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Immediate action needed on food prices

Concern warns that rocketing food prices will cause a global humanitarian crisis unless action is taken now.

Concern Worldwide is calling for urgent action by world leaders to prevent a looming humanitarian emergency caused by spiraling food prices around the world.

Speaking after meeting the influential Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) in Washington today, Concern CEO Tom Arnold warned that rising food prices could be devastating for the poorest people. If action is not taken immediately, progress made on the Millennium Development Goal of halving world hunger by 2015 could be severely eroded.

Read the transcript here.

“Imagine an already poverty-stricken family of five in Africa or southern Asia living on about US $5 dollars. They already spend about 70% of their income on food. They have seen that expenditure jump by the equivalent of US $1.50 in the past six months,” said Mr Arnold. “Those of us who are lucky enough to live in the developed northern countries are much better able to absorb that. We can cut back on luxury goods; we can cut back on the amount of petrol we use. But if you are a subsistence farmer or a mother living in an urban slum, you can’t. That won’t just mean a sharp rise in severe malnutrition among potentially millions of people, it will also have a knock-on effect on people’s ability to send their children to school, their access to healthcare and more,” he warned.

The Concern CEO presented his blueprint for action on the crisis to almost 100 members of the CFR – a non-partisan think tank on foreign relations and one of the world’s most well respected and prestigious organisations in its class. Concern’s recommendations include a number of short, medium and long-term measures that need to be taken:

Recommendations

In the short-term, the poor need access to emergency supplies of food or cash to buy foodTo achieve this, the World Food Programme must receive increased funding, which it urgently requiresNutritional surveillance in developing countries by Ministries of Health, by nutrition and research institutes, by NGOs and other international institutions, needs to be increased in order to quantify the impact of the crisis on the most vulnerableWith a particular focus on preventing pregnant women and children under two years of age from slipping from chronic to acute malnutritionGovernments of developing countries need support in order to provide cash-based social protection systems where food aid is considered either untenable or problematicGiven that many of the world’s poorest people are small farmers, it is vital that they have access to the seeds, tools, fertilisers and creditIn the Horn of Africa, for example, the food prices problem is being compounded by the failure of the spring rains. Crops have been destroyed and cattle died as a result of this drought in Ethiopia, Kenya and SomaliaGovernments, particularly the US and EU, must urgently look at their policies on bio-fuels which have had an impact on the price of world foodThe Food Aid Convention must be re-negotiated and reformed

Long term recommendations

In the longer term, governments in the poorest countries, with support of the international community, should increase investment in sustained agricultural growth. More investment must also be made in food security and governments must ensure that their policies on agriculture and food security are focused on the interests of the poorest people, many of whom are small farmers.

Concern’s reaction

Concern itself is already responding to the crisis and is intensifying its “Early Warning System” monitoring of the impact on the poor. Nutritional programmes in 13 countries are ready to increase the number of people they are helping. Many of Concern’s 29 country teams are preparing to respond with food, cash and assistance to farmers, plus other measures.

“We know what the causes of the problem are. And we know that food prices are going to remain high for the immediate future. This is happening at the worst possible time economically. But we have to come up with a multi-faceted approach to prevent what could become a catastrophe if decisive action is not taken. The poorest of the poor are the ones who are being hardest hit. Reports from Concern staff in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean are highlighting that food price hikes are already increasing the number of sick and malnourished children. But it won’t end there. Millions could fall into a deep cycle of destitution if the world does not act now. This requires political will at a global level,” Tom Arnold added.

Mr Arnold’s appearance at the Washington-based think-tank, which regularly debates key foreign policy issues with US government officials and world leaders, further cements Concern’s position as one of the leading voices from the aid and development community on the global hunger issue.

In the past week, Mr Arnold has also been consulted by the special UN taskforce set up by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to co-ordinate efforts to deal with the growing crisis. Concern’s recommendations will feed into the UN’s global framework for action, which is due to be presented to world leaders at a high-level conference on food security in Rome next week.