In the spotlight 1
Trapped by markets
The world is facing the third global food crisis in the past 50 years which will greatly increase food and economic insecurity for hundreds of millions of people around the world. The recent State of Food Insecurity and Nutrition in the World (SOFI) reports indicate the failure of global efforts to end hunger, malnutrition and food insecurity, which have been rising since 2014.
Policy makers attribute this grim reality to the economic downturn from the COVID-19 pandemic, accelerating climate change, and the Russian war on Ukraine. The pandemic certainly resulted in an alarming increase in hunger, food insecurity, job and income losses, poverty, and inequality. But the SOFI reports show that world hunger levels were high even before the pandemic struck in 2020. The Russia-Ukraine war has disrupted grain exports and supply chains from the Black Sea region, resulting in soaring prices for grain, energy, fertilizer, and other products. But policy makers are ignoring the roles of commodity markets, agribusiness corporations and financial investors in triggering food price volatility and making our economies vulnerable to recurring food crises.
Central to these recurring crises are market structures, regulations, and trade and finance arrangements that bolster a global corporate dominated industrial food system, and enable market concentration vertically and horizontally, and financial speculation in commodity markets. Over the past decades, finance corporations have invested in commodity production, processing, retailing, agrochemicals digital technology, logistics (transportation and storage) and large-scale land deals, and are increasingly the hidden faces behind land, water and resource grabbing and rural dispossession.
According to Michael Fakhri, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, “… food prices are soaring not because of a problem with supply and demand as such; it is because of price speculation in commodity futures markets.”
National responses to the crisis have varied depending on food stocks, production capacities, debt levels, and purchasing power. Low-income food importing countries in face multiple challenges of high indebtedness, depreciating currencies, and insufficient funds and infrastructure to boost the availability of locally produced foods. As the war continues, more countries have restricted exports to meet domestic needs, which though understandable, have further contributed to increased prices of agricultural commodities.
Multilateral responses to the crisis have prioritized the functioning of global supply chains for agricultural commodities and inputs (especially fertilizers) by removing export bans/restrictions and supporting further trade and investment liberalization. No measures have been proposed to stop food speculation, regulate agriculture markets, and deconcentrate agri-food markets from corporate domination.
FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP, and WHO. 2021. The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2021. Transforming Food Systems for Affordable Healthy Diets. Rome: FAO.
FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP, and WHO. 2022. The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2022. Repurposing food and agricultural policies to make healthy diets more affordable. Rome: FAO.
UN Security Council Aria-Formula Meeting on Conflict and Hunger. UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food Michael Fakhri.
The Global Food Crisis this Time, Focus on the Global South.
Is the Global Value Chain Breaking up, Focus on the Global South.
Pro-corporate Multilateralism and Food Insecurity, Focus on the Global South.
In the spotlight 2
Five real solutions to the food crisis in Africa
When the first Europeans landed on African shores, the seed of the food crisis was sown. Tens of millions of Africans were taken to process commodity products, primarily sugar, in the Caribbean. Before Europeans arrived, Africa had a well governed, thriving socio-economic and food system. Under colonialism, the focus shifted to extracting African raw materials to fuel Europe’s industrialization. This reduced Africa to producing a few export commodities, preventing the diversification of agricultural systems geared toward local development and regional markets. Since independence, internal mechanisms for self-organization and growth have been hampered by debt incurred through donor-led investment, IMF structural adjustment programs, and increased reliance on external resources, including food.
COVID and the Russia-Ukraine war exacerbated Africa’s food crisis. The cost of food, agricultural inputs, and fuel has rocketed. How will Africa get out of this quagmire? How can Africa produce enough nutritious, healthy food while preserving its food culture and ensuring justice in its food system without negatively impacting the environment?
Overcoming the narrative
We must debunk the green revolution narrative, which looks at the African food system only through the prism of productivity. According to this story, the solution is to increase the production of high-calorie foods, primarily three cereals, maize, rice and wheat through increased use of toxic agrochemicals and hybrid/GMO seeds, allocating large land tracts to agribusinesses. Rather than boosting productivity, this harms food security, damages the environment, exacerbates nutrition deficiency, and erodes food cultures and human rights. This must stop!
Multiple research reports and personal field visits to farms managed in harmony with nature -combining local knowledge with cutting-edge science – have demonstrated that it is possible to produce more nutritious food without harming the environment. Agroecology responds to the numerous crises we face on both the human and planetary levels. To avoid disaster, Africa should embrace agroecology.
The debt burden exacerbates hunger and severely restricts agricultural investment in Africa. Only a few countries have committed 10% of their GDP to agriculture. Thirty-three African countries are classified as Least Developed Countries, with the majority heavily in debt. African governments are sinking into debt due to the climate crisis and investing conditional loans in false adaptation solutions. According to the UN, countries could pay an extra USD 168 billion over the next ten years for such adaptation programs. We must advocate for debt relief and restructuring.
Proper food policy
We require continental and national food policy and governance systems that prioritize a healthy and sustainable diet for all. This will ensure policy coherence and establish a governance structure for implementation. The right kind of food policy prioritizes people over profits, combats food dumping, and promotes the growing and consumption of local healthy foods.
Supporting territorial markets and agroecological entrepreneurs
The African landscape is covered in territorial markets. For many small communities, they serve as the economic, cultural, and political centers. These centers must be constructed to promote local cuisine and combat shocks. During COVID 19, many rural communities relied on territorial markets. Along with this, we also need to help the burgeoning agroecological entrepreneurs as they find solutions to the issues of getting healthy food to consumers and providing employment for millions of young people in Africa, the majority of whom are women and girls.
The colonial legacy and elite control of our food system will not go away with a wish. We must organize, define our strategy, and fight for change. The movement must propose solutions, focus on agroecological transition, and demonstrate effectiveness. To tackle the food crisis, the movement must promote healthy food production and consumption.
Only food sovereignty, which promotes self-sufficiency and local control, can assist us in avoiding the impending food catastrophe.