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Finding solutions for the crisis

Last Friday, I was a panellist in the World Bank’s Open Forum on Food. The topic was the food crisis, and the sustained increase in food prices that has wreaked havoc on the world’s poorest people.

This was no staid academic exercise. It was an invaluable part of a larger conversation that grows more urgent by the day. As World Bank president Robert Zoellick put it: "We’re one event away from a very serious crisis."

Some might argue we’re at that point already. According to the World Bank, since June 2010 another 44 million people have fallen into poverty because of the spike in food costs. 

>> Watch videos of our discussion

What next?

There were many short-term and longer-term measures called for by the forum’s participants. 

Right away, we must launch nutrition interventions for the most vulnerable people. The international Scaling-up Nutrition Framework can point the way for this. 

Averting crisis

In addition, more social protection schemes must be put in place in countries with the means to do so. Putting cash in the hands of poor families can keep local food markets alive and avert serious food security crises. 

This was Concern’s experience last year in Niger, where we used mobile phones to distribute emergency cash after crops fell short in the wake of a prolonged drought.

Agriculture

Long term, there has to be significant investment in agriculture. We must make sure farmers have the seeds and tools to get ready for the next planting season. 

Invest in research

We also need to invest in agricultural research to find ways to boost crop yields. More food has to be grown on the same amount of land. This will require scientific breakthroughs!

Voices of the poorest

There is no simple solution to the food crisis. What has become crystal clear, however, is that these are not issues governments should handle on their own. 

There needs to be a place at the table for organisations that can represent the practical needs of ordinary people, especially those of the very poorest members of society. It is for their sake – and ultimately for the common good of all – that all the stakeholders must genuinely work together.

We must act now, collectively and urgently. If the food riots of 2008 are any indication, failure to do so could have very dire consequences.