31 Ekim 2008 Cuma

Dealing with the Global Food Crisis

The steep increase in food prices in the past year has caused a humanitarian crisis, threatening the development potential of millions of people around the globe. Unless immediate preventive action is taken on the issue, the coming years will pose great challenges for obtaining an affordable and accessible food supply for the world's most vulnerable populations. This will result in the food crisis to undermine the fight against poverty and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.

Factors contributing to the emergence of the food crisis include food scarcity, low grain stocks, competing demands for food crops, increased diversion to ethanol and biofuel production, rising input costs for energy, restricted trade and life style changes which lead to increased meat consumption in emerging economies. The magnitude of the challenge is even more dramatic when soaring food and fuel prices combine with other factors such as adverse weather and land conditions which devastate producing land.

The food crisis has already been negatively impacting the achievement of the Millennium Goals (Goals 1, 2, 4, 5 and 6 in particular) with regards to the rise in both the magnitude and incidence of hunger/malnutrition; declining school attendance rates; deteriorating health conditions ; increase mortality rates of HIV/AIDS and pregnant women due to malnourishment.

The effects of the food crisis have also been observed in other areas. Worldwide food reserves have hit their lowest in the past decades. The rise in global temperatures caused by pollution has disrupted food production in many countries.

High prices have already prompted a string of food protests around the world. The change in the eating habits of financially affluent populations in emerging economies have increased the consumption of meat and chicken requiring animal feed to raise animals, which led to the emergence of huge demand on cereal stocks, negatively impacting the rate of food consumption by humans.

The impact of the soaring cost of oil on the food crisis is two fold. On the demand side, one of the key issues is the move to biofuels made from food crops such as corn, sugar cane, and palm oil, in an effort to ease global warming and reduce dependency on high-cost energy resources such as gasoline or diesel. Biofuels use significant amount of crop land to produce crops for ethanol and biodiesel, resulting in a sharp decline in agricultural land planted for food crops. On the supply side, Conventional large scale agricultural production is extremely energy intensive leading to increases in fertilizer and transport costs and resulting in fewer agricultural investments.

With rising food scarcity, social unrest, and accelerated inflation driven to a large extent by food prices, governments, nongovernmental organizations and multilateral agencies have begun responding to the food crisis with a new sense of urgency. However, questions remain untackled on how best to meet immediate hunger needs, and what the future holds for addressing the deeper roots of the food crisis. Immediate measures and preventive actions are required as well as medium- and long-term interventions and investments in agriculture.

The immediate measures taken during the emergency period will have positive effects on development. However steps must be taken to develop long-term solutions in agriculture by fostering the productivity of small farmers and linking them to larger markets. In order to ensure uninterrupted access to food and nutrition during unforseen periods of catastrophe, governments shoud be encouraged to invest in effective safety-net systems, enforce disaster preparedness and enhance risk-management capacities.

Despite the crisis posed by the increase in food prices, the emergency relief efforts and the awareness building impact of the crisis will introduce an opportunity for delving deeper into persistent development challenges. The rocketing food prices, coupled by the increasing demand for food, introduces a significant opportunity to reverse the past due neglect on agriculture. Promoting investments in agricultural development, governments should devise policies to keep large masses of people in rural areas productively employed in agriculture. Agricultural research should be increased, and agricultural productivity should be fostered by investing in all agricultural other inputs required for global competitiveness. Within this scope, funding should be made available to conduct research in alternative biofuel products for oil production. Investments should be encouraged in innovative areas such as algae farming to produce biofuel and animal feed with less water consumption and limited land use while maintaining environmental sustainability.

The increasing restrictions on exports in many countries make it difficult to acquire and transfer humanitarian aid around the world. Policies should be developed calling on all nations to exempt humanitarian food purchases and shipments from these restrictions. Earmarks and restrictions should not limit the ability of donor contributions to reach those in urgent need.

As food prices keep rising, more and more people around the globe will be unable to afford the food they need to survive. A healthy food supply should be recognized as a human right and policies should be implemented in all countries to ensure that people have access to sufficient food. Lessons must be learnt from this crisis should serve as a for taking preventive measures against any unforeseen challenges in the future.

Written by Zeynep Basak 2008. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the author's permission.

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