development food

More talk, more promises, more hunger

This week has been the UN’s World Summit on Food Security, which makes it a good time to share this rather startling graph out of the Financial Times.

That leap is down to the soaring food prices that we saw in 2008, when the price of rice, wheat and other staples rocketed. The price rises didn’t mean so much to us, as we only spend 10% or so of our income on food. In poorer countries keeping food on the table is often the major expenditure, taking up 50-85% of household income. Even a small price rise can tip millions into malnutrition.

2008 saw food riots in 60 different countries, with some countries stuggling to keep a lid on the violence. The food crisis also triggered the wave of land deals, one of which led to the coup in Madagascar.

Previous summits have yielded little except promises, including the now somewhat hopeless one of halving world hunger by 2015.  This summit renews that promise, although it was first adopted in 1974 and is ringing increasingly hollow. They have also raised the UN’s Committee on World Food Security to ministerial level, and promised more aid for rural development. That’s an important one – in 2006 only 3.8% of development money went towards agriculture.

Once again, it’s a lot of promising. Even the director-general of the FAO had to admit that the declaration “contains neither measurable targets nor specific deadlines.” But then they do insist on holding these summits in places like Rome. They should have had it in Haiti. I can’t help thinking their minds might have been focused a little more if there was a hungry mob banging on the doors.



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