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Weekly Overview: International Agencies Tackle Feed/Food Insecurity

20 September 2012, at 3:19pm

ANALYSIS - A new report is highlighting the impacts of unusual weather events on feed and food supplies across the world and a number of international agencies have put in place some measures to tackle the problems. Poultry industries in several countries are again calling for - and in some cases receiving - support to help them to continue production despite the current high feed prices. New H5N1 bird flu outbreaks have been reported in Viet Nam and China in the last week.

Weather conditions have been the driving force behind the three food price 'spikes' that the world has experienced in the last five years, according to a new report.

While droughts in one part of the world or another have hit grain production every second year since 2007, floods elsewhere have also hit crop yields, putting up costs of production across the livestock sectors.

At the same time, according to the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations, the International Fund for Agricultural Development and the World Food Programme, the increased use of crops that could be used for food for non-food purposes and speculation and hedging have led to more and more volatility in food prices.

"Until we find the way to shock-proof and climate-proof our food system, the danger will remain," the organisations said in a joint statement earlier this month.

The three organisations have pinpointed the main reasons for global food and feed price hikes and they claim that they have put in place "policies and instruments" to tackle the problems.

They warn that for every 10 per cent increase in the price of food, the World Food Programme has to find $200 million a year in food assistance, and they have called for investment in agriculture and social protection and an adjustment in policies to grow alternative uses for grains.

The risk of sharp food price rises exists because global food production is largely in the hands of only a few major food producers and when poor weather causes poor yields and high prices, countries are more likely to put domestic protection measures in place.

"Countries must avoid panic buying and refrain from imposing export restrictions which, while temporarily helping some consumers at home, are generally inefficient and make life difficult for everyone else," the FAO, IFAD and WFP said.

Poultry industries in several countries are warning of difficulties ahead as a result of high feed prices and have been calling for support from government and/or retailers in Ireland, Brazil, France and Thailand.

In the last week, the global water situation has been described as a crisis.

The world today faces a water crisis with critical implications for peace, political stability and economic development, experts warn in a new report issued jointly by the InterAction Council (IAC), a group of 40 prominent former government leaders and heads of state, United Nations University and Canada's Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation.

A few mind-boggling facts from the report: approximately 3,800 cubic kilometres of fresh water is extracted from aquatic ecosystems globally every year. With about one billion more mouths to feed worldwide by 2025, global agriculture alone will require another 1,000 cubic kilometres (one trillion cubic metres) of water per year - equal to the annual flow of 20 Niles or 100 Colorado Rivers. It is expected that water demand in India and China alone – the world's two most populous countries – will exceed supplies in less than 20 years.

The report, published by the United Nations University – Institute for Water, Environment and Health (UNU-INWEH) and edited by Harriet Bigas, calls on governments and policy-makers to reform radically attitudes towards water and how it is managed globally.

Real change is needed, it says. There is little doubt that putting water on the global agenda is critical, not just to feed nine billion people in 2050 with less agricultural water than today but also to address the critical development challenge of doing this in a safe and sustainable way to protect the livelihoods of the rural poor.

Finally, turning to news about bird flu, new outbreaks have been reported in the last week in Viet Nam and China. South Korea has stepped up bird flu controls at its ports of entry.