The Global March has welcomed the announcement by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of a special meeting of policy makers on 24 September 2010 to discuss the recent rise in global food prices. The announcement came in the wake of new outbreaks of crop fires in Russia which led to a further extension of the country’s ban on grain exports. This led to renewed fears that prices of food staples would continue to rise in the world.
The FAO noted that over the past few weeks, global cereal markets experienced a sudden surge in international wheat prices on concerns over wheat shortages. The purpose of the meeting therefore is for exporting and importing countries to engage in constructive discussions on appropriate reactions to the current market situation. “Food prices, and wheat in particular, are so important for food security and even the political stability of countries,” said Mr Abdolreza Abbassian, FAO economist.
According to news reports, Russia is one of the world’s biggest producers of wheat, barley and rye and was hit hard by a drought this summer. The heatwave destroyed crops in many parts of the country, pushing food prices up. According to analysts, this year’s crop could be as low as 60 million tonnes, but Russia needs almost 80 million just to cover domestic consumption. Other key grain producers have also reported shortages, causing the price of wheat on international commodities exchanges to rise more than 50 per cent since the beginning of July.
The FAO is concerned at the speed at which food prices have increased over the last two months, but stressed that the situation is very different to the food crisis of 2007-2008. Higher grain prices could feed through to products such as bread, but as they are also used as animal feed, they could drive up the prices of dairy products, eggs and meat.
Rises will be felt more keenly in developing countries, where food makes up a bigger proportion of household spending. Higher prices caused people to take to the streets in the Mozambique capital Maputo in late August/early September, resulting in violence in which seven people were killed. It is estimated that various economic pressures, including a weakening currency, have caused bread prices in the Mozambique to increase around 30 per cent so far this year.
In a further concern for Pakistan, devastated by recent monsoon floods, the FAO has announced that farmers there urgently need seeds to save the upcoming planting season. Wheat, the staple food of the rural poor in Pakistan, is due to be planted in September through to November. According to the FAO, more than half a million tonnes of wheat seed stocks have been destroyed by the floods.
“Unless people get seeds over the next few weeks they will not be able to plant wheat for a year,” said Ms Daniele Donati, Chief of FAO Emergency Operations, Asia, Near East, Europe and Special Emergencies. “Food aid alone will not be enough. If the next wheat crop is not salvaged, the food security of millions will be at risk.”
Wheat farmers in Pakistan were in the process of preparing their land for planting when the floods began. In some areas the fertile top layer of soil has been washed away, making planting impossible. In other areas, the land is still waterlogged or covered in silt and needs to be cleared. However, this is not the case everywhere.
“In many areas it will be possible to plant as soon as the water recedes. FAO and its cluster partners have the capacity to get seed to these areas provided we receive urgently needed funding. But the window of opportunity is closing as the planting season ends in mid-November,” said Ms Donati.
Early estimates show that 3.6 million hectares of standing maize, rice, sugar cane and cotton crops were destroyed in the floods that have displaced millions of people in Pakistan. In addition, an estimated 1.2 million livestock and 6 million poultry were lost in the flooding. It is estimated that over one million buffalo, cattle, sheep and goats owned by households in the flooded areas will now face starvation if animal feed is not provided to them urgently. Animals also need immediate vaccination for diseases like foot-and-mouth disease and Peste des Petits Ruminants. With people and herds on the move as they flee the flooded areas, the risk of animal diseases spreading is great.
At the end of September, the international community will review its progress on achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), including on poverty, education, health and gender. All of these goals will be further affected by the impact of global food price increases, particularly in Pakistan where the FAO tells that the food security of millions could be at risk unless additional funding is made available very soon. As always, it will be the most vulnerable in society, particularly children, who will suffer acutely. Increased vulnerability of poor families will lead to increased vulnerability of children to situations of child labour and other forms of exploitation as they struggle to survive in extremely difficult environments.
“We urge the international donor community to heed the warnings of the FAO, particularly as regards Pakistan, and to provide the additional funding required for wheat planting,” said Kailash Satyarthi, Global March Chairperson. “The demands on the international community have been significant in 2010, particularly following the devastating natural disasters in Haiti and Pakistan, and at a time of global economic crisis. But, we cannot afford to allow progress made towards achieving the MDGs to be rolled back. There is no justice in investing billions of dollars to save financial institutions which have behaved irresponsibly and contributed to economic collapse when millions of children are at risk of starvation, disease and a life of exploitative labour. Now is the time to act and to act decisively.”
Source: BBC News, UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)