The Developing World's Predicament in the Face of Worsening Food Security
The question of food security in developing countries especially in the Sub-Saharan Africa has been the centre of international debate for some time. The concept of food security while often used loosely may, for the purpose this discussion be defined to mean a state where all people at all times have access to sufficient food in terms of quantity and quality to lead a healthy and active life. This conventionally has four elements namely access, availability, utilization and sustainability, where social cohesion in African developing countries and the role of the market are critical. Absence of any of these facets contributes to food insecurity.
|Africa Must Feed Itself|
Convinced of the precarious situation befalling the world’s poor, the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) in November 1996 convened the first World Food Summit (WFS), at a time when the global number of hungry people stood at 825 million. The 112 Heads of State and of Government and representatives of 186 members of the Organization who attended the Summit solemnly pledged to reduce by half the number of hungry people in the world not later than 2015.
FAO at that time predicted that there could still be some 680 million hungry people in the world by the year 2010, with more than 250 million in sub-Saharan Africa unless progress was accelerated. In 2000, the Millennium Summit convened in New York, where again world Heads of State and Government adopted the eight Millennium Development Goals committing themselves to reducing hunger and poverty by half by 2015, the same target date of the World Food Summit. While the WFS concentrated on ensuring food security, the Millennium Summit widened the scope to include strategies to address poverty and sustainable socio-economic development through establishing global partnerships for development. Many other summits followed later.
Over time however, it became increasingly evident that the commitments made were out of tone with reality and that attainment of the set targets of both the World Food and the Millennium Summits were becoming more and more evasive and out of reach. This was obvious during the second World Food Summit held in 2002 to review the progress of implementation of the World Food Summit Plan of Action towards attainment of food security five years after its adoption by the World Food Summit.
The occasion was also used to draw the international community’s attention to the fact that resources to finance agricultural programmes in the developing countries were progressively decreasing instead of rising. That did not change the trend of events as Aid to agriculture increasingly diminished from 8 billion US dollars (2004 equivalent) in 1984 to 3.4 billion dollars in 2004, representing a drop in real terms of 58 percent. In addition, agriculture’s share of Official Development Assistance fell from 17 percent in 1980 to 3 percent in 2006. Important to note is that international and regional financial institutions progressively and sharply reduced resources for agricultural activity, despite the sector’s centrality as a principal livelihood of 70 percent of the world’s poor.
The same period saw developing countries judiciously implementing the Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs), a package designed by a team of Chicago School of monetary Economists spearheaded by Milton Friedman, heralded by the international media, supported by the Bretton Woods Institutions (International Monetary Fund and the World Bank) and buttressed by leaders of the most powerful economies of the world. Implementation of the SAPs in turn saw the role of Governments in supporting farmers and other sectors of economies abruptly reduced to the bear minimum. For instance, national agricultural development banks were either closed down or restructured; leaving farmers’ credit needs to be addressed by Microfinance Institutions (MFIs).
This paradigm shift left farmers even more marginalized as MFIs, being predominantly urban-based and urban-biased, concentrate on financing trade and commerce that yield quick returns on investment and associated repayments. On the other hand, agriculture as a sector is not served by the MFIs as it is widely considered highly risky owing to its vulnerability to vagaries of nature and generally not lucrative. This was exacerbated by the fact that the rural farmers do not have assets such as title to land or permanent buildings to stake as collateral to secure the loans, a situation accentuated by the high interest rates that the MFIs charge on their loans. The limited access to credit and other resources meant reduced investment in the sector thus further diminishing farmers’ capacity to overcome supply side constraints. The SAPs have also seen other services such as extension privatized, putting them further out of reach of the small rural farmers.
Despite all these factors that have greatly hindered agricultural performance, developing countries are interestingly usually blamed, arguing that unsuccessful SAPs are due to either their failure to design or implement supportive and appropriate policies, strategies and programmes. While this persisted, developed countries were providing direct support to their farmers in excess of one billion dollars per day, translating to more than 300 billion dollars per year. This contradiction generates endless questions in regard to whether some economies with unsupported agriculture can favorably compete with those that are heavily subsidized. This paper will not delve into that discussion.
Circumstances surrounding the World food security are highlighted in the messages of the FAO Director-General Dr. Jacques Diouf delivered during the recently concluded 34th session of the Committee of the World Food Security and the one on the 28th World Food Day celebrations of 16 October 2008. Both revelations were indeed chilling to the world especially the grim implications for the developing countries particularly in the Sub-Saharan Africa. The 1996 World Food Summit estimates of the global hungry people at 680 million by 2010 has been missed as the number has instead shot up by 243 million hitting the highest level of 923 million in 2008, about 98 million more than the 825 million that existed then. This points to an interesting question as to what magical instruments whether economic, social or political will be used to attain the targets of both the World Food Summit and the Millennium Development Goals come 2015. Whatever the case, this should serve as a wake up call for genuine global intellectual engagement to evolve answers to the question of what should be done to get the developing countries out of this predicament.
The effect of climate change on food security has also become popularly topical. Building on the theme of this year’s World Food Day "World Food Security: the Challenges of Climate Change and Bioenergy”, the FAO Director-General used the aforementioned occasion to revisit and reflect on the outcomes of the High-Level Conference that was held at FAO in Rome from 3 through 5 June 2008. Attended by delegates of 181 countries including 43 Heads of State and Government and more than 112 ministers, the June High-Level Conference reaffirmed the need for more food production, therefore calling for more investment in agriculture in order to avert the effects of climate change.
The update on the progress of High-Level Task Force on the Global Food Security Crisis earlier established by the UN Secretary-General to address the problem was also revealing. It emerged that the Task Force has finalized a Comprehensive Framework for Action drawing upon the experience of the specialized agencies of the United Nations and the Bretton Woods institutions. The Comprehensive Framework for Action is meant to ease possibility to address the urgent requirements relating to food aid and input distribution, as well as short-medium- and long-term investments. The annual financial requirements for this programme are valued at 30 billion US dollars and envisaged to pursue strategies aimed at enabling the farmers of poor, heavily indebted food-deficit countries to relaunch their agricultural production by facilitating their access to seeds, fertilizers and animal feeds. The general conclusion however is that what is required more than anything else is political will and delivery on financial commitments, if the world is to make the essential investments that are needed to promote sustainable global agricultural development and food security.
One clear question that still deserves wide recapitulation is where the funding will come from at this turn of global economic recession and given the past marginal response of many development partners in honoring their pledges. For instance, only 10 percent of the 22 billion dollars pledged during the June 2008 High- Level Conference has been realized to date, and has mainly been used for food aid and not production. While food aid becomes handy and relevant to save lives during times of emergency, its contribution towards sustained food security, reduction and poverty and attainment of the goals of the World Food and Millennium Development Summits remains obscure. This spate of affairs clearly demonstrates the need for developing countries to refocus and rethink of ways to revitalize their food security strategies. Otherwise, for how long will they continue moving in circles while their people continue grappling with food insecurity and poverty?
More evolving revelations are that the effects of climate change will be more severe for the poorest regions of the world; which are already falling first victims. It is also widely held that the hardest hit will be the hundreds of millions of vulnerable people who are already undernourished, notably small farmers, forest-dwellers, herders and fishermen. The impact on land and water availability and on biodiversity which are the lifeblood of mankind will have delirious effects. Lower altitude regions are anticipated to experience changes in temperature, rainfall and increased frequency of extreme weather events risk causing significant reductions in agricultural production. In Africa for example, the consequences of climate change could be dramatic for a continent expected to have a population of 2 billion people within the next 40 years. Climate change could also force many communities living in low-lying coastal areas and deltas to migrate to higher lands.
The effect of the increased demand for biofuels on food security is a prominently emerging question in the current debate as it is considered to create new additional pressure on agricultural production. With higher prices of oil and gas, bioenergy has become more viable, thus intensifying competition with agricultural production for food. In this connection, FAO’s latest studies indicate that the development of biofuels, beyond the level reached in 2007 could lead to a price increase of 5 percent for wheat, 12 percent for maize and 15 percent for vegetable oils during the course of the next 10 years. Policies of subsidies and customs levies and the blending of vehicle fuels have thus created international market distortions that are prejudicial to food security in the world. This is clearly elucidated in the FAO 2008 publication on the State of Food and Agriculture.
What seems to be the emerging consensus however, is that in a world where oil price is much higher and where access to energy is still a problem for much of humanity, development of bioenergy should not be viewed solely as a risk but also as a window of opportunity. High crop prices for bioenergy can indeed be used to benefit farming communities and stimulate more production, investment and economic growth. Some readers are indeed justified to question why vast amounts of land in Uganda’s places like Luwero, Kiboga or the northern districts where land is still abundant cannot not be put under crop production for both food and bioenergy if prices are right.
To be continued
By Robert Sabiiti
Agricultural Attaché and Alternate Permanent Representative to FAO, WFP and IFAD,
Uganda Embassy in Italy
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