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Why the price of food is soaring around the world (and how to deal with its impact)

World Food Day is celebrated this Saturday amid a United Nations warning about the “catastrophic and unprecedented” level of food insecurity and fears of a further increase in the price of food worldwide.

“About half a million people are experiencing famine conditions in Ethiopia, Madagascar, South Sudan and Yemen. In recent months, vulnerable populations in Burkina Faso and Nigeria have also been subjected to these same conditions, ”the UN said in a statement.

The agency called for the immediate allocation of funds to help 41 million people in various countries at risk of a famine.

According to the UK-based charity The Hunger Project, 690 million people around the world are living with chronic hunger, 850 million are at risk of poverty due to covid-19.

Of those 690 million, 60% are women.

Here we analyze what the rise in food prices means for everyone and what alternatives are being considered to help reduce food poverty.

But first of all, we explain the reason for this increase.

Why are prices rising?

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The pandemic has increased the price of food.

International food giant Kraft Heinz warned this week that people will have to “get used to higher food prices” as a result of “widespread” inflation after the pandemic.

Dr. Sarika Kulkarni, founder and trustee of the Mumbai, India-based Raah Foundation, agrees with the view of Miguel Patricio, the head of Kraft Heinz, that food prices will remain high.

Kulkarni and the Raah Foundation have been working towards a better, healthier and happier life for the indigenous communities of India.

During the pandemic, many countries saw the production of raw materials fall, from crops to vegetable oils.

Measures to control the virus and the disease limited production and distribution.

As supply has recovered, many economies have been unable to adjust to demand, leading to higher prices.

Rising wage and energy costs have added to the burden manufacturers face.

“Prices are a direct correlation of demand and supply,” explains Kulkarni, an expert in poverty alleviation.

“While the population increases and the demand for food is continuously increasing, the number of hectares under cultivation is decreasing due to multiple challenges and problems that include the availability of water, the deterioration of the soil and its quality, climate change and the increase of cases of extreme climatic variations, the lack of interest of the new generations in agriculture as an occupation, etc. ”.

“Farmers face various challenges that are reflected in the price of food, which continues to rise,” he adds.

“Sex for food”

hands with food

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According to the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Martin Griffiths, “when the door finally opens, famine goes viral in a way that other threats may not.”

Women and girls are particularly vulnerable as a result of increasing poverty and rising food prices.

“Women tell us about the desperate measures they must take to find what to feed their families, including exchanging sex for food, resorting to early and child marriages, as I heard recently when I was in Syria,” she recalled.

Some of the most food insecure in the world are small farmers, says Karen Hampson, Program Development Manager at Farm Radio International.

“The current increase in the price of food It is a weapon of double edge for them, “he told the BBC.

“On the one hand, peasant families need to buy food that they cannot grow, so their costs increase or their access to food decreases, which generates hunger and malnutrition,” he explained.

And “on the other, at least in theory, the rise in food prices should mean more income from the products they sell.”

“However, in most cases, rising food prices do not seem to translate into more income for farmers, especially for small-scale ones in Africa ”.

As Dr. Kulkarni points out, poverty is directly proportional to prices; As poverty increases, prices unfortunately also increase, destroying the small budgets they had.

“Rising food prices are causing malnutrition, hunger and many other health-related challenges for the poorest communities. It is trapping them in a vicious cycle of hunger, ill health and poverty. “

Development Initiatives is a global organization harnessing the power of data and evidence to seek to end poverty, reduce inequality and increase resilience, and its CEO, Harpinder Collacott, agrees with Kulkarni.

“Extreme poverty in particular is calculated on the basis of the income needed to meet basic needs, and food is a significant proportion of that,” he explains.

“If the cost of these foods increases, more and more people cannot meet their basic needs, which means that they are pushed into extreme poverty or below the extreme poverty line,” he adds.

What can be done?

To cope with the impact of rising food prices, people in developed countries may choose to avoid luxury items, spend fewer vacations abroad, or even carefully manage their budgets.

In underdeveloped countries, as mentioned above, not everyone has these alternatives and there are those who are desperate who are often forced to trade sex for food, as we already mentioned.

The UN, regional bodies and respective governments can adopt conventional approaches to lift people out of poverty, to meet the challenge of rising food prices. And many charities around the world are focusing on innovative methods.

“Food and livelihood assistance must be delivered together,” says Director General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Qu Dongyu.

“Supporting agri-food systems and providing long-term assistance paves the way to recovery beyond survival and increases resilience. There is no time to lose, ”he said.

Maria Mchele and farmers in Tanzania

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Radio programs help educate to make better use of the land and natural resources.

But Collacott told the BBC that food poverty it will not be solved with more money alone.

“We need a radical reform of the systems and structures that keep people in poverty,” he says.

“We need a global effort, from all governments, institutions, companies and NGOs, that places the poorest people at the center of its approach to change the status quo and create a global system that doesn’t leave people behind. “

According to Kulkarni, what is needed is to boost climate-smart agriculture, increase the adaptability to climate change such as improving the collection and storage capacity of rainwater, lowering the price of seeds and other raw materials related to agriculture, encouraging farmers to reserve what they need for self-consumption and earn income by selling the rest.

In the last seven years, the Raah Foundation has guaranteed water to 105 villages, giving more than 30,000 residents access to it throughout the year.

“We have been encouraging young people to pursue agriculture as a full-time occupation, providing them with the necessary incentives and creating agricultural corridors to ensure that focused agriculture generates better yields and therefore income,” says Kulkarni.

According to Hampson, one of the causes of food poverty is that rural households in developing countries do not have adequate access to information on prices in different markets, so they cannot negotiate very well with distributors and wholesalers; or on improved practices or localized climate.

Farm Radio International, a Canadian NGO, uses interactive radio to respond to the communication and information needs of small farmers in sub-Saharan Africa.

“Agricultural radio shows can change that by offering advice on how to get better prices for their produce or other accurate and timely information,” Hampson told the BBC.

“For example, in a recent climate services project in Tanzania, 58% of listeners rated their knowledge of how to use weather information to improve their agriculture as ‘better’ after listening to radio programs, and 73% reported that they had improved their weeding practices after listening to the radio programs, “he added.

Now what?

women taking notes

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While people around the world, in developed and developing countries alike, may wonder how to deal with rising food prices, activists express their hope that a crisis can be averted, provided that the leaders of the take swift and measured action.

“Personally, I would say that there is always hope,” says Hampson.

But only if “we listen to women, men and young farmers, let them lead and listen to their concerns, include them in policy dialogues and support their efforts, whether through cooperatives, farmer and women’s groups or innovation” .

He adds that “focus on the answer to climate change and to especially support marginalized groups and respond to their needs: equal access to markets, access to credit, access to information.

Dr Kulkarni expresses a similar view: “We are hopeful as there is still time to address the gaps as they are known and identified.”

But he warns: “If we continue to ignore them, we could have a problem and hope could fade.”


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