Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 31 July 2014

World food price surge to spell disaster for poorest

Climate change is forcing millions of people around the world into hunger. It is time for the international community to act, says Jim Clarken

Next year will prove to be a very difficult one for the hungry. World food stocks have fallen to dangerously low levels. The UN estimates there will be 5.5% less wheat on the world market in 2013.

If the world experiences another shock, such as the droughts experienced in the US and Russia this year, 2013 could prove to be catastrophic for those who already struggle to feed themselves and their families.

The world's poorest people spend between 50% and 90% of their income on food, compared with just 10%-15% in developed countries.

Even a small price increase will mean families are forced to take their children out of school, sell possessions, or go without vital medicines in order to put food on the table.

Putting a stop to the pending food price crisis requires a radical new approach to the way we grow and manage food.

The UK and Ireland can play a pivotal role in bringing this about: Fermanagh will host the G8 summit in June, and Ireland will assume the presidency of the European Council.

Both governments should encourage European governments and the international community to focus on the following five things:

1. 500 million small farms in developing countries support almost two billion people. However, they often lack the negotiating power to benefit when the price of foodstuffs spikes. The right public financing, targeted effectively, will help them help themselves.

2. Small farmers are hit hard when prices crash. The EU's existing regulatory framework should be tightened to ensure futures markets operate in a fair and transparent manner, without market abuse and excessive speculation.

3. We need to put an end to biofuel policies which divert food crops into fuel. During its presidency of the EU, the Irish government can play an influential role in facilitating European governments to scrap subsidies for the industry.

4. Women often bear the responsibility for growing food and feeding their families, but do not have the same rights, or resources, as their male counterparts. With equal access to farming resources, women producers could reduce the number of hungry people in the world by up to 150 million. During its EU presidency, Ireland should accelerate efforts to end hunger by working within the EU to ensure aid to developing countries reaches women farmers.

5. Climate change is causing lasting damage in the developing world. On current trends, 50 million more people will be forced into hunger by 2050 due to climate change. The Executive has pledged to cut carbon emissions by 35% by 2025, though this is much less ambitious than the Scottish, Welsh and UK governments' targets.

Northern Ireland risks becoming the only jurisdiction on these islands with no legislation to embed carbon cuts and guarantee action. Similarly, the Irish government should fulfil its commitment to publish a Bill for a climate law as early as possible in 2013.

This will be an important signal to EU member states and institutions - as well as Ireland's developing country partners - that Ireland is taking its obligations to reduce emissions seriously.

The UK and Ireland have both agreed to prioritise this issue for 2013 and are each hosting global hunger summits in April and June.

Together they must also work to ensure the international community fulfils its obligations to support people in developing countries cope with the devastating impacts of climate change.

We are entering a new era of rising food prices and, if we do not prepare for it, 2013 will just be the first of many years in which millions more men, women and children will face the terrible and unacceptable travesty of experiencing hunger every day of their lives.

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