by Charlotte Colombeau, Research & Communications Executive (F4ID)
The Global Food Crisis
In 2012 the UN pledged to eradicate hunger by 2030. With just eight years left, reaching that target is becoming ever more challenging and humanitarian organisations are increasingly developing innovative blended solutions in response. We are in the midst of a Global Food Crisis with 345 million people who are, or are at high risk of, being acutely food insecure. This is an increase of 200 million since pre-pandemic levels.
What caused the crisis?
The Global Food Crisis has been exacerbated by a multitude of overlapping factors: conflict, which is responsible for 65% of the people facing acute food insecurity; climate change, which has been a catalyst for extreme weather events impacting harvests and destroying livelihoods; and economic shocks, such as rocketing inflation rates and supply chain disruption triggered by Covid-19.
Recent political events have heightened this crisis, such as the invasion of Ukraine and economic collapse of Afghanistan. The conflict between Russia and Ukraine caused Global Food Prices to proliferate, as these countries are responsible for more than a quarter of the world’s wheat supplies, 15% of corn supplies and 77% of sunflower seed oil. The breakdown of Afghanistan’s economy has left 70% of the country unable to meet their basic needs and forced many to turn to extreme alternatives to pay for food including sending children to work.
Who are the worst affected?
People in low and middle-income countries are disproportionately affected as they spend a larger share of their earnings on food than people in high-income countries. They are also more likely to bear the brunt of the devastating effects of climate change, an extremely significant cause of the Food Crisis.
Take Pakistan as an example, who contribute less than 1% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and yet have seen 1/3 of their country flooded with 33 million affected. In a country where already 27 million do not have enough food, climate disaster will lead to colossal devastation.
Children are another group especially vulnerable during a Global Food Crisis for a variety of reasons. When underfed, children under five are at risk of stunting, a largely irreversible medical condition affecting a child’s physical and cognitive development. When hunger strikes, it is often girls of the family are who are forced to skip school to care for their younger siblings so that parents can work for food, limiting their future prospects and increasing their vulnerability to harmful practises like female genital mutilation, early marriage and gender-based violence.
How can the humanitarian sector help?
As the long-lasting benefits of developing local economies in comparison to the shorter-term gains of in-kind aid have become clear, there is an evolving focus on delivery of cash and voucher assistance (CVA). CVA is essential to stimulate markets and promote personal agency, but context is key. When inflation spikes, cash can dramatically lose its value. We have seen this happen in Afghanistan where the decline in Afghani has put staple foods out of reach for most.
Protection from the volatility caused by inflation can come from ensuring people have access to food at fixed prices, pre-agreed through good procurement processes such as voucher schemes. At F4ID this has been a key feature of our L20 programmes and surveys from our Afghanistan pilot have highlighted its success. In our Afghanistan pilot, beneficiaries were provided with biometric QR keys which allowed them to purchase baskets of food from their local suppliers at a fixed price.
90% of participants agree that L20 gives more cushioning to the price changes of commodities in the market and 75% said they would choose voucher or in-kind assistance over cash assistance. The humanitarian sector must open itself up to innovations providing flexibility, scalability and resilience in the face of ever-changing environments. A one-size-fits-all approach to humanitarian aid does not work, and a blended approach is often necessary.