World urged to act amid growing food security fears

Global governments have been told they need to take urgent and decisive action to halt the looming food security crisis, which includes greater involvement from private sector to drive resilience.

In a joint statement, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) director general Qu Dongyu, International Monetary Fund (IMF) managing director Kristalina Georgieva, World Bank Group (WBG) president David Malpass, World Food Programme (WFP) executive director David Beasley and World Trade Organization (WTO) director general Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala released a plea for immediate urgent action to address the global crisis on food and nutrition security.

“Globally, poverty and food insecurity are both on the rise after decades of development gains,” the statement said. “Supply chain disruptions, climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic, financial tightening through rising interest rates and the war in Ukraine have caused an unprecedented shock to the global food system, with the most vulnerable hit the hardest.

“Food inflation remains high in the world, with dozens of countries experiencing double digit inflation.”

According to WFP, currently 349 million people across 79 countries are acutely food insecure. The prevalence of undernourishment is also on the rise, following three years of deterioration.

“This situation is expected to worsen, with global food supplies projected to drop to a three-year low in 2022/2023,” the statement warned. “The need is especially dire in 24 countries that FAO and WFP have identified as hunger hotspots, of which 16 are in Africa.”

It added fertilizer affordability, defined by the ratio between food prices and fertilizer prices, is also the lowest since the 2007/2008 food crisis, which is leading to lower food production and impacting smallholder farmers the hardest, worsening the already high local food prices.

In response to the inflation of food, fuel and fertilizer prices, countries have spent over $710 billion for social protection measures covering 1 billion people, including approximately $380 billion for subsidies. However, only $4.3 billion has been spent in low-income countries for social protection measures, compared to $507.6 billion in high-income countries.

The joint statement calls for three key actions to address the threats.

It has said the world must, rescue hunger hotspots, facilitate trade, including improving the functioning of markets, and enhance the role of the private sector, and reform and repurpose harmful subsidies with careful targeting and efficiency.

“We call on governments and donors to support country-level efforts to address the needs in hotspots, share information and strengthen crisis preparedness,” it added. “The WFP and FAO need funds urgently to serve the most vulnerable immediately. In 2022, WFP and partners reached a record number of people – more than 140 million – with food and nutrition assistance, based on a record-breaking $14 billion in contributions, of which $7.3 billion came from the United States Government alone.”

On trade the statement said countries should minimise trade distortions, strengthen the provision of public goods, and enable the private sector to contribute meaningfully to improved food security outcomes.

“We repeat our urgent call for countries to avoid policies such as export restrictions, which can impede access to food for poor, consumers in low-income food-importing countries, support trade facilitation measures, to improve availability of food and fertilizer, support trade finance initiatives in a transparent and in non-discriminatory manner.,

“While countries have lifted some export bans on wheat and rice, new export restrictions and bans, particularly on vegetables, are hampering availability on global markets,” The statement warned. “Global food security can be strengthened if governments support both food producers and consumers in a smart and targeted manner, such as by strengthening the provision of public goods in ways that improve farm productivity sustainably.”

Finally the statement said countries should reform and repurpose general universal subsidies towards temporary, better targeted programs for global food security and sustainable food systems.

“Most of the global social protection response to inflation is in the form of subsidies, half of which are untargeted, inefficient, and costly to already constrained governments,” it stated. “Support should be scaled up for countries to strengthen and deploy comprehensive, actionable and shock responsive social protection strategies. Policies and reforms supported by financing from IMF and the World Bank have focused on the transition from broad-based measures to more targeted approaches.

“Countries need to re-examine and reform their support to agriculture, which amounted to about $639 billion per year between 2016 and 2018, and has since been on the rise.

“Of every dollar spent, only 35 cents end up with farmers. Much of this support incentivises inefficient use of resources, distorts global markets, or undermines environmental sustainability, public health, and agricultural productivity.

“Without ignoring the inherent trade-offs associated with large scale policy reforms, this funding should be reformed and repurposed in ways that strengthen the resilience and sustainability of the agri-food system, such as the adoption of good agricultural practices, research and innovation, including in fertilizer application efficiency and alternatives to synthetic fertilisers, extension and advisory services, improved infrastructure and logistics, and digital technologies that improve productivity sustainably.”

In response to the inflation of food, fuel and fertilizer prices, countries have spent over $710 billion for social protection measures covering 1 billion people, including approximately $380 billion for subsidies. However, only $4.3 billion has been spent in low-income countries for social protection measures, compared to $507.6 billion in high-income countries.

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