As leaders dined during the three day G8 summit last week, 75,000 children perished from malnutrition, declared Save the Children. This is a few of the billion people classified as hungry, a number which for the first time in four decades is increasing. Food security is now a priority and the challenges are only becoming greater.
The rise of the ‘hungry’ represents a perfect storm of rising food prices - a result of vicious trends in the last two decades of neglecting aid to agricultural production, turning land to biofuels and withering global warming - and poverty, with the present calamity of the economic crisis threatening the prosperity of a further 200 million people.
The G8 + G5 saw food security re-asserted at the top of the international agenda and most importantly ‘new thinking’, stemming predominantly from a US and Japanese leadership.
Foremost is a commitment to aid of $20 billion and a movement away from traditional aid, essentially subsidised domestic produce that stripped developing world farmers of profits and markets, towards state-led efforts to increase agricultural productivity; proclaimed as the ‘green revolution’.
This is combined with efforts to end the harmful food shocks, responsible for rioting in thirty states in 2008. The G8 aims therefore to discipline disruptive market forces and promote storage of food stocks.
These ‘insurance’ schemes will be supplemented with support for state safety-nets, most significant of which is cash transfers, a form of supplementing for the poorest, against increased food costs.
These schemes work for the rural producers, which in Africa account for 70% of the population and about ¾ of the ‘hungry’. By working to increase production and providing price security for farmers, these efforts could go a significant way to not only combat rural poverty and starvation, but also to provide affordable food.
Rwanda, with its expanding population, 90% of which work in the agricultural sector, will benefit from international support for a state-led improvement of productivity rates. Schemes, such as in Bugesera - which received an international loan for 77% of an irrigation project - could transform the sluggish performance of agriculture, currently only providing 10% of export value.
However whilst genuine sums are being thrown behind food security, these statements do not represent a solution, as one astute UN observer noted ‘food security remains a goal, yet a reality’.
These remarks stem from two much more difficult trends to solve, climate change and the economic crisis, which will ultimately determine future food security.
Long-term food availability rests upon controlling the effects of climate change, perhaps most harmful in their impact upon the delicate agricultural conditions in Africa, especially in Southern Africa, a region prone to drought. In this respect the G8 was less acute, with a failure to pledge short-term commitments.
Meanwhile the economic crisis, beginning in the hedge funds in New York has subsequently wreaked havoc to trade in the developing world, with African states expecting a $49 billion reduction in their economies. This will directly plunge 200 million people into poverty, creating further pressures on food affordability.
These climatic irregularities and the economic crisis will be persistent affronts to the attempts to establish food security. The long term impact will be to exacerbate existent safety-net measures and challenge the measures to avoid food shocks.
There are also doubts over the sincerity of pledges by the G8; the largest criticism is directed at the Gleneagles Summit, in which states have uniformly failed to fulfil their commitment of $50 billion to combat food insecurity.
The states will, from 2010, be judged in a league table, showing success in aid pledges, however doubts remain over the expediency of this vital funding, Oxfam stated that they wanted ‘nothing less than emergency plans’.
The commitment to food security has rebounded from its sallow state. The initiatives, if pursued, will work to reduce hunger for many, including those suffering in Rwanda; however despite the ‘new thinking’ and the commitment to the rural population, food security in the future will rest upon how the world reacts to the pressing issue of global warming and work to mitigate the impact of the financial crisis on the developing world.
Both of these issues remain unanswered, and with it the future assurance of food security for the hungry.