The current food crisis can be defined as a combination of decline in stocks of primary or staple food produce (essentially grains and cereals) and escalating prices of food products.
i. There exist four primary causes: reduced crop output in major producing areas like Australia, Canada and the US (due to climate change); increased use of crops for biofuel production rather than for food; high price of oil (fossil fuels) for mechanised farming which is largely dependent on the use (and their attendant high costs) of fertilisers, pesticides, farm machinery and transport; and trends in local/global population and economic growth especially with increased demand for food in rapidly developing economies like China and India, whose combined population constitutes about 36% of the world’s!
The impacts of the prevailing food crisis cover a wide spectrum. About 850 million in the world today are estimated to suffer from hunger of those, about 820 million live in developing countries. These people suffer acutely from rise in staple food prices with the most affected being women who are unable to feed their families.
Furthermore, conditions of already impoverished regions (with most people living below the poverty line) can only be exacerbated. The resulting food insecurity in these regions will as a matter of fact trigger civil unrests, social conflicts, eventual humanitarian crises and rising aid costs.
In addition, the larger corollary of this quandary might spell doom in the health sector. Increases in animal feed and food prices threaten livelihood and nutrition of young children. Controversially, it has already been reported that sex work is on the rise due to high food prices, unemployment and lack of economic opportunities for vulnerable women. High food prices have put pressure on HIV programmes. People living with HIV need more nutrition than healthy people but as prices continue to rise, people will start buying cheaper, less nutritious food and may begin to skip meals.
Unabated food crisis may hurt economic growth especially of not-too-robust economies of developing countries, the hard-hit being the susceptible poor. Soaring food and fuel prices will undoubtedly hamper economic growth. Moreover, increasing food prices and decreasing food stocks will undermine gains of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) particularly by increasing poverty and putting the MDGs target out of reach.
ii. Preventing similar occurrence of the current food crisis both in the short and long terms will require immediate and proactive interventions.
In the short term, the key policy options will entail formation of a UN/World Bank task force to co-ordinate efforts to alleviate the crisis; releasing of reserves into the market (which may bring the price down significantly); increasing loans to farmers in developing regions and emergency monetary aid to badly affected areas; dropping mandatory targets aimed at increasing the ration of biofuels used in transport; and creation of food-exporting countries with the potential to develop a price-fixing cartel is expedient, although care must be taken so as not to capitalise on the crisis.
On a long term basis, domestic food production should be protected through trade agreements that seek to address imbalances in supply and demand, exclusion from access to land, unfair trade practices and distorted incentives and subsidies. Furthermore, the most unsustainable agricultural practices should be phased out.
Climate change (with its attendant problems) should be addressed continuously. Moreover, both developed and emerging economies (particularly the US, China and India), “must begin to see the possibility of evolving a new lifestyle, with new methods of production and new patterns of consumption; a lifestyle designed for permanence.”