food Security Act 2010 in its present form, adequate to suitably tackle the crisis, if not, suggest suitable remedial measures to address the crisis at large.
Justification of the Study
Experts tend to agree that it will be possible to produce enough food to meet the demand of a world population that will have increased to more than 9 billion in 2050. Global demand for food, feed and fibre is expected to grow by 70 percent. However, responses to the question “Are we doing enough at present to sustain the requirements of the future?”, must take a huge number of complex challenges into account.
Demand for agricultural produce will put growing pressure on already scarce agricultural resources. While agriculture will have to compete for land and water with sprawling urban settlements, it will also face other challenges: e.g. producing growing volumes of crops for conversion into bio fuels; contributing to the mitigation of climate change and helping preserve natural habitats. To respond to these demands, poor farmers need access to new technologies, which will enable them to achieve higher output with less land and labour input.
Adequate investment in research and development needs to ensure sustained productivity growth. Equally important are good rural infrastructure, institutional reforms, environmental services and sustainable resource management. However, focussing simply on increasing food supplies is not sufficient to eradicate hunger and poverty. Policies must also ensure that the world’s poor and hungry have access to the food.
It is also clear that good governance, including the realization of the right to food, is an essential ingredient of success. Economic studies have furthermore shown that investments in sustainable hunger reduction generate enormous economic benefits, mainly resulting from lower frequency of disease, better learning at school age and higher productivity. Examples of success can be found in all developing regions, including resource-poor countries in Africa. The basic question then is "Why are so many governments still reluctant to change priorities and invest in hunger reduction? Do they lack the political will to adopt a long-term strategy towards food security for all ? The remedial measures being adopted by the nations of the world including the Rome Declaration, responses from insecurity leading to the tabling of the proposed Global Food Security Act 2010, point to the growing concern on the subject. The answers to these questions are in no way simple as the Global Food Crisis is very much a fact and this study seeks to critically analyse the viability of success of the proposed Global Food Security Act 2010 in addressing the food crisis at large.
The research examines the background of Global Food Crisis, its environmental and non environmental causes and the world's response to the crisis. It also critically analyses the viability of the success of the proposed Global Food Security Act 2010 in tackling the said crisis. The research is further directed at identifying and recommending the way forward and outlines objectives for the 21st century for food and agriculture.
CHAPTER II : ENVIRONMENTAL FACTORS
Ten million hunger related deaths every year, half of them are children testify failure to achieve global food security. Over 946 million people face hardships imposed by hunger, while two billion people lack food security intermittently due to varying degrees of poverty, a figure which continues to rise even amidst the riches of 21st century . United Nations (UN) Secretary General Mr Ban Ki Moon brought out in the UN General Assembly meeting that there are three critical challenges facing humanity, These are:-
- Climate Change.
- Global Food Crisis.
- Energy Crisis.
The global food production rate has slowed down in recent years and the aim of food for all has once again become elusive. There are environmental and non environmental factors responsible for this slowdown. The same are as under:-
- Water Security. Water resources play a significant role in food security, the rising scarcity of water is likely to reach 50 % by 2030 for the increasing world population and as much as one third of the world's population will be water stressed by 2030.
- Impact of Global Climatic Changes. According to a UN climate report, the Himalayan glaciers that are the principal dry-season water resources of Asia's biggest rivers could drastically reduce in size as temperatures rise. Approx 2.4 billion people live in the drainage basin of these Himalayan rivers. Owing to the climatic changes many nations could experience floods followed by severe droughts in the coming decades. Bad weather, linked possibly to global climate change, has hampered production in key food-exporting countries thus affecting the food crisis.
- Land Degradation. Intensive farming often leads to a vicious cycle of exhaustion of soil fertility and decline of agricultural yields. Approx 40 % of the world's agricultural land is severely degraded.
- Environmental Degradation. Since mid 19th century, grain area, which serves as a proxy for cropland in general, has increased by 19%, but global population increased by 132%, seven times faster. As a result grain area per person has reduced by half since 1950, from 0.24 to 0.12 hectares. Assuming the grain area to remain constant, grain area per person is likely to reduce to 0.7 hectares by 2050. The issue of growing population has related effects in terms of growth of industrial units resulting in increased pollution, dwindling forest cover as also the growing urbanisation. All these collectively have a negative impact on food security.
- Production of Bio Fuels. The rise in the production of bio fuels based on food grains has contributed to global food price increases since 2006, though estimates vary widely over the impact, ranging from 3 percent to 65 percent. High oil-price trends drive the demand for bio fuels. This is a global phenomenon, affecting markets for wheat, maize, sugar, oil seeds, etc. Bringing more land under bio fuel cultivation is likely to create environmental issues and threaten food security.
CHAPTER III : NON ENVIRONMENTAL FACTORS
Non environmental factors responsible for the slowdown in the rate of global food production are as under:-
- Agri - Business. In agriculture, agribusiness is a generic term for the various businesses involved in food production. The term has two distinctly different connotations depending on context. Within the agriculture industry, agribusiness is widely used simply as a convenient blend of agriculture and business, referring to the range of activities and disciplines encompassed by modern food production. Among critics of large-scale, industrialized, vertically integrated food production, the term agribusiness is used negatively, synonymous with corporate farming. Examples of agribusinesses include bio fuels derived from food crops.
- Imbalance in Food Requirement and Food Availability, India is the third largest food producing country in the world. However food availability does not mean food security. One should have the sufficient purchasing power to buy the food whenever and wherever needed. At times there exists a paradoxical situation wherein, a number of persons die of malnutrition even though plenty of food is available. Another important shift in food and agriculture is changing diet patterns. Demand for cereal grains has outstripped supply over the past several years, generating a global imbalance and a decline in surpluses.
- Gross Underinvestment. A gross underinvestment in the past several decades in agricultural production and technology in the developing world by donors and developing countries alike has contributed to static productivity, weak markets, and underdeveloped rural infrastructure. Corrective measures for this underinvestment need to be undertaken, systematically.
- Global Agricultural Production and Trading System. The present global agricultural production and trading system, built on subsidies and tariffs, creates grave distortions. It structurally favours production among wealthy countries and disadvantages producers in poor developing countries. Imperilled developing countries are today responding to the current crisis by restricting or banning food exports.
- High Food Prices. Global food prices rose by 75% since 2000 as per the World Bank. Soaring prices for staple food has intensified by higher fuel costs, unpredictable weather and greater demand from emerging powerhouses such as India and China. Rising use of bio fuels, trade restrictions, poor harvests and increasing transport costs are also to blame for the increasing prices of staples. Higher food costs mean higher inflation, which will reduce consumption, investment and savings.
- Rise in Global Fertilizer Prices. A world fertilizer forecast report, published by the UN states that prices will remain high for next three years and possibly longer. Fertilizer prices have risen more than oil in the last two years. This has lead to civil unrest among small farmers in the developing countries. This phenomenon has a direct link resulting in the rise in price of food grains across the world.
- Rising Oil Prices. Food and oil prices have always been tightly correlated because producing and transporting food necessitates a large quantity of energy. Evidence of this can be found in 2007 and 2008, when food prices reached their highest level on the world market at the same time as oil prices. The volatility in oil prices over the last decade is therefore highly significant for food and agriculture.
- Excessive Reserves. Currently China maintains a larger grain inventory than desirable. While the FAO recommends, 66 days of stock, China's grain policy mandates a reserve of six months.
CHAPTER III : WORLD'S RESPONSE TO THE FOOD CRISIS
The worst food crisis since 1974 broke out in 2007-08. Higher world market prices of food commodities sparked an unprecedented increase in the number of hungry people. Despite moderately lower prices since the summer of 2008, the number of the hungry continued to rise in 2009. This food crisis has placed the fight against hunger on the international agenda. Since March 2008 governments UN agencies and many social movements have adopted positions on the causes of the crisis and the means to address it. Contradictory proposals have been made and the thought given to the causes underlying hunger and the food crisis have not produced any concrete results. But the present food crisis might lead to a new world food order based on the three pillars of food assistance, food security and the right to food. The response of national governments and the UN to the food crisis have been broadly categorised in three phases:-
- Uncoordinated Responses From States and International Organisations. From the start of the food crisis several governments adopted measures to improve their population’s access to foodstuffs. In response to hunger riots, some subsidised staples (e.g. bread in Egypt). Others reduced customs duties on food imports or, on the contrary, restricted such exports. At least 15 countries in Asia drastically limited their export of staples in order to feed their own population. Several governments announced a revival of policies in favour of agriculture. National reactions to the crisis were uncoordinated.
- Coordinated Yet Contradictory Responses From States and International Organisations. From April 2008 States and international organisations tried to move beyond the phase of individual reactions and coordinate their responses to the crisis. International meetings were held in Rome, Geneva, New York and Madrid. Despite the sincerity of the parties involved and the fact that all efforts converged on the need to reinvest heavily in rural development and local agriculture and to help small farmers, the solutions proposed often ran contradictory to each other.
- International Organisations. To coordinate international responses to the food crisis, Mr Ban Ki-Moon, UN Secretary-General, set up the High Level Task Force on the Global Food Security Crisis in April 2008. It brought together the heads of UN agencies, international financial institutions and the World Trade Organization (WTO). It met nine times from May 2008 to June 2009. In July 2008 it adopted a Comprehensive Framework for Action with two major objectives:-
- Provide food assistance to the most vulnerable.
- Reinforce their food security in the long run.
- Parties often supported contradictory agricultural policies, some of them (e.g. the WTO) calling for a full liberalisation of trade and others (e.g. FAO) advocating the protection of smallholders’ right to food.
- States. In May 2008, the 43 member States unanimously adopted a resolution on the “negative impact of the worsening of the world food crisis on the realisation of the right to food for all”. Two weeks later, from 3 to 5 June 2008 FAO organised a “High-level conference on World Food Security: The Challenges of Climate Change and Bio Energy”, to debate the orientation for dealing with the food crisis and reaching the first Millennium Development Goal. In addition, at the July 2009 G-8 summit in L’Aquila the G-8 pledged to increase donations for sustainable agriculture in developing countries (to $ 20 billion over the coming three years) in addition to contributing to food assistance.
- Finally, FAO held the World Summit on Food Security in Rome from 16 to 18 November 2009. The Declaration of the World Summit on Food Security was adopted. In this Declaration, adopted by consensus, States tried to respond holistically to the increasing number of undernourished people. They reaffirmed the need to reinvest in local agriculture, the right to food and the necessity for open markets. By 2011 this programme’s budget is expected to reach CHF 20 million, not counting multilateral contributions. For 2010-12 this programme has three objectives: reinforcing access to food for the most vulnerable, guaranteeing access to land and to natural resources for smallholders and improving access to know-how, technology and farming input so as to enable small farmers to boost productivity in a sustainable manner.
- Responses From Civil Society. Two responses from civil society have emerged to the food crisis. The first was the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). Created by African organisations and chaired by Mr Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary-General, this alliance brings together agricultural research centres in Africa, universities and businesses. Its objectives are to improve seeds, fortify the soil, make water and markets more accessible, develop agricultural know-how and back policies in favour of smallholders.
- The second response from civil society came from the farmer organisations and nongovernmental organisations that, involved in development and human rights, feel excluded from the process for making decisions about the food crisis. Their criticism has pointed out that several proposed solutions (such as more free trade and cooperation with firms that seek to maximise profits), as well as the parties backing them, were at the origin of the food crisis. The non-governmental organisations have proposed an approach that, based on food sovereignty and the right to food, addresses the underlying causes of hunger and applies the principles of responsibility, participation and non-discrimination.
- Discussions On A New World Food Order For Fight Against Hunger. There is no denying that battling hunger and ploughing funds back into agriculture are topics now receiving attention internationally; and international organisations and States have made efforts to increase coordination. The creation of the High-Level Task Force on the Global Food Security Crisis for bringing together the heads of all UN agencies is without parallel, as are the reform of the CFS and the creation of the Global Partnership for Agriculture and Food Security. Nonetheless, the coherence and innovativeness of the solutions proposed by governments, the UN and non-governmental organisations are debatable. The solution lies in addressing the causes underlying chronic malnutrition and the food crisis, which are often political, social and economic exclusion and discrimination. For this purpose it is necessary to give underprivileged rural populations fair access to productive resources (land, water and seeds in particular, but also fisheries and forests) and to grant to the urban poor sufficient income or allocations. These discussions have taken root in the present international environment and are likely to lead to a new world food order to fight hunger.
- Proposed Lugar-Casey Global Food Security Act 2010. Even though the World Food Summit’s objectives and the Millennium Development Goals definitely cannot be achieved by 2015, the fight against hunger must continue and hence new objectives must be rapidly set. In the pursuit of these new objectives, the fight against hunger must be based on the three pillars of food assistance, food security and the right to food as adopted by the FAO Council in November 2004. In an effort towards achieving this cause, the Lugar-Casey Global Food Security Act 2010 has been proposed by the US. This proposed Act aims to overhaul the way the U.S. offers agricultural development and food aid to the developing world. It targets to reform aid programs to include a stronger focus on long-term agricultural development and the restructuring of aid agencies to better respond to crisis.
CHAPTER V : PROPOSED LUGAR-CASEY GLOBAL FOOD SECURITY ACT 2010
A bill proposed by Senators Lugar and Casey to authorize appropriations for fiscal years 2010 through 2014 to provide assistance to foreign countries to promote food security, to stimulate rural economies, and to improve emergency response to food crises, to amend the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, and for other purposes.
This bill seeks to improve the U.S. emergency rapid response to food crisis by laying focus on the following:-
- To reorient U.S. development assistance to focus on hunger alleviation.
- To increase resources for long-term rural development and poverty alleviation.
- To enhance human and institutional capacity through higher education for agriculture and extension.
- To establish a Special Coordinator for Global Food Security that is tasked with creating a Global Food Security Strategy.
- To improve the U.S. emergency rapid response to global food crisis.
Emergency Response to Food Crisis.
- Creates an Emergency Rapid Response Food Crises Fund administered by USAID.
- Fund is fenced from other disaster accounts and is to be used for immediate emergency response in the form of food assistance and non-food assistance.
- Fund is authorized at up to $500 million and can be used for local and regional purchase. Funds are released at the request of the USAID Administrator or the President depending on amount, and can be replenished by Congress.
- Fund is designed to provide increased speed and flexibility for emergency response to stabilize crisis while other resources can be marshalled; it does not substitute for other food assistance accounts.
CRITICAL ANALYSIS : LUGAR - CASEY GLOBAL FOOD SECURITY ACT 2010
“Simply cranking up the fertilizer and pesticide-led production methods of the 20th century is unlikely to address the challenge (of the food crisis). It will increasingly undermine the critical natural inputs and nature-based services for agriculture”.
- Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and Executive Director, UNEP
The Lugar-Casey Global Food Security Act, aims to reform aid programs to include a stronger focus on long-term agricultural development and the restructuring of aid agencies to better respond to crisis. While this renewed focus is commendable, the Lugar-Casey bill also mandates funding for genetically modified crop research as a major underpinning of its food security strategy. Just as food aid expands markets for U.S. grain even as it destroys markets and farm livelihoods abroad, the agricultural development aid in the Lugar-Casey Global Food Security Act will open markets in Africa and elsewhere to the U.S. biotechnology industry. This is likely to result in a windfall for seed and chemical companies, but will increase risk and dependency among small farmers across the developing world.
This bill is not an isolated piece of legislation, but a coordinated roll-out of the “new Green Revolution,” a project that includes the Gates Foundation's multi-billion dollar Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), and a move by the biotechnology industry from basic commodity crops into other sectors of the global food system. In fact, the legislation is based on a report funded by the Gates Foundation. Initiated by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs in 2008 and drafted before the new year, the hastily prepared report “Renewing American Leadership in the Fight Against Global Hunger and Poverty” has been severely criticized for its narrow technological focus. In contrast, a recent four-year study conducted by the World Bank and the FAO, in consultation with more than 400 scientists, reached the opposite conclusions; it called for agro-ecological approaches, participatory breeding, local control of seeds, and improving small farmers’ access to land.
The technology-centric focus of the Gates Foundation and the Chicago Council dominates the Global Food Security Act. Lugar-Casey's renewed focus on agricultural development and hunger is necessary now more than ever, but depending on genetic modification for possible production gains risks repeating the same failings of the first Green Revolution—as well as introducing new risks. As it stands, Lugar-Casey will do much for American agribusiness interests, but may actually do more harm than good for small farmers.
The New Food Security Paradigm
The Lugar-Casey Global Food Security Act is essentially a compromise proposal that reflects a renewed commitment to agricultural development and food security. With language welcomed by aid and farm groups, the bill includes a provision that allows food aid to be locally purchased—at least in part. The bill also funds emergency relief, agricultural development and nutrition programs (up to $2.5 billion a year by 2014), higher education programs in the developing world, and increases funding for agricultural research at U.S. universities. The bill will consolidate an emergency relief fund and create a “food czar” charged with U.S. food security projects in the developing world.
The bill also has a strong focus on technological development, from funding for USAID research partnerships to earmarking funds for the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research, the umbrella group for the research centres that developed the first Green Revolution’s hybrid seeds. The bill also repeatedly calls on “public-private partnerships” and private sector participation in rural development. But one provision in the bill undermines the positive language and calls into question the intentions behind all references to technology, research funding, and partnerships with the private sector.
The revision of the Foreign Assistance Act makes genetically modified crop research a federal mandate. Lugar-Casey does not specify how much of the agricultural development funding—a total of $5.7 billion dollars—will go to genetically modified crop research, nor does it specify who the final patent holder on any end products will be. But the bill's heavy focus on technology—if read to fit the new definition to specifically include biotechnology—indicates more than just a mandate for research, but a whole development strategy based on opening opportunities for the biotech industry aimed at "profits".
The strategy mandated in Lugar-Casey is essentially a subsidy to private research and development. Public money will go to U.S. corporations to produce patented products, essentially subsidising risky projects and privatizing gain in the name of ending hunger. Conversely small farmers, the intended beneficiaries of Lugar-Casey funding, may not benefit at all. Small farmers still supply 90% of the food in Africa and Latin America. But industrial agriculture, with its high input costs and low margins of return, tends to push small farmers out of business. The Gates Foundation Agricultural Development Strategy recognizes that the new Green Revolution “will require some degree of land mobility and a lower percentage of total employment involved in direct agricultural production”.
“Land mobility” is a euphemism for a large percentage of small farmers losing their land and their livelihoods. This will lead to massive migration. Agriculture is a significant source of employment. In Uganda for example, self-employment in agriculture essentially the small farm sector accounts for 70% of all jobs. Only 5% percent of Ugandans have permanent, formal employment. In Malawi, 85% of the population depends on agriculture for work. Currently, no expanding industrial sector is readily available offering jobs as people are ushered off the farm only the informal sector, migration, and misery-filled urban slums are in the offing. Even the most lauded provision, local and regional sourcing of food aid, may not have the intended effect.
The language in the Lugar-Casey bill does not specify how much food aid must be sourced locally. In fact, the text reads that sourcing for aid “may include local and regional purchase.” Despite this being a positive first step, without specific mention of small farmers, co-operatives, or marketing boards, the provision to locally source food aid may not open the agricultural value chain to poor producers at all. Lugar-Casey stands to industrialize farming methods in much of the Global South, a process which widens the income gap between rich and poor farmers. Furthermore, profits in industrial agriculture are made by selling seed, inputs and machinery on one hand, and processing and distribution on the other, leaving farmers to absorb market risk. By sourcing food aid from foreign farms, where a significant portion of the value chain is captured by American processors and input manufacturers, added value will continue to accrue to a handful of U.S. corporations, not cash-strapped local economies.
CHAPTER VII : CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Senators Lugar and Casey's renewed focus on agriculture and food security is well understood and appreciated, but as their bill stands, the main beneficiaries will be the U.S. biotechnology industry, not poor farmers. In order to genuinely tackle world hunger, key experts, including the U.N. Environment Programme, the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development, the IAASTD, and farmers' organizations around the world advocate a bottom-up approach led by small farmers, using locally appropriate technologies. By ignoring this growing body of evidence in favour of the industry-friendly findings of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, agricultural development under Lugar-Casey will likely fail to curb hunger. Funding for agricultural research under Lugar-Casey is essentially a subsidy to corporate research and development goals, and is not targeted towards the most effective, appropriate, or cost-efficient technologies. In order to positively address the food crisis, any mandate for genetically modified crops must be deleted from the Global Food Security Act and replaced with a general strategy in line with the key findings of the IAASTD i.e. support for agro ecological research, farmer-led participatory breeding, and increased access to land for small farmers.
The establishment of more equitable trade arrangements, stricter oversight and regulation of multinational agribusiness industry and increased democratic control of the global food system can more effectively address the root causes of global hunger, poverty and inequality, in a way that a narrow focus on increasing productivity through biotechnology simply cannot. Around the world, calls are growing for food sovereignty: the right to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and people's right to define their own food and agriculture systems. Food sovereignty relies on smallholder farmers not transnational corporations to rebuild their national and local food systems. Movements working toward food sovereignty have made significant progress towards food systems that truly work for the world's majority. Any U.S. effort to support agricultural development must work in concert with these movements, not against them.
The outlook for global food security over the coming decades will be characterized by turbulence, uncertainty and risk. As the world’s population rises, as the material demands of an affluent ‘global middle class’ increase, as scarcity trends such as climate change, energy security, water scarcity and competition for land make themselves felt and as a major global redistribution of power proceeds, so the challenges faced by the world’s food system multiply and interact in new, unpredictable ways. As this process of change rapidly unfolds, the need for further work on the nature of the challenge and what needs to be done to meet it will remain acute. In particular, one area that this report has investigated less than is needed is the extent to which international trade – including, and perhaps especially, in food – will be constrained in the context of a future in which climate change is being addressed successfully. In concentrating on international action, the report has also said much less than is warranted about the importance of individual consumers’ decisions in developed countries. People in developed countries need to recognize the huge impact that their lifestyles have on the rest of the world, especially in the context of global food markets. In addition to the growing use of biofuels, Western diets – full of meat and dairy products – are massively inefficient in terms of water, energy and grain use, and produce more CO2 as well. This is not to say that consumers must all become vegetarians; but they do need to realize the global impact of what is on their plates and in their car engines.
Fundamental questions of fairness are at stake; Gandhi’s observation that there is enough for everyone’s need, but not for everyone’s greed, is becoming truer all the time. While blind optimism would certainly be unwise, there are certainly grounds for hope. The story of human history since prehistoric times can in one way be seen as the dynamic interaction between rising population, growing social complexity and increasing agricultural innovation – for it is the last of these that has enabled the first two. The human race has an extraordinary track record in creativity in food production, and will need to call on that creativity again in the years ahead. At this point, the prospects for a 21st-century Green Revolution of the kind called for in this report look positive – if certain conditions are satisfied. Collective action between countries in pursuit of common interests will be essential, as will timely action in developing countries. But perhaps the most fundamental requirement is for policy-makers to remember that innovation on its own is not enough. The benefits of the 20th-century Green Revolution were often slow to reach poor farmers; some countries missed out on it altogether. This time around, innovation will need to be married with commitment to social justice and political sophistication.
Recommendations : Objectives for 21st Century Food and Agriculture
The Green Revolution’s central achievement was to boost global crop yields sufficiently to enable them to keep pace with population. As the number of people in the world continues to rise, as demand increases by a projected 50% by 2030, and as competition for land resources grows too, it is already clear that yields per hectare will need to grow dramatically as well. Yet the challenge facing the world is not just to increase yields by this substantial proportion, essential though that task is. Three other objectives must also be taken into consideration in order to deliver real global food security for the 21st century.
- Resilience. The next few decades are likely to be a period of pronounced turbulence, caused by a range of drivers. One set will be the increased prevalence of shocks, sudden onset crises, such as extreme weather events driven by climate change, or sharp hikes in the price of energy. Another will be stresses: slower onset impacts such as land degradation or gradual price inflation that risk being overlooked by short-term policy or investment planning. Then there is the risk caused by human action through ignorance or accident: think of the positive feedback loop caused by one set of countries suspending exports while another attempts to build up imports. Finally, the food system could be disrupted by malicious action for example during conflicts or through intentional systems disruption by terrorists or insurgent groups. While not all of these risks to food security can be prevented, a strong focus on resilience in food supply systems can help to mitigate their impact when they do occur. Resilience is an attribute that is relevant throughout the food value chain: from evaluating crops for their resilience to droughts or pests to assessing the vulnerability to disruption of trade relationships and domestic-level supply chains. In all of these contexts, the question of the resilience or vulnerability of poor people and poor countries typically those most exposed to risks needs to be a prime concern for domestic and international policy-makers.
- Sustainability. Food supply is not only vulnerable to scarcity issues. Poor husbandry, such as overgrazing or over ploughing, can be a major contributor to land degradation. Inefficient and wasteful use of fertilizers or water contributes directly to demand for energy resources against a backdrop of tight supplies. Wasteful use of water for irrigation depletes water tables. Agriculture and food supply chains are highly significant emitters of greenhouse gases. Minimizing the exposure of food systems to scarcity issues through enhanced resilience is only half of the story, therefore: food and agricultural systems also need to be part of the solution, both through reducing their environmental impact and (wherever possible) through contributing actively to environmental restoration.
- Equity and Poverty Reduction. Today, the reason why nearly a billion people are undernourished is not that there is insufficient food but that all individuals do not have access to it. If the world’s food production were added up and then divided equally between the world’s population, then each person would have 2,700 calories a day, an average easily sufficient to eradicate hunger. In reality, the number of undernourished people is almost perfectly mirrored by the billion who are overweight or obese, primarily in developed countries, but also (increasingly) among new middle classes in emerging economies. As the economist Amartya Sen has observed, "Starvation is the characteristic of some people not having enough to eat. It is not the characteristic of there not being enough to eat". For Sen, the real problem is therefore one of lack of access and entitlement to food, which results from a number of causes: people may be unable to grow enough food on land that they own, let or can access; or they may be unable to buy enough, because their income is too low, or they cannot get the money needed; or they cannot acquire enough food as gifts or loans from relatives or neighbours, or through entitlement to government rations or aid programmes. Yield increases on their own are not enough: resilience, sustainability and equitability are vital too. If, moreover, scarcity issues mean that agriculture struggles to deliver yield increases on the scale needed, then these policy objectives assume an even greater importance.
To meet these objectives, a comprehensive global strategy for global food security is needed. Key recommendations for action in developing countries and internationally are as under:-
- Action in Developing Countries.
- Spend More On Food and Agriculture. The last twenty years have seen a disastrous decline in the proportion of foreign aid that goes to agriculture, from 17% in ‘Policy-makers should use the current period of easing in food prices as a moment of opportunity in which to identify and agree the key elements of a global food security strategy’ 1980 to 3% in 2006. Total aid spending on agriculture fell 58% in real terms over the same period. Today, developed-country donors urgently need to reverse this trend, and to start plugging the gap left by years of under-investment. The need to increase spending on agriculture also applies to developing-country governments, which have similarly overlooked rural sectors in recent years (despite the fact that three quarters of the world’s poor people live in rural areas). In Africa, for example, governments spend on average only 4.5% of their budgets on agriculture – despite an African Union target of allocating 10% of public spending to agriculture by 2008.
- Invest In a 21st Century Green Revolution. The 20th century Green Revolution achieved astonishing yield increases. Now, a 21st-century equivalent is needed – one that not only increases yields, but that also moves from an agricultural model that is input-intensive (in water, fertilizer, pesticide and energy) to one that is knowledge-intensive. Genetically modified crops may have a role, but ecologically integrated approaches – such as integrated pest management, minimum tillage, drip irrigation and integrated soil fertility management – often score higher in terms of resilience and equitability, as they put power in the hands of farmers rather than seed companies. Additional funds for public research and development are also vital: the budget of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research has fallen by 50% over the last 15 years, for example.
- Get The Basics In Place. In order to thrive, farms in developing countries need access to five key resources: assets (such as land, machinery, or renewable resources such as water); markets (for example adequate infrastructure, communication networks that give farmers access to up-to-date price information, or the capacity to meet supplier standards for supermarkets); credit (to prevent small farmers fromfalling prey to predatory lending, and to improve access to inputs such as fertilizers); knowledge (where there is an urgent need to invest in agricultural extension services to help disseminate R&D findings in the field); and risk management tools (for example through social protection systems, mechanisms for hedging against bad weather, and improved crop storage systems). Developing-country governments and donors alike need to focus on supporting these outcomes.
- Focus On Small Farmers. 1.5 billion people live in households that depend on small farms. While arguments for supporting small farms are sometimes dismissed as based on a romantic attachment to peasant agriculture, the evidence shows that, with the right policy framework, small farming can be a viable route out of poverty. In Vietnam, for instance, small farmers have been able to benefit from high food prices through accessing export markets and thus to share in the country’s impressive growth. A key part of the puzzle is establishing mechanisms that can aggregate small farmers’ output and help them to meet supplier standards for supermarkets and other large buyers. In the past, this role was often played by government-run marketing boards, many of which were dismantled in the 1980s and 1990s. Today, the gap they left needs to be filled – but private companies, NGOs or farmers’ organizations may be just as capable of fulfilling the role as government agencies.
- Improve Access To Social Protection. Many poor countries have tried to deal with high food prices through subsidies or price controls. Both approaches come with a cost: the former can wreck government budgets, while the latter reduces farmers’ incentive to produce more. Social protection systems represent a better alternative, but only 20% of the world’s people have access to them. Although more experimentation is needed on what kinds of system work where, the main obstacles are political rather than technical: affluent groups in developing countries often oppose social protection systems for fear they will encourage dependency (although the evidence suggests the opposite). In these circumstances, the challenge for foreign aid donors is to support local advocates of pro-poor change seeking to open up political space – a challenge that is more about influence than about spending money.
- Action Internationally.
- Consider An IEA For Food. After the first oil shock in 1973 the International Energy Agency (IEA) was created. Its core mission: to coordinate collective action in future oil crises, above all through an emergency response system based on strategic oil reserves in member countries. Today, an equivalent function is needed for food. Part of the reason for the recent food price spike is that worldwide food stocks had fallen to unsustainably low levels: the recent easing in prices gives governments an opportunity to rebuild those reserves. A global system of food reserves need not entail the creation of a new agency, but to be credible the system would need to be overseen by a disinterested party, such as the World Food Programme (WFP). It would also be essential to specify that the role of any system of reserves would be limited to emergency assistance – not to act as a price support for producers or a permanent system for managing food aid.
- Improve Technical Assistance On Long-Term ‘Security Of Supply’ Agreements. The trend for major food importers such as China, South Korea and a number of Gulf countries to seek long-term food purchase agreements, land leases or land purchases in other countries risks disadvantaging poor countries that lack the capacity to negotiate a fair deal. (Madagascar, for example, is reported to have leased half its arable land to a South Korean company for 99 years with no compensation other than jobs created on the farms.) Yet such agreements could in principle provide a benefit for both sides, allowing import-dependent countries to increase their security of supply at the same time as bringing much-needed capital, infrastructure and know-how to countries that have the potential to produce much more food than they currently do. In order to move towards this more positive scenario, developing countries need better technical assistance in negotiating these complex and innovative deals. International donors should gear up to provide such advice as a matter of urgency.
- Push Ahead With Developed-Country Agricultural Liberalization. Although agricultural liberalization may have the effect of raising food prices in the short term, the underlying fact remains that reform of United States farm support and the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy is essential for improving poor countries’ food security. By subsidizing food production and then exporting food, developed countries introduce in the world trade system a dynamic that structurally disadvantages developing countries by eroding the capacity of their agricultural sectors to compete. Accordingly, reform of developed-country agricultural support remains essential. On the same basis, developed countries should move towards giving food aid in cash (which can then be used to purchase food in developing countries, thus investing in their agricultural sectors at the same time) rather than in food (a form of tied aid that subsidizes producers in the donor country). Countries with support regimes for bio fuels (above all those for corn-based ethanol in the US and biodiesel in the EU) also urgently need to review those policies in the light of their impact on food security.
- Integrate Security Of Supply Into Global Trade Rules. A lapse into protectionism would be a serious step back for global food security. But after recent convulsions in agricultural trade (above all the export restrictions introduced bymore than 30 countries),many governments are unsure whether they can trust world markets – to the extent that some of them are even flirting with autarky, despite warnings from the UN High Level Task Force on the Global Food Crisis that self-sufficiency and food security are not the same. For liberalized trade in agricultural goods to command support, importers’ legitimate security-of supply concerns need to be addressed. Policy-makers should use the Doha Round as an opportunity to explore the potential for new World Trade Organization rules on export suspensions on food, as already exist in the context of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
- Agree a Comprehensive Global Deal On Climate Change. The projected impacts of climate change alone mean that a global plan for stabilizing greenhouse gas concentrations is a sine qua non for future worldwide food security – but they are not the only reason. Analysts from Goldman Sachs, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund now agree that bio fuels have been one of the most important (if not the most important) driver of rising food prices in recent years. If oil prices resume their volatile upward trend – the IEA suggest they will – then food prices risk being pulled up with them. The best way of avoiding this scenario is through greatly increased investment in new oil production infrastructure, which in turn depends on a more stable and predictable outlook for oil prices. By limiting future carbon emissions, a global deal on climate change would also provide predictability on the shape of future oil demand – allowing oil producers to invest with more confidence while at the same time reconciling this goal with the need to tackle climate change seriously.
- Report to Congressional Committees- United States Government Accountability Office March 2010.
- The Feeding of the Nine Billion Global Food Security for the 21st Century - A Chatham House Report by Alex Evans.
- Policy Brief No. 18 by Annie Shattuck and Eric Holt Giménez.
- Official website of the World Food Programme ‘www.wpf.org ’.
- Organic agriculture cannot feed the world - D.J. Connor.
- To feed the world- the challenge and the strategy - Sterling Wortman and Ralph W. Cummings Jr.
- The Food Crisis and Food Security : Towards a New World Food Order? Christophe Golay.
- A call for a strategic U.S. approach to the global food crisis. A report of the CSIS Task Force on the Global Food Crisis.
- S.384; US Report on Global Food Security Act 2010.