Global attention needed to end food insecurity: An interview with Rajendra Aryal Damages to agriculture due to floods in Peru: Source: FAO
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he devastating effect of global food insecurity is grave and it is severely affecting lives and livelihoods of more than 108 million people worldwide. To address this plight, global development agencies such as the FAO, WFP, UNICEF and many other NGO partners met earlier in Rome to discuss and draw policy recommendation on how best to address global food insecurity once and for all. Rattana Lao talked with Rajendra Aryal, Senior Advisor with the global Food Security Cluster (gFSC) in Rome on why this topic matters and what the global community needs to do in order to end global food crisis.

What is food insecurity?

To understand food insecurity, it is important firstly to define what food security is. It is a situation when all people, at all times, have access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs for an active and healthy life. Currently there is more than enough food produced to feed everyone. However, the world is still facing a situation of food insecurity in many parts unfortunately. Availability of food is one thing, but it is another thing to have it distributed to those who need it. Food insecurity arises due to poverty, inequality and lack of access to food. There are different types of food insecurity. It can be in terms of poor farmers who do not have enough land and as a result cannot produce sufficient food or it can be in terms of those who live in agriculture-based areas like Myanmar and Thailand but cannot afford to buy food. Even in commercialised areas, food insecurity is possible. Food might be available for some but the insecurity could be due to lack of access for the others.

Who are the most affected?

It is estimated that almost 108 million people around the world are currently facing food insecurity. This is an alarming 35% increase from 2015. Out of these numbers, around 30 million people living in North-Eastern Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen are facing severe food insecurity with millions on the verge of a famine. 5.7 million children are facing malnutrition and 1.4 million children are almost dying from the crisis. 27 million people also lack access to clean water. This situation is unfortunately worsening.

What are the causes of this crisis?

There are two major causes: protracted conflicts and natural disasters. When these conflicts occur, they disrupt trade and economic activities and also create obstacles for transportation and inhibit access to food supply chain. Food is hardly produced when countries are at war. Then, conflicts can instigate currency instability, disable the market from functioning properly that makes it impossible for the country to buy sufficient food for its people. Natural disasters like drought result in subsequent crop failures and worsen the situation, such as currently in Somalia.

Are food insecurity and famine the same thing?

They are not the same thing but they are not mutually exclusive. Food security can cause death, however famine is declared only if 20% of the households in the area face extreme shortages and lack the ability to cope. At least 30% of the people must face acute malnutrition and the death rate must be at least 2 people per 10,000 on a daily basis. The world witnessed the worst case in Somalia in 2010 - 2011. The famine was declared in July 2011 when 258,000 people were dead, but 50% of those people had already died even before the famine was officially declared. The world therefore needs to closely watch food insecurity situation before more tragedies happen and do not just wait for famine to be declared.

What MUST BE DONE to mitigate or better yet end this crisis?

To mitigate the crisis, urgent attention is needed from all stakeholders at different levels to acknowledge that food insecurity is real and dangerously taking away people’s lives and livelihoods. First, stronger commitment is needed from national governments and local communities to create food supply in sustainable manner. Second, sufficient financial support is needed from national and international sources to pool together sufficient resources to buy food and produce food.

From a financial standpoint, a lot of work is needed to generate global resources for food. The total humanitarian requirement in 2005 was USD 3.8 billion to support 26 million people whereas the needs in 2017 is USD 22.6 billion to support 95.3 million people. An exponential growth can be seen over the decade which needs to be addressed most urgently. Even today, only 50% of the required humanitarian needs are met. So either some people are left out from getting support or many affected people are getting reduced support. More aid is only one side of the solution. Better partnership, including with the private sector is also equally important to collaborate and coordinate food production and distribution. Most importantly, I strongly believe that there is a critical need for the national governments and the international community to put more focus on local capacity building, creating an enabling environment for local production and distribution, local employment generation and strengthening local safety nets. There is a need for poor countries to help themselves and this is possible when the national governments and international community work and invest together.

In light of global food insecurity, is the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 1 and 2 that aim to end global hunger and poverty possible?

I always look at the glass as half full and strongly believe that if we all work together achieving SDGs 1 and 2 (i.e., ending poverty and achieving zero hunger respectively) is not a distant dream. The work of my organization, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is articulated around 5 strategic priorities, which largely aim to contribute to achieving these SDGs in sustainable way. Similarly, other organizations as well as the member countries are committed to achieving the same. However, the changing global context is putting up a lot of challenges on the way at the same time and therefore the member countries, the international community, the civil society and the private sector need to work together, realize each other’s comparative advantages, complement each other’s work and facilitate pro-poor investments for the benefits of the poor, marginalized and small farmers. This understanding and collaboration will definitely pave us the way forward to achieve this beautiful number ‘zero’.

Rattana Lao

Rattana Lao holds a doctorate in Comparative and International Education from Teachers College, Columbia University and writes on education and development. She is based in Bangkok, Thailand.

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