On the eve of the United Nations designated World Food Day, the UN on Monday kicked off a series of meetings in Rome to try and get ahead of could be the third global food crisis in four years.
"Food prices are too volatile and are dangerously high," said Olivier De Schutter, who reports to the UN on the right to food.
Summer droughts in the United States and Russia caused the prices of staples like corn, wheat, and soybeans to rise sharply. Economists with the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) say it’s unlikely the prices will normalize anytime soon.
The soaring food prices prompted France to call for an emergency meeting of the newly formed G-20 Rapid Response Forum, a crisis prevention group of global agricultural policymakers. The meeting was scheduled to take place on Tuesday during World Food Day in Rome, but was cancelled because the group, chaired by the United States, felt it was “not necessary at this time.”
Eric Muñoz, policy advisor for agriculture and food security with the international relief and development organization Oxfam America, says cancelling the emergency meeting was a missed opportunity to, at the very least, have a conversation with world leaders surrounding some of the structural problems plaguing global food security.
“The wait and see attitude is only focusing on the problem right now- poor planting conditions and a poor harvest,” said Muñoz. “If we have a good harvest next year in the US and Russia we can’t think the problem has gone away,” he said.
During the 2008 food crisis, Muñoz says countries that rely heavily on international imports were hit first and hit the hardest. The same is the case today he says.
“If you look around the world in places like Asia and Africa, people are at the mercy of local market prices for their food security. There are implications to a looming crisis, particularly for younger children who face the irreversible harm of malnutrition,” Muñoz said.
According to the FAO, there are 870 million hungry people worldwide, and while the number of hungry is on the decline in countries like the United States and Latin America, in Sub-Saharan Africa, hunger is on the rise.
“Until structural issues like the way food is produced and the way it is traded are addressed, we are going to face the same problem a year or two from now,” Muñoz said.
Representatives from the FAO say they are using this year’s World Food Day ceremonies as a starting point for discussion and debate on some of the biggest challenges facing the global food market including sustainable farming in parts of Africa and the role of climate change on harvests.