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100 million more people face hunger

by Hans Dembowski

In brief

A Philippine soldier guarding a warehouse where Rice is stored in April.

A Philippine soldier guarding a warehouse where Rice is stored in April.

Rising food prices have triggered protests in many countries. Donor nations, including Germany, are providing more funds for food aid. The German Development Ministry, however, argues that agriculture policies will have to change internationally, if food security is to be ensured in the long term.

Worldwide, skyrocketing food prices mean that some 100 million more people are facing hunger, according to World Food Program (WFP) estimates. In a press release of April 22, the WFP called the price-trend a “silent tsunami”. The WFP warned that it would soon have to cut aid programmes unless additional funding was provided.

Germany responded by adding an additional € 10 million this year to its food aid budget, which now totals € 36 million, after an additional € 3 million was already granted in March. Other donor nations are also pledging more money. Louis Michel, the European Union’s development commissioner, has promised an additional € 117 million in food aid.

According to the FAO’s Food Price Index, food became 57 % more expensive worldwide between March of 2007 and March of 2008. In the past two months alone, the price of rice has risen by 75 %. Last year, wheat became 120 % more expensive.

There are a number of reasons for this trend. Main factors include poor harvests because of volatile climate, strong demand for biofuels and market speculation (see interview on page 188). Furthermore, numerous food exporting countries – including China, India, Vietnam and Zambia – have stopped or reduced their exports because of the crisis.

In late April, Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, Germany’s development minister told the Federal Parliament that the current food crisis is threatening the stability of more than 30 developing nations. Among other places, protests were reported from Egypt, Cameroon, the Ivory Coast, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Indonesia and Madagascar. Haiti’s government fell. Security forces were ordered to prevent fields and supermarkets from being plundered in Pakistan, Thailand and the Philippines.

Food aid is obviously not a long-term solution. Germany’s Development Ministry (BMZ) is calling for “steps towards structural change in developing nations” for food production to increase. For instance, small farmers need training and advice. But BMZ also stresses the relevance of people – and women, in particular – having fair access to land. In 2006, the BMZ disbursed € 577 million for rural development in bilateral programmes.

Experts at the BMZ are now considering an international “Pact for Food Security” with several components:

– Emergency aid must target the people in need with direct transfer payments or food stamps. In places where poor governance poses obstacles to such approaches, food-for-work programmes and cooperation with civil-society organisations would make sense.
– To ease market frictions, protectionist steps must be avoided. At the same time, agricultural exporters such as Vietnam and Zambia must be reassured that they will not be left to themselves in case of need.
– Biofuels need to be critically reviewed. The use of grain and oil-seeds for fuel purposes should be discontinued until markets have calmed down. A moratorium should be imposed on biofuel blends until more efficient technologies are available.
– Investments should be made in agriculture so that small farmers can produce more. Fertiliser, seeds, credit and other items essential for agricultural production should be made widely available at low cost to farmers.

The BMZ argues that the agriculture policies of rich countries have considerably contributed to the current crisis. In many developing countries, after all, local producers cannot compete with subsidised food exports from industrialised nations. The BMZ thus repeats its demand to put an end to all such export subsidies in the WTO context. (dem)