Last summer, the price increases caused by drought in the United States and in the region of the Black Sea led to fears by the international community of a new global food crisis similar to that of 2007/8 and 2010. If these fears were allayed during the autumn, the threat of a food crisis is far from being permanently ruled out. As pointed out by Josette Sheeran, vice-president of the World Economic Forum and former Director General of the World Food Programme of the United Nations during a conference held at IFPRI on 4th
December, the world may well face a “food cliff” in the years to come. We recommend reading the account of her speech, written by Peter Shelton and published on the IFPRI website1
. It shows how the latest data on agricultural production and hunger in the world suggest an uncertain future for global food security in a context marked by strong growth in world food consumption, the hyper volatility of agricultural prices, climate change and reduced global food stocks. While the risks to agricultural production and food consumption have rarely been higher, Josette Sheeran thinks the world has entered “an era of permanent food crisis”. To deal with this situation, she proposes a new paradigm for food and agriculture, in particular based on a radical change in the governance of food and agriculture, so that governance is more integrated, coherent and effective. Indeed, without proper governance on food and agriculture that supervises and coordinates the different sectors and actors involved in agriculture and food security, it seems unrealistic to expect long-term improvement in food security. Such governance should particularly enable the implementation of regulatory public policies, coordinated at an international level, to stabilize agricultural prices and ensure sufficiently stable and remunerative incomes to farmers.
momagri Editorial board
By now, most Americans have heard of the pending “fiscal cliff,” but have they heard of the “food cliff?” According to Josette Sheeran, Vice-Chairman of the World Economic Forum (WEF) and former Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP), falling off this precipice could have even more dire and far-reaching consequences than America’s financial woes, and would be felt throughout the world for generations to come.
Sheeran delivered her remarks during the Annual Martin J. Forman Lecture this past Tuesday at IFPRI’s Washington, DC office. The lecture series, now in its 22nd year, honors the former Head of USAID’s Office of Nutrition for his lasting contribution to international nutrition research and advocacy.
The latest data on global food production, supply, hunger, and malnutrition paint a complicated picture for the future of food and nutrition security, said Sheeran. On one hand, if we add up the total number of available food calories produced by the people living on our planet, here is more than enough food to meet the caloric requirements of every man, woman, and child. Even after crop loss, waste, and using food as animal fodder, there is still more than enough to meet basic dietary needs, she said.
Yet, clearly, not everyone’s needs are being met: almost 1 billion people are undernourished, and this number will only rise, as global population figures are predicted to balloon to 9.1 billion by 2050. Said Sheeran, “Over the next 40 years, we need to produce more food than the last 8,000 years combined!”
According to Sheeran, recent developments indicate that the “food cliff” may be even closer than we previously thought. In six of the past 11 years, global food consumption has exceeded production, and food reserves are now “dangerously low,” particularly for staple grains such as wheat and maize. US wheat production, for example, has dropped 20 percent this season due to drought, and wheat harvests in the EU, Russia, and Ukraine are also low. The FAO predicts global wheat production will fall below demand in 2012-2013, and maize prices could rise by as much as 180 percent by 2030, partially due to the impacts of global climate change. We are entering, in Sheeran’s words, “an era of permanent food crisis.”
So what can we do?
Sheeran proposes a “21st
century paradigm” for food and nutrition, based on four important “game changers” in public-private partnerships. First, enhance partnerships to produce and expand access to affordable, nutrient-dense, fortified foods, such as biofortified crops and emergency food packets for the severely malnourished. Second, invest in smallholder farmers— particularly women—and in whole agricultural value chains. Such investments have led to major payoffs not only toward increasing production but also raising incomes and reducing poverty. Sheeran challenged the audience to change the way we view the entire food and nutrition system and form a sustainable “circular food economy,” as the third game changer. She cited the Zero Hunger Project in Brazil and the Grow Africa initiative as excellent recent examples of such “whole picture” level approaches. Finally, Sheeran recommended engendering strong, inspired leaders who are prepared to take action in the growing face of food and nutrition security challenges. As she explained, during the 2007-08 global food crisis, she “didn’t know who to call,” as there was no one person or governing body suitably prepared to take effective action at the time.
The “food cliff”, indeed, poses a serious challenge, but Sheeran imparted hope: the power of working together, breaking down barriers, and forming innovative partnerships that can shift us away from the edge and move millions out of hunger and malnutrition.
1 To read the whole Peter Shelton’s article on the IFPRI’s website: http://www.ifpri.org/blog/are-we-headed-food-cliff. The entire conference is also available in podcast on the IFPRI’s website : http://www.podomatic.com/playlist/ifpri-webmaster/543562