Resolving the food crisis
The Food and
Agricultural Organisation (FAO) has disclosed that the number of
hungry people increased by another 50 million last year. This is
indeed alarming, since 50 million is a substantial slice of the
six billion overall population.
This is mainly due to the unprecedented food crisis faced by
the entire world. The prices of many essential commodities have
risen drastically, leaving many food items out of the reach of
low income earners.
Both developed and developing countries have been affected by
the crisis. But developing countries received a ‘double blow’ in
the form of the oil crisis - the price of a barrel of oil has
touched US$ 145.
It is not a crisis that seems to be resolved anytime soon.
The world is likely to witness a similar trend over the coming
years and there is every sign that it may aggravate.
The FAO has attributed the food crisis to rising demand for
agricultural products due to population growth and economic
development in emerging countries; the rapid expansion of
biofuels; and insufficient supply as production is negatively
affected by climate change, in particular drought and floods, at
a time when cereal stocks are at their lowest levels in 30
These trends are exacerbated by restrictive measures taken by
some exporting countries to protect their consumers and the
speculation of hedge, index and other funds on the futures
One can argue that the most obvious solution is increasing
agricultural output. But the high prices of agricultural inputs
are a major obstacle for developing countries to increase
agricultural production. From January 2007 to April 2008,
fertiliser prices rose at a much faster rate than food prices.
Perhaps the time has to come to rely more on non-chemical,
traditional fertilisers which do not have any additional side
effects as well. Supporting farmers in developing countries,
through the supply of seeds and fertilisers, should also be a
The biofuel phenomenon has added another dimension to the
food crisis. Millions of tonnes of agricultural crops are
diverted for the manufacture of biofuels, thus depriving
consumers the chance to get these crops. There have been calls
at the highest levels for a moratorium on the manufacture of
The nations of the world must also address the serious issue
of climate change, which has sent agricultural seasons and
patterns haywire. Droughts are common in periods that previously
saw rains and vice versa. If no urgent action is taken, the
world will witness worse times.
The best option is working together to find solutions to the
As the FAO says, we urgently need new and stronger
partnerships to address the growing food security problems in
poor countries. No single institution or country will be able to
resolve this crisis. Donor countries, international
institutions, Governments of developing countries, civil society
and the private sector have an important role to play in the
global fight against hunger.
There is another school of thought, endorsed by the FAO, that
developing countries have neglected agriculture in prioritising
industrialisation. There is an element of truth in this
argument, as most developing countries have seen
industrialisation as a ‘saviour’ and an easy route to
development, instead of agriculture.
Another factor is that the pace of modernisation in the
agriculture sphere is low, thus limiting harvests. There is
little or no research on issues such as obtaining higher yields
and growing disease-resistant crops.
In fact, investment in agricultural research in developing
countries is less than 0.6 per cent of their gross domestic
product, compared to more than 5 per cent in the OECD
(Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development)
Thus there should be renewed efforts to on boosting
investment in agriculture by both public and private entities.
Improving rural infrastructure and allowing small-time
farmers to benefit from market opportunities are also essential.
Faster, better roads linking the hinterland with the main cities
enable farmers to sell perishables without incurring any waste.
Eliminating, or even reducing hunger will not be an easy
task. In order to reduce the number of undernourished in the
world and meet growing demands, global food production needs to
double by 2050. Individually and collectively, countries must
strive to increase agri production with this target in mind.
Only then will it be possible to resolve the food crisis.