New food crisis "one bad harvest away" ActionAid warns G20

ActionAid today warned G20 ministers that the world is one bad harvest from a recurrence of the 2008 food crisis. 

It urged Agriculture Ministers meeting in Paris this week to take urgent action to stabilise food prices, including slashing biofuel production and mobilising a system of regional food reserves to help buffer the worst hit. High oil prices, an increase in biofuel production, commodity speculation and a lack of political leadership means that as many as 34 million people are at risk around the world from poverty and hunger if prices continue to rise.

With countries like the U.S. imposing biofuel mandates that are steering 40% of its corn crop to producing biofuels instead of feeding people, and the European Union massively increasing its biofuels demand under new targets, the era of food surpluses is over. The ministers must act now to reverse the targets and financial incentives that are driving biofuel production.

Marie Brill, ActionAid hunger expert said:

“We are one harvest away from a major food crisis which will push tens of millions more poor people into hunger and destitution. The price of food staples like maize and wheat has doubled in the past year. We can’t wait until there are hungry children on our TV screens before we take action”.

“Biofuels are not the answer to the climate and energy crises and our increasing addiction to them is robbing people of basic food security. The world cannot let some starve so that others can drive”.

ActionAid’s new report, A Second Global Food Crisis?, highlights the most recent statistics on food production, food prices, and world hunger. We may not yet be in a crisis, but the price shocks of the last year have us walking a tightrope between tight markets and widespread hunger. Instead of receiving the support they need, the women farmers and smallholders who are the key to food security are paying more for basic food, and enduring increased poverty and stress because of it.  

Direct evidence from the two recent surveys by ActionAid staff in 20 countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America confirmed that many poor families are severely affected by the drop in food production due to weather conditions and high local prices. Among the 50 local areas surveyed in Africa poor families are eating less nutritious food – cutting out vegetables, milk and meat. In many places they only eat one meal a day.

The Agriculture Ministers will be considering a proposal from the World Food Programme (WFP) for the co-ordination of regional food reserves, which would position emergency supplies near the most vulnerable people. Activists are also calling on G20 Ministers to examine the potential of buffer reserves, to allow regions or countries to shift price drivers before a crisis develops. 

This means that if prices increase too fast, they can release some grain to bring them down, and if prices are too low to keep farmers producing food, they can buy up crops to tighten the markets. With buffer reserves, governments can stop the crises before it starts.

Sameer Dossani, ActionAid’s Hunger Campaign Co-ordinator in Asia said:

“The G2O’s priority should be to save lives, time and money. Buffer reserves can prevent price volatility from becoming a crisis”.

“To stop the food crisis, Agriculture Ministers must endorse the World Food Programme’s proposal to co-ordinate regional food reserves”.

Editors' notes

Among the report’s findings:

• Over the last year, maize prices in Uganda have risen 114%; red beans in El Salvador have gone up 130%; and wheat has risen 50% in Bangladesh.

• Just this month the FAO said that at the global level, the cost of a typical food basket has risen by 48% in real terms over the last year.

• The World Bank says an additional 44 million have been pushed into poverty by rising food prices already, and another 34 million are at risk if prices continue going up.

• Climate change is here now: an unrelenting series of droughts, floods, storms and volatile weather are leading to substantial crop losses.

• An explosion of unregulated speculative activity on the commodity futures markets is amplifying price movements.

• The Asian Development Bank says an additional 64 million people in Asia alone are at risk of being pushed into poverty if current price trends are sustained.

• In some of the worst-hit localities, an estimated 85% of households are sending children out for work instead of school.

• Food production has dropped by up to 70% in many rural areas in Africa owing to drought and drought like climatic conditions. 60 to 80% of communities in these areas are affected and are reducing meals.