UN agencies say Africa at risk as high, volatile food prices set to continue

Food price volatility featuring high prices is likely to continue and possibly increase, making poor farmers, consumers and countries more vulnerable to poverty and food insecurity, three UN agencies said in the global hunger report published October 10, 2012.

And small, import-dependent countries, particularly in Africa, are especially at risk, say UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP) in”The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2011″ (SOFI), an annual flagship report which they jointly produced this year.

According to the agencies many of these countries still face severe problems following the world food and economic crises of 2006-2008.

Such crises, including in the Horn of Africa, “are challenging our efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of reducing the proportion of people who suffer from hunger by half in 2015,” the heads of the three agencies — Jacques Diouf – FAO, Kanayo F. Nwanze – IFAD and Josette Sheeran –  WFP — warned in a preface to the report.

They contended that if the MDGs were achieved by 2015, some 600 million people in developing countries would still be undernourished.

“Having 600 million people suffering from hunger on a daily basis is never acceptable,” they said.

The FAO estimated that the number of hungry people for 2010 remains at 925 million. For the 2006-2008 period the FAO calculates the number of hungry at 850 million.

This year’s report focused on high and volatile food prices, identified as major contributing factors in food insecurity at the global level and a source of grave concern to the international community.

“Demand from consumers in rapidly growing economies will increase, the population continues to grow, and further growth in biofuels will place additional demands on the food system,” the report said.

Moreover, food price volatility may increase over the next decade due to stronger linkages between agricultural and energy markets and more frequent extreme weather events.

The report found that price volatility makes both smallholder farmers and poor consumers increasingly vulnerable to poverty while short-term price changes can have long-term impacts on development.

“Changes in income due to price swings that lead to decreased food consumption can reduce children’s intake of key nutrients during the first 1000 days of life from conception, leading to a permanent reduction of their future earning capacity and an increased likelihood of future poverty, with negative impacts on entire economies,” it said.

But price swings affected countries, populations and households very differently as the report found that “the most exposed were the poor and the weak, particularly in Africa, where the number of undernourished increased by eight percent between 2007 and 2008 while it was essentially constant in Asia.”

“The entire international community must act today and act forcefully to banish food insecurity from the planet,” the three UN agencies stated.

“Governments must ensure that a transparent and predictable regulatory environment is in place, one that promotes private investment and increases farm productivity. We must reduce food waste in developed countries through education and policies, and reduce food losses in developing countries by boosting investment in the entire value chain, especially post-harvest processing. More sustainable management of our natural resources, forests and fisheries are critical for the food security of many of the poorest members of society,” the three heads said.

The report stresses that investment in agriculture remains critical to sustainable, long-term food security.

Key areas where such investments should be directed, the report said are cost-effective irrigation, improved land-management practices and better seeds developed through agricultural research.  That would help reduce the production risks facing farmers, especially smallholders, and mitigate price volatility.

By Ekow Quandzie

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