The Food Security Challenge and Global Food Prices: Highlights from the Global Report on Food Crisis, 2017

By Jheel Bastia 

There might be a few people or probably none who are not affected by the surging food prices or to say so, are not concerned. Be it a least developed, developing or a developed nation, it is difficult to say if they are not facing the brunt of increasing food prices. While the impacts may not be as severe   in developed countries, developing and under-developed countries have been hit hard. While some countries are fighting an internal battle of population growth and land crunch, there are many others who are being denied the right to see a light at the end of the tunnel. To analyze the impact of several factors on food prices, the ‘Global Report on Food Crisis 2017’ was released in March this year, a joint effort by the European Union, World Food Programme (WFP) and Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in association with other stakeholders. The report addresses and presents a global picture of the extent and severity of food insecurity worldwide. The key objective of the report is to establish a consultative and consensus-based process to compile food insecurity analysis throughout the world into a global public product to inform annual planning and resource allocation decisions. The report covers extensively the countries that primarily experienced major food shortage in the year 2016; and that are likely to face major food crunch in the year 2017 as projected, and certain other countries which have discrepancies in the population data in the past. The highlights of the report include ‘food crisis’ originating via inter-nation conflicts, natural disasters and last but not the least food prices. The FAO Food Price Index (FFPI) measures the monthly change in international prices of 5 food commodities notably cereals, vegetable oil, dairy, meat and sugar. While prices of commodities fluctuated and points could be seen to jump and go down, the overall price index fared well above its value as compared to 2016. As per the report released by FAO on the world food situation, the FAO Food Price Index averaged nearly 171 points in March 2017, down almost 5 points (2.8 percent) from February, but still 20 points (13.4 percent) above its level a year earlier.

As per the ‘Global Report on Food crisis 2017’, the decline on the international cereal market in 2016, also had an impact on the estimated world food import bill compared to 2015. Low-Income Food-Deficit Countries (LIFDC), particularly those in Sub-Saharan Africa, gave a different picture of smaller reduction in the food import bill. The major reasons for these fluctuating international food prices have been attributed to regional and inter-nation conflicts and weak currencies such as in Nigeria, South Sudan, Yemen, Afghanistan, and Syria, while many African and Latin American countries had to endure the most of El Nino, such as Ethiopia, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and Haiti. Also, snail-paced economic growth in 2016 was one of the primary reasons for the failure of many other countries to respond to food insecurity. The parallel contributors affecting other parts of Sub-Saharan Africa are population displacement, loss of crop and livestock, and lack of employment.

While the above-mentioned countries are already dragged into the circle of food insecurity, the coming year 2017 will bring with it many other causes and factors to establish similar conditions in other parts of the world leading to increased food prices and food insecurity. The report mentions that Mali, Senegal, Mauritania, and Liberia will move into a Phase 4 emergency, while Sri Lanka could have major drought issues.

Growing population and land crunch alone are major factors contributing to reduced food production across the world. To add to the issue, the world is challenged by climate change, which may intensify issues of food insecurity at both regional and global scales. The increasing food prices do not only deprive people of basic food necessities but increases the chances of malnourishment which has proven to be another global challenge.