Food security: grasping at straws?
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CTA. 1998. Food security: grasping at straws?. Spore 77. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
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Falling world grain stocks and rising grain prices have, since 1995, made global food security a major issue. Will the spectre of famine haunt more of the South, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, in the next century? Or is there hope that new food...
Falling world grain stocks and rising grain prices have, since 1995, made global food security a major issue. Will the spectre of famine haunt more of the South, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, in the next century? Or is there hope that new food security strategies will restore tranquillity to the food markets? More than 800 million people in developing countries were undernourished at the beginning of the 1990's, and several tens of millions of people are dependent on emergency food aid each year, whilst such aid is falling sharply. Among those experiencing direct food insecurity are the fifteen million refugees and displaced persons in Africa in 1998. In overall terms, however, since the 1960's, world food production has risen faster than the world's population, according to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The statisticians tell us that the average amount of food available per person per day is equivalent to 2,700 calories, compared with 2,300 calories in the mid-1960's. In Western Europe and North America, the average food availability is more than 3,500 calories per person; but in Africa, average food availability is only 2,300 calories. Added to this is the fact that since 1980, the population of Africa has risen by 53%, but food production has risen by 'only' 45%. The World Food Summit in November 1996 vowed 'to reduce the number of undernourished people to half their present level (at least 800 million) no later than by 2015.' This means that food production would have to grow by 4% each year for the next two decades. Such a rate of growth is based on a combination of increases in cropped area, cropping intensities and crop yields. The cultivated land area in Africa is already expected to grow by 18% by 2010, and the harvested area by 33% ? the latter thanks to more frequent harvesting. However, much potentially arable land is currently occupied by forests, human settlements and protected areas. Beside environmental constraints, there are obstacles to using these 'new' lands: they require disease elimination and control programmes before they can be put under the plough. A further barrier, which also applies to the productivity of existing cultivated land, is the absence of equitable and functioning land tenure systems. Waste not, want not The potential for increased yields lies in a complex mixture of factors including better plant varieties, better use and control of water, and more use of plant nutrients. Soil fertility is decreasing in many parts of inter-tropical Africa where, in 1983, nine million tonnes of nutrients were lost to so-called 'soil mining', the removal by plants of soil nutrients in excess of that returned to the land. These losses may rise to 13 million tonnes by 2000. New, environmentally sound techniques such as integrated plant nutrition systems (IPNS) and integrated pest management (IPM) offer great possibilities for improved yields, but have yet to become widely available, both physically and financially, to many small farmers. Such systems, together with management techniques, also require more research and dissemination; the work of the agricultural research community must be made much more accessible. It is access, above all, which features in current policies for food security. Access to natural resources and land, access to education, water, credit, access to seed supplies, technology and inputs; access for women, whose fundamental role in ACP agriculture was discussed in Spore 76. This litany of requirements was emphasised at a series of three seminars on 'The EC's food security strategy and the ACP countries' held in the last quarter of 1997 in Brussels and Wageningen by the Directorate-General VIII for development of the European Commission and CTA. As well as the need for stakeholders to have access to the means of production, the seminar participants stressed that food security depends on their access to the mechanisms of public decision-making. There were more than 100 participants, from more than twenty ACP States, coming from governments, regional bodies and NGOs. They emphasised that food security is not simply a question of increased production; there are issues of distribution, involvement of all concerned players, institutional renewal, and, most complex of all, the 'impact of an uncertain macro-economic climate'. Food security is coming to be recognised as a structural issue which needs to be tackled on several fronts simultaneously. The scientific challenge of raising production, the logistical and political question of distribution, and the social and political issue of access all need to be addressed. A prerequisite to addressing these issues is that recent changes in Northern food aid policy must be continued. The European Union, the world's largest provider of food aid, have introduced reforms to their food aid and security policies and are now seeking to integrate emergency aid into long-term development strategies. In previous decades food aid, paradoxically, damaged long-term prospects by disrupting local production patterns, and destroying the market. Two unknown factors remain. First, climate change is expected to cause serious changes in the level, location and type of production. The ability of ACP States to adapt quickly to such changes will depend on institutional strength, investment and the availability of foreign exchange ? all of which are in short supply. Current forecasts predict that sub-Saharan Africa will need to double grain imports to 50 million tonnes by 2010, in a fiercely competitive world market, and one which is expected to be drastically changed by the second factor: China. Whilst Chinese officials insists that China will be able to feed its 1.6 billion people in 2030, more objective forecasts are alarming, and there are even fears of decreased production. A key question is how much China will increase its consumption of meat (4 kg of grain are required to produce 1kg of meat), from current low levels towards Western-style levels. It is in the exploding cities of the Orient, and not just in the fields, city farms, schools and banks of Africa, that the food security of many ACP States will be determined. (1) The vulnerability of certain groups to food insecurity is the subject of considerable attention in the context of disasters and adjustment programmes. Improved identification of such groups, as well as the major structural causes, constraints and policy interventions relating to their food insecurity is a focus of debate at CTA's October 1998 seminar in Leuven, Belgium. (2) The issue of access to land, and land tenure, feature in the seminar on 'Community-based land-use management' organised by the CTA in Bamako, Mali, in November 1998. For further information: Famine and Food Security in Ethiopia, Lessons for Africa. Webb, P and van Braun, J. 1994. 196 pp. John Wiley & Sons, Chichester, United Kingdom. ISBN 0 471 94821 7, CTA number 803, 20 credit points. The EC's food security strategy and the ACP countries. Seminars on food security, Brussels, Belgium, October-December 1997. European Commission, Directorate-General for Development/CTA, 1998. ISBN 92 9081 1927, CTA number 890, 10 credit points. Food Security Assessment, an annual publication, approved by the World Agricultural Outlook Board, from U.S. Department of Agriculture, Washington, DC 20036-5831, USA. Website: http://mann77.mannlib.cornell.edu:70/0/reports/erssor/international/gfa/gfa9x The ACC Network on Rural Development and Food Security, a United Nations inter-agency group, c/o FAO (address in box) http://184.108.40.206/waicent/faoinfo/sustdev/rdfs/ACC00006.htm
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