On February 22, 2017, the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General António Guterres addressed a press briefing, pleading with UN member countries to help fight the humanitarian crisis that has resurfaced in North-East Nigeria, South Sudan, Somalia and Yemen. This crisis, which has been developing for decades, is at a critical turning point and gaining international attention. Twenty million people in the Middle East and Northeast Africa are facing food insecurity, which often leads to malnutrition, starvation, and death. Guterres urged members to remember, “In our world of plenty, there is no excuse for inaction or indifference.” This issue will not resolve itself and the global community needs innovative and creative solutions to address food insecurity. It is the responsibility of the current and incoming generation of world leaders to devote more time and resources to combating an issue that will shape the health and stability of the growing global population.
What is the crisis?
World hunger finds itself on a list of cliché phrases that make it into speeches and reports by organizations and speakers aiming to garner attention for their mission, or support for a larger cause. But what is world hunger?
Although there are many ways to define hunger in its literal sense, the Hunger Project describes hunger as a symptom of the problem of poverty, dependence, and inequality. This holistic understanding brings light to all parts of hunger, not just the physical ailment. Understanding that hunger is the result of many underlying issues has helped improve the quality of responses to the issue, but the sense of urgency surrounding this issue has dwindled in the past few decades. The numbers show an increase in people affected by hunger and malnutrition, and a decrease in funding to help combat this issue. The UN is calling this “the greatest humanitarian crisis” since 1945.
Why is there a surge in world hunger?
Food insecurity is hitting North Africa and the Middle East the hardest. There are many factors contributing to this widespread food shortage, including some that did not exist until recently. Conflict and fighting prevent the neediest populations from accessing food because of large-scale displacements and reductions in the flow of resources. Additionally, unstable governance leaves little structure to get food to those who need it, and federal money may not make it into the hands of the people who can do the most to help. Finally, poor infrastructure, like unpaved roads and a lack of vehicles, makes the distribution of resources near impossible. The list goes on, and the situation continues to disintegrate.
This crisis is certainly on the minds of those working on food security issues on a global stage. The UN Sustainable Development Goals, a list of tasks to achieve worldwide by the year 2030, lists Goal 2 as “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.” This is no small undertaking, especially because the global population is expected to grow to 9 million by 2050 and the demand for food will grow. There are ways we can work towards achieving this goal, but it will require a better understanding of the causes of food insecurity.
Reflection on the future of food security
After recently attending the 2017 NASPAA-Batten Student Simulation Competition on Food Security, along with nearly 400 other graduate students in public policy and management from around the world, I can reflect on this global food crisis through a new understanding of the challenges we face to achieve the UN goal.
This one-day immersive computer simulation asked us to use our background in policy and administration to advance global food security by creating and implementing local and national level projects. Each hypothetical project would affect each region in different ways, but ultimately would increase or decrease our overall food security score. At the end of this experience, the largest takeaway was clear: there is no one cure for food insecurity.
Food supply and demand play a large role in the global hunger crisis, but these are affected by agricultural conditions, natural disasters, economic incentives, land area, and more. Each time we chose a project that would target one area of insecurity, it would have an unintended consequence on another area; sometimes positive and sometimes negative. As our frustrations grew, we became aware of the challenges world leaders face to solve this dilemma. Although we may not have solved world hunger that day, we were able to present a few targeted solutions based on our research and simulation:
- Funding of crop-specific investments and innovation: This is important to help increase the value of the crops being produced worldwide, in order to prevent disruption to production already in place. This empowers farmers to take more ownership of their crop and consider ways to produce at a higher rate through innovative techniques with less resources, or find new ways to use crops. Farmers need encouragement and incentives to produce in a more market friendly way and prevent additional waste from misuse.
- Diversification of Infrastructure: Every region of the world has different infrastructure needs and should be addressed in a strategic and specific way. Investments in infrastructure will make a significant difference over time and, specifically, investments in diversification will help to improve access to land and increase non-farming employment.
- Community Based Access: Buy-in is very important for new food security initiatives, and it is essential to include vulnerable populations, like women, families, and indigenous people. Programs that increase access to best economic practices education through community based organizations will lead to these communities being able to produce more, which in turn will increase household incomes and reduce poverty.
It is through more programs like this, and more access to resources on food security, that attention will shift to the root causes of hunger. However, change also comes down to funding. Without the appropriate amount of funding for projects in developing countries, hunger will continue to strike, and the death rates will rise. Current efforts to cut funding to global organizations that are working on behalf of the UN’s mission are concerning. Without developed countries like the United States taking a serious role in funding innovative global food projects, those countries struggling to save vulnerable communities may be without options and this crisis will continue.
Image Source: Vocative.