In their statement early September 2012 on the current situation of world-market prices, FAO, IFAD and WFP demand longer-term support and promotion for small-scale farmers in food insecure countries.
On 4 September 2012, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP) published a joint statement on current international food prices. World market prices of maize, wheat and soybeans are high, due amongst other factors to the drought in the USA which has caused the maize prices to soar (see rural 21 report).
Urgent action is necessary to ensure that these price shocks do not turn into a disaster, say the organisations. Two interconnected problems must be tackled: the immediate issue of some high food prices which can impact heavily on food-import-dependent countries and on the poorest people, and the long-term issue of how people produce, trade and consume.
In responding to those challenges, the organisations are better placed today than five years ago. Moreover, lessons learned from the 2007/2008 world food crisis are to assist in halting any escalation of the present situation. One of these lessons is that smallholder farmers can be enabled to benefit from higher food prices and become part of the solution by reducing price spikes and improving overall food security.
The organisations have thus adopted a twin-track approach which supports long-term investments in agriculture, notably smallholder agriculture, while ensuring that safety-nets are in place to help poor food consumers and producers avoid hunger, asset losses and poverty traps in the short run. Small-scale food producers also need to be better equipped to raise their productivity, increase their access to markets and reduce their exposure to risk.
The three organisations indicate that all three food price spikes of the last five years were triggered by weather phenomena. The challenge is both to reduce and to spread that risk. And the most obvious way is to promote sustainable food production in poor, food-importing countries. The fact that, globally, one third of food produced is wasted or lost to spoilage, damage and other causes should also be addressed.
It is necessary to invest much more in agriculture and social protection, including programmes to help poor people access food that has become unaffordable in their local markets. It is also necessary to review and, where applicable, adjust policies currently in place that encourage alternative uses of grains.
The forthcoming issue of Rural 21 (to be published in December 2012) will focus on responsible investments in the agri-food chain.