FAO calls for urgent steps to protect the poor from soaring food prices

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Action needed to improve access to inputs to boost local food production in most affected countries

FAO is urging governments and the international community to implement immediate measures in support of poor countries hit hard by dramatic food price increases.

Currently 37 countries worldwide are facing food crises due to conflict and disasters. In addition, food security is being adversely affected by unprecedented price hikes for basic food, driven by historically low food stocks, droughts and floods linked to climate change, high oil prices and growing demand for bio-fuels. High international cereal prices have already sparked food riots in several countries.

In its November issue of Food Outlook, FAO estimated that the total cost of imported foodstuffs for Low Income Food Deficit Countries (LIFDCs) in 2007 would be some 25 percent higher than the previous year, surpassing US$ 107 billion.

“Urgent and new steps are needed to prevent the negative impacts of rising food prices from further escalating and to quickly boost crop production in the most affected countries,” said FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf at a press conference at the Organization’s Rome headquarters.

“Without support for poor farmers and their families in the hardest-hit countries, they will not be able to cope. Assisting poor vulnerable households in rural areas in the short term and enabling them to produce more food would be an efficient tool to protect them against hunger and undernourishment,” Dr Diouf added.

Short-term support

FAO is calling for urgent action to provide small farmers in LIFDCs that depend heavily on food imports, with improved access to inputs like seeds, fertilizer and other inputs to increase, in particular, local crop production.

Within countries, improved access to these inputs could be provided by issuing poor farmers with vouchers to buy seeds, fertilizer and other inputs for major staple crops, which should increase local food production. Such steps could help to alleviate the persistent threat of severe undernourishment of millions of people, FAO said.

FAO will support a catalytic model programme in close cooperation with the private sector. At the same time, FAO aims to assist countries in mobilising resources required to strengthen their productive capability, market access and other measures required for long-term household food security.

Malawi’s success

“Some countries like Malawi have proven that it is possible to boost local food production through the provision of vouchers for farm inputs,” Diouf said.

“The Malawi programme, helped by good rains, has over the last two years produced spectacular results whereby maize production in 2006/07 was one million metric tonnes higher than national maize requirements. The value of the extra production was double that of the investment provided. Many small-scale farmers have benefited and have increased production for their own consumption. The Malawi success could be replicated by other countries facing a very difficult food production environment.”

Short-term intervention will by no means replace medium and long-term investments for enhancing the production capacity in the target countries, FAO said.

“On the contrary, we want the pressure on governments to finance expensive food imports to be eased so they can focus on long-term solutions. Short-term investments have to be accompanied immediately with measures to ensure water control, increase rural infrastructure and improve soil fertility and guarantee long-term sustainability of food production,” Diouf said.

FAO will fund a model programme of interventions from resources put at its disposal by member countries and will encourage national governments, international institutions and other donors to replicate and expand successful interventions in line with ongoing international initiatives.

Source: FAO