Time to Rethink Global Hunger Fight - IFRC

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Originally published by AlertNet

 

By Rebekah Curtis

A farmer spreads fertiliser on his field in Satara district, south of Mumbai. REUTERS/Vivek Prakash

 

LONDON (AlertNet) - Governments should invest more in agriculture and give poorer farmers better access to finance to help the world’s 1 billion malnourished people weather a “perfect storm” facing the global food system, the international Red Cross movement said on Thursday.

Factors exacerbating hunger and malnutrition include land grabs in Africa, floods and other climate impacts, land degradation caused by drought and speculation in commodities futures, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said in its latest annual “World Disasters Report”.

“Food prices are hitting the alarming highs of the 2008 crisis, with the poorest of the poor being hit the hardest,” said IFRC Secretary-General Bekele Geleta. “Governments and donors should invest more in agriculture and give a helping hand to farmers.”

Every year some 9 million children across the world die before they reach their fifth birthday, with about a third of these deaths attributed to undernutrition, the IFRC said, stressing that the majority of these deaths result from chronic hunger rather than sudden food crises.

Approaches to malnutrition need a rethink, the report said, adding that most foreign help for hungry and malnourished people still comes over­whelmingly from donors’ budgets for emergency relief, which are separate from their longer-term development aid budgets.

Humanitarian funds, which are generally short-term, do little to help national health ministries address the grinding, endemic causes of hunger, the IFRC said in the report.

“…They (humanitarian funds) tend to be limited in scope, targeted at the most visible part of the problem while leaving a country’s routine activities to com­bat hunger and malnutrition with little or no support,” the report said.

The IFRC also criticised what it called the “sheer hypocrisy” of ongoing massive state intervention by the European Union, the United States and Japan in providing huge domestic agricultural subsidies to their own farmers, which it said had kept poorer producers out of global markets.

ACCESS TO FINANCE

The need for more investment in agriculture is essential, the report said. African governments committed in 2003 to allocate 10 percent of their national budgets to agriculture, but fewer than 10 governments are doing so, it added.

Farmers in poorer regions need better access to finance, the report said, adding that rural areas of low- and middle-income countries are dealing with “a full-blown credit crisis”.

For many farmers in poorer regions, financing has been hard to come by. Feeling the pressure from donors over the past two decades, many governments have stopped providing or underwriting financial services, leaving it to the private sector or relying on often patchy micro-finance initiatives, the report said.

However, it added, private banks tend to regard small farmers as too risky and make few loans for agriculture.

The IFRC called on gov­ernments to increase support for loan guarantee schemes, subsidised credit or the provision of capital for banks with a government shareholding.

“The same governments that say they are promoting ‘farming as a business’ deny farmers access to capital to extend their businesses, thus locking them into a poverty trap,” the report said.

CASH TRANSFERS

The report emphasised the importance of giving hungry people cash to buy food rather than food aid itself, stressing that so-called cash transfers help bolster employment and income and stimulate local food production.

However, soaring food prices have reduced the value of such transfers, it said.

To counter food price volatility, the IFRC said the value of cash transfers should keep up with fluctuating food prices while safety-net programmes should be flexible enough to combine cash with food if necessary.

The report also stressed the importance of wider measures to stabilise food prices and mechanisms to allow food to be procured early on when it is widely available and prices are still low.

And evidence sug­gests that giving cash transfers to women reaps greater benefits as they are more likely than men to spend additional income on their families instead of on themselves, the IFRC said.

It cited the example of the world’s largest conditional cash transfer scheme, Brazil’s “Bolsa Familia”, which reaches more than 50 million people yet costs less than 0.5 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. The scheme gives cash – usually to women – in return for school attendance by their children and signing up for vaccines and prenatal care.

It added that many communities need protection against crop failure, especially in the face of climate change.

Droughts, floods and freezing weather due to climate change are expected to keep hurting agricultural output and food security in low- and middle-income countries, the IFRC said in the report.

(Editing by Tim Large)