The World Food Summit of 1996 defined food security as existing “when all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life”.
In simple terms, the concept of food security is defined as including both physical and economic access to food that meets people’s dietary needs as well as their food preferences.
Sustainable development seeks to meet the needs and aspirations of the present without compromising the ability to meet those of the future, and sustainable food security is linked to economic development, trade and the environment.
If food security is a crucial and vital aspect of national sustainability and development, why then is it not a key policy direction of the governments of leading nations of the world? A look at the budgets of many governments in the world today reveals that their key policy directions focus on such issues as defence, economic development, tourism, science and research, while agriculture and food security are given low budgetary allocations.
Treating the issue of food security with levity led to an avoidable food crisis in 2007 which hit Europe, Asia and America. The crisis was due to poor economic policies and prioritization on sustainable food security measures and techniques. It was so severe and acute that prices of foodstuffs increased by 20 percent and countries like Thailand that produce rice were performing below expected output and production, creating an initial scarcity that instilled fear in rice consumers.
In 2004, the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) warned that world hunger was again on the increase and was threatening to torpedo international efforts to halve the number of undernourished people by 2015. By its record, the number of hungry people worldwide fell by 37 million, but the report for 2003/2004 showed that there was an increase in the number of hungry people to the tune of 18 million, something quite alarming.
The 2011 FAO report admitted that food prices had hit a record high in December 2010, surpassing the levels seen during the 2007/2008 crisis. Such a report should increase fears of a repetition of complete food scarcity and low supply that would accelerate prices of foodstuffs.
From the FAO analysis, the prices of foodstuff and agricultural commodities like wheat, corn, rice, oilseeds, dairy products, sugar and meats jumped to 214.7 points in December 2010, up almost 4.2 percent from November 2010. This index is the highest since the measure was first calculated in 1990. This means that consumers may have little choice but to pay higher prices for their food, and international prices could rise even more if production does not increase significantly, especially in corn, soybeans and wheat.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhono, addressing the Davos Economic Forum in Switzerland in 2011, said that with the global population projected to rise from 7 billion currently to 9 billion in 2045, there was need for concerted effort to ensure food security and availability. He noted that the population explosion would effect a race for scarce food, which would invariably lead to conflict, chaos, and crisis. Also, President Sarkozy called for the regulation of the volatility and speculation of food prices.
Scarier is the fact that “harder times” await the globe if the issue of global agricultural production, price regulation, speculation and investments in sustainable food security are not given proper attention and priority by political and business leaders.
There are two things that can be done to ensure and guarantee food security in the globe before it escalates to an unprecedented crisis level where it will pose great dangers to human development. First is a commitment from global leaders to increase their budgetary allocations to the agricultural sector in order to boost production of crops like rice, wheat, cassava, yam, etc, and also sustain fish farming. The massive allocation should also be fashioned to provide subsidy for peasant and commercial farmers who are ready to produce food crops, just as the Chinese government under Hu Jintao has done in the 2012 Economic Plan. Second is to step up the multilateral and bilateral agreements and partnerships that will encourage research, innovation, and improved techniques for agricultural production as well as effective food storage measures that will guarantee food security across the globe.
When about 50 leaders across the globe gathered in London on February 23, 2012 to discuss the famine situation in Somalia, British Prime Minister David Cameron warned: “If the rest of us just sit back and look on, we will pay a price for doing so.” That has been the attitude of leaders in the past towards the issue of hunger and food security in the globe and it is time for a change of paradigm and strategy.