Global food crisis and local food insecurity - Looking for a way forward

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On the 9th December 2009 the Brussels Rural Development Briefing "From Global Food Crisis to Local Food Insecurity" took place. It was co-organised by the Technical Centre for Agriculture and Rural Development (CTA) together with the European Commission and the EU Presidency. The main objectives were:

- raising awareness on existing and emerging key challenges on food security;

- promoting exchange of information and expertise;

- to contribute to debates on the food policy options (public consultation on this issue is open until 09/01/2010).


Chronic food insecurity remains one of the main challenges to developing countries' sustainable development and to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Addressing the problem is particularly challenging since food insecurity is the result of the interplay of a series of factors operating at different levels. The root causes of food insecurity include poverty, war and civil conflicts, environmental degradation as well as national policies that do not promote agricultural development, the sustainable management of fishery resources and aquaculture production and equitable access to food etc. Other factors operate at the household and community levels (low productivity of crop and livestock systems; limited or insufficient access to food because of poverty, physical barriers and gender inequalities etc) and individual level (low levels of education, poor health status, inequitable intra-household distribution etc).

Although progress has been made in the 1980's and the first half of the 1990's, hunger has been on the rise since then. According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) the number of hungry people grew between 1995-1997 and 2004-2006 in all regions except Latin America and the Caribbean. In 2008, the right to adequate food was recognized as a fundamental component of a sustainable solution to the world food-security crisis caused by high food prices. In the first semester of 2009, the number of chronically hungry people in the world has been estimated at more than 1 billion: around 642 million in Asia and the Pacific; 265 million in Sub Saharan Africa; 53 million in Latin America and the Caribbean and 42 million in the Near East and North Africa.

In addition, the past years have been characterised by unprecedented challenges for both developed and developing countries, spurred by increases in food and fuel prices in 2006- 2008 and by the financial crisis and the global economic slowdown. These increases marked a reversal of a decades-long trend of declining (real) prices for food on the global market and are likely to lead to a period of greater price volatility for food. These events have also created uncertainty about the efficiency of global markets and triggered speculations of food commodity prices as well as a new process of large scale acquisition of farmlands by richer food-deficit countries in poorer developing countries in Africa, Latin America, Central Asia and Southeast Asia. Even though the food, fuel and financial crises affected developed, emerging and developing economies alike, impacts varied significantly across regions, countries and population groups. In many countries, the spike in food prices fuelled political instability and social unrest which clearly reignited the significance of food insecurity as a 'non-traditional' human security challenge. The recent crisis has also had a direct impact on malnutrition figures. According to a World Bank estimate, the number of children suffering from irreversible after-effects resulting from malnutrition would have increased by more than 40 million in 2008. EC Communication "Supporting Developing Countries in coping with the crisis" (2009) says that for the poorest and most vulnerable countries, the effects of the crises not only compounded the development challenges but put also at risk the gains achieved to date in relation to the MDGs, as growth stagnates, transfers are reduced and poverty increases.

These challenges are being exacerbated by growing population (although the rate of growth has slowed significantly since 1960s) and by the various effects of climate change (variations in rainfall patterns and droughts; new crop and livestock diseases; heat waves etc), which have serious repercussions on the capacity of most vulnerable countries, households and individuals to address food insecurity.

Ongoing initiatives.

Several initiatives have been launched aiming at improving coordination and coherence of international strategies and policies that have an impact on the world's food security.

Some initiatives aimed at reforming existing institutions: an integrated reform proposal of the

Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), discussions are also currently ongoing on the reform of the UN system at large, of FAO itself and of the Committee on Food Security (CFS), of the UN Standing Committee on Nutrition (SCN) and of the international nutrition system.

In addition, in the wake of the food crisis in April 2008 the UN Secretary General set up a UN

High Level Task Force (HLTF) on the Global Food Security Crisis, which endorsed a Comprehensive Framework of Action (CFA).

Following the High Level FAO conference in June 2008, the Madrid Conference in January 2009, recent World Food Summit on Food Security in November 2009 and the increasing engagement of G8 countries (which set up an expert group on food security and agriculture and at the Summit in l'Aquila (July 2009) made the commitment to mobilise USD 20 billion over three years though "a coordinated, comprehensive strategy focused on sustainable agriculture development", the plan to establish a Global Partnership on Agriculture, Food Security and Nutrition (GPAFS) received widespread support. The proposed objectives of this partnership would be to implement an integrated approach to global food security, to generate political momentum for a comprehensive, action-oriented and effective response to food insecurity and to provide a platform for all relevant stakeholders (e.g. consumers and producers, smallholders and women farmers, civil society, private sector and academia) to share best practices, coordinate actions and improve resource management.

New EC policy on Food security.

Public consultation on this issue is currently taking place (until 09/01/2010) and all contributions are welcome.