World on the brink of another food crisis
Remember the 2008 global food crisis? In case you have forgotten what
happened three years ago, another food crisis is looming. Last year
ended with food prices at their highest since 2008.
That added 100 million people to those suffering from hunger
throughout the world (one billion already) and millions more will go
hungry if the world cannot ensure food security. With food prices going
up, many more will be left out of the food chain as well.
Price surges for food staples have been shocking, to say the least.
During last year's second half alone, grain prices skyrocketed by 57 per
cent, food oils and fats ran up almost as much and sugar soared 77 per
cent. Vegetables have joined the fray in most countries.
Cereal prices started climbing in the second half of 2010 as drought
and fires slashed production in Russia and Ukraine, two of the world's
largest producers. Canada, another major wheat producer, was also hit by
extremely bad weather, and an export ban imposed by Russia added to the
Three years ago, there was looting in Haiti, deadly fights over bread
in Egypt, and protests from Vietnam to Bolivia over food prices and
distribution. This time, the focus is on Algeria, Tunisia and Jordan.
Three years ago, the crisis originated in Australia. This time,
droughts in Russia, Ukraine, and Eastern Europe are to blame.
There are many who wonder whether this is a start of another global
catastrophe over food prices.
The United Nations also sounded the alarm as the Food and Agriculture
Organization's (FAO) monthly food price index hit a record high in
December last year.
In fact, scientists are now looking at a major food crisis within the
next 20 years, though signs are already appearing as food prices keep
soaring. One can imagine the consequences, as the planet will have nine
billion people before 2050.
The just-released Global Food and Farming Futures study, based on
contributions from more than 400 experts in 35 countries, said that in
real terms, the price of key crops would increase by between 50 and 100
percent over the next 40 years.
It concluded that without major changes in agricultural production,
including far greater use of controversial genetically modified crops,
food production would not be able to keep pace with demand in the coming
years. Organic agriculture will not be able to meet a 70 percent rise in
demand, it notes. "GMO crops and cloned livestock should not be excluded
simply on ethical or moral grounds," the report added.
The report suggests that farmers will have to grow substantially more
food from roughly the same amount of land while simultaneously cutting
greenhouse gases by up to 60 percent by 2050.
Even worse is the fact that a lot of food is wasted - up to a third
of all food grown. In developing countries the losses are caused by poor
transport, storage and refrigeration, while in richer countries the
wastage most often is caused by consumers throwing away food.
Indeed, there is an acute lack of equity in the world as far as food
is concerned. One billion people go hungry daily, one billion more lack
the vitamins and minerals necessary for a healthy life, while one
billion people in the West are obese and substantially over-consuming.
The report's warning was echoed by Jacques Diouf, Director General of
the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation who has called for reforming
the world's agricultural system and practices.
It has pointed out that short-term policy actions, especially curbs
on exports, could have harmful effects in the longer term and even
aggravate the situation.
In statement put on its website, the organisation pointed out at the
2007-08 crisis in the global food market as an example of how such
decisions can exacerbate the situation rather than mitigate it.
"Export restrictions, for example, applied by some surplus
food-producing countries, exacerbated the global food market situation
during the 2007-2008 crisis.
The FAO strongly advises against such measures, as they often provoke
more uncertainty and disruption on world markets and drive prices up
further, while depressing prices domestically and hence curtailing
incentives to produce more food," it said.
The statement said that low income food deficit countries have been
hit hard by high food prices in recent years and many of them had to pay
larger food import bills. People affected by higher food prices are not
food buyers such as urban residents.
Sustainable agriculture is still the key to addressing the food
crisis. FAO guidelines favour community seed production and farmer
groups or cooperatives to enhance access to both traditional and
improved seed varieties at the community level. Countries should apply
integrated pest management, based on a thorough understanding of
agro-ecosystems that will allow farmers to reduce the use of pesticides.
Water usage is another critical area, because freshwater resources
available for agriculture are also dwindling. Farmers should turn their
attention to methods such as drip irrigation and rainwater harvesting as
These two reports are not the only ones to paint a gloomy picture of
harsh times ahead.
The Agrimonde project, conducted by two leading research institutes
in France, concluded that nothing short of a food revolution was needed
to avoid mass famine.
Patrick Caron, an Agrimonde co-author, said: "World agriculture lies
at the heart of major worldwide challenges, and this report tells us why
business as usual is not an option."
But there is hope on the horizon.
Both the UK and French studies have found that a global population of
more than nine billion could be fed as long as agricultural yields were
boosted, waste was drastically reduced, and distribution improved.
There is little doubt that the world is entering what some food
scientists and economists are calling "a danger territory".
"This may translate into a greater number of people going hungry and
street demonstrations," says Richard Henry, lead economist at the
Agribusiness Department of the International Finance Corporation (IFC),
the investment arm of the World Bank. "If we look at the basic food
basket for a family, it is a situation which is not very different from
One silver lining in our part of the world is that rice stocks are
available in plenty. Most developing countries had experienced good
harvests and were unaffected by the global price hike to some extent.
But that does not mean that we can be complacent. Action has to be
taken to increase agricultural output and face any impending threat of a