Friday, December 16, 2011

Preventing hunger; root causes

In 2007 and 2008, when global food and fuel prices skyrocketed and sparked food riots in 35 countries, more than 115 million people were added to the ranks of the hungry. Food prices are again surging on global markets. The World Bank estimates that as a result of these price rises, another 44 million people were pushed into extreme poverty between June 2010 and February 2011. It is those who are extremely poor and vulnerable who suffer the most — women and girls often have disproportionately less food during economic shocks. Families are forced to sacrifice tomorrow for today — eating income-producing livestock, putting schoolchildren to work and switching from more expensive, nutritious food to cheaper staples.
Climatic changes have increased both the frequency and the intensity of natural disasters. Floods and droughts that were once occasional have now become epic and more regular. The 2011 drought in the Horn of Africa was declared the worst in 60 years. The 2010 monsoon floods in Pakistan were the worst in the country's recorded history.

And escalating conflict and political instability have plunged millions around the world into food insecurity. Nowhere have we seen this play out more dramatically than in the Horn of Africa, where Somalis have endured two decades of civil war and two consecutive seasons of failed rains. Now, after their livestock and crops have died, they are faced with the terrible choice left to people without food: migrate or die.
Make no mistake; this is not the failure of aid — but the lack of access to aid. Although we cannot prevent drought, we can prevent famine. There are hopeful signs that outside Somalia, where those in control have blocked humanitarian assistance, the drought's impact has been blunted by advance preparation and putting in place programmes that help the most vulnerable populations to better weather such crises.
Through the Managing Environmental Resources to Enable Transitions to More Sustainable Livelihoods (MERET) programme, the WFP has been supporting the Ethiopian government in sustainable land management and rain catchment, which has vastly increased food production and mitigated the impact of the drought. In the dry Karamoja region in Uganda, local communities have established a system of communal food stocks that are replenished at harvest time, enabling them to cope with periods of food insecurity.
The WFP is working with countries across the globe at the grass-roots level to develop — and scale up — innovative ideas and tools to transform the fight against hunger. In Cameroon, for example, where about 2.8 million people are food insecure and the lean season in the north of the country lasts an average of three to four months, every year can be a crisis for the most vulnerable people. To help break the boom-and-bust cycles of hunger, the WFP provides a one-time donation of 10 tonnes of cereal for each community granary and helps to train farmers in food-storage management and financial accounting. Community members can withdraw stocks from the granary during the lean season, and later replenish from their own crops during harvest, paying little interest. The steering committee for each granary uses the revenue collected from interest and sales of commodities to reconstitute stocks and ensure the village's access to affordable food all year round.
Working with food technologists, we are deploying products such as Wawa Mum. This highly fortified chickpea paste, developed and produced in Pakistan, requires no water or cooking, and contains essential micronutrients for young children, who suffer irreversible damage to their minds and bodies if they don't receive sufficient nutrition in the first 1,000 days of life — from conception until they are 24 months old.
The WFP is also using technology to reach the most vulnerable people and support local economies, through 'digital food' such as electronic vouchers delivered to mobile phones. In the Palestinian territories, for example, beneficiaries are able to use an electronic swipe card to purchase nutritious food at local markets. All the products in the programme, such as milk, yogurt and cheese, are produced locally.
These WFP programmes are fundamentally different from food aid that is often brought from the outside. They enhance food security by ensuring that our responses are supporting local markets and farmers, and enabling residents to buy locally produced products that might otherwise be out of reach. Where the digital-food programme is in operation, local dairy farmers have increased production by 30%. Local shops have more customers and higher profits. And people can choose nutritious food for their families in a way that protects their dignity. Because of this innovative approach to promoting food security, the WFP is increasing cost-efficiency and enabling a better analysis of food consumption

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