Monday, October 22, 2012

Worldwide Food Crisis in 2013 Would be Catastrophic for Haiti

By Sarah Leavitt     

     According to a recent article in the Guardian, the UN is warning that the world is on the verge of a major food crisis in 2013.  Just the slightest hiccup in plans for the year's agriculture will mean food shortages, rising food costs, and food riots.  

Why? Falling harvests around the globe have put worldwide grain reserves at their lowest since 1974.  Abdolreza Abbassin, a senior economist for the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), said that, "We've not been producing as much as we are consuming. That is why stocks are being run down. Supplies are now very tight across the world and reserves are at a very low level, leaving no room for unexpected events next year." 

Flooded fields in Haiti after heavy rainfall
     This is incredibly troublesome news at a time when costs for main food crops (rice and maize) are rising and weather patterns are becoming anything but predictable and "normal." This year, for the sixth time in 11 years, the world will consume more food than it produces, largely because of extreme weather in the US and other major food-exporting countries (Guardian 2012). 

     Lester Brown, president of the Earth policy research center in Washington, says that, "We are entering a new era of rising food prices and spreading hunger. Food supplies are tightening everywhere and land is becoming the most sought-after commodity as the world shifts from an age of food abundance to one of scarcity.  The geopolitics of food is fast overshadowing the geopolitics of oil."

      One thing that is clear - if and when this food crisis strikes, the world's most vulnerable populations will be hit the hardest.  Take Haiti for instance, 60% of its population are farmers.  Growing conditions are already difficult for this small island nation that suffers from severe soil erosion and depleted soil nutrients.  Increasingly severe weather patterns have already begun taking its toll on crop production - abnormally long droughts have depleted crop yields in years' past while hurricanes and harsh storms have washed away millions of dollars in crops.  If the food crisis that the UN is warning of comes to fruition, the 80% of citizens living below the poverty line face dire circumstances.

     In order to prevent this impending catastrophe urgent action that supports and strengthens local food production is needed.  Haiti is already overly reliant on food aid and imported food: some 51% of the food consumed in the country is imported, including 80% of all rice eaten (according to the Haitian government).  Undoubtedly, if worldwide grain reserves continue to decrease and food costs rise, food aid will abate and Haitians already struggling to scrape by will not be able to afford the increased cost of imported food.
Lambi Fund led training on sustainable agriculture methods

     So, what can be done?  Work to build a strong foundation of local food production with built in safeguards that can withstand fluctuations of markets and inclement weather.  First and foremost, investments in small farmers that provide hard-working Haitians with the resources and training they need to plant more food and improve crop productivity will make a marked impact.  This means providing funding for farmers to purchase high-quality local seeds that are fit for the local environment.  Training is also critical.  Offering training opportunities to small farmers that teach them sustainable agriculture strategies, how to care for the environment and techniques that will boost productivity will foster self-sufficiency and a vibrant food economy.

     Investments in irrigation, water management and low-use watering techniques are of paramount concern as well.  The more that rainfall becomes unreliable, the more that farmers need appropriate water strategies.

     On that same token, building local grain storage silos so that communities can store their own reserves and have safeguards in place if a food crisis occurs will empower communities to plan for unforeseen circumstances and to provide for one another when emergencies do arise.

Supporting local food production provides hard-working
Haitians with goods to sell in the market
     Beyond this, governments like Haiti and other nations in similar circumstances need to implement policies that will protect against land-grabbing, promote local agriculture and that plan appropriate responses for crop failures.
     Regardless of whether or not a worldwide food crisis strikes in 2013, these types of local, grassroots-led investments in local agriculture need to be made a top priority.  Providing training, tools, seeds and the resources needed that strengthen communities and increase local outputs will not only make an immediate impact on fighting hunger, but will equip communities with a built-in safety net when agricultural disasters occur.

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