Global hunger calls for a collective action

News: In a statement, the United Nations’ Secretary General, said that: Global hunger levels are at a new high. In just two years, the number of severely food insecure people has doubled from 135 million to 276 million.

The present situation is pointing towards a global food shortage. It may push millions of people into food insecurity, followed by malnutrition, mass hunger and famine, in a crisis that could last for years.

What are the causes of stress?

Proximate Causes

The coronavirus pandemic created food insecurity by disrupting agricultural production, supply-chains and livelihoods.

The cost of energy and fertilizers rose sharply due to high crude oil prices between late 2020 and early 2022.

The Russia-Ukraine war has disrupted world wheat exports and world maize exports, as both countries are major exporters. This has been due to blockades and economic sanctions.

Climate change has impacted wheat yield in 2022. For example, the world’s largest producer of wheat (China) is facing rain, the world’s second-largest producer of wheat (India) is facing an unprecedented heat wave, the US wheat belts have insufficient rain etc.

Another cause of concern is that world prices of wheat have risen by 60% in less than six months. In addition, energy, fertilizers and pesticides are surging which will adversely impact agricultural output.

The availability of food grains for human consumption is constrained not only by output levels, but also by alternative uses. For example,

(a) 33% of maize produced in the US and 40% of wheat produced by the EU is fed to cows.

(b) proportion of grains and vegetable oils are used to make biofuels—ethanol and biodiesel.

Ultimate Causes

There is a deeper structural problem in the world food system.

(1) production and exports are concentrated in 10-12 countries. like Eleven countries account for 70% of global wheat production. Just ten countries account for 86% of world wheat exports.

(2) A relatively small proportion of world output —25% for wheat and 15% for maize—is exported. The rich countries are the major exporters.

(3) Similarly, just ten countries account for 83% of world imports. All ten are developing countries. Around 2/3rd of the world’s population lives in these countries in the developing world.

(4) The regions that are dependent on wheat imports for food are North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East. Russia and Ukraine provide 25%-75% of their wheat imports.

(5) Poor is the most vulnerable section in these countries which are hardest hit. They spend at least 40%, of their income on food. As per Amartya Sen’s analysis in Poverty and Famines, famine deaths are caused due to income shortage rather than food shortages.

Consequences

The poor countries cannot afford to buy scarce food at high prices. Therefore, poor will suffer hunger and starvation

The situation will further unleash economic, social and political tensions within these countries in the developing world, which could spill over across national boundaries.

Way Forward

Global hunger is a global problem. It requires international collective action instead of national actions in isolation. Therefore, the measures should be implemented with solidarity through cooperation.

Source: The post is based on an article “Global hunger calls for a collective action” published in the Live Mint on 10th June 2022.

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