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Analysis: The future of food aid
JOHANNESBURG, 26 July 2013 (IRIN) - By the end of the next decade food
security could deteriorate in some of the world's poorest countries,
according to a recent global forecast
by the US
Department of Agriculture (USDA).
By 2023 the number of food-insecure people is likely to increase by
nearly 23 percent to 868 million (at a slightly faster rate than
projected population growth of 16 percent), said USDA's Economic
Research Service which focused on 76 low- and middle-income countries
classified by the World Bank as being on food aid, experiencing food
insecurity, or as having experienced it.
In countries most likely to see a significant rise in the number of
food-insecure people, such as Malawi and Uganda, the production and
import of food will not be able to keep pace with population growth.
Despite improvements over the years, sub-Saharan Africa is projected to
remain the most food-insecure region in the world.
In the past decade global food aid, including the amount making its way
to sub-Saharan Africa, has been on a downward trend. Only 2.5 million
tons reached sub-Saharan Africa in 2011, whereas during the decade as a
whole it ranged from just under three million tons to just over 5
million tons, according to USDA, citing World Food Programme (WFP)
The face of food aid has also begun to change. In the past decade, "food
aid" has begun to evolve into "food assistance", which includes help
provided in the form of cash and vouchers for people in need. This can
save millions of dollars in transportation and storage costs.
By 2015, WFP, the world's largest food aid agency, expects almost a
third of its assistance programmes to be delivered in the form of cash,
vouchers and new kinds of "digital food" through smartcards and
e-vouchers delivered by SMS. Between 2008 and 2011, the number of WFP
cash and voucher projects increased from five in 2008 to 51 in 2011. In
that year WFP set aside US$208 million for distributions using cash or
vouchers, but still spent over one billion dollars on food.
IRIN asked some of the world's leading experts to speculate on the
future of food aid.
Crises that drive the need for food aid are either man-made (conflicts,
economies in crisis) or natural events (droughts, floods, earthquakes)
or a complex mix of both, which might test people's resilience and make
them chronically dependent on assistance. People need different kinds
of aid in different situations. If food is not available in a flooded
area, actual food supplies are the answer. In the case of chronic
shortages, experts suggest cash or vouchers, integrated into a broader
social protection system, might be the answer.
Threats over the coming decade
By 2023, food security will worsen in
Christopher Barrett, a food aid expert who teaches at Cornell
University in the USA, said: "The big threats over the coming decade
are the ones we already face: conflict first and foremost, a variety of
natural disasters, and major macroeconomic disruptions. The climate
scientists don't talk seriously of change over the course of a decade."
Food aid expert Daniel Maxwell, a professor at Tufts University's
Feinstein International Center, agrees the drivers of crisis will not
change substantially. "I suspect that we will continue to see the kinds
of protracted crises that we have come to see over the past decade that
are a combination of both `natural' and man-made causes. but with a
strong element of weak or failed governance, and these may be in
countries with perfectly capable governments, but just in marginalized
parts of those countries."
Eric Munoz, senior policy adviser with Oxfam America, said he would add
food price volatility to the mix: A changing climate, causing
disruptions in "production in major exporting countries and damaging
crops in fragile agriculture markets will add to this volatility".
More cash transfers
Escalating costs of transporting food, lower quantities of surplus
production to dispense as food aid, and the complex nature of crises
have forced more donors to widen their choice of response from
exclusive food aid to cash transfers and vouchers.
Countries that will remain food insecure by 2023
Central Africa Republic
Democratic Republic of Congo
"Non-emergency food aid as we have known it will disappear but the core
functions will continue, both because growing demands for emergency
response will gobble up the modest international food assistance
budgets available, and because school feeding, maternal and child
health and nutrition programs, smallholder development, and other
programs will get absorbed within the broader development programs that
donors fund," said Barrett in an email.
He also believes more countries which used to rely on food assistance
will "develop their own effective safety-net programs (whether through
employment guarantee schemes, conditional or unconditional cash
transfers, unemployment or agricultural insurance, etc.)".
In countries with weak governance, international food assistance could
end up playing the role of a social safety-net, said Maxwell, but not
very well "unless integrated into national programs - and there will
continue to be political tensions about whether to do that or not. In
these places, future genuine humanitarian emergencies are likely to be
driven by combinations of factors: The Somalia famine was blamed on a
bad drought, and indeed there was a bad drought, but there was also a
concomitant food price spike, ongoing conflict, and a highly
politicized crisis of access. In other places, rapid onset natural
disasters will probably not be major arenas for food aid (it is just
too slow) and will be replaced by cash or other interventions."
WTO rules hamper food security?
Food insecure countries' reliance on "markets, and thus on local and
regional suppliers, will continue to grow," said Barrett. This could
happen especially if a World Trade Organization (WTO) agreement is
reached in the next 10 years, he said.
The WTO Doha Development Round of negotiations (begun in 2001) on a new
agreement that could help reduce the number of poor people in
developing countries, has been in stop-start mode for some years.
The talks are aimed at reducing global barriers to market access,
including for agricultural produce. Olivier de Schutter, the UN Human
Rights Council's special rapporteur on the right to food, believes
y> current WTO rules are hampering poor countries' efforts to become
Timely food aid interventions save lives, "but protracted relief
interventions (such as those widely implemented by WFP in many
countries) are a distorted way of maintaining food assistance in
circumstances where it is no longer necessary or adequate," said Jos
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