#Rural Development#: A food insecurity outlook

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), by the end of 2008 there were about 850 million undernourished people. Other sources, such as Oxfam International, affirm that it reached 1 billion people by 2009, due to the prolongation of the 2008 food crisis effects. Despite this awful situation, if we take into account the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) set by United Nations, we are on the track to reduce the proportion of hunger people in the world, hence reaching the target, as we can see in the table below.

Although it seems to be contradictory, it’s not rare to see important representatives of countries and international organizations claiming that the current economic system promoted this improvement. Sometimes it seems that they forget they are treating with people, with human life, not with percentages. If nowadays we have almost the same number of hunger people in the world, it means we have not improved the situation at all. Taking a further look at the distribution of famine in the world, we can see a huge increase in the number of undernourished people in the least developed countries (>20%), indicating that the gap between rich and poor has been widened. Obviously, the conclusion is that the current situation is worse than we had in the 90’s. Population growth makes up the statistics and the problems remain hidden behind “proportions”. Rich countries sometimes benefit from the situation whereas poor countries cannot afford to solve the problem by themselves.

Many of the main challenges faced by poor countries can be clustered into two topics: global markets and food resilience. The first topic means that from an external point of view, poor countries have been deprived from food security especially by the prices volatility, since most of poor countries are net importers. According to a document of the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD),  food prices rose by 83% between 2005 and 20086, with maize prices nearly tripling, wheat prices increasing by 127%, and rice prices by 170% between January 2005 and June 2008. “At present, there is a lively debate as to whether these developments were the result of factors adversely affecting food supply, or whether they were caused by excessive speculation in food commodities derivatives” (De Schutter, 2010). There are also arguments supporting the increasing demand as a driver for prices spike, pushed by China and India, but this is not coherent with the available data.

This huge dependence on external markets stems basically from the internal vulnerability of those countries, what means low food resilience. According to FAO, the population is expected to grow about 34% until 2050 and almost all of this increase will occur in developing countries. The same study affirms that food production should increase by 70% to meet our future needs.

So, how should we tackle the existing food insecurity and go beyond to assure that we can support the increasing population? According to FAO, “Investment in agriculture will improve the competitiveness of domestic production, increase farmers’ profits and make food more affordable for the poor. Private investment will form the bulk of this investment, but public investment has a catalytic role to play in supplying public goods that the private sector will not provide.” However, the current situation reveals that poor countries are often not attractive to private investors and governments are not financially able to promote public investments in the necessary scale.

In this sense, there are important measures to be undertaken. From the public sector, a higher share of the national budgets should be invested in this long term achievements, as well as the money coming from international aid. A legal framework for encouraging private investments is an alternative to be adopted in some countries, at the same time it assures that when the money flows into the system, it really contributes for the local social development, for preserving the environment and reinforcing local culture.

A good example of this situation in the future can be the expansion of biofuels’ production in Africa. An article published recently by “Nature” indicates that Africa food production in Africa can be boosted by biofuels’ production, improving the food security in the continent. The reasons are many, such as the availability of untapped land, the investments and researches that the sector could promote in agriculture, etc. According to it, “bioenergy projects in Africa be expected to demonstrably improve food security at a local level”(…)” To achieve this goal will require planning and monitoring. Emerging frameworks and standards for evaluating bioenergy” (…)”Private–public partnerships are in principle attractive ways to harness the economic engine of private enterprise in order to realize social benefits” (…)”The first step towards reaching ‘win–win’ outcomes with respect to bioenergy, food security and poverty reduction is to recognize that such outcomes are possible.”

 

References:

De Schutter, O. (2010), Food Commodities Speculation and Food Price Crises: Regulation to reduce the risks of price volatility. United Nations Special Rapporteur On The Right To Food.

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations – (FAO 2011), The State of Food Insecurity in the World: How does international price volatility affect domestic economies and food security?, Rome.

Oxfam International (2011), Growing a Better Future Food justice in a resource-constrained world.

Lynd, L. & Woods, J. (2011), “Perspective: A new hope for Africa” in Nature: International Weekly Journal of Science, ed. 474, S20–S21.

United Nations Conference on Trade and Development – UNCTAD (2009), Trade and Development Report.

 


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