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OP-ED Dr. Gillian Smith, FAO Guyana Representative
Food prices have continued an upward trajectory over the past two years. In March 2022, the global monthly Food Price Index of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) recorded its highest value. The FAO Food Price Index tracks monthly changes in commonly traded international food commodities – cereals (including rice), vegetable oils, sugar, meat, and dairy. The slight decline in vegetable oil and maize prices that was recorded in April 2022 is of little comfort, particularly to low-income families and rural communities that are finding it hard to cope with the challenges of global food security. Farmers, fishers, foresters, and herders in rural areas and farming communities, rely on food production for their livelihoods we, in turn, rely on them for our food.
Countries are struggling to cope with the continuing crises of food and fuel price increases, fertilizer shortages, and their impacts on economic growth and social well-being. Ongoing logistical hurdles, increasing transportation costs, and disruptions of supply chains are also driving high international market prices. In addition, food price volatility has worsened due to the war in Ukraine and is unleashing a wave of food insecurity globally.
Already a grave cause of concern, approximately 155 million persons were considered food insecure in 2020. The continuing impact of COVID-19 in 2021, added another 6 million persons to this number. Meanwhile, as the global situation becomes direr, the most tragic extremes of food insecurity are on the rise. The recent FAO – WFP report – Hunger Hotspots (early warnings on acute food insecurity) issued for June to September 2022, stated that approximately 750,000 persons are facing starvation and death, especially in Ethiopia, Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia, and Afghanistan. This is an increase over previous years and reflects the exacerbated effect on food security of war, conflict, disasters, and climate change.
In Latin America and the Caribbean, 20 million farmers and fisherfolk are working continuously to feed one billion people, despite challenges. All countries in the region are facing varying impacts of food price volatility and are experiencing changes in their food security. One country, Haiti is considered to be under extreme threat of food insecurity and three others are on the early warning list (Honduras, Venezuela, and Colombia).
Measures adopted by the countries in Latin America and the Caribbean
The FAO is working with the Member States to analyze and share coping mechanisms that are being implemented by the countries to confront the challenges of rising food prices. This is helping to foster resilience in national food security programmes and promote regional collaborations, both of which are vital to safeguard food security and protect the development gains of nations. An initiative of many governments has been to expand social protection coverage for the increasing numbers of vulnerable households. Another widely adopted approach is the implementation of price control mechanisms including temporary tariff reductions to help lessen the volatility of imported food prices, establishing subsidies, freezing the price of basic foods, and providing food baskets and cash grants.
Public Awareness campaigns have also been launched in some countries, to promote increased consumption of locally produced food products where there is a reduced availability of imported foods (this also helps to stimulate local production by farmers).
Many Member States are adopting a variety of strategies to offset the increases in production costs due to rising prices of agricultural input supplies. There are several examples of national programmes that issued input supplies such as seeds and seedlings, agrochemicals, and feeds; or reduce tariffs on imported input supplies. The distribution of fertilizer, which accounts for 15 to 30 percent of production cost to farmers is also a common strategy that is being employed. Cash grants to farmers and fisherfolk are another action being used to offset rising operation costs.
It is extremely important to note that there this is a complex and constantly evolving situation, there is no standard approach that can or should be taken by every country to manage food security. The extent to which the above-mentioned measures can be employed is highly dependent on the unique situation of the individual countries. Fiscal flexibility, socio-economical imperatives, development trajectory, and other factors, all play an equally important role in the national decisions about the most effective approach. Continuous analysis of national, sub-national, regional and global data is vital to good decision-making on addressing food security challenges.
At the same time, countries must continue to develop and employ their longer-term strategies for food security, even as they implement shorter-term measures. We must keep our efforts on the longer-term vision of a food system that affords a safe, affordable, and healthy diet for ALL and embraces better livelihoods for producers.
Working with state agencies, producers’ organizations, and other stakeholders, FAO will continue to support the efforts of the countries of the region, including Guyana to address the current challenges and stay the course of their food security agenda.