Food crisis: “The challenges are unprecedented”

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Food Crisis: &laquo ; The challenges are unprecedented”

The number of people suffering from hunger has increased in recent years, a consequence of COVID-19, but also of the war in Ukraine and a global food system out of order.

Internally displaced people found refuge near the town of Dubti, Ethiopia, after fleeing the Afar region, where food is lacking.

One in ten people, or 9.8% of the world's population, suffers from hunger, a proportion that has been increasing since 2020, according to the latest UN report on the state of food security and poverty. world nutrition (SOFI). Because of COVID-19, the war in Ukraine and climate change, the fight against hunger has set back, notes Marie Dasylva, spokesperson for the World Food Program (WFP).

In 2021, we reached up to 828 million people who suffered from hunger, she says.

“ The humanitarian needs are only increasing and the challenges are also unprecedented. »

— Marie Dasylva, spokesperson for the World Food Programme, in Dakar

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The World Food Programme, which provides food aid to vulnerable populations, has to meet increased demands even as its capacity dwindles, says Dasylva.

We are facing at a triple risk: the number of people in humanitarian need continues to grow, while COVID-19 has forced some states to review their [WFP] funding. In addition, we are facing a price increase, which means that our operational costs have soared compared to 2019.

“You have millions of people who are on the brink, literally, with states facing multiple crises.

— Marie Dasylva, World Food Program spokesperson, in Dakar

UN agencies fighting against hunger have identified 26 countries in the world where part of the population is in crisis, either suffering from a considerable food deficit with high acute malnutrition or accelerated depletion of their means. existence, or that it must resort to coping strategies.

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Sectors of the population of five of these countries (Ethiopia, Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia and Afghanistan) are in the highest category of the international classification framework of hunger, qualified catastrophic,” says Dasylva. There are five categories before talking about famine. Phase five is the last one, where you have pockets of the population suffering from extreme hunger and death.

Some 750,000 people are facing starvation-like conditions.

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For those in Category 4, just below, food insecurity hangs by a thread. The increase in commodity prices caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine may well be the shock that topples them.

Ukraine and Russia provided, in 2021:

  • 33% of wheat exports
  • 27% of barley;
  • 17% of corn;
  • 24 % of sunflower seeds;
  • 73% of sunflower oil exported worldwide.

However, Russia currently controls 22% of Ukraine's agricultural land. In addition, between 20 and 25 million tonnes of grain are blocked in Ukrainian ports, according to the Ukrainian president.

As a result, the price of wheat and oilseeds is skyrocketing.< /p>Start of the widget. Skip widget?End of widget. Back to top of widget?

For some countries, which import grain from Russia and Ukraine, war is a disaster.

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Why was such a dependency allowed to develop?

Countries have been trapped, argues Mamadou Goïta, member of the International Group of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES) and Executive Director of the Institute for Research and Promotion of Alternatives in Development (IRPAD) in Bamako.

When there were droughts, it was a gateway for certain products, says the expert. We gave rice and corn, which were not consumer products here, and people gradually got used to them.

Eventually, these imported products have entered the diets, especially since they cost less, given that they are heavily subsidized.

People prefer to buy rice at 200 francs a kilo which comes from Thailand, produced four years ago and which is completely subsidized, rather than buying the rice from Mali, produced this year, which is a new rice and which will cost 300 or 400 francs per kilo, illustrates Mr. Goïta.

This dependence on imports also results in a loss of diversity, since the various local varieties, neglected, gradually disappear. This is in addition to the fact that imported seeds are preferred, which are high yielding, but not reproducible, and which must therefore be repurchased each year.

” If you buy your seeds on the international market, dominated by multinationals, then the fertilizers produced by these same multinationals, and if for the conservation of cereals you still solicit these same agri-food companies, you become completely dependent. »

— Mamadou Goïta, member of the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES)

Farmers Egyptians from the village of Bamha, in the province of Giza, harvest wheat on May 17, 2022.

Despite the frenzy in the markets, there is no real shortage of wheat.

This is only part of the food that circulates on the world market, explains Mr. Goïta. However, when the latter takes a shock, it even affects countries that do not source from this market. It's the space par excellence for speculation around food products, he believes.

“We have created an artificial shortage so that prices can rise in the market. »

— Mamadou Goïta, member of the International Group of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES)

The handful of multinationals that manage a large proportion of the world's grain stocks have everything to gain from a price increase, denounces Mr. Goïta. They do not say what stock they have, which could show that we have enough wheat on the world market to supply the States for several months or even several years.

Some countries contribute to this opacity. This is the case of China, which holds world grain stocks of which we do not know the extent, also affirms Mr. Goïta.

The role of financial speculation on the markets of raw materials had already been clearly identified during the food crisis of 2007-2008, but nothing significant was done to remedy it, deplores the IPES in its report on food security.

< p class="e-p">In addition to timely and rapid aid to enable the most vulnerable countries to support their most affected populations, there is an urgent need to tackle major changes in the global food system, argues the organization.

This requires the fight against speculation on basic agricultural products and greater market transparency. But import-dependent countries also need to regain some degree of self-sufficiency in basic foodstuffs. This involves returning to traditional cultures, as well as rediversifying their food consumption and sources of supply.

World Food Program (WFP) workers carry sacks of cereals at a warehouse, in Abala, Ethiopia, on June 9, 2022. In the Afar region, more than a million people are in need of aid, according to the WFP.

We must build the resilience of populations, underlines Mamadou Goïta.

Finally, believes- he, the countries of the region should constitute a common cereal reserve, which could be used in the event of a shortage while allowing them to free themselves from price variations on the international market.

In short, it is essential to act now to avoid another disaster that would still put hundreds of thousands of people at risk.

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