World food crisis needs global solutions, says report

By staff writers
July 23, 2008

The dramatic rise over the past twelve months in global food prices poses a threat to the very poorest and to humanity as a whole, says a new specialist report from the United Nations - which is seeking to coordinate global action.

The report of the High-Level Task Force on the Global Food Crisis published its Comprehensive Framework for Action a week ago.

It stresses that global food and nutrition security is imperilled by the current situation, which creates a host of humanitarian, human rights, socio-economic, environmental, developmental, political and security-related challenges.

"This global food crisis endangers millions of the world’s most vulnerable, and threatens to reverse critical gains made toward reducing poverty and hunger as outlined in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)", says the summary of the full report.

NGOs, including church and development agencies, have been warning of the emerging crisis for some time.

The number of food insecure is apparently rising very fast also, and is currently estimated at 133 million people, say analysts.

The complete report (in *.PDF / Adobe Acrobat format) is available here:



1. The dramatic rise over the past twelve months in global food prices poses a threat to global food and nutrition security and creates a host of humanitarian, human rights, socio-economic, environmental, developmental, political and security-related challenges. This global food crisis endangers millions of the world’s most vulnerable, and threatens to reverse critical gains made toward reducing poverty and hunger as outlined in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). It requires an urgent comprehensive, coherent, and coordinated response.

2. Soaring food prices stem from the cumulative effects of long-term trends, more recent supply and demand dynamics, and responses which have exacerbated price volatility. While some commodity price levels have stabilized of late, over the medium to long term food prices are expected to remain significantly higher than their 2004 levels, posing a continuing global challenge.

3. The crisis has exposed existing and potential vulnerabilities of households, governments and the international system to food and nutrition insecurity. Already before the rapid rise in food prices, some 854 million people worldwide were estimated to be undernourished. The crisis may drive another 100 million(1) more people into poverty and hunger. While risks may be more pronounced in urban areas, they are significant in rural areas as well, where globally 75% of the poor reside. Many of the rural poor are smallholder farmers whose capacities to benefit from high food prices are severely constrained by lack of inputs, investment and access to markets. High food prices, together with rising fuel prices, have also contributed to increases in observed inflation rates which adversely affect the balance of payments of net food-importing countries and their response capacities. Lastly, rising food prices bring the threat of unrest and political instability, particularly in institutionally fragile countries.

4. The crisis also underscores the urgent need to improve food and nutrition security worldwide, systematically and sustainably, by going well beyond the immediate emergency response. Scaling up productivity-enhancing safety nets and promoting agricultural investments focused on smallholder farmers and rural development could turn agriculture into a vibrant economic sector with positive effects on poverty reduction. Increased productivity must be accompanied by investment into local and regional market development and adjustments of distorting trade practices. At the same time it is vital not to lose sight of the need to move towards fully sustainable models of agricultural production and to avoid environmental damage. Comprehensive, targeted social protection systems that achieve universal coverage of vulnerable groups and link to other basic social services will build resilience to future shocks. All are crucial steps in realizing the right to food beyond the immediate emergency context. Finally, there is a clear opportunity for international leadership in adopting a renewed strategic stance on key issues, such as agricultural trade, biofuels, and management of food price risks, to tackle food market volatilities.

5. The Comprehensive Framework for Action (CFA) presents two sets of actions to promote a comprehensive response to the global food crisis. Both require urgent attention. The first set focuses on meeting the immediate needs of vulnerable populations. The second set builds resilience and contributes to global food and nutrition security. In order to support these two sets of actions, the CFA also suggests strengthening coordination, assessments, monitoring, and surveillance systems. These actions are neither exhaustive nor exclusive. They are intended to guide assessments and strategies developed at the country level and support international coordination efforts.

6. To meet the immediate needs of vulnerable populations, the CFA proposes four key outcomes to be advanced through a menu of different actions: 1) emergency food assistance, nutrition interventions and safety nets to be enhanced and made more accessible; 2) smallholder farmer food production to be boosted; 3) trade and tax policies to be adjusted; and 4) macroeconomic implications to be managed. Each outcome has a menu of actions from which to choose.

7. To build resilience and contribute to global food and nutrition security in the longer-term, four additional critical outcomes are put forward: 1) social protection systems to be expanded; 2) smallholder farmer-led food availability growth to be sustained; 3) international food markets to be improved; and 4) international biofuel consensus to be developed.

8. Given the immediate consequences of the food price crisis, especially for vulnerable groups, countries have already mobilized resources to provide additional food assistance and other safety nets, assist farmers to maintain and boost productivity in the next growing seasons, and begin implementing policy reforms to improve access to food and agricultural inputs. In many countries, the members of the High-Level Task Force (HLTF), regional development banks, bilateral agencies, local and international Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and the Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement have been supporting these efforts.

9. The CFA outlines that leadership will need to come at all levels. At the country-level, national governments, supported by donors, technical agencies, the private sector, civil society and NGOs will need to take concerted action. The CFA identifies modalities that can be adapted by countries to achieve improved food and nutrition security outcomes: establish country-level ‘partnerships for food’ which build on existing mechanisms and programs, ensure ongoing shared assessment and analysis, consolidate actions to avoid overlaps and identify gaps, review existing monitoring mechanisms, and promote effective public communications.

10. At the regional-level, the CFA encourages partnership with regional and sub-regional organizations, and with the regional development banks to enhance coordination of analysis, monitoring and responses to the food crisis according to context. Finally, at the international-level, strengthened partnership and increased actions by all stakeholders in a comprehensive, coordinated, and coherent manner are critical as many factors underlying the food crisis are global in nature and require actions across country and regional borders. The HLTF will continue to support country and regional coordination, and provide a center of gravity for closer cooperation at the global level. This partnership, most recently also supported by the G8 at their annual summit, would be facilitated by the HLTF and ensure monitoring and assessments of progress made in implementing the CFA.

11. The financial implications related to this crisis will be considerable, will exceed the response thus far, and will require substantial political and financial commitments, from national governments first and foremost, but also from the private sector, civil society and the international system. Existing studies estimate the global incremental financing requirements for food assistance, social protection, agricultural development, budget and balance of payment support at between US$ 25 – 40 billion per annum to maintain progress towards achievement of MDG 1. Approximately one third of such amounts would be needed to finance immediate requirements in terms of food assistance, agricultural inputs and budgetary and balance of payments support, and two thirds to invest in building longerterm resilience and contributing to food and nutritional security. As the CFA is not a funding document or an investment program, it does not provide for detailed costing. In order to be more precise, HLTF agencies, together with a range of governmental and non-governmental partners, are using country assessments to estimate country-specific needs.

12. It is necessary to immediately scale up public spending and private investment. This will be critical to creating a conducive policy, institutional and physical environment for private sector involvement and investments, in order to ensure the longer-term recovery of agriculture as a viable sector of a country’s economy.

13. In the CFA, the HLTF calls on developing countries to allocate additional budgetary resources for social protection systems and to increase the share of agriculture in their public expenditure. Recognizing developed countries’ intention to increase their Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) to 0.7% Gross National Income, and emphasizing the need for additional financial sources to improve food security, sustainably, the HLTF urges donor countries to double ODA for food assistance, other types of nutritional support and safety net programs, and to increase the percentage of ODA to be invested in food and agricultural development from the current 3 % to 10% within 5 years (and beyond if needed) to reverse the historic under-investment in agriculture.

14. The HLTF also appeals for more flexibility and predictability in funding of food assistance and safety nets, an exemption to export restrictions for humanitarian food purchases, unhindered movement of humanitarian food across and within borders and better access to food stocks through establishment of physical or virtual humanitarian food reserves.

15. Increased allocations should be additional to current funding levels and not divert resources from other critical social sectors necessary to achieve the MDGs, such as education and health. Actions to achieve CFA outcomes will make use of institutional and financial systems to deliver at the country level, along the provisions of the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness. At the global level, the HLTF will promote synergy in responding to the crisis, including more predictability and flexibility in funding, through joint advocacy efforts.

16. The outcomes and actions identifies in the CFA can only be achieved through partnership at all levels. The HLTF will continue to provide leadership and coordination in this respect, to help national Governments and affected communities address what constitutes a global challenge.

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