By Rein Paulsen, Director of the Office of Emergencies and Resilience at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)
A few weeks ago, we all woke up to a global environment that we thought was history.
Billions of people have already struggled over the past two years; acute hunger has skyrocketed and the threat of starvation has returned once again.
As the war now affects a major global breadbasket supplying many regions with staple food exports, international food markets – already suffering from a severe hangover after two years of pandemic ripple effects – are even more disturbed. Countries around the world are realizing that our interconnected global economy and planetary food supply chains are more fragile than we thought.
The United Nations agency I work for, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), has analyzed the various threats to food security, in detail. Around the world, countries that depend on food imports are rightly worried.
But we are also obliged to highlight the plight of those peoples and nations who have already been – many for years – confronted with food crises. That millions of people – often in rural and agricultural areas – face high levels of hunger and food insecurity, are no longer able to till the soil, do not know where their next meal will come from, selling it may be difficult to replace assets like livestock or tools – in essence, their future – to buy one more week’s worth of food.
Even before the war in Ukraine, the number of food insecure people on our fragile and interconnected planet was already staggering.
The international community was already spending more on humanitarian aid year after year in a desperate attempt to stem human misery. Contributions to provide food aid to keep people on a lifeline have risen from 3.6 billion a decade ago to almost 8.5 billion last year or so.
Yet, despite record humanitarian spending, nothing has stemmed the seemingly inexorable rise in acute hunger, as measured by the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) scale. In 2016, 108 million people were affected by IPC3 (crisis) and IPC4 (emergency) levels of acute hunger. This has now jumped to over 160 million people.
Today, soaring prices threaten to push up food import bills for dozens of countries and push the number of people who do not consume enough caloric energy to lead a normal life up to 13 million people in that year alone.
Yes, we are compelled to witness what is happening in Ukraine, but neither can we close our eyes to the need that surrounds so many other places.
In FAO’s experience, the response to needs is most effective when the very people affected by a disaster or emergency have choice and control. That’s why now – today – before the warmth of spring blankets large swaths of the globe, bringing the soil back to life – we must plant the seeds of a food revolution, in every corner of the globe where hunger acute remains a scourge. We must empower people to establish a thousand breadbaskets – a decentralized safety net to support the human family.
Based on our work in South Sudan, North East Nigeria, Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria, Somalia, we know farmers are tough. If they have the means, they will grow food to feed their families and communities. And that is precisely what they are asking of us, and it couldn’t be more important than it is right now, as the ripples of war affecting the breadbasket of the Black Sea spread far and wide. far and raise the stakes for the world’s hungriest communities.
It doesn’t take much. A 20 kilo bag of wheat seed. One hour of rented tractor time. Delivered at the right time.
The return on investment in agriculture – even in difficult situations – is undeniable. In Afghanistan, for example, the FAO wheat parcels (seeds, tools and fertilizers) delivered last fall amid political upheaval are now in the ground, and later this year will bear fruit, providing an average family with seven people enough basic flour for a full year. That’s less than a quarter of the $1,000+ it would cost to buy the same amount of grain locally (at November 2021 prices) or import it from now tight global markets. This is just one example of the strategic humanitarian investment that is agriculture.
In December, an unprecedented $41 billion global humanitarian appeal was launched to help 183 million of our most vulnerable people. The gap between needs and available funds has also increased to nearly $19 billion (from $11 billion in 2019), with less than half of funding needs received in 2021. Today, we are prepare for the ripple effects of the war in Ukraine on crises elsewhere. in the world. Every dollar and every euro just needs to have maximum impact. The FAO estimates that for just $1.5 billion we can provide immediate and lifesaving agricultural assistance to around 50 million people, enabling them to grow food where it is needed most.
Urgent agricultural activities will feed more people, for less money. Saving livelihoods saves lives.
Spring is here. No time to waste.