Global Report on Food Crisis – Do terrible figures hide an even worse long-term trend?

20 May 2024

Hereby we recommend you a very interesting article by Marianne Landzettel, a journalist writing and blogging about food, farming and agricultural policies in the UK and the rest of the EU, the US and South Asia.

The GRFC, the Global Report on Food Crisis[1], is published annually by the Food Security Information Network (FSIN) and the latest edition, once again, makes grim reading. “In 2023, 281.6 million people or 21.5 percent of the analysed population faced high levels of acute food insecurity in 59 food-crisis countries/territories”, is the main headline.

The analysis is based on a vast set of data, collected by UN agencies in collaboration with national and international organisations and agencies. The report compiles data on nutrition, distinguishing between households that are food stressed, in crisis, in a state of emergency – which is defined as high, acute malnutrition – or in a state of famine. In the attempt to establish causes that drive these food crisis, the GRFC also looks at the impact of economic shocks and extreme weather events such as severe droughts, and it takes into account wars and armed conflicts.


Conflict as a main driver for food insecurity

“Acute food insecurity is rarely driven by a single shock or hazard, but rather by the interaction between shocks and underlying poverty, structural weaknesses and other vulnerability factors. (…) Conflict also tends to reverse economic and development gains, limiting communities’ and countries’ capacity to withstand and recover from weather and economic shocks”, concludes the report. In 2023, 134.4 million people faced high food insecurity mainly driven through armed conflict. “The severe escalation of conflict in the Sudan from April 2023 and in Palestine (Gaza Strip) from October 2023 led to devastating food crises”. Not really a surprise.

For 75 million people in 21 countries, economic shocks were the main driver of food insecurity, and 72 million people in 18 countries were affected by extreme weather events.


Dire prospects for 2024

“In net food-importing countries, a double burden is developing, with high food prices coupled with a strong dollar contributing to currency depreciation that will continue to push up food prices and further erode households’ purchasing power”, says the GRFC.  “In Palestine (Gaza Strip), Famine is imminent in the governorates of Gaza and North Gaza (…) In South Sudan, 79,000 people were projected to be in this phase during the April–July 2024 lean season. If security and humanitarian access deteriorate in Burkina Faso, food insecurity could rise to more severe levels”. For most of the 59 countries and territories included in the analysis, the report gives detailed information about factors such as displacement of people and malnutrition, particularly in children.

Not all conflict zones are equal

The report highlights that, based on 2023 data, people in Sudan and Gaza are in particular danger of famine. A famine is of course a disastrous event, no matter where it happens, but the options for trying to alleviate a famine are very different. ‘Israel’s offensive is destroying Gaza’s ability to grow its own food’[1] is the headline of a recent article in the Washington Post. According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of the Statistics, in 2022, local farmers were able to produce 40% of fruit and vegetables. But much agricultural land and most fruit and olive trees have been destroyed, it will take time and effort until growers can produce food again. But for the majority of fruit and vegetables as well as all other food, Gazans have always depended on imports. They are threatened by famine and malnutrition because the conflict made food deliveries impossible. One can only hope for the success of those trying to broker a deal that allows food to get into Gaza, but even after this conflict ends, Gazans will not be self sufficient, there just isn’t enough agricultural land.

The situation in Sudan is very different. According to the FAO, Sudan could have ‘a thriving agriculture and livestock economy’[2]. But the conflict in the region has been long standing and has had a huge impact on the ability of people to produce food. Agricultural land deteriorates over time, desertification sets in – in a country where farmers and herders nevertheless could still feed the population – if it weren’t for the conflict.





Lots of information but not the whole picture

As grim as this report is, where the climate crisis is concerned, it still may not paint the whole picture. In any given year, the climate crisis makes events such as extreme drought, rainfall and flooding more likely, but a lot of climate crisis driven change happens slowly, often in incremental steps. These subtle changes though add up and, over time, have a major impact on food production, too. Take Britain for example, a country that does not feature in the report because it fits none of the GRFC criteria – Britain is not food insecure. But the last 18 months have been the wettest on record. The average annual wheat harvest is 14 million tons, but because of the weather this year even 10 million tons seem optimistic. Wheat is a commodity, Britain exports and imports wheat and there won’t be a shortage – but the global availability of wheat will be reduced. And the same goes for so many other countries: heat, rain or the lack of it may not amount to ‘catastrophic weather events’, but will have an impact on food production, making imports more expensive and increasing costs for vulnerable, poorer nations. That’s global trade for you, one might say, and shrug because there is little we can do to change that.

Taking non-catastrophic weather events into account, however, provides us with the means to act, wherever we are: every car journey we don’t take, every solar panel installed, every food we grow in gardens, on balconies or even on the window sill is a tiny contribution to food security and the mitigation of climate change.

Marianne Landzettel, a journalist writing and blogging about food, farming and agricultural policies in the UK and the rest of the EU, the US and South Asia.


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