Feed the hungry for sustainable progress


When we place an undernourished child on the scale, we are weighing not only a weakened organism, but also the synthesis of a system of reasoning as cruel as the one that cuts down trees, blows destruction and excludes the possibility of a decent life to over one billion people worldwide. The conscience of the 21st century can no longer neglect that, as long as there is hunger, there will be no sustainable future.

Nothing that resembles the systematic production of excluded populations will result in a lasting equilibrium. The challenges that humanity faces cannot be dealt with by repeating the segmented approach predominant in the developing pattern of the 20th century that left us as legacy different social and environmental deadlocks.

The impact of climate change is specially harsh on the populations that are poor, institutionally unprotected and less capable of reacting quickly to extreme events. Among them are, for instance, are those excluded from the market, small-scale farmers and the rural poor. In almost all regions of the world, the poorest people live in areas with a greater vulnerability to climatic events that are accentuated by cyclical phenomena such as the El Niño and La Niña.

Volatility in food prices

Climate change also increases the intensity and unpredictability of climate-related events. The consequences are already visible, for instance, in the rise of agricultural insurance costs and in the water shortage in some parts of the world. This is the greatest limitation to the expansion in food production. Furthermore, the uncertainty related to climate contributes to the volatility in food prices.

Up to 2050, developing countries may experience a decline of between 9 and 21 per cent in overall potential agricultural productivity as a result of global warming.

Even a relatively slight increase between 1°C and 2°C in the global temperature may have significant impacts in the world food security because, if effective adaptation measures are not taken, it would cause a fall in productivity and would reduce land suitable for agriculture in lower-latitude regions around the equator, where most of the developing countries are located.

On the other hand, the number of people in the world is expected to grow at a rate of 80 million per year, roughly the equivalent of the population of Ethiopia. In 2050, there will be over nine billion mouths to feed. To guarantee food supply, FAO estimates it is necessary to add, per year, the equivalent of the agricultural production of Australia.
Therefore, there is no Malthusianism in recognising that climate change may threaten food security. However, there is enough land, as well as technology and knowledge available to increase production and feed every single person in the world. And in 2050, it will be possible to feed everybody almost without expanding the agricultural frontier.
What is still missing are more investments and political commitment that would allow us to explore the production potential to its fullest. This reaffirms the urgency of an articulated action to beat hunger and the environmental imbalance at the same time.

As Copenhagen may have inaugurated a new cycle that will allow us to effectively mitigate climate change, the World Summit on Food Security that took place at FAO, in November, suggests an inflection point in the fight against hunger.

What has been exhausted in this case may have been ever more important. Since the 80s, governments, mainly in the developing countries, have been urged to transfer the responsibility of guaranteed domestic food supply to the international market and its ‘just in time” supply of cheap food. Thus, rural development policies, specially those focused on small-scale farming, were dismantled. Emergency food stocks dwindled. The proportion of official development assistance destined to agriculture fell from 17 per cent in the 80s to less than five per cent nowadays. In a world of abundant supply and obliging markets, what sense was there to channel scarce public funds to poor farmers?
The answer came in the form of a disaster: food prices exploded in 2008 and the number of undernourished people worldwide reached a sombre record, rising from 873 million to over one billion in just two years.

The First Millennium Development Goal has become harder to reach and international aid is still insufficient. In light of this, the response from the Rome Summit was clear: it is time to strengthen the development pillar of the twin-track approach to fight hunger and the primary responsibility for fighting hunger needs to be reclaimed by the developing countries. Strategies to promote food security cannot be imposed from the outside; they need to be built based on national dialogues inside the countries with, if necessary, the support of the international community.

IPS

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