World makes strides in food security

Amid continuing food crises and hunger around the world last year, there were also signs of food policy improvements, says a respected Washington-based food research institute.

In an annual global food policy report, the International Food Policy Research Institute said last week that the food and humanitarian calamity in the Horn of Africa, made worse by high food prices early in 2011, illustrates ongoing food problems.

As well, the institute said industrialized nations still invest in a growing biofuel industry that diverts land from food production.

However, there were also positive developments.

“After many years of neglect, agriculture and food security are back on the development and political agendas,” it said in the report.

Among the hopeful signs cited by the report were:

  • the decision by 20 African countries to approve national agriculture and food security plans that commit to spending 10 percent of their national budgets on agriculture

  • a continuing commitment from the United States Agency for International Development to fund a food development program

  • a decision by the World Bank to maintain its financial commitment to agriculture and food sectors at $6 billion US annually

  • increased charitable organization donations, including agricultural support spending by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia

  • A decision by Southeast Asian countries, including China, Japan and South Korea, to create an emergency rice reserve last year “to help ensure long-term food security in the region”

  • a first-time meeting of G20 agriculture ministers during a period of rising food prices, where they agreed to work jointly “to tackle food price volatility and food insecurity”

The institute argued that the change noted last year was not simply a matter of individual and national decisions but a change in attitude.

“More broadly, agriculture was increasingly seen as part of a larger context,” it said. 

“It is becoming clear that agriculture contributes not just to food production but also to human nutrition and health, conditions that in turn can affect agricultural productivity and overall economic growth.”

Still, despite what it saw as optimistic signs, the institute noted that food crises continue to unfold and the number of malnourished remains stubbornly close to one billion people.

Recent years have “revealed serious weaknesses facing the global food system: lack of ability to respond to volatile food prices, extreme weather and inadequate response to food emergencies were among the most visible,” it said.

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