Responding to the global food crisis

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.COM Ltd.

The current crisis in the global food system, caused by dramatic price rises, provides an opportunity to assure long-term food security and avoid problems in future, argue three essays in the annual report of the International Food Policy Research Institute.

The September publication outlines how drastic food price increases have focused the world’s attention on the crisis and prompted a variety of responses from governments and the international development community alike, revealing that not all of these have had the desired effect.

Josette Sheeran, executive director of the World Food Programme, and Joachim von Braun, director general of the International Food Policy Research Institute, call for rapid international action to address both the immediate emergency in many developing countries and stimulate the medium- and long-term investment needed to build a stronger food system.

Von Braun contends that national and international responses have so far returned mixed results in terms of efficiency. While progress has been made in humanitarian assistance and social protection in some countries, he argues that more needs to be done here. Similarly, the substantial investment in agricultural production made by some countries is encouraging but insufficient in the face of increased global demand, he adds.

Sheeran also supports more research and investment in agriculture and wants ‘safety net’ systems to safeguard the incomes of small farmers in developing countries. She joins von Braun in calling for a coordinated international response to meeting the “collective challenge,” most likely under UN leadership.

Namanga Ngongi, president of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, also acknowledges the global scale of the food crisis. He believes it has been building up in Africa for the past three decades, exacerbated by confusing policy shifts within the international community and by declining agricultural assistance.

Ngongi argues that African countries should concentrate on staple food crops and their producers in order to help small farmers and increase farm productivity. He nevertheless acknowledges that the issues involved are too complex for African governments to deal with alone, calling for external assistance to develop essential agricultural infrastructure.

Finally, all three authors are concerned about growing trade restrictions and bans on agricultural exports. By driving up prices, such policies “are counterproductive even for the countries that adopt them,” von Braun observes, calling for cooperation between major global actors to negotiate their abolition.

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