Acute food insecurity: 40 million more people in one year

From Rome

The so-called “acute food insecurity”, that is, when a person cannot consume enough food and that puts his life in immediate danger, affected 40 million more people in the world between 2020 and 2021, affecting a total of 193 million people from 53 countries, according to the Global Report on Food Crisis 2022 recently published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Food Program (WFP), both based globally in Rome.

The most affected countries are in Africa (Yemen, Eritrea, Burundi, Kenya, Mozambique, Congo, Ethiopia, Nigeria, among others), in Central America and the Caribbean (Haiti, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua) and in Asia (Pakistan , Bangladesh, Syria, Afghanistan, among others). Central America and the Caribbean not only had to fight against the economic and social problems created by the pandemic, but in November 2020 they went through two hurricanes, Eta and Iota, which caused a lot of damage to the population and agriculture.

Anna Ricoy, coordinator of Disaster Risk Management of the FAO Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean based in Chile, explained to Page 12 lhe consequences of all these phenomena for people’s food security and what can be done to mitigate their effects. Agronomist originally from Spain, Ricoy obtained a Master in Economics and Social Sciences at AgroParisTech, the technology institute for Life Sciences, Food and Environment in Paris. She has been working for the FAO since 2009.

-The Global Report on Food Crisis 2022 says that in Latin America some 12.7 million people suffer from this scourge, one million more people in just over a year. And the most affected countries are Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua, in addition to Haiti in the Caribbean, which is home to a third of the total (4.4 million) of the people who suffer from hunger in the region. In your opinion, is it due only to the pandemic crisis or also to natural events and internal conflicts?

-These figures are related to three main drivers, which are interrelated and mutually reinforcing: the socioeconomic crisis, extreme events such as hurricanes and earthquakes, and instability. The enormous concern has been the impact that the economic slowdown has had on job losses and falling incomes, especially considering that a large part of the region’s workers are informal. As for extreme events in Central America, the 2020 hurricanes Eta/Iota destroyed crops and food stocks. Patchy rains in Haiti, the magnitude 7.2 earthquake, and Tropical Depression Grace in August 2021 affected food production and availability. The high levels of insecurity in Central America impacted economic and agricultural activities. The insecurity situation in Haiti deteriorated further in 2021.

-Why does the report not mention the other Latin American countries or Venezuela, which in other years was considered at risk?

-The report does not mention the other countries of Latin America and the Caribbean because in the other countries there is no solid evidence regarding the magnitude and/or severity of a food crisis. Regarding Venezuela, it has not been included in the report due to lack of data. Despite signs of stabilization in food and fuel availability since the end of 2021, food insecurity remains a concern in Venezuela, especially for families with limited incomes due to the combined effects of the prolonged economic contraction, inflation, international sanctions and Covid 19 restrictions.

-Has the war in Ukraine also had an influence?

-The conflict in Ukraine is a source of great concern in our region as in the rest of the world and in particular in countries experiencing food crises. The uncertainty regarding the next agricultural campaigns could impact the availability of global food reserves, and influence a further rise in the prices of vegetable oils, cereals and meat, sugar and dairy products, among others. Already in the last month the FAO Food Price Index increased by 12.6%. It is the highest increase since we have records. On the other hand, possible natural gas and energy disruptions will impact the global production of fertilizers, reducing their availability and driving prices up. It should be noted that Central America is a net importer of fertilizers. All these factors are going to have an impact on production, on yields, and of course it will be reflected in a rise in consumer prices. In Central America there is no hunger for lack of food, there is hunger for lack of money in people’s pockets. This could further hinder access to food and lead to an increase in all forms of malnutrition.

-According to the report, food insecurity could improve slightly in 2022.

This report was developed using data prior to the Ukraine conflict. This forecast of slight improvement takes into account the partial economic recovery from both the economic impact of Covid19 and the damage caused by tropical storms in Central America. However, this is likely to be tempered by high farm input prices that limit production and reduce the demand for farm labor. In addition, now we must take into account the current situation of global crisis due to the conflict in Ukraine and the chain consequences that it is having on the agri-food system. The latest forecasts for the region are not encouraging. In the last two weeks, the International Monetary Fund lowered growth projections compared to those of January 2022. According to this information, average inflation is estimated for Latin America and the Caribbean of 6.6% for 2022 and 5. 4% by 2023. Growth is estimated at around 2.5% in 2022 and 2.5% in 2023. We are facing a global crisis that could have serious repercussions at the regional level, and we must prevent a major food crisis from being triggered in the region.

Will the increase in migration be another collateral effect of this crisis?

-Migrations are a collateral effect of food insecurity: the loss of purchasing power of households due to the pandemic and due to inflation in food prices, extreme weather events, levels of insecurity in certain territories, among others. All of these factors are interrelated, mutually reinforcing, and influence households’ decisions to leave their homes and land in search of work or help.

-What should each country do to improve this situation? What could FAO do?

-We have to rethink the way we respond to food crises, putting the needs of agricultural producers at the center of the response. In 2020, funding for humanitarian interventions in agriculture represented just 8 percent of humanitarian funding for food security. We have to change this trend. Investing in agriculture and the resources that support it is strategic and profitable. According to the FAO, the benefits in these cases can be 10 times greater than if the funds are dedicated to food aid. And the effect of these interventions lasts over time. In the immediate term, we must provide support to governments so that producers have the necessary means to continue producing food locally and, in adverse conditions, obtain income and access financing. Parallel to productive support, it is essential to guarantee economic access to food for the most vulnerable population.

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