2008 Food Crisis

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Dish of mote, a variety of different types of cooked corn, Bolivia.
© Gustavo YBARRA / WWF-Canon
"Scientists map the genetic makeup of the platypus"

"Global Food Crisis: Nations, farmers need our help"


The 21st century has provided widely contrasting headlines celebrating advances in science, whilst at the same time offering stark warnings about where it may lead us.
Science and globalization have given us comfort, convenience and interconnection.

We can go to sleep in Delhi and wake up in Frankfurt.

Work from a cafe in Paris for a company in Dubai.

Invest in China from an office in São Paulo.  

All very fine if you are among the lucky few who have the money to be connected. In other words, one of the richest 10% of adults who account for 85% of global household wealth (1).

So, at the tail-end of this century's first decade, we again face an old and common threat to the lives and livelihoods of millions people around the world.

Hunger is back in the spotlight.

Like all comebacks, this time it's slightly different.

Our global interconnectedness means food security and its economical consequences have quickly become a critical issue for all of us, to varied degrees.

Recently, UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, warned that the growing global food crisis has already reached emergency proportions.

Soaring food prices and their impact on hunger, malnutrition and development threaten to push 100 million people further into poverty. For more than 2 billion people, high food prices are now a matter of daily struggle (...)

Robert B. Zoellick president of the World Bank Group

Crisis around the globe

  • 6 people died in Haiti and the prime minister was ousted from power.
  • 2 days of rioting ensued in Egypt
  • 24 people died in Cameroon
  • A night curfew on harvesting machines was imposed in Vietnam to stop raiding of the fields
  • Any Filipino caught hoarding rice was threatened with life in jail
  • Malaysia cancelled all public building works and switched instead to stockpiling food
  • Food prices in the UK have risen almost 7% year on year
  • Wal-Mart announced it was imposing a 4-bag limit for rice
Read more

Ingredients for a solution

Many complex structural causes contribute to the current crisis, but many of these revolve around the question of how we use and treat the planet we live in.

The good news is that this is also where most of the solutions to these problems lie. Here are just some suggestions of how this can be done:

Climate change

For the UN climate change is "the defining human development challenge of the 21st Century".

And some of the world’s poorest and most malnourished countries are often the first to be hit by droughts, floods and other extreme climate events. This makes climate change a key cross-cutting issue for global food security.

According to the UN’s Human Development Report (2007/08), there are 2.6 billion people — 40% of the world’s population — surviving on less than US$2 a day who are especially vulnerable to the effects of extreme weather, because they have fewer resources with which to manage risks.

More Rice with Less Water

WWF is working with farmers, scientists and national institutions in India to promote System of Rice Intensification (SRI) as an option to reduce pressure on freshwater ecosystems and improve food production.

Rice is a staple food for more than half of the world’s population. In Asia alone, more than 2 billion people obtain 60-70% of their calories from rice and its products.

The grain also plays a leading role in the current food crisis, especially in Asia. Not only is it a cheap and valued food source, but it is also deeply entrenched in the culture of many countries. Just this year, the price of rice has already risen as much as 120% in some countries, such as Thailand (FAO).

Using protected areas to secure our food

Protected areas have a critically important role to play in conserving plant genetic diversity and therefore, benefiting agriculture in general.

Plants help our ecosystem function; they fix nitrogen, sequester carbon dioxide and stabilise soils, as well as directly or indirectly providing us with medicines, building materials, lubricants, resins, waxes, perfumes, dyes, fibres and, of course, food.

Hunger must be reduced without increasing thirst

Globally, agriculture accounts for 70% of all water use, rising to 90% in many developing countries. But only 20-50% of the water withdrawn actually reaches the crops as most of it is lost during transfer to the fields.

WWF's report recommends various methods for managing water more efficiently to tackle the food and water crisis.

Sustainable seafood

Valuable fish stocks, as well as a whole host of other marine life, are severely threatened by overfishing, caused largely by poor fisheries management.

WWF and many other players involved in the fishing industry are working towards healthy, sustainable marine ecosystems to provide a future for their livelihoods.

Food Commodities and Environment

With prices sky rocketing, investing in food commodities has become attractive. This causes an increase in demand and therefore price, thus making food commodities one of the key elements in the recent crisis.

Learn more about some of the main food commodities, their environmental impact and how they can be better managed: bananas, beef, cashews, cassava, coffee, palm oil, soybeans, sugarcane, tea, tobacco, wheat and much more.

Biofuel

Biofuel has been one of the central topics in the debate regarding the food crisis.

Biomass use for energy can make a major contribution to climate protection and resource conservation. However, bioenergy production can also have negative environmental impacts and it has been suggested that focus on biofuels is taking away valuable land for food crops. Therefore, production must comply with the best possible sustainable methods.
(1) U.N. Report The World Distribution of Household Wealth, 2006

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