A hungry world

Editorial Board
Sunday, Nov 13, 2022

The global food crisis that we all knew was inevitable is upon us this winter. From various UN bodies and councils to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) – all have been warning of the impending situation that is about to hit the world, and more so developing countries. What started with climate change and the Covid-19 pandemic has been compounded by the Russia-Ukraine war. The interconnection of these has created a deep uncertainty around the world. In a way, the ongoing food supply crisis is not unrelated with the global energy situation which is putting an additional burden on the countries that are facing a double whammy of paying high prices for both energy and food imports. It is evident now that these crises are the worst the world has faced in modern history.

There is also the issue of fertilizers, especially artificial fertilizer that uses fossil fuels. Agricultural production depends to a great extent on these fertilizers; the main raw materials for them are natural gas, phosphate, and potash. As developing countries face the challenge of agricultural investment, their access to ingredients for fertilizer production is constrained. Many regions in Africa and Asia are already struggling with a problem of drought due to climate change and the aftershocks of the global pandemic. And countries such as Pakistan are finding it hard to cope with the aftermath of the recent super floods. This situation calls for solutions and comprehensive strategies for a permanent resolution of these issues including political conflicts such as Russia-Ukraine and the situation in Afghanistan. All countries need to work together effectively and with a pragmatic solution for the global food crisis. The concerns that the crisis will worsen in 2023 are very strong.

Global climate change also requires research and development together so that farmers have better agricultural production opportunities especially in the higher temperatures and drier conditions that global warming is causing on one side and floods on the other. Durability of food items also needs attention as the world now needs even more food banks that are efficient and contribute to eliminating – or at least reducing – imbalances in food supplies in higher and lower income countries. Of course, that requires both long- and short-term investments that lower-income countries lack, putting them in a much more critical condition than their counterparts in the Global North. Consumer behaviours also need to radically change as the world can no more afford food wastage. The global waste of agriculture and food products is currently estimated to be around one trillion dollars. Without some fundamental redesign in the way the world tackles climate, energy, fertilizer, food, and political crises, the situation is likely to remain grim. The response will need to be more adept at understanding the challenges. Agriculture will need to be made more responsive to climate variations. Crop cultivation patterns are likely to need to change, while more resilient crops will need to be grown. Despite the challenges, there is little excuse for why the world has done so poorly to address malnutrition. The warning signs have been there. We have chosen not to act.