“Global food prices remained stable, though close to 2008 record levels, the World Bank said on Thursday, as it warned that a ‘new norm’ of costlier food was setting in and threatening to increase hunger and malnutrition in the world’s poorer regions,” Reuters reports. “In an update of its quarterly ‘Food Price Watch’ report, the World Bank said the absence of ‘panic policies,’ such as food export restrictions, had helped stabilize commodity prices since price spikes in July,” the news service writes. “The World Bank food price index shows that while prices have stabilized they are seven percent higher than a year ago,” according to Reuters. “In particular, grains are up 12 percent from a year ago and close to the all-time high set during a global food price crisis in 2008, when food riots broke out in Asia and Africa,” the news service notes. “The World Bank urged governments to strengthen safety nets for the poorest and ensure that nutrition was factored into the help given to poor households,” Reuters writes, adding, “U.N. agencies have estimated that some 870 million people are chronically malnourished” (Wroughton, 11/29).
Food Security and Nutrition
“Poverty is the leading cause of many vitamin deficiencies, especially vitamin A,” and the problem is acute in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, where food staples such as cassava and rice are high in calories but low in nutrients, Inter Press Service reports. Some experts say parents’ lack of knowledge about the nutritional requirements for children can lead to undernourishment, particularly in children under age five, the news service notes. “Still, there are signs that the trend is changing, largely due to a renewed push by development practitioners around the world to tackle the problem,” IPS writes and describes several efforts to improve access to vitamins. The news service concludes, “Nutrition plays a role in achieving almost every [Millennium Development Goal] — its impact on child health, for instance, could also boost the number of children attending school, promote gender equality by empowering women to take a more active role in their children’s health, and also improve maternal health, thereby reducing the maternal mortality ratio” (11/26).
The Financial Times examines “[a] complex cocktail of demographic, economic, and policy changes [that] can be blamed for increased pressure on the food supply.” The newspaper writes, “Climate change is having a number of effects on food production,” and notes “the effect of climate change is not only felt in steady, incremental shifts but also in volatility, unpredictability and an increase in extreme storms, floods and droughts.” However, “[c]limate change is certainly not the only culprit when it comes to food insecurity,” the newspaper writes, adding that “increasingly affluent citizens in countries such as China and India want to consume more better quality food and meat, both of which are highly resource intensive,” and “[c]ompetition for agricultural land has intensified, with increased biofuel production and expanding urban areas.”
The Feed the Future blog features an interview with Roger Thurow, senior fellow for global agriculture and food policy at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and a ONE Campaign fellow. Thurow says, “Securing the global food system is also one of the biggest — if not the biggest — challenge facing us in the coming decades. … And it is important to not just focus on increasing production, but to put nutrition — growing a cornucopia of more nutritious food — at the center of our efforts as well.” He discusses Feed the Future and says two “important aspects” of the program are “an emphasis on long-term agricultural development (rather than solely focusing on short-term emergency food aid relief) and a focus on the smallholder farmers of the developing world” (11/20).
International Community Should Break Sahel Region’s Food Insecurity Cycle In 2013, U.N. Official Says
The continuous cycle of food insecurity in Africa’s Sahel region has created vulnerabilities among families who are unable to recover following multiple droughts and crop failures, VOA News reports. U.N. Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Sahel David Gressly said the international community needs to break the food insecurity cycle in 2013, by building resilience through long-term solutions that will help the 18 million people across nine countries affected by food shortages in 2012, according to the news service. “Gressly said this means reducing chronic child malnutrition, improving irrigation and drainage systems, diversifying food sources, finding better ways to preserve food stocks, and addressing potentially harmful cultural practices,” VOA writes. “The regional food security advocacy coordinator for British aid group Oxfam, Al Hassan Cisse, said better grain storage and programs like universal health insurance are other keys to resilience,” the news service notes (Lazuta, 11/19).
“A new international food assistance convention will come into force on January 1 next year after the European Union ratified it this week, but critics say it lacks teeth,” AlertNet reports. “The significance of the new Food Assistance Convention is that it marks a shift away from traditional food aid — sacks transported from overseas and handed out on the ground by relief workers,” the news service writes, adding the new convention says food distribution should be undertaken only when necessary, with cash or vouchers otherwise being distributed for people to purchase food within their own communities. “The new convention — negotiated by the E.U. and 35 countries (the E.U. states plus Argentina, Australia, Canada, Croatia, Japan, Norway, Switzerland, and the United States) — also underlines the importance of linking short- and longer-term food assistance efforts, to enable people to become better prepared for future disasters or high food prices,” AlertNet states.
Joint U.N. Assessment Finds Better Harvests In DPR Korea But Warns Undernutrition Persists Among 2.8M Vulnerable People
“There has been an increase in staple food production in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) for the second year running, but undernutrition persists for nearly three million people, according to a new United Nations assessment released” Monday, the U.N. News Centre reports. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Food Programme’s (WFP) joint Crop and Food Security Assessment Mission “found that overall production for the main 2012 harvest and 2013 early season crops is expected to be 5.8 million metric tons, an improvement of 10 percent over last year,” the news service writes (11/12). “This, however, should not mask an ongoing struggle with undernutrition and a lack of vital protein and fat in the diet, especially for an estimated 2.8 million vulnerable people,” an FAO/WFP joint press release states (11/12). “DPR Korea still needs international help,” Kisan Gunjal, FAO economist and mission co-leader, said in a statement, adding, “The new harvest figures are good news, but the lack of proteins and fats in the diet is alarming,” Reuters writes (11/12).
The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) Food Price Index, “which measures monthly price changes for a basket of cereals, oilseeds, dairy, meat and sugar,” fell slightly in October, “largely because of falling cereals and oils prices, the United Nations food agency said on Thursday,” Reuters reports (11/8). According to an FAO press release, the index “averaged 213 points in October 2012, down two points (one percent) from September.” Prices of cereals and oils fell, while the prices of sugar and dairy increased and meat prices remained stable, the press release notes, adding, “Food prices averaged eight percent lower during the first 10 months of this year compared to the same period last year” (11/8).
“The U.S. Agency for International Development [USAID] has unveiled plans to harmonize its funding and efforts surrounding nutrition,” Devex reports. “The agency is working on a comprehensive strategy that will make the issue a priority in ‘high-impact interventions’ with nutrition as a component, such as in agriculture, health and humanitarian aid, Robert Clay, deputy assistant administrator at USAID’s Bureau for Global Health, announced Nov. 5 at an event hosted by the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network in Washington, D.C.,” the news service writes.
Medical Aid Group Reports Syrian Troops Seizing Foreign Aid; WFP Warns Of Increasing Food Needs Among Refugees
“A medical aid group said on Wednesday Syrian troops are seizing foreign aid and reselling it or channeling it towards government loyalists, putting millions of lives at risk,” Reuters reports (11/7). “Almost all international aid sent to the Syrian Arab Red Crescent is being confiscated by the regime and never reaches civilians in need, [Union of Syrian Medical Relief Organisations (UOSSM),] an umbrella relief group for the war-ravaged country, said,” Lebanon’s Daily Star reports. “However, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP), which both work closely with the Syrian Red Crescent, denied their aid was being seized,” the newspaper adds (Larson, 11/7).