“Revolt, Migrate, or Die” — Why food security matters

by Mark Allegrini and Peter Sparding
Friday, 1 October 2010

WASHINGTON — Last week, while attention was focused on New York and the U.N. conference to review the global development goals, a less prominent UN gathering took place in Rome. It was an emergency meeting, an emergency about food. Concerns are growing that a surge in wheat prices could trigger a global food crisis. Therefore, the meeting of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) was more immediately relevant for the world’s poor than the poverty summit that the world media followed so closely.

Rising food prices, to the tune of a five-percent increase between July and August, and food riots that left 13 dead and hundreds injured in Mozambique have fueled fears that the world may be facing yet another food crisis, the second in three years. If the world wants to prevent another short-term crisis, let alone achieve the development goal of halving the proportion of hungry people in the world by 2015 leaders need to act now.

Neither the previous crisis nor a looming rerun are solitary events. A permanent food crisis has been unfolding for decades. According to the FAO, 925 million people continue to suffer from chronic hunger worldwide. Another food price spike, even one that doesn’t reach the magnitude of 2007-08, would add to this immense number, likely pushing millions more into poverty and hunger. Like the previous crisis, the current uncertainty is caused by both immediate and underlying factors. Short-term supply shocks to basic food commodities, like the one caused by Russian wildfires and the subsequent wheat export ban, have a ripple effect throughout fragile world food markets. At the same time, long-term factors continue to put pressure on global food prices. Rapid economic growth and changing diets in emerging economies, increasing demand for biofuels in developed countries, climate change, population growth, ineffective trading systems, and, above all, a severe decade-long underinvestment in agricultural research and development are all exacerbating an already dire situation.

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