Food inflation and global food insecurity

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Children are among the most vulnerable. Picture courtesy of Safari Consoler

As the world welcomes its eight billionth occupants by the middle of November this year we are faced with the challenge of whether the world can continue to feed itself. With the interruption of the global supply chain triggered by the Russian War in Ukraine and the more considerable effects of the global pandemic, the distribution of food to critical areas around the world has been negatively impacted. This and crop failures typically result from climate shocks of frequent drought, flood, and historic storms at key production areas around the world.

Food inflation which represents the product of the ongoing crisis is sending shock waves throughout all the countries of the world and the low and middle-income countries that are bearing the brunt of it. It is equally affecting millions of low-income families in developed countries in North America and Europe who are also at risk. In just under two years the number of people facing or at risk of severe food insecurity has reached nearly half a billion people in over 82 countries. The world faces a huge hunger crisis of enormous proportions not seen in a long time.

In key cities across Canada, more people are using food banks than ever before. Experts say a lack of affordable housing, stagnant or declining income, and inflation contribute to the problem. A food bank in Toronto reported that it had approximately 175,000 visits in June alone and there are nearly 8,000 clients added each month. The average number of users before the pandemic was about 60,000 monthly.

Caribbean island states have seen the devastating effects of the global food crisis. None of these states are self-sufficient in food supply and they rely heavily on basic food items like wheat, corn, rice, and staples from other countries. The sharp rise in food prices has significantly affected household consumption and nutrition where food accounts for a larger share of the family budget than those in developed countries. The current crisis has forced millions more into extreme poverty, meaning they exist on less than US$1 a day.

The situation is extremely critical in countries like Haiti where the problem is exacerbated by political instability, gang violence, the rise of communicable diseases and severe malnutrition. In Jamaica, the situation is not nearly as dire, however, four in every 10 Jamaicans have reduced their food consumption which is directly correlated with increases in food prices.

The issue of food insecurity, undoubtedly, remains a significant concern with approximately three million individuals in the English-speaking Caribbean set to be food insecure. The fundamental issue of food insecurity may be linked to the inequalities that exist in the distribution of food from one region of the world to another compounded by extremely high consumer prices. While there is no major shortage of food in Canada and the USA, the concern is food inflation and food waste. Food inflation is a more troubling situation because many can’t afford food in sufficient quantities due to inflationary prices and food waste.

Globally there is a consensus that we dearly need to address food loss and waste adequately. Food produced and not consumed ends up in landfills and creates more environmental problems by producing the greenhouse gas methane. About one-third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted. The major cause of this loss and waste is stocking too much food that spoils before it is sold or eaten both at the distribution and household levels. To reduce the impact of food inflation and food waste on the local family budget, families need to purchase just what they require at a time or shop for discounts and specials.

There are no short-term solutions to satisfactorily solving the global food insecurity problem which is of critical concern mainly for developing countries like the Caribbean island states. The countries in the Caribbean are far too reliant on imported food to sustain their population. They need to lessen their reliance on imported grains and meat products as a national security measure. Food insecurity is bad for everyone but more so for the poorest. The first direct response of families with low incomes during a food crisis is the switch to the most inexpensive food that fills the stomach, which is normally less nutritious, or to skip critical meals. When nutritional needs are not met, less desirable outcomes will follow. These include lower productivity, poor educational performance, and physical and mental impairment among children. The longer-term result will be a series of medical problems which will impact all levels of society.

Fernon Wilson is a Caribbean educator residing in Canada.

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