Continued urgent action needed to prevent food and nutrition crisis from worsening

© Roberto Villanueva A Food Bank agent collects food at a wholesale market in Lima (mercado de mayoristas), Peru.

United Nations, 8 February 2023

As millions worldwide continue to go hungry, leaders of five international humanitarian, banking and trade organizations on Wednesday appealed for further urgent 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 (WBG), the World Food Programme (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.   

Expected drop in food supplies

Food inflation remains high in the wake of shocks from the COVID-19 pandemic, the climate emergency, Russia’s war in 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 on the rise. 

The situation is expected to worsen, with global food supplies projected to drop to a three-year low. The need is especially dire 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 WFP and FAO require funds urgently to serve the most vulnerable immediately. 

WFP and 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. 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 this July. 

Funding must also be mobilized so that the IMF’s Poverty Reduction and Growth Trust (PRGT) 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 organization heads 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 advised. 

Furthermore, 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. 

Agricultural development projects are helping to reduce poverty in rural communities in Nepal.

© ADB Agricultural development projects are helping to reduce poverty in rural communities in Nepal.

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 programmes towards 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.”  

Support sustainable agriculture 

They further highlighted the need to re-examine and reform support to agriculture. While this amounted to roughly $639 billion per year 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 stated. 

Instead, funding should be used to strengthen the resilience and sustainability of the agri-food 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,” they noted. 

Earthquake mobilization

The leaders began their statement by offering their deepest sympathies to the people of Türkiye and Syria in the wake of the deadly and devastating earthquakes this week. 

“Our organizations are closely monitoring the situation, assessing the magnitude of the disaster, and working to mobilize necessary support in accordance with each organization’s mandates and procedures,” they said. 

The original article appeared here.

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