Global Food Security: Challenges and Response
Food is the first basic human need and fundamental right of every human being, having constitutional guarantees in almost all countries. The United Nations (UN) recognized the Right to food in its Declaration of Human Rights issued in 1948, considering it to be vital for the enjoyment of all other rights. That’s why food security has always been a crucial issue in every country .However there is increasing global concern in it after 2007/8 food crises which not only wiped out a significant proportion of progress made in the previous two decades but also created legitimacy crises for many regimes and posed existential threats to several weak states. There were many reasons for these food crises including:
- Global population growth combined with increasing prosperity in the middle income countries particularly China, India, Brazil and Indonesia resulted in more than proportional increase in the demand for food grains.
- Loss of valuable arable agricultural land as a result of climate change, urban sprawls, infrastructural development and industrial growth in developing countries. The increase in area under agricultural use was utilized for the production of those crops which were used for making of biofuel.
- Failure of technology to develop high yielding varieties because of consistently reduced investment in agricultural R&D over a long period.
- Sudden increase in world oil prices at more than $100 a barrel making not only the agricultural inputs expensive but also increasing the transportation costs.
- Imposition of restrictions on the export of food commodities by the food exporting countries and panic buying by the developing countries were the last straw on camel’s back. These were exuberated by the speculative trading in the food commodities.
- Governance issues in developing countries accentuated the food crises as the access to food was restricted due to mismanagement more than the lack of resources. Similarly the anti agricultural bias of public policies and non availability of social safety nets also worsened the food security situation in most of the developing countries.
Food Security –Evolution of the Concept
Food Security is an evolving concept, getting refined after new developments and greater awareness about its necessity. During 1970s, food crises created awareness for food security and led to formal institutional response globally. However food availability through buffer stocks was considered enough for ensuring food security. During 1980s, concern with increased poverty added access to food as essential as food availability for food security. During 1990s, interest in human development led to absorption of food also as an essential component of food security. During 2000s, recurring food crises necessitated to include stability as one of the main components of food security. During 2010s, evidence of increasing malnutrition among the children/females led to inclusion of nutrition also as an essential element of food security.
While Food and Agriculture Organisation of UN defines food security “when all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life”, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has a more comprehensive definition of food insecurity. It says that“Food insecurity is a situation of limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods or limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways“.
Irrespective of which definition we choose, food security invariably means five things;
- Availability: Sufficient quantity of staple food is available in the country, whether produced locally or supplemented with imports to meet the deficit
- Access: It is accessible to people who have enough resources to purchase it or state can provide them under its social safety network. And it is physically accessible also to a common man without any let or hindrance.
- Absorption: People are healthy to absorb it
- Stability: Food supplies /prices are stable over period
- Nutrition: It is nutritious enough to sustain a human body
Global Food Security Profile
No doubt substantial progress has been made by all the countries in improving their respective food security profiles since the MDGs were launched in 2000, the number of people chronically undernourished are more than 870 million, bulk of whom are in Africa and Asia. Despite the inadequate methodology used by Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO)to assess the magnitude of mal/undernourishment, it is estimated that almost 15 percent of the population living in Africa, Asia and South America is undernourished. In its recent report, FAO estimates
- Between now and 2050, the global population is projected to rise from about 7 billion to 9.2 billion, demanding a 60 percent increase in global food production.
- A total of 842 million are estimated to be suffering from chronic hunger, regularly not getting enough food to conduct an active life.
- The vast majority of hungry people—827 million—live in developing regions, where the prevalence of undernourishment is estimated at 14.3%.
- In developing countries, almost five million children under the age of five die of malnutrition-related causes every year.
- Malnutrition is the single largest contributor to disease in the world.
- Severe acute malnutrition affects nearly 20 million preschool-age children, mostly from Africa and South-East Asia.
- 1/3 of the developing world’s population suffers micronutrient deficiencies leading to blindness, mental retardation and early death.
- 162 million children are stunted; 99 million are underweight9 and 51 million are wasted due to acute malnutrition.
- The cost to the economy caused by malnutrition could be up to 5 percent of GDP—US$3.5 trillion per year or US$500 per person.
- The costs of under nutrition and micronutrient deficiencies are estimated at 2–3 percent of global GDP, or US$1.4–2.1 trillion per year
Global Food Security Challenges
Global food security situation cannot be improved unless we identify the challenges it is facing and find appropriate responses to these challenges. Some of the challenges can be identified as follows;
Slow rate of growth of food production is adversely affecting the supply of food grains which in turn is due to the following reasons:
- Decrease in cultivated area as a result of rapid urbanization, industrialization and infrastructural projects on lands used for agriculture
- Degradation of arable lands due to bad agricultural and irrigation practices resulting in stagnant yields. Situation is exacerbated due to less than adequate resource allocation for agricultural R&D
- Climate change and environmental threats adversely affecting the crop cycles and loss of soil fertility
- Increased cultivation of Biofuels crops on areas previously used for food crops cultivation
- Land grabbing by corporate firms in food insecure countries for cultivation of food grains and their export to rich countries
Increasing consumption and wastages are putting pressures on food grains stocks as a result of:
- Increasing population- sheer number of people demanding food is increasing
- Growing prosperity-more meat items in the domestic menu which needs more food grains
- Changing food habits-urbanization needs more processed food which consumes more food
- Wastages-over eating, throwing away of food cooked more than the needs and food getting expired in the domestic fridges/chain stores
There are bottlenecks in the distribution chain which accentuate the food security situation in developing countries even in normal times i.e.
- Access to food-financial constraints due to persistent poverty, inequality and lack of sufficient job opportunities
- Access to food-physical constraints, due to bad governance, infrastructural inadequacies or wrong policy framework i.e. imposing restrictions on movement of food grains from surplus areas to deficit ones for facilitating official procurement
- Food Denial to people and communities due to militancy, civil war or proxy wars
Finally there are governance issues, particularly in poor countries which adversely affect the availability of food to the people at affordable prices due to:
- Poor commitment of the ruling elite in the form of appropriate policy formulation, resource allocation and institutional mechanism to ensure access of the common man to food through agricultural development ,creation of social safety networks etc
- Not providing good governance whereby people have freedom to get food grains without any hassle
- Not improving overall law and order and security situation in the country for peaceful movement of the food grains and its convenient availability
- Not making special arrangements for the provision of food grains in conflict/disaster prone areas
Global Food Security: Responses
Food crises of 2007/8 forced the policy makers and academia all over the world to focus on the food security from new perspectives. Some of the following lessons learnt during the crises are providing guidelines for them to devise an appropriate response;
- Food security is now inextricably linked with poverty reduction strategies of the developing countries because of their complex interdependence. That is why the very first Millennium Development Goal dealing with the reduction of poverty lays special emphasis on eradication of hunger from the member countries.
- However growth, though essential for poverty alleviation which in turn is a crucial condition for food and nutrition security, must be accompanied by social and political structural changes which could result in good governance, people empowerment, gender balance, private sector participation etc. Only an all inclusive growth can ensure the participation of poor in growth process for substantial improvement in food security profile of the country
- Within this framework, there must be targeted attack on the worst forms of poverty, particularly on the food and nutrition aspects to ensure food security—safe drinking water, health services, and targeted food fortification.
- In the broader perspective, agriculture being the base of these economies, it is the agricultural development which makes the biggest dent in poverty reduction and hence food and nutrition security.
- Despite the highest growth rates which can be achieved, there will always remain a significant section of society which could not reap the benefits of growth for any reason. State must create an effective, efficient and transparent system of social safety nets for them.
The above viewpoint has been reiterated in a recent report of UNDP regarding human development in Africa, through its emphases on the following four areas to ensure a food secure future;
- Increasing productivity of smallholder farmers
- More effective nutrition policies (especially for children and women)
- Greater community and household resilience to cope with shocks
- Wider popular participation and empowerment.
The basic thrust of the report is to “view the food security as multi-sectoral phenomenon, as a challenge beyond sectoral mandates, integrating humanitarian and development work, enabling the people and communities themselves to strengthen their resilience. However, for this correct policy decisions and governance are necessary because it is through responsible governance and forthright action that the potential gains for human development and food security can be reached.”
Food Security-Country Response
Learning lessons from the food crises of 2007/8,there has been renewed interest among the policy makers and the academia in devising appropriate policy framework as well as institutional mechanism to avert the recurrence of such crises in future and for timely response in case of any such eventuality. Each country is therefore encouraged to take the following actions to improve its food security profile:
- Increase production through horizontal expansion-increase areas under cultivation through technological interventions, greater water availability and using it efficiently
- Devise an appropriate land use policy to save arable lands from property development and infrastructural use, more reliance on intercropping and agro forestry etc
- Increase production through vertical expansion-increase the total factors productivity by devoting sufficient resources for agricultural R&D, creating greater awareness and use of good agricultural practices including farm mechanisation, making available quality inputs at affordable prices to the farmers etc.
- Reduce production and post production losses and wastages by encouraging judicious use of chemicals and improved processing facilities
- Timely import of food grains in case of likely production shortfalls and establishing food godowns at convenient places to respond to the needs of vulnerable groups as and when needed
- Improve financial access of the people to food through employment creation, skill development and job clearance information networks
- Provide income support to the extremely poor by creating social safety nets
- Improve physical access of the people to food by facilitating free movement of food grains throughout the country and ensuring law and order
- Improve general health care by allocating more resources to promotive and preventive healthcare which is more cost effective and helpful in the developing countries than the curative
- Population planning for arresting its rapid growth with particular attention to mother and child healthcare
- Pay special attention to water borne diseases which are widespread but can be controlled with dedicated efforts
- Food fortification to make it healthy and absorption friendly
- Establish adequate system to forecast shortages and take timely measures to keep the prices of food grains stable
- Each country must have sufficient buffer stocks conveniently located for transportation in different parts to ensure their easy availability in emergency situation
- In time import of food grains whenever a country or a region’s stocks appear to fall below the danger threshold
Food Security-Global Response
Although ensuring food security for their citizens is the ultimate responsibility of respective countries, it cannot be adequately accomplished without collective and coordinated response by the global community. Some of the measures needed in this respect are as follows;
- There is a need for a formal renewed commitment at global and state level to reduce poverty by dedicating sufficient resources for job creation, skill formation ,social safety nets and ensuring good governance
- All countries must allocate more resources for agricultural Research and Development and encourage global collaboration to share the findings of research at institutional and private level.
- Similarly there is an urgent need for global collaboration to carry out healthcare reforms to improve absorption and nutrition capacity of the people in the developing countries
- There cannot be two opinions about the need and urgency for putting in place an efficient and reliable forecasting and early warning systems for food grains production and stocks position. Timely information about the global trends in stocks and production and early warning in case of looming food shortages must be available
- United Nations should devise a Code of conduct for food exporting countries not to impose restrictions on the exports of food in times of crises which aggravate the situation more than the actual crises
- Early agreement on global warming, environmental sustainability and climate change which is a looming threat for global food security
- Regional buffer stocks at neutral places under the supervision of WFP be established for timely response to emergent threats of food shortages
- There is an urgent need for devising fair rules of the game in international trade which could ensure equitable share for every trading nation in the increase in global trade and development
- There must be a universal policy framework for corporate farming to restrain the rich nations to grab lands in the developing countries to ensure their own food security at the cost malnutrition in the developing nations.
- Fuel security cannot be achieved at the cost of food security, particularly in countries already facing food crises. They must ban the use of arable land for cultivation of crops for biofuels on lands already under cultivation for production of food crops.
No doubt, developing countries have made significant progress in reducing poverty / hunger as suggested in the Millennium Development Goals resulting in more than 17 percent decline in the incidence of undernourishment in developing countries as a whole since 1990–92. However, still one eighth population of the world is food insecure in these countries. There is thus a very crucial lesson for the policy makers worldwide-exclusive reliance on growth for raising incomes and reducing hunger is not enough: only sustainable & broad based growth accompanied by targeted attack on worst forms of poverty and hunger can ensure food security. Growth policies must therefore aim at enhancing agricultural productivity by allocating sufficient resources for agricultural R&D, improve the terms of trade for the agricultural sector and devise appropriate social safety nets for the urban poor and rural landless farmers.