A mother in Somalia skips another meal so her children can eat. A father in Syria works 13 hours but still cannot afford enough food for his family. A father in Niger watches his children go to bed hungry.
Food prices, already rising due to the pandemic, have skyrocketed due to the war in Ukraine; the World Bank estimates a staggering 37 percent increase. The price of wheat soared 80 percent between April 2020 and December 2021. In Syria, food prices have doubled in the last year.
The world was already plagued by hunger before COVID-19 hit. In 2020, up to 811 million people, almost one in 10 people, did not have enough to eat. And now the world is hurtling toward an unprecedented hunger crisis.
Many poorer countries are unable, too often due to an unequal global food system, to produce enough food to feed their population. They must depend on food imports. The reason is simple: crops are difficult to grow. The reasons for this are less simple: man-made climate breakdown is intensifying floods and droughts, locusts are devastating crops, conflict is destroying farmland and infrastructure, and people just don’t have enough money. to buy seeds and equipment to grow.
Furthermore, half of the world’s crops are now used to produce biofuels, animal feed and other products, such as textiles. Many of these crops are monocultures, with a single type of crop destroying biodiversity and drawing nutrients from the soil. Not only is valuable farmland being used for non-food crops, but also the type of farming used harms the environment and results in fewer crops in the long run.
Dependence on food imports creates extreme vulnerability to external shocks. Nearly half of African countries import more than a third of their wheat from Russia and Ukraine. Fifteen countries, including Lebanon, Egypt and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, import more than half their share. Nearly all the wheat in Somalia, where the worst drought in more than 40 years has left millions of people starving, comes from Russia and Ukraine.
And so rising and fluctuating food prices have hit vulnerable countries like a sledgehammer. Forty-two percent of Yemen’s wheat was shipped from Ukraine in the three months from December 20, 2021 to March 6, 2022, according to a shipping source consulted by Oxfam. A week after the war in Ukraine began, wheat prices in war-torn Yemen rose 24 percent. The United Nations has said the country’s already dire hunger crisis is “on the brink of total catastrophe.” Lesson learned: dependency is dangerous.
Insanity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results. Proponents of large-scale, intensive industrial agriculture say, once again, that we must increase global production. But this is not the solution. The world’s farmers produce enough food to feed the world’s population, and in recent years, the world has seen record harvests of grain production. The main problem is access to food, not availability. We need systemic change, not a short-term solution.
Governments tried to cut corners during the 2007-2008 global food crisis, in which wheat and rice prices nearly doubled, pushing 100 million people into poverty and, by 2009, more than a billion into hunger. . Policy responses were short-term, one-time initiatives or focused on the wrong goal: increasing production and investment in the private sector. These measures have only plugged the already existing cracks in the global food system, a system that is unsustainable for people and the planet.
We need to recognize that the underlying causes of hunger lie in extreme inequality. Immediately, governments must urgently close the gap between what people can afford and the price of the food they need. More funds are needed to help people facing severe hunger around the world. Most importantly, donor governments should not siphon off crisis aid budgets in poor countries to pay for the new costs of supporting Ukraine.
Denmark has already cut its funding to Mali, Syria and Bangladesh. Sweden has followed suit. No life is more valuable than another. Rich countries legitimately spent trillions of dollars to save their economies from the impact of the pandemic. A mere fraction of that is needed to ensure that people around the world can put food on the table. But governments must go much further. That means investing in a sustainable future for all, in which small-scale family farming plays a key role.
Small-scale family farms feed a third of the world’s population, and in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa they provide more than 70% of the food supply. If these farmers had more access to land, water, finance, infrastructure and markets, and if their rights were protected, they could produce much more food. They could drastically reduce poverty and hunger. That means, vitally, addressing the unequal climate crisis in which the poorest people and small farmers who did the least to cause the crisis suffer the most at the expense of the one percent overconsumption. And it means addressing extreme land inequality, including guaranteeing the land rights of smallholder farmers.
These are all things that governments can, and must, urgently do. Hunger is unacceptable in the 21st century. To see millions of people one step away from starvation in a world of plenty, in a world where multi-billion dollar wealth has skyrocketed, is an abomination. Only the right political decisions can end hunger.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.