British Government Report Calls For Global Food System Overhaul To Prevent Hunger

A British government report, released on Monday, says the current system aimed at ensuring global food security needs to be “radically redesigned,” the BBC reports. “The report is the culmination of a two-year study, involving 400 experts from 35 countries,” the news service writes (Ghosh, 1/24).

According to the report, the current global food system harms the environment and has left one billion people hungry, the U.K. Press Association reports. “A further one billion suffer from hidden hunger’ in which nutrients are missing from their diet and the same number are over-consuming … The report found that a third of food produced went to waste, either after it was harvested, particularly in the developing world, or by consumers,” according to the article.

“While it is hard to predict the impact on food prices, there is a risk of the kind of volatility seen in the price spike in 2007/08 that led to riots in some parts of the world and an extra 100 million people going hungry. Experts behind the report suggested that food prices could rise by 50% by 2050,” the news service writes (1/24). The report “concludes that productivity growth will no longer be able to keep pace with rising demand for food, as it has in recent decades,” the Financial Times writes. It predicts the “real prices of key crops” could rise between 50 and 100 percent over the next 40 years (Cookson, 1/24).

“A number of very important factors are about to change our world,” said John Beddington, the British government’s chief scientist, the Guardian reports. “Its population is rising by six million every month and will reach a total of around 9,000 million by 2050. At the same time, it is estimated that by 2030 more than 60% of the population will be living in cities and will no longer be involved in growing crops or raising domestic animals. And on top of that the world’s population is getting more prosperous and able to pay for more food,” he said.

Beddington “emphasised the role of modern biotechnological techniques, including [genetically-modified or GM] crops, in the future of global food production. ‘There will be no silver bullet, but it is very hard to see how it would be remotely sensible to justify not using new technologies such as GM. Just look at the problems that the world faces: water shortages and salination of existing water supplies, for example. GM crops should be able to deal with that'” (McKie, 1/23).

“The report emphasises changes to farming, to ensure that increasing yields does not come at the expense of sustainability and to provide incentives to the agricultural sector that address malnutrition. It also recommends that the most resource-intensive types of food are curbed and that waste is minimised in food production,” the BBC writes. Beddington also underscored the urgent need for change. “We have 20 years to arguably deliver something of the order of 40% more food; 30% more available fresh water and of the order of 50% more energy,” he said, adding, “We can’t wait 20 years or 10 years indeed – this is really urgent” (1/24). 

Gender Discrimination Persists In Rural Areas, U.N. Report Says

Women in rural areas receive unequal benefits from agricultural employment compared to men, according to a U.N. report released on Friday, Deutsche Presse-Agentur/M&C reports (1/21).  

“According to the report, compiled by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the International Labour Organization (ILO), women face discrimination that limits both their economic productivity and their personal development,” the U.N. News Centre writes. It also said the recent global economic downturn and food price spikes have “slowed down progress towards gender equality in farming-related labour,” the news service writes (1/21).

“With job losses and cuts in spending on social services and infrastructure, women’s care burdens and unpaid work have intensified, and their financial contribution to household food security is likely to decrease,” the report said, according to an FAO press release. “This is particularly dramatic for female-headed households,” the report adds. It also “cites migration and the feminization of rural activities, international trade and the diversification of the rural economy, and child labour as other issues and trends affecting women employed in agricultural work” (1/21). The report calls for women’s economic contribution in agriculture to be more widely recognized and for improved compensation, the U.N. News Centre notes. It provides several recommendations, including the implementation of policies aimed at addressing gender discrimination in rural employment (1/21).

Governments’ Actions Signal Global Concern Over Food Prices

Meanwhile food prices remain volatile, the Wall Street Journal reports. “U.S. wheat exports are picking up as surging food prices become a growing concern for foreign governments,” according to the paper. “Data on weekly U.S. wheat export sales show a dramatic upswing in demand. The U.S. government said export sales for the week ended Jan. 13 reached 1.1 million tons, above traders’ expectations and sharply higher than the previous week,” the newspaper writes.

“Buyers around the world have been scrambling to secure supplies of hard, red wheat that can be milled into bread flour. … Farmers around the world are expected to respond to high wheat prices by expanding plantings this year. Yet, importing nations fear poor weather will curb production again” (Polansek, 1/24).

In response to food price instability, some developing countries “are taking increasingly aggressive actions” to address price spikes, the Wall Street Journal reports in a second story.  

“Developing-market governments have unveiled a laundry list of measures – including price caps, export bans and rules to counter commodity speculation – to keep food costs from disrupting their economies as price spikes that some had hoped were temporary have stretched into the new year. Some economists worry that any further supply shocks could push prices even higher, triggering a food-price crisis like the one the world witnessed in 2008, when higher food costs led to violent unrest across the developing world,” the newspaper writes.

The article notes recent actions taken by China, Indonesia and other countries (Bellman/Frangos, 1/25).

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