The double whammy of high food prices and the global economic slump pushed an additional 115 million people into poverty and hunger. By 2009, the total number of hungry people in the world had topped one billion.
According to new global hunger figures, that number has since dipped to 925 million people. However, with the recent sharp increase in food prices, that number may rise.
From July to September 2010, wheat prices had surged by 60 to 80 percent in response to drought-fuelled crop losses in Russia and a subsequent export ban by the Russian Federation. Rice and maize prices also rose during that period.
By December 2010, the FAO Food Price Index had topped its 2008 peak, with sugar, oils and fats increasing the most. In March 2011, the index dropped for the first time after eight months of continuous price spikes. The index dropped to an 11-month low in October 2011, but food prices still remain very volatile.
The cost of basic food staples remains high in many developing countries, making life difficult for the world’s poorest people who already spend between 60 and 80 percent of their meagre income on food.
FAO response to food crisis
As early as July 2007, FAO warned of the then developing food price crisis, and in December 2007, it launched its Initiative on Soaring Food Prices – known as the ISFP – to help smallholder farmers grow more food and earn more money.
Since the ISFP’s inception, FAO has carried out interagency assessment missions in 58 countries (read a synthesis of the assessments).
It has worked closely with the UN High-Level Task Force on the Global Food Crisis to produce the Comprehensive Framework for Action, a global strategy and action plan designed to soften the immediate blow of high food prices and address longer-term measures for sustainable food security.
FAO has also provided policy advice to governments (updated guide for policy action to address high food prices, French, Spanish) and scaled up its monitoring of food prices at country, regional and global level through its Global Information and Early Warning System on Food and Agriculture (GIEWS).
In mid-2008, when international food prices had reached their highest level in 30 years, FAO launched a series of one-year emergency projects, providing smallholder farmers with improved seed varieties, fertilizers, tools and technical assistance to help them rapidly boost their food output (read an impact assessment of these projects).
This early support served as a catalyst for mobilizing additional funding. In 2009, thanks to a significant contribution from the European Union (EU), FAO began carrying out projects in 28 countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean through the € 1 billion EU Food Facility.
Towards long-term food security
Efforts now need to be ramped up at all levels to strengthen the ability of poor farmers to withstand future shocks – natural disasters, market volatility, financial crises – and to boost agricultural productivity so that it contributes to long-term food and nutrition security.
To this end, FAO is working with governments to make sure farmers have sustained access to quality seeds, fertilizers and tools as well as technical assistance, training and credit. It is supporting work to improve rural infrastructure such as roads, irrigation systems, storage and market facilities, and to promote better management of water and land resources.
FAO is also advocating for increased investment – from Official Development Assistance (ODA) to public spending and private investments – as a way to get agriculture back on track in the fight against poverty, hunger and malnutrition.
In July 2009, world leaders at the G8 Summit in L’Aquila pledged more than USD 20 billion for investment in sustainable agricultural development and safety nets for the world’s most vulnerable people.
The Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP), a multi-donor fund, was set up in early 2010 to funnel part of those pledges, with several donors making initial commitments totalling around USD 880 million.
FAO has assisted more than 15 countries this year in putting together sustainable investment plans for submission to the GAFSP and other L’Aquila Food Security Initiative funding mechanisms, with a special emphasis on country-led programmes developed in the framework of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP).
Many of the emergency measures have been supported through FAO’s own funding, in the form of Technical Cooperation Programme projects, totalling USD 37.3 million. The European Union contributed USD 314 million to FAO through the EU Food Facility.
Other donors to the ISFP include: Andorra, Austria, Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, the United States, the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Bank.
The total funding envelope stands at USD 449 million.