“Each year, the United States spends more than $1.5 billion feeding starving people overseas,” columnist Farah Stockman writes in a Boston Globe opinion piece. “But our charity comes with a catch: The food has to be bought in America, and much of it must be shipped on American ships,” she continues, adding, “Researchers estimate that buying food closer to where needy people are costs about half as much.” She continues, “We are the last donor country in the world to have these rules,” and writes, “At a time of budget cuts, you would think that one thing Republicans and Democrats could agree on would be making sure every tax dollar stretches as far as it can.” Stockman asks, “Why don’t we just change it?”
Food Security and Nutrition
“Top United Nations officials [on Monday] called on the Security Council and the wider international community to support efforts to develop an integrated strategy to tackle the complex and multifaceted crisis facing the Sahel region of West Africa,” the U.N. News Centre reports. “‘The warning lights for the Sahel region continue to flash,’ Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the Council, as it met to discuss the situation in a region that stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea, and includes Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, and parts of Sudan, Cameroon and Nigeria,” the news service writes. “In addition to political instability in Mali, the region — particularly in its west — suffers from extreme poverty, with human development levels among the lowest in the world, porous borders that present significant security challenges, as well as human rights problems,” according to the news service.
“Excessive corruption, poor infrastructure and scarce government resources were deterring investment in agriculture and contributing to high levels of malnourishment around the world,” Xinhua writes, noting the release on Thursday of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) annual report. “A new investment strategy is needed that puts agricultural producers at its center,” FAO Director-General Jose Graziano da Silva said, Xinhua notes. According to the report, farmers in low- and middle-income countries invest more than $170 billion annually in their farms, which is “three times as much as all other sources of investment combined, four times more than contributions by the public sector, and over 50 times more than official development assistance to these countries,” Xinhua reports (12/7).
Climate Change Conference Postpones Discussion Of Agriculture; U.N. Warns Food Prices, Child Malnutrition Will Rise If Issue Not Addressed
“Discussions about much-needed support for agriculture — which is seen both as a victim and a cause of climate change — at the U.N.’s climate change conference in Doha have been postponed until next year,” IRIN reports. Agriculture affects climate change, with the production of greenhouse gas emissions, “[b]ut climate change also threatens agriculture, which most developing countries’ populations rely on for income,” the news service writes, adding, “The impact of climate change also threatens global food security; projections show that yields from food crops could decline by five percent for each degree Celsius increase in global warming” (12/5).
“Most people think malnutrition is all about not having enough food or enough of the right kind of food to eat,” but while “[t]his is a big part of the story … there are many other links in the chain,” Lawrence Haddad, director of the Institute of Development Studies, writes in a BBC Magazine opinion piece. “So dealing with malnutrition means fixing all the links in the chain — food, health, sanitation, water and care,” he states. “We know that handwashing with soap helps prevent diarrhea. We know that fortifying flour and salt with key vitamins and minerals bolsters nutrient intake for those with low quality diets. We know that deworming improves nutrient absorption by the gut,” he continues.
“Global food prices remained stable, though close to 2008 record levels, the World Bank said on Thursday, as it warned that a ‘new norm’ of costlier food was setting in and threatening to increase hunger and malnutrition in the world’s poorer regions,” Reuters reports. “In an update of its quarterly ‘Food Price Watch’ report, the World Bank said the absence of ‘panic policies,’ such as food export restrictions, had helped stabilize commodity prices since price spikes in July,” the news service writes. “The World Bank food price index shows that while prices have stabilized they are seven percent higher than a year ago,” according to Reuters. “In particular, grains are up 12 percent from a year ago and close to the all-time high set during a global food price crisis in 2008, when food riots broke out in Asia and Africa,” the news service notes. “The World Bank urged governments to strengthen safety nets for the poorest and ensure that nutrition was factored into the help given to poor households,” Reuters writes, adding, “U.N. agencies have estimated that some 870 million people are chronically malnourished” (Wroughton, 11/29).
“Poverty is the leading cause of many vitamin deficiencies, especially vitamin A,” and the problem is acute in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, where food staples such as cassava and rice are high in calories but low in nutrients, Inter Press Service reports. Some experts say parents’ lack of knowledge about the nutritional requirements for children can lead to undernourishment, particularly in children under age five, the news service notes. “Still, there are signs that the trend is changing, largely due to a renewed push by development practitioners around the world to tackle the problem,” IPS writes and describes several efforts to improve access to vitamins. The news service concludes, “Nutrition plays a role in achieving almost every [Millennium Development Goal] — its impact on child health, for instance, could also boost the number of children attending school, promote gender equality by empowering women to take a more active role in their children’s health, and also improve maternal health, thereby reducing the maternal mortality ratio” (11/26).
The Financial Times examines “[a] complex cocktail of demographic, economic, and policy changes [that] can be blamed for increased pressure on the food supply.” The newspaper writes, “Climate change is having a number of effects on food production,” and notes “the effect of climate change is not only felt in steady, incremental shifts but also in volatility, unpredictability and an increase in extreme storms, floods and droughts.” However, “[c]limate change is certainly not the only culprit when it comes to food insecurity,” the newspaper writes, adding that “increasingly affluent citizens in countries such as China and India want to consume more better quality food and meat, both of which are highly resource intensive,” and “[c]ompetition for agricultural land has intensified, with increased biofuel production and expanding urban areas.”
The Feed the Future blog features an interview with Roger Thurow, senior fellow for global agriculture and food policy at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and a ONE Campaign fellow. Thurow says, “Securing the global food system is also one of the biggest — if not the biggest — challenge facing us in the coming decades. … And it is important to not just focus on increasing production, but to put nutrition — growing a cornucopia of more nutritious food — at the center of our efforts as well.” He discusses Feed the Future and says two “important aspects” of the program are “an emphasis on long-term agricultural development (rather than solely focusing on short-term emergency food aid relief) and a focus on the smallholder farmers of the developing world” (11/20).
International Community Should Break Sahel Region’s Food Insecurity Cycle In 2013, U.N. Official Says
The continuous cycle of food insecurity in Africa’s Sahel region has created vulnerabilities among families who are unable to recover following multiple droughts and crop failures, VOA News reports. U.N. Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Sahel David Gressly said the international community needs to break the food insecurity cycle in 2013, by building resilience through long-term solutions that will help the 18 million people across nine countries affected by food shortages in 2012, according to the news service. “Gressly said this means reducing chronic child malnutrition, improving irrigation and drainage systems, diversifying food sources, finding better ways to preserve food stocks, and addressing potentially harmful cultural practices,” VOA writes. “The regional food security advocacy coordinator for British aid group Oxfam, Al Hassan Cisse, said better grain storage and programs like universal health insurance are other keys to resilience,” the news service notes (Lazuta, 11/19).