By Ahmad Macky
The Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) has disclosed that the number of hungry people increased by another 50 millions last year is alarming. This is indeed alarming, since 50 millions is a substantial slice of the six billion overall population. Is that the effect of Covid-19 and the recession it causes across the World ?
This is also due to the unprecedented food crisis faced by the entire world. The prices of many essential commodities have risen drastically, leaving many food items out of reach of low income earners.
Both developed and developing countries like Mauritius have been affected by the crisis. It is not a crisis that could be resolved soon. The world is likely to witness a similar trend over the coming years and there is every sign that it may aggravate.
The FAO has attributed the food crisis to rising demand for agricultural products due to population growth and economic development in emerging countries like ours; the rapid expansion of bio fuels; an insufficient supply as production is negatively affected by climate change, in particular droughts and floods, at a time when cereal stocks are at their lowest levels in 30 years.
One can argue that the most obvious solution is increasing agricultural output. But the high prices of agricultural inputs are a major obstacle for developing countries to increase agricultural production. From January 2019 to April 2020, fertilizer prices rose at a much faster rate than food prices.
Perhaps the time has come to rely more on non-chemical, traditional fertilizers which do not have any additional side effects as well. The bio fuel phenomenon has added another dimension to the food crisis. Millions of tons of agricultural crops are diverted for the manufacture of bio fuels, thus depriving consumers of the chance to get these crops. There have been calls at the highest levels for a moratorium on the manufacture of bio fuels.
All countries that are affected by food crisis have one option, that is to team up and work together in order to find the true solution to the food crisis. Mauritius needs to consider this option if it comes in force.
The FAO says we urgently need new and stronger partnerships to address the growing food security problems in Third World countries. No single institution or country will be able to resolve this crisis. Donor countries, international institutions, governments of developing countries, civil society and the private sector have an important role to play in the global fight against hunger.
There is another school of thought, endorsed by the FAO, that developing countries have neglected agriculture in prioritizing industrialization. There is an element of truth in this argument as most developing countries have seen industrialization as a ‘saviour’ and an easy route to development, instead of agriculture.
Another factor is that the pace of modernization in the agriculture sphere is low, thus limiting harvests. There is little or no research on issues such as obtaining higher yields and growing disease-resistant crops.
In fact, investment in agricultural research in developing countries is less than 0.6% of their gross domestic product, compared to more than 5% in the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries. Thus there should be renewed efforts to boost investment in agriculture by both public and private entities.