Food Security in Developing Countries Why Government Action Is Needed

By Pinstrup-Andersen, Per | UN Chronicle, September-November 2003 | Go to article overview
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Food Security in Developing Countries Why Government Action Is Needed


Pinstrup-Andersen, Per, UN Chronicle


Global food supplies are sufficient to meet the calorie requirements of all people if food were distributed according to needs. Per capita food supplies are projected to increase further over the next twenty years. (1) Thus, the world food problem now and in the foreseeable future is not one of global shortage. Instead, the world is faced with three main food-related challenges: widespread hunger and malnutrition, mismanagement of natural resources in food production, and obesity. This article deals with the first two only.

While rapidly increasing yields per unit of land in large parts of East and Southeast Asia, the United States and parts of Europe reduced the expansion of agriculture into new lands and had positive effects on biodiversity, wildlife, soils and forests, they also introduced large quantities of chemical pesticides and caused water and soil degradation. In many other areas, including sub-Saharan Africa, stagnating yields combined with rapid population growth forced farmers into new lands poorly suited for agriculture, causing deforestation and land degradation. The challenge confronting us is to continue the expansion of food production to meet future demand without negative effects on the environment.

The other challenge is to assure that everyone has access to sufficient food to live a healthy and productive life Elimination of food insecurity, hunger and malnutrition, in a manner consistent with an ecologically sustainable management of natural resources, is of critical importance. The failure of about 800 million people to meet food needs is a reflection of widespread poverty, which in turn is associated with a very skewed and deteriorating relative income distribution.

Although some progress has been made during the last twenty years, the future is not bright. At the World Food Summit in 1996, high-level policy makers from more than 180 countries agreed to the goal of reducing the number of food-insecure people by half, to 400 million, between 1990 and 2015, At the follow-up Summit in 2002, policy makers from the same countries reaffirmed the goal. Unfortunately, action does not seem to follow rhetoric. In the 1990s, less than one third of the countries managed to reduce the number of food-insecure people, while one half experienced an increase.

The design and implementation of food and agricultural policies for the future should pay particular attention to eight driving forces:

* increasing globalization;

* technological change;

* degradation of natural resources and water scarcity;

* rapidly changing consumer behaviour;

* emerging and re-emerging health crises;

* rapid urbanization;

* national and international instability and conflict; and

* changing roles and responsibilities of key actors.

Each will be briefly discussed, along with the associated government action I believe will be needed to achieve sustainable food security for all.

Globalization has benefited hundreds of millions of people, but many others have been made worse off. Effective food and agricultural policy and institutions are needed to complement and guide globalization to achieve sustainable food security. It is of critical importance that the industrialized countries phase out trade-distorting agricultural policies, including those providing subsidies based on quantity produced or acreage used. Industrialized countries have repeatedly committed themselves to open their markets for exports from the world's poorest countries. (2) However, very little progress has been made.

In addition to high tariffs, countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development impose a variety of non-tariff barriers, including food safety and sanitary levels that few developing countries can meet, These barriers for commodities and products from developing countries, such as foods and textiles, should be eliminated gradually, along with subsidized exports and non-emergency related food aid.

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