Feeding hunger & insecurity: Field analysis of volatile global commodity food prices, food security, & childhood malnutrition

Executive summary

Key Messages

- The crisis is not over. Even though global food prices are falling, local prices have continued to increase or have remained at their inflated level in most vulnerable countries, putting millions of people at risk.

- Despite no clear global increase in acute malnutrition, high prices consistently forced families to adopt damaging coping strategies to maintain staple food consumption; 'seasonality' shows that this can have longterm implications for poverty, vulnerability and malnutrition.

- Context matters; urgent funding is needed to translate global policy into effective responses addressing the needs of those most affected and most vulnerable.

- Interventions must be inclusive, coordinated and comprehensive, addressing both agricultural production and nutrition in tandem, both in the short and long-run at the global, national and local level.

At the end of 2007 and early 2008, international food and oil prices soared. FAO estimates that the high cost of food has pushed the number of people suffering from hunger from 850 million in 2005 to 963 million today, threatening to undo any progress made towards achieving Millennium Development Goals 1 and 4. Even though global food prices are now falling, domestic prices have continued to increase or have remained at their in- flated level for most vulnerable countries, putting millions at risk. The Global Food Price Crisis is not over.

Warnings from our country teams that the annual, seasonal rise in admissions rates to feeding programmes was beginning earlier than normal, prompted Action Against Hunger to launch an evaluation of the impact of high and volatile global food prices on households in the Central African Republic, Ethiopia, Liberia and Sierra Leone. By integrating our findings with the global policy debate, this report seeks to answer five basic questions:

- What caused the Food Price Crisis?

- Who is vulnerable?

- What happens when food prices rise?

- What has been done?

- What needs to be done?

What caused the global food crisis?

The Food Crisis emerged from a combination of short, medium and long-term factors (on both the demand and supply side). Long-term factors included population growth, urbanisation, growth of middle-income economies, reduced stock levels, lack of investment in agriculture and climate change, while crop failures in major exporting nations, increasing fuel prices and bio-fuel production represent some of the short and medium-term factors. While causes have been largely agreed upon, their relative importance and absolute impact are hard to determine.

Who is vulnerable?

Not all governments, countries and people have been affected equally. Vulnerability depends largely on four factors:

- State vulnerability. High food prices increase import bills and affect public spending and macro-economic stability, with long-term implications for poverty.

- The degree high global prices translate into high domestic prices. Physical, political and human geography can limit or exacerbate the impact of global food costs on domestic prices.

- A household's position as a net food-buyer or net food-seller. High food prices may come to the benefit of net food sellers, but the majority of poor households, including 'subsistence' farmers, rely on the market for most of the year.

- Wealth and the proportion of household income spent on food. Household wealth provides a buffer to the constraints high food prices impose on family budgets - poorer groups can spend over 80 percent of their income on food, and these groups will be significantly affected in the short and long-term.

Other dimensions of vulnerability to high and volatile food prices include timing of food price rises relative to the harvest, susceptibility to malnutrition (women Key Messages ACF International Network Feeding Hunger and Insecurity ix and children are most at risk) and marginalisation (whether groups, countries or even regions are overlooked or intentionally excluded from social protection policies and interventions). Case studies summarising Action Against Hunger research in Bangui, Central African Republic (CAR) and Freetown, Sierra Leone further investigate the dimensions of vulnerability.

Central African Republic: Food prices in Bangui increased only moderately. Though there was no statistically significant increase in malnutrition rates, higher prices had some impact on households who responded by decreasing dietary diversity.

Sierra Leone: Research from Freetown demonstrates the importance of context. Overall, prices rose significantly, dietary diversity and quantity of food were reduced, and there were suggestions that levels of malnutrition increased. However, price increases, malnutrition rates and changes in diet varied dramatically between the five research sites within the city, divided by little more than a few kilometres.