The World Food Crisis - far from over

As leaders gather in Rome for next week's World Food Summit on Food Security, it is worth remembering the plight of the 1 in 6 people in the world for whom the food crisis is not over.

A glance at the latest FAO food price index suggests all is well with the price of food. The 2009 index is nowhere near the peak of 2007-2008 when a sharp price rise exacerbated world hunger, captured the headlines and fired up the High Level Conference on Food Security in Rome last year. And yet a closer look reveals a different story: the index has never gone back to pre-crisis levels - and now it's on the rise again.

The price of food remains high. This is crucial for the one billion hungry people in the world, many of whom spend much of their small income on food. For instance, according to Relinda Sosa, President of the National Confederation of Women Organised for Life and Integrated Development, the poorest families in Peru spend almost 70 cents in the dollar just on food. So when prices are high, meals are fewer and lower in quality. One in three Peruvians suffer at some level from the lack of food. For the many in similar situations around the world - women, smallholder farmers, landless peoples, fisherfolk, pastoralists and agricultural wageworkers among them - the crisis remains a daily reality.

Cost is just one of many causes of food insecurity and malnutrition. It aggravates underlying issues. These include harmful climate change, distribution problems, lack of access to resources, rigged international trade rules, poor domestic policies, insecure land rights, diminishing investment in agricultural aid, and a lack of leadership in general.

How is the ongoing food crisis manifesting on the ground? In Ecuador, four out of ten people live in the countryside. They produce most of Ecuador's food but are almost twice as poor as the national average, according to the Ecaudorian Institute of Statistics and Census. Smallholder producers and family farmers produce most of the country's maize, rice and potatoes. Many are indigenous and Afro-Ecuadorian who, according to Luis Andrango (pictured left), President of the Nacional Confereration of Farmers Organisations, Indigenous and Afro-Ecuadorian Groups (FENOCIN), suffer the consequences of "an economic model that concentrates poverty and exlusion in the countryside, and a food price crisis that only benefits intermediaries," rather than smallholder farmers.

Countries in the Horn and East Africa are experiencing another kind of food crisis following years of failed rains and drought. The crisis is compounded by changing seasons, conflict, under-investment and high food prices. In Kenya, for example, up to 10 million people are "food insecure". Malnutrition has reached emergency levels in some rural areas and is rising in the cities, too. Drought and high food prices are a dangerous mix. As Agnes Nasur, mother of five children, from Turkana explains: "A tin of wheat flour cost 20 shillings for 300 grams ... there's so little food for the money you give. The prices are still going up. This time last year it cost 10 shillings. Compared to two years ago the quantity you receive for the same money has really reduced." Agnes copes by reducing the size of her meals or skipping meals entirely. (For more details, see the East Africa Food crisis blog.)

According to the FAO, more than one billion people are undernourished today, more than ever before. We are in grave danger of missing the Millennium Goal of halving hunger by 2015. This is despite the experts' view that we already have the means to end hunger. What is lacking is political will. This Summit could have changed all that. However, the Summit's Declaration indicates that rich countries are not prepared to do what is needed to commit the resources and hold themselves accountable in the fight against hunger and malnutrition. For instance, even the $20 billion promised for agricultural investment during this year's G8 meeting in L'Aquila may only amount to $3 billion of actual new money - the rest appears simply being re-allocated from elsewhere (see the joint Oxfam-ActionAid press release).

For those experiencing the impacts of the ongoing food crisis, this is simply not good enough. Commitment, and real action, at the World Food Summit is vital.


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