The Silent Hunger Crisis, One-Sixth of all of Humanity is Malnourished

World Leaders Tackle Hunger As Mass Poverty Peaks

Chioma Umeha

Less than 24 hours, heads of state and government will reach a consensus on how to stamp out the ugly world monster-hunger-when they converge for the World Summit on Food Security under the directive of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations .

FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf also wants them to agree to increase agriculture’s share of official development assistance to 17 per cent, the level it was in 1980, from the current five per cent.

This is not the first time the world body and governments will congregate to agree on the elimination of hydra-headed world ogre. In 1996, 180 nations met at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) for the World Food Summit (WFS) to discuss ways to end hunger. Nations pledged to eradicate hunger and committed to reduce by half the number of undernourished people in the world by 2015. This was seen as a first step towards the goal of food for all.

But this target has not been met. This explains why many analysts view the agenda of the impending summit as an impossible mission. In October 2000, a report by FAO said that unless extra efforts are made to accelerate progress, it will not be achieved before 2030. The world body estimated that the number of hungry people could increase by a further 100 million in 2009 and pass the one billion mark.

At a time when the global economic crisis dominates the news, the world needs to be reminded that not everyone works in offices and factories. The crisis is stalking the small-scale farms and rural areas of the world, where 70 per cent of the world’s hungry live and work.

This was contained in a report published prior to the World Food Day last month, by two United Nations agencies- the food and agricultural organization and the World Food Programme which stated that a combination of the food crisis and the global economic downturn has pushed more than 1 billion people into hunger in 2009.

According to the report titled, "FAO’s Annual Hunger Report and The state of Food insecurity," the combination of food and economic crises had pushed the number of hungry people worldwide to historic levels with 1.02 billion people worldwide undernourished."

With the increase of 105 million hungry people this year, there are now 1.02 billion malnourished people in the world, three quarters of them live in rural areas meaning that almost one sixth of all humanity is suffering from hunger.

This is more than ever before. Despite the fact that the world produces 125 per cent of the required food for all, 15 per cent of people are hungry; and most of them are women and children. Global agriculture production today fails to feed the world’s poorest people since they lack access to income and resources such as fertile land, water, seeds and knowledge for a farming system adapted to local conditions and the demands of markets. The green revolution accomplished a lot but failed to combat hunger. It focused only on technology and relied on huge quantities of climate damaging inputs such as agro-chemicals.

The November summit will discuss putting into place a more coherent and effective system of food security, including rules and mechanisms to ensure adequate incomes for farmers, mobilizing investments into agricultural infrastructure and access to inputs, and a mechanism for early reaction to food crises.

Diof describes the world food security governance system as inefficient and not well coordinated to address the present food crisis and the new challenges of the future. On World Food Day in October, he said rich donor countries, developing countries and assistance institutions all now have to focus on policies that will assist the 1.02 billion undernourished people in the world.

His words, "the silent hunger crisis – affecting one sixth of all of humanity – poses a serious risk for world peace and security. We urgently need to forge a broad consensus on the total and rapid eradication of hunger in the world."

In a message to the World Food Day celebrations, Pope Benedict XVI, who will be attending the November World Summit on Food Security, called for the "international community and its institutions to intervene in a more suitable and decisive manner." He said that access to food was a fundamental human right and that the "drama" of hunger could only be eliminated by "removing the structural causes" and by investing in agricultural development in poor countries.

The global food insecurity situation has worsened and continues to represent a serious threat for humanity. With food prices remaining stubbornly high in developing countries, the number of people suffering from hunger has been growing relentlessly in recent years. The global economic crisis is aggravating the situation by affecting jobs and deepening poverty.

According to FAO, poor countries need the development, economic and policy tools required to boost their agricultural production and productivity. Investment in agriculture must be increased because for the majority of poor countries a healthy agricultural sector is essential to overcome hunger and poverty and is a pre-requisite for overall economic growth. The gravity of the current food crisis is the result of 20 years of under-investment in agriculture and neglect of the sector. Directly or indirectly, agriculture provides the livelihood for 70 per cent of the world’s poor.

Against this background, Nigerian government has taken measures to check overgrowing food prices and reinforce food supply for domestic market as the life of Nigerians is shadowed by the recent food crisis across the world. For instance, last year, the Federal Government’s spent N80 billion to import 500,000 metric tones of rice into the country and a whopping N950 billion to boost food production through the Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources, a step which many Nigerians perceived as half measures.

As a country highly depending on food imports, Nigeria suffered from rocketing prices of basic food items from the beginning of 2008. Many households in Nigeria have had to contend with rising cost of living. From cooking gas, kerosene to palm oil, pepper, tomatoes and onions, prices have continued to soar. Mostly affected by price increase is rice, a staple food in the country.

Early last year, the price of a bag of rice which was at N5, 700 was sold between N10, 000 and N12, 000 more than 100 per cent increase. Similarly, derica of rice, which hitherto sold for N100 was then pegged at between N180 and N200. Today, the difference in price is insignificant as the commodity, rice, still goes for between N150 and N200, depending on the specie. Last year, bean, which is the commonest source of protein, whose bag sold for N9, 000, rose astronomically to N16, 500, depending on the type. A derica was sold at N120, against the former price of N70. At present, the price has gone risen to N150. Similarly, the price of palm oil also rose and, to a large extent, encouraged adulteration of the commodity. Last year, a bottle of groundnut oil sold between N250 and N300 against N180. At the moment, the price remains the same.

Yam, which could have been a better alternative and could have helped cushion the effect of rice scarcity, was above reach of many persons. A small tuber that can barely feed three sold for between N350 and N700 in the market. Right now, the same size of yam goes for higher price, between N400 and N800.

Similarly, the price of a loaf of bread, another popular food in Nigeria, has also been on a geometric rise. A loaf of bread that sold for about N120 last year goes for N160 or more. Subsequent to this, the bakers’ association is threatened to mark up the price. As a prelude to that, the association directed its members to close down their bakeries for a few days to achieve price increases. That was exactly their strategy previous year, when they created artificial scarcity before embarking on the price increase.

For traders, the situation has only further worsened businesses activities that have been at their lowest ebb, which is fallout of the economic downturn.

Yinka Otedola, a yam trader at Agboju market said prices of yam at major markets, such as Mile 2, have gone beyond the reach of the poor. She stated that they buy 100 tubers of yam at N50, 000 and are forced to sell a tuber for N700 or N800 after adding fares and other miscellaneous expenses.

"Yam merchants have become lords to themselves. They now call the shots and have become voracious because demand for yam has increased significantly. We have no choice but patronize them, we don’t cultivate yam, neither are we ready to go out of business nor run at loss. Patronage has dropped, I must confess many people just walk away when they are told new prices", she bewailed.

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