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Effect of food prices on household food security and malnutrition


Summary of report1

In 2007 and 2008, international food and oil prices soared causing riots in over 30 countries. Despite cereal prices falling on the global market, recent surveillance shows that food commodity prices have remained high or increased in 32 of the 36 vulnerable countries monitored. Concern about the impact of this prompted Action Against Hunger (AAH) to launch a number of country studies to to understand better how high and volatile food commodity prices affect household food security and malnutrition. Assessments were conducted by AAH in Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, Central African Republic (CAR) and Liberia. Four basic questions were asked: Do high global food prices translate into local increases in malnutrition? Are all countries equally affected? How do the effects of high prices vary within a specific context? Was the response good enough?

The main conclusions of the AAH report based on these studies are as follows.

Data from Ethiopia show that high prices have been closely followed by an increase in malnutrition and under-five mortality rates. However, not all countries have been affected equally. Findings from CAR reveal only modest increases in prices and statistically insignificant increases in malnutrition. Research in Sierra Leone showed that even within the capital city, Freetown, prices and household reactions varied. Furthermore, the response to the current food security crisis has been poor - the AAH investigation in Liberia identified a number of flaws in the national responses to the soaring prices and rising malnutrition rates.

AAH asserts that there is enough evidence to suggest that high global food prices have had a substantial negative impact on livelihoods, and possibly malnutrition. High prices decrease access to food and lead to a reduction in the diversity and quantity of diets, especially among the poor. It is further argued that the similarity between coping mechanisms employed during seasonal price spikes and the global prices rise in 2008 is striking. This should inform the design of interventions, as responses to seasonal hunger are tried and tested and can be quickly built into national and international action plans. AAH also states that, to date, the international response to high and volatile food prices has been ineffectual. Donors should provide the necessary funds to immediately establish a pilot intervention to tackle comprehensively malnutrition in five priority countries.

The report points out that when presented at the High Level Conference on World Food Security in June 2008, the United Nations (UN) Comprehensive Framework for Action conservatively estimated that US$25-40 billion per year in additional funding is required to restore global food and nutritional security. AAH argue that this figure is insufficient and estimate a need of US$38-70 billion per year for implementation of a minimum package effectively to combat seasonal hunger worldwide. This package does not include any provisions to promote agricultural development or functioning markets. Following the High Level Conference, world leaders pledged US$12.3 billion to tackle the food crisis but have only donated US$1 billion to date - the lowest ratio of materialised funds to funds pledged of any global appeal in recent history. The authors contrast this commitment with the World Food Programmes (WFP) success in achieving its target of US$755 million in additional funds, and argue that this demonstrates that food aid remains the only large-scale comprehensive intervention that the international community is willing to support.

The report also asserts that the lack of response was not due to lack of information. Early warning systems such as FEWSNET2 did provide sufficient information for response to the growing food price crisis as early as 2005. Failure to trigger serious debate until riots broke out and media coverage raised the stakes in early 2008 shows that the links between early warning systems and decision-making processes must be questioned and revised. The four case studies illustrate the importance of local variation and hence the need for locally-adapted responses. The recent emergence of the Global Partnership for Agriculture and Food Security and the UN High Level Task Force has injected new life into the debate surrounding food security and nutrition. The definition and design of national and global strategies should involve a wide range of actors, particularly civil society groups.

In the report, AAH call for major donors to demonstrate their commitment to the eradication of hunger immediately. Between US$70 and $150 million in predictable annual funding would allow a comprehensive pilot intervention to treat one million malnourished children in five priority countries.

The report concludes that if action is not taken now, then high food prices will trap millions of children in a downward spiral of poverty and malnutrition.

1AAH (2009). Feeding Hunger and Insecurity. The Global Food Price Crisis - a summary of AAH research in Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, Central African Republic and Liberia. Briefing Paper - January 2009. Available at: http://www.aahuk.org/documents/Jan2009-FeedingHungerandInsecurity-HQ.pdf

2USAID Famine Early Warning System, www.fews.net

Imported from FEX website


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