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Rising Food Prices will Mean Devastation for the Bottom Billion

by Josette Sheeran

Food security is non-negotiable; we must provide more food and we must ensure that people have access to it. We are not "out of the woods" in terms of the food crisis. Food prices have fallen since the highs of 2008, but for the world's "bottom billion" that record increase in food prices has had a devastating effect, pushing a further million people into food poverty. Maize is 100 per cent more expensive than a year ago, while the price of wheat in Afghanistan is 60 per cent higher. Food security will increasingly become an issue of peace and stability.

We are facing the possibility of an unequalled problem of world hunger. No nation can meet this challenge alone – we have to tackle it in a collaborative and cohesive way. We need to produce double the amount of food by 2030 and this will require innovative approaches. Ultimately it will be a question of self-reliance, not charity; but the work must be led by nations, not the private sector.

African farmers can make a valuable contribution to tackling food poverty. Already 80 per cent of the food the WFP buys for its programmes comes from the developing world and great progress is being achieved in Africa. Ethiopia was a top priority for food assistance three years ago; now it is producing a food surplus. The key to success is improvements in infrastructure and communications; farmers need better access to markets.

The severity of the current financial situation does not mean that the issue of food security can be set aside, although the current financial destabilisation caused by the financial crisis may be the top short-term concern.

Leadership is one of the key issues. Food security must be discussed at the very highest levels. We also need to provide a "bridge over troubled waters". WFP does not want to lose focus on emergency food aid programmes as it works to secure long-term solutions.

We also need to secure the biggest punch per pound possible – by looking not just at the quantity of food aid, but its quality. The provision of food fortified with vitamins and minerals can make a tremendous difference – both in terms of saving lives and in GDP.

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