'More action needed to combat food, nutrition crisis'

‘More action needed to combat food, nutrition crisis’

AS millions worldwide continue to go hungry, the leaders of five international humanitarian, banking and trade organizations on Wednesday appealed for more action to prevent the global food and nutrition crisis from worsening.

The heads of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank Group, the World Food Program (WFP) and the World Trade Organization (WTO) called for rescuing “hunger hotspots” and facilitating trade, among other measures.

They advised countries to balance short-term urgent interventions with longer-term resilience efforts. 

Food inflation remains high in the wake of shocks from the coronavirus pandemic, the climate emergency, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, supply-chain disruptions and rising interest rates, they said in a statement, their third since July.

Nearly 350 million people across 79 countries are acutely food insecure, and undernourishment is rising.

The situation is expected to worsen, with global food supplies projected to drop to a three-year low.

The need is especially pressing in 24 countries identified as hunger hotspots, 16 of which are in Africa.

Concern for hunger hotspots

“We call on governments and donors to support country-level efforts to address the needs in hotspots, share information and strengthen crisis preparedness,” the leaders said.

They stressed that the WFP and FAO required funds to serve the most vulnerable at once.

The WFP and its partners reached a record number of people last year. The agency delivered food and nutrition assistance to more than 140 million, thanks to a record-breaking $14 billion in contributions.

The FAO also invested $1 billion to support more than 40 million people in rural areas with agricultural interventions, while the World Bank provided a $30-billion food and security package covering a 15-month period ending in July.

Funding must also be mobilized so that the IMF’s Poverty Reduction and Growth Trust can provide concessional financing to poorer countries, while its new Food Shock Window has so far supported Ukraine, Malawi, Guinea and Haiti.

Donors and governments should also support the Global Alliance for Food Security, which promotes greater crisis preparedness.

Minimize trade distortions

The leaders also called for facilitating trade, improving the functioning of markets and enhancing the role of the private sector.

“Countries should minimize trade distortions, strengthen the provision of public goods and enable the private sector to contribute meaningfully to improved food security outcomes,” they said.

They urged governments to avoid policies such as export restrictions, which can impact poor people in low-income nations that import food, while advocating for support for trade facilitation measures that improve the availability of food and fertilizer.

For the public good

Although countries have lifted some export bans on wheat and rice, they warned that new restrictions and bans, particularly on vegetables, are hampering availability worldwide.

“Global food security can be strengthened if governments support both food producers and consumers in a smart and targeted manner, such as by strengthening the provision of public goods in ways that improve farm productivity sustainably,” they said.

The World Bank has a $6 billion platform that supports farmers to access fertilizers and other critical supplies, while at the same time helping private companies make longer-term investments, according to the statement.

Reform harmful subsidies

Countries should also reform and repurpose harmful subsidies for more targeted and efficient programs toward global food security and sustainable food systems.

“Most of the global social protection response to inflation is in the form of subsidies, half of which are untargeted, inefficient, and costly to already constrained governments,” the leaders said.

“Support should be scaled up for countries to strengthen and deploy comprehensive, actionable and shock responsive social protection strategies,” they added.

Support sustainable agriculture

The organization heads also highlighted the need to reexamine and reform support to agriculture. While this amounted to roughly $639 billion annually between 2016 and 2018 — and has been rising since then — farmers received only 35 cents for every dollar spent.

“Much of this support incentivizes inefficient use of resources, distorts global markets or undermines environmental sustainability, public health and agricultural productivity,” they said.

Instead, funding should be used to strengthen the resilience and sustainability of the agrifood system, including through the adoption of good agricultural practices, research and innovation, and improved infrastructure.

“Action is already underway to address underlying structural challenges in social protection and in the food and fertilizer markets, but more concerted action across these three key areas is needed to prevent a prolonged crisis,” the leaders said.

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