Today, the world is facing a never before seen web of crises that will continue to have severe consequences for many years to come.
According to the World Food Programme (WFP), more than 828 million people are going to bed hungry every night.
The number of those facing acute food insecurity has more than doubled, from 135 million to 345 million, since 2019, and nearly 50 million people are already on the verge of starvation.
The world is becoming more polarised every day, with social cohesion eroding and conflict increasing. This crisis is a testament to the high levels of interdependence in the modern world. It demonstrates we cannot continue with an “Us vs Them” rhetoric while “our” well-being is so deeply reliant on “their” actions and vice versa. The only way to resolve crises and protect lives is through solidarity and collaboration.
The world’s food system is more interconnected and complex than ever, built upon layers of transnational dependencies. It is why a war in Europe can exacerbate a famine in Somalia.
But instead of reducing the fragility of the food system, the latest international efforts led by the United States to end hunger are only exacerbating it — especially for Africa — by globalising the system further. When the world is under severe stress, globalisation is not a strength but a weakness, not a foundation for the system’s stability but a reason for its fragility. Any calamity anywhere in the world — whether a viral outbreak, drought or conflict — is a shock to the entire system, but one felt most acutely by the most vulnerable people and in the most vulnerable places. It does not mean that the global agricultural system lacks any advantages. Absent any shocks, it is capable of producing and distributing food with extreme efficiency.
80 percent of the world’s population depends at least partly on food imports to eat, and the money they spend on imported food has tripled in the past 25 years.
About half of the 50 countries with the highest pandemic-induced price increases are also among the countries most dependent on food imports, and about three-quarters of those crops originate in the Global South.
More than 95 percent of Botswana, Mexico, and Jamaica’s imports of rice, wheat, and corn are from countries most affected by the pandemic, making countries like them disproportionately vulnerable to its disruptive effects.
The US government’s USAID long-term response will be to invest an additional $75m in “large-scale food fortification”, or adding nutrients to commodity cereal crops through industrial processing. African farmers have been cultivating nutrient-rich crops for as long as they have existed. Instead of helping them to provide nutritious diets to African people, the USAID plan only makes room for them to produce commodities for factories.
With the world’s attention shifting towards the climate impact of agriculture, US officials and agribusiness companies have tried to recast the industrial model as a solution to that problem as well with he new greenwashing campaign, dubbed “climate-smart agriculture”.
A 2018 study, scholars from the University of British Columbia found that farm-level biodiversity has decreased as farms have grown bigger. Today, just three crops — wheat, corn and rice — overwhelmingly produced in just five countries comprise nearly half of all calories consumed globally and 86 percent of all cereal exports. The focus on just a few crops has made the market extremely prone to price volatility. Worse still, it concentrates power in the hands of those farmers with the most land, capital and technology, along with the multinational grain traders who rake in massive profits during food crises. With the entire system engineered to exclude them, small and medium farmers who still produce almost half of the world’s food calories are being set up to lose.
Jennifer Clapp, a member of the UN High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition, described the world’s current food system as rigid, inflexible, and unable to adapt to shocks like war or a pandemic. It is because Clapp says, the current hunger spike is the third such crisis in 50 years, and why more crises are highly likely in the future. Clapp, along with many food sovereignty organisations argued that the global food system needed to be dismantled in favour of more localised systems with shorter supply chains that put small and medium farmers — not multinational corporations — at their centre.