The Impact of High Food Prices on Maternal and Child Nutrition

from UN Standing Committee on Nutrition
Published on 01 Oct 2008
Food prices have surged in the last two years wiping out global gains in poverty and hunger reduction achieved over the last two decades. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) index of food prices rose by 9% in 2006, 24% in 2007 and has surged by 51% in the last 12 months. FAO forecasts that the world will spend US$1,035 billion on food imports in 2008, US$215 billion more than in 2007. This will severely strain the budgets of low-income food-deficit countries (LIFDCs) that will see their import bills soar by more than 40% this year.

The food price crisis is likely to have pushed at least 100 million people back into poverty in 2008 and erase at least four years of progress towards the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 1 target for the reduction of poverty. The household level consequences of this crisis are most acutely felt in LIFDCs where a 50% rise in staple food prices causes a 21% increase in total food expenditure, increasing these from 50 to 60% of income. In a high income country this rise in prices causes a 6% rise in retail food expenditure with income expenditure on food rising from 10 to 11%. FAO estimates that food price rises have resulted in at least 50 million more people becoming hungry in 20084, going back to the 1970 figures.

This paper looks at the nutrition consequences of the food price crisis, particularly among women and children who are biologically the most vulnerable members of households. The nutrition status of individual household members is a product of food security, access to health and environmental sanitation services, and maternal and child caring practices. The paper provides a perspective on what the appropriate responses are for ensuring food and nutrition security in the face of rapidly rising food prices, in the context of contributing to the achievement of the MDGs and progressively realizing the human right to adequate food.