October 14, 2009
The sharp spike in hunger triggered by the global economic crisis has hit the poorest people in developing countries hardest, revealing a fragile world food system in urgent need of reform, according to a report released today by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP).
The combination of food and economic crises have pushed the number of hungry people worldwide to historic levels – more than 1 billion people are undernourished, according to FAO estimates.
The rise in the number of hungry people during both periods of low prices and economic prosperity and the very sharp rises in periods of price spikes and economic downturns shows the weakness of the global food security governance system, FAO said.
“World leaders have reacted forcefully to the financial and economic crisis and succeeded in mobilizing billions of dollars in a short time period. The same strong action is needed now to combat hunger and poverty,” said FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf. “The rising number of hungry people is intolerable. We have the economic and technical means to make hunger disappear, what is missing is a stronger political will to eradicate hunger forever. Investing in agriculture in developing countries is key as a healthy agricultural sector is essential not only to overcome hunger and poverty but also to ensure overall economic growth and peace and stability in the world.”
"We applaud the new commitment to tackle food security, but we must act quickly. It is unacceptable in the 21st century that almost one in six of the world's population is now going hungry," added Josette Sheeran, Executive Director of the UN World Food Programme. "At a time when there are more hungry people in the world than ever before, there is less food aid than we have seen in living memory. We know what is needed to meet urgent hunger needs - we just need the resources and the international commitment to do the job."
Another blow for poor households
Several factors have conspired to make the current crisis particularly devastating for poor households in developing countries.
First, the crisis is affecting large parts of the world simultaneously, reducing the scope for traditional coping mechanisms such as currency devaluation, borrowing or increased use of official development assistance or migrant remittances.
Second, the economic crisis comes on top of a food crisis that has already strained the coping strategies of the poor, hitting those most vulnerable to food insecurity when they are down. Faced with high domestic food prices, reduced incomes and employment and having already sold off assets, reduced food consumption and cut spending on essential items such as health care and education, these families risk falling deeper into destitution and the hunger-poverty trap.
In for a penny, in for a pounding
Many countries have experienced across-the-board drops in their trade and financial inflows, and have seen their export earnings, foreign investment, development aid and remittances falling. This not only reduces employment opportunities, but also reduces the money available to governments for programmes promoting growth and supporting those in need.
The 17 largest Latin American economies, for example, received $184 billion in financial inflows in 2007, which was roughly halved in 2008 to $89 billion and is expected to be halved again to $43 billion in 2009, the report said. This means that that consumption must be reduced, and for some low-income food-deficit countries, adjusting consumption may mean reducing badly needed food imports and other imported items such as health-care equipment and medicines.
The report includes case studies compiled by WFP in five countries – Armenia, Bangladesh, Ghana, Nicaragua and Zambia – showing how households are affected by the fall in remittances and other impacts of the economic downturn and how governments are responding to the crisis by investing in agriculture and infrastructure and expanding safety nets.
These interventions will help to save lives and families, the report says, but given the severity of the crisis, much more needs to be done.
FAO and WFP continue to advocate a twin-track approach to address both the short-term acute hunger spurred by sudden food shortages and the longer-term chronic hunger that is symptomatic of extreme poverty as a way for durable solutions.
“Small-scale farmers need access to high-quality seeds, fertilizers, feed and technologies to be able to boost productivity and production,” Diouf said. “And their governments need economic and policy tools to ensure that their countries’ agriculture sectors are both more productive and more resilient in the face of crises.”