World at serious risk of ‘food availability crisis’, UN says; urges preventive steps

UNITED NATIONS, Sep 29 (APP): As the war in Ukraine stokes a crisis for countries that are struggling just to access the food they need, the world community needs to ensure that doesn’t spill over into a “food availability crisis”, the head of Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), a Rome-based UN agency, said Wednesday.

FAO Director-General QU Dongyu told a meeting of agriculture ministers from the G20 industrialized nations in Bali, that with access to Ukrainian grain, cooking oils and other vital foodstuffs for the most vulnerable countries restricted by seven months of conflict, “we must must increase the resilience of global agrifood systems.”

He lauded the UN-brokered Black Sea Grain Initiative as “an important step forward”, and it has now freed-up more than five million metric tonnes of food, with well over a quarter of shipments going directly to lower income countries.

“But still it needs to be complemented to improve the food access of most vulnerable countries”, he said.

Overall, wholesale food prices have been heading down for five months now, but consumer food prices and inflation are soaring, “with devastating implications for global food security and nutrition.”

And beyond the crisis sparked by conflict, an increase in extreme weather is also fuelling to crop destruction and failure worldwide.

“While we witnessed improvements in the forecasts for wheat and soybean markets, the outlook is less positive for maize and rice, and fertilizer markets remain supply-constrained and volatile…Much needs to be done to ensure that all people can afford safe and nutritious food in sufficient quantities to meet their dietary needs and preferences and have a healthy life.”

QU said key steps must be taken, to boost resilience for now, and in the future:
— Improve early warning and early action systems;
— Increase productivity sustainably;
— Accelerate trade; and find innovative solutions to tackle inorganic fertilizer supply constraints;
— Increase productivity sustainably; and,
— Accelerate trade; and find innovative solutions to tackle inorganic fertilizer supply constraints.

In the medium-term, he told ministers it was crucial to boost innovation, invest in infrastructure to reduce inequality, reduce food loss and waste, and in the short-term, improve food access.

“For that FAO proposed the Food Import Financing Facility – which I am happy the IMF has now taken over and it is calling it the ‘food shock window’ within the IMF emergency lending instruments.”

The idea of the financing facility is to provide funds for 62 lower-income food importing nations that are home to around 1.8 billion people, in order to meet their most urgent needs.

He said it was important to accelerate exports from Ukraine and Russia via the Black Sea Grain Initiative; and “increase fertilizer availability through the comfort letters issues by United States and the new guidelines issued by the European Commission”.

Conflicts, slowdowns and downturns, because of COVID-19, and the climate crisis, he told ministers, “are the major drivers of our crises today and tomorrow.”

“It is important that all nations join in the dividends of peace and stability, so that we all commit to peace. Without peace we will not achieve Zero Hunger and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).”