Commentary: Renewed vigilance needed on food security

from Xinhua
Published on 15 Apr 2009 View Original
By Xinhua Writer Jin Jing, Han Bing

BEIJING, Apr 15, 2009 (Xinhua via COMTEX) -- As many citizens of the world's wealthy countries grieve over slashed bonuses or possible job cuts, many of their counterparts in poorer nations are going to bed with an empty stomach due to a widening food shortage.

The deadly dilemma, which has been deepening during the ongoing economic downturn, can't afford to be ignored or overshadowed by the raging financial storm.

Olivier de Schutter, the U.N.'s food security expert, says that about one billion people worldwide are near the brink of starvation and that a child dies of malnutrition every six seconds.

"The global food crisis is far from being abated," de Schutter said during a recent U.N. meeting, "On the contrary, price volatility and climate-related events will inevitably exacerbate the situation in 2009, with the poor hit hardest."

Prices, despite a modest drop since a peak last year, remain higher than before the food crisis in 2008. As many countries run out of the foreign reserves needed to buy food, the number of victims suffering because of the shortage is rising.

Ahead of the G20 meeting in London, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi warned that without sufficient economic assistance, some African countries could face uprisings and violence due to food shortages. In February, Kenya declared a state of emergency with about 10 million people at risk because of hunger.

As developing countries struggle with the survival of their citizens because of food shortages, some rich countries are not fulfilling their promises to help ease the situation. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization so far has received only 10 percent of the aid pledged in the middle of last year.

Meanwhile, the world's major "food supplying pools" are drying up. Due to the economic downturn and droughts, it has been estimated that Latin America's agriculture growth this year will drop to half of its average rate from that of the past five years.

In addition, the availability of crop land and productivity in the United States and Europe has been affected by a credit squeeze.

Amidst food resource constraints, a growing population and rising demand, food prices could soon soar again. Paul Krugman, the 2008 Nobel prize winner for economics, warned in March that last year's increase in food prices was no speculation-induced "false alarm."

Once the economic slowdown ends, "we will realize we have a food crisis," he said.

Violence last year erupted in more than 30 countries from the Caribbean to the south Sahara amidst soaring food prices. Food problems could eventually take a toll on global security and stability.

Miguel D'escoto Brockmann, the president of the U.N. General Assembly, has called for "a new politics of food" because the current methods of industrial food production "are no longer sustainable."

D'Escoto recommends a people-oriented food system at the local, regional and international levels to replace the dominance of industrialized food corporations.

He also has urged a redesign of food production and trade to ensure that it serves development, the right to food and the plight of agricultural workers.

A fresh mode of thinking may need to kick in to avert a repeat of the current crises.