Tackling the Global Food Crisis

By Ronit Ridberg

Sustainable agriculture is critical to address the global hunger crisis. A new report released by the UK Hunger Alliance and the Oakland Institute reveals that a package of interventions put in place by the Group of 8 (G8), which included food subsidies and cash transfers among other things, was insufficient in responding to the global food price crisis of 2007-2008.

According to a new Oakland Institute report, investment in sustainable agriculture is critical in addressing the global hunger crisis. (Photo Credit: Bernard Pollack)

“Despite lofty aid commitments at international summits, only a marginal proportion of the G8′s financial pledges to address hunger have actually been disbursed,” said Frederic Mousseau, Senior Fellow at the Oakland Institute and author of the report. In addition to policy recommendations regarding trade and fiscal measures, management of food stocks and price controls, the report focuses on ways to support improvements in agricultural production in the long term.

Apparently the most common form of agricultural investment to date has been on short-term, chemical interventions, namely fertilizer. For several countries, like Ethiopia, Benin, Niger, Rwanda, and Nicaragua, the World Bank’s support of inputs represented 90-100 percent of funding.

The report calls this focus on chemical inputs a “missed opportunity” suggesting that services like irrigation, extension, local seed production, crop diversification, preservation of natural resources, and investment in favor of small-holders and the rural poor would be more effective in addressing root causes of hunger.

Another challenge not adequately accounted for in the G8 response to the hunger crisis is the inequitable distribution of land. Rising food prices have encouraged the large-scale purchase and lease of land in developing countries, creating a greater obstacle for small-scale agricultural production. (For more on these land deals, see Innovations in Access to Land: Land Grab or Agricultural Investment?)

The report does cite some positive case studies: In the Philippines the government ended its fertilizer subsidy program in 2009 to encourage the use of organic fertilizer instead. In late 2008, Bangladesh used about US$15 million of international investment to install four large-scale waste composting plants south-east of Dhaka.

The number of hungry people in the world is growing, now surpassing 1 billion. Despite historic budget increases in the World Food Program, according to the report only 9 percent of the 19 million severely malnourished children received the treatment they needed in 2009. The severity of this situation calls for innovations in agricultural investment. Groups like the Ecumenical Association for Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development (ECASARD) in Ghana, are paving the way in comprehensive approaches to end hunger, improve livelihoods, and protect natural resources.

To read more about innovative ways to address hunger, see Providing Seeds to Improve Food Security in Burkina Faso, China’s Agricultural Development: Lessons for Africa? And Women Farmers: An ‘Untapped Solution’ to Global Hunger

Ronit Ridberg in a research intern for the Nourishing the Planet project.

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