About the Author: Charles J. Perego works in the Office of Multilateral Trade Affairs and Agriculture at the U.S. Department of State.
Today is World Food Day, and it’s worth looking back on the last year of monumental challenges to global food security. In 2007 and 2008, food prices spiked, threatening to push millions into poverty. These were the new hungry: not victims of famine or shortage, but people priced out of local food markets. Riots erupted in Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Haiti, the Philippines and Senegal. Some food producing states limited their exports to protect their domestic population, which drove grain prices even higher. In April 2008, the UN World Food Program (WFP) warned of a $755 million shortfall. WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran appealed to governments around the world to fill the gap.
The world responded. The United States immediately released $200 million worth of food aid from the Bill Emerson Trust. On May 1, 2008, President Bush announced that he was asking Congress for an additional $770 million to support food aid and development programs. Since mid-April, in response to President Bush’s commitment to provide additional resources and with strong support from Congress, the United States has provided over $1.8 billion in new emergency and development assistance to combat the food crisis. The United States is on track through 2009 to provide almost $5.5 billion in a strategy that includes immediate food aid, development assistance to rapidly increase food production and long-term measures to address the underlying causes of the food crisis. Canada pledged to supply $230 million in food aid this year. Both France and Japan pledged $100 million each to the World Food Program. The United Kingdom has pledged $910 million package to address the food crisis. The European Union is considering donating their agriculture budget surplus, around one billion euros, to food aid.
As an intern at State, I have spent most of my time working on the food crisis. It has been encouraging to see how quickly governments responded to the needs of the world’s hungry. We worked hard to obtain strong commitments from the G8 meeting in July. We formed a Department task force, which is working with other agencies to implement a government-wide food security strategy.
But, challenges remain. Today, 37 countries scattered throughout every region of the world are enduring localized food insecurity, lack of access or shortages of food production. More than 850 million people are undernourished. Grain prices are forecast to stay high through 2009. Barriers to markets need to be reduced so farmers can respond to high prices by increasing production. This in turn will boost food supplies and moderate prices. We need to invest in agriculture and food distribution networks, as well as boost productivity in places like Africa to guarantee future food supplies. After we commemorate World Food Day this year, let’s continue to keep the spotlight on food security until world hunger is truly a thing of the past.