Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Analysis: FAO report says fewer hungry than in 2009

Yesterday, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization released the latest figures on the number of hungry people in the world. Even though the number of people who are hungry is back under a billion, it is still higher than before the global recession.

From IPS, writer Paul Virgo gives this analysis of the new FAO report. Experts say that even though the there is a small improvement in the number of hungry people, it is nothing to celebrate.

The recovery and lower food prices have alleviated the situation after the effects of the credit crunch and the 2008 spike in commodity prices pushed millions into the ranks of the hungry. But hunger levels remain above pre- crisis levels and the structural problems that mean almost one billion people -- around 16 percent -- do not have enough food to meet their energy needs remain.

"It's still an enormously high figure. The worst excesses of the crisis have gone away a little, but there's no celebration,'' Alex Rees, Save the Children UK's Head of Hunger Reduction, told IPS. "There must be a great sense of urgency as the number is so high. There are still a number of emergencies in many parts of the world."

So MDG1 is still far out of reach despite ample aggregate food supplies, and poor people all over the developing world remain vulnerable to the shocks that economic fluctuations and failed crops can swiftly bring.

A recent upsurge in commodity prices that prompted Russia to extend its ban on wheat exports till 2011 has sparked speculation that prices might be on the way back to the 2008 crisis levels. The FAO and authoritative institutes such as the International Food Policy Research Institution (IFPRI) say this is not the case pointing to, among other things, positive food stock levels, while admitting that the situation is volatile.

''The food crisis has not gone away - -925 million hungry people is still a scandal,'' said Jeremy Hobbs, executive director of Oxfam International. ''The dip in the number of hungry people has more to do with luck than judgement.

"Another global food crisis could explode at any time unless governments tackle the underlying causes of hunger, including food price volatility, decades of underinvestment in agriculture, and climate change.''

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