The Food Price Index, which measures the wholesale price of a basket of basic foods, averaged 231 points in January, up 3.4 per cent from December. This is the seventh consecutive monthly rise and according to an economist at the United Nations (UN) Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), “high prices are likely to persist in the months to come”. In response, the President of the World Bank, Robert Zoellick has called on the G20 global leaders to “put food first” and do all they can to tackle the issue.
The causes of these price rises are multiple – increased demand from a growing global population, poor harvests following extreme weather, higher consumption of beef where cattle require more grain and the diversion of land from food to energy-producing crops. Experts also point to strains caused by serious under-investment in agriculture by developing nations. This is in part due to the high subsidies available to farmers in the US and Europe, which deter investment in developing countries.
However, the solution of simply handing out food to developing nations is now being questioned, as agencies recognise wiser investments in food production need to be made. One of the WFP’s Ambassadors Against Hunger recently visited operations in the impoverished Karamoja region of Uganda. Karamoja has been supported with food aid since 1963. In 2009, over a million people received food and families line up weekly to receive their supplies. Kristina Cassandra Concepcion met locals to hear how many survive on just meal per day. More than 70 per cent of the food distributed by WFP is bought within Uganda; the agency currently spends over 50 million dollars per year purchasing grain, making it the largest buyer of food in the country.
But although this helps the Ugandan economy, WFP is questioning if food handouts are the best way to encourage development in regions such as Karamoja. A decision has now been taken to stop providing extra food, except to all but the neediest of families. Instead, aid will focus on assisting communities to find more permanent solutions. This new approach is supported by the local authorities and the WFP director for Uganda. Stanlake Samkange told the BBC’s reporter “just keeping people alive in the same conditions....is not good enough”. Mr Samkange therefore supports the withdrawal of food supplies, though he admits it is a risky strategy. However, he believes that risks have to be taken if people are to be persuaded they can fend for themselves.
By Laurinda Luffman for SOS Children