11 October 2012

Africa: Hunger in Times of Land, Water, and Energy Pressures

press release

Washington, D.c. — Unsustainable use of land, water, and energy is threatening the food security of the poorest and most vulnerable around the world, according to the 2012 Global Hunger Index, released for the seventh year by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), Welthungerhilfe, and Concern Worldwide.

According to the 2012 Index, The Challenge of Hunger: Ensuring Sustainable Food Security under Land, Water, and Energy Stresses, hunger on a global scale remains serious with 20 countries having levels of hunger that are "alarming" or "extremely alarming." Two of the three countries with extremely alarming levels--Burundi and Eritrea--are in Sub-Saharan Africa; the third country is Haiti. South Asia is the other region that continues to suffer from the highest levels of hunger.

Hunger is inextricably linked to growing pressure on land, water, and energy resources.

Growing scarcity and degradation of farmland, rapidly rising incomes, and changing consumption patterns have all contributed to an increasing number of international land investments or land deals. Many of these deals have targeted Sub-Saharan Africa, where land rent is lower, regulatory systems weaker, and levels of hunger higher.

"Large-scale foreign investments in land should be closely monitored. Local organizations are needed to secure transparency and the participation of smallholder farmers whose livelihoods are impacted by land deals," said Welthungerhilfe President Bärbel Dieckmann.

Water scarcity is exacerbated by climate change, especially in the severely water-stressed areas of the world, which are home to more than 2 billion people. Flooding, drought, and environmental degradation all threaten agriculture in many parts of the world.

Rising global energy prices are a serious threat to food security, increasing demand for agricultural land and water for crop production which, in turn, raises food prices. Higher energy prices also increase agricultural input costs, such as the cost of fertilizer and groundwater pumping and machinery, putting further pressure on prices.

"Agricultural production must increase substantially to meet the demands of a growing and increasingly wealthy population," said Tom Arnold, Concern Worldwide's Chief Executive Officer. "Yet to avoid more stress on land, water, and energy resources, and to ensure that all have access to adequate food, that production must be sustainable and must prioritize the poor."

Food security is threatened by governments' focus on short-term economic gains; uncoordinated land, water, and energy policies; and lack of political willingness and action to design policies that increase efficiency and reduce waste of natural resources while protecting the poor.

The Index makes clear recommendations to improve food security under growing land, water, and energy stresses:

Secure land and water rights; support the newly adopted Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries, and Forests.

Phase out inefficient subsidies for water, energy, and fertilizers, in particular biofuel mandates in Europe and the United States, and encourage market solutions that promote efficient use of natural resources.

Scale up technical solutions, particularly those that conserve natural resources, and foster more efficient and effective use of land, energy, and water from farm to plate.

Tame the primary drivers of natural resource scarcity, by, for example, addressing demographic change through giving women access to education and reproductive health services; raising incomes and lowering inequalities; and mitigating and adapting to climate change through agriculture.

The long-term availability of natural resources is crucial for food security and human well-being. "If local, national, and international natural resource policies focus on sustainable, long-term gains, if policies are coordinated and tradeoffs among land, water, and energy policies are minimized, we can strengthen the global food system while preventing resource depletion," said Claudia Ringler, IFPRI Deputy Division Director. "Such a shift to sustainable food security would benefit billions of people today and many more in future decades."

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