Background information

The Global Food Security Crisis

Man buying bread from street vendor

Man buying bread from street vendor, from FAO/ Giulio Napolitano

The extraordinary rise of global food prices in early 2008 posed a major threat to global food and nutrition security and caused a host of humanitarian, human rights, socio-economic, environmental, developmental, political and security-related consequences. In particular, it presented challenges for low income food deficit countries t, and severely affected the world’s most vulnerable. It threatened to reverse critical gains made toward reducing poverty and hunger as outlined in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

The soaring prices stemmed from the cumulative effects of long-term trends, like the increasing demand of food due to the growing world population and a decline in agricultural investment, more immediate supply and demand dynamics, including those related to the rapidly increasing oil prices and diversions of maize to ethanol production, and responses like hoarding which exacerbated price volatility. Altogether, the crisis exposed underlying structural problems in the food systems of poorer countries, partly linked to serious distortions in world food markets (associated with production subsidies in rich countries and trade tariffs), that predispose to price spikes and problems with food availability. Climate-related events like droughts, floods and environmental degradation have further negative effects on many developing countries.

Already before the rapid rise in food prices, some 854 million people worldwide were estimated to be undernourished. It is estimated that the current crisis has increased the number up to one billion undernourished people in the world – one in six people.

While food prices on world markets have come down in the fall of 2008, the average levels are still higher in 2009 than they were two years ago. At the same time, lower prices on global markets have not fed through to lower prices on local markets within many developing countries. Prices are likely to rise again, and to stay volatile for a while. The global economic downturn has started to further increase the hardships of the most vulnerable as that both formal and informal economies contract, trade volumes decline, and remittances decrease.

The High-Level Task Force on the Global Food Security Crisis (HLTF)

The dramatic rise of global food prices and the crisis it triggered led the United Nations (UN) Chief Executives Board in April 2008 to establish a High-Level Task Force (HLTF) on the Global Food Security Crisis. Under the leadership of the UN Secretary-General, the Task Force brings together the Heads of the UN specialized agencies, funds and programmes, as well as relevant parts of the UN Secretariat, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and the World Trade Organization. The primary aim of the Task Force is to promote a comprehensive and unified response to the challenge of achieving global food security, including by facilitating the creation of a prioritized plan of action and coordinating its implementation. The Secretary-General appointed Assistant Secretary-General David Nabarro as Coordinator of the Task Force Mr. Nabarro is supported by a small HLTF Coordination Secretariat to help the HLTF pursue its Programme of Work.

In July 2008, the Task Force responded to the request for a plan of action and produced the Comprehensive Framework for Action (CFA). The CFA is a framework that sets out the joint position of HLTF members, and aims to be a catalyst for action by providing governments, international and regional organisations, and civil society groups with a menu of policies and actions from which to draw appropriate responses. It pursues a twin-track approach: It outlines activities related to meeting the immediate needs, like investing in food assistance and social safety nets, as well as activities related to the longer-term structural needs, like scaling up investment in agriculture within developing countries, increasing opportunities for producers, pastoralists and fisher folk to access land, water, inputs, and post-harvest technologies, focusing on the needs of smallholders, and enabling them to realize their right to food, sustain an increase in income and ensure adequate nutrition.

In December 2008, the Task Force agreed on its Programme of Work for 2009, focusing on support to effective action in countries, advocacy for funds for both urgent action and long-term investment, inspiring a broad engagement by multiple stakeholders and improving accountability of the international system.

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