September 19, 2011

A Global Food Crisis

Ramona Madhosingh-Hector, Urban Sustainability Agent, Pinellas County Extension

On October 16 2011, the United Nations will recognize World Food Day under the theme of Food Prices – From crisis to Stability. Since 1979, the United Nations has celebrated World Food Day as an opportunity to build awareness of the problem of hunger in the world encourage technological and economic cooperation amongst countries strengthen international and national agricultural efforts, and focus attention on food security.

In the past, we may have thought that only developing countries were facing food shortages, increased food prices and food safety concerns. The new reality is that global trade has left many nations struggling with food production and distribution issues. Food prices are continuously increasing caused either by climatic events that affect crop production or spurred by higher food transportation costs caused by increases in other commodities e.g. petroleum. Given these circumstances, it’s easy to understand how food security becomes a national security issue.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) refers to the increased food price phenomenon as food price volatility. According to FAO, food price volatility is here to stay and presents a major threat to food security. Population increases, biofuel fervor, and protectionary agriculture measures contribute to the difficulty of stable food prices. The FAO Food Price Index was 231 points in August 2011, a 26 percent increase for the same period last year. Cereal, oils/fats, dairy and sugar price indices all reflected increases compared with the same period last year. Only the price of meat appeared to be stable with a 1% total increase over July 2011. To combat food price volatility, the FAO supports increased investment in agriculture. Investment options include infrastructure upgrades, marketing systems, extension and communication services, education, and research and development.

At home in the United States, we are well aware that food security is an important issue. Local food movements like community gardens and urban farms are one mechanism by which residents are taking hold of food production and distribution and minimizing food safety concerns. These new food ventures are likely here to stay as consumer concerns revolve not just around the price of the agricultural commodity and its point of origin but also around the inputs that are used in the production process and the food safety laws that govern international products. The nutritional value of our agricultural goods is also at stake.

With one billion hungry people worldwide, it is important to remember the definition of sustainability which pledges to “meet the needs of the present”. As we celebrate World Food Day in October, let us all do our part to ensure that the residents in our communities have access to food in sufficient quantities and of a high nutritional value.

Overview World Food Day 2011
Food and Agricultural Organization
Get Involved – World Food Day
EDIS factsheets on Food Safety
Pinellas County Food Donations

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