The causes of the present food crisis are varied and complex. They include rising fuel prices, climate change, lack of investment in agriculture research and development, and misguided government policies.
At the June 2008 Rome Summit called to help defuse this crisis, U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization Director-General Jacques Diouf summed it up well: “The problem of food insecurity is a political one. It is a question of priorities in the face of the most fundamental of human needs. And it is those choices made by governments that determine the allocation of resources.” And the solution will ultimately require long-term commitments.
With so many poor people dependent on agriculture, the strongest, most powerful way to reduce poverty around the world is to devote more attention and resources to improving agriculture. Economic growth originating in agriculture is at least twice as effective in reducing poverty as growth that is based outside agriculture.
Reducing poverty and ensuring environmental sustainability are two of the MDGs addressed in a project in Guangxi, China, managed by the International Fund for Agricultural Development. Some 30,000 poor families received simple technology to turn animal waste into biogas energy. Not only is the new technology reducing greenhouse gas production and providing homes with energy for cooking and lighting, it gives families more time for income-generating activities since they spend less time gathering fuel. In the last five years, for example, farmers in one small village, Fada, began growing organic tea and have increased their production for 400 to 2,500 kilograms per day. Income in the village has quadrupled. Plus, the Guangxi region is saving more than 56,000 tone of firewood each year – equivalent to recovering at least 18,000 acres of forest.
Naturally there is a close link between agriculture and the environment, and nowhere is this connection seen more clearly than with climate change. Environmental degradation and climate change are already having far-reaching ripple effects. The most severe are seen in tropical regions of Africa, Latin America and India – places that already struggle with extreme poverty. The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says that in the Sahel region of West and Central Africa, the warmer and drier conditions have led to a shorter growing season.