World leading food systems experts are today (Friday, May 6) warning “underlying rigidities, weaknesses and flaws in global food systems” are fanning the flames of global hunger and threaten food security.

The IPES-Food report comes as the updated FAO Food Price Index is anticipated to show renewed record high food prices for April 2022.  

Experts have said that fundamental flaws, which have allowed the Ukraine conflict to become a full-blown global food price crisis – such as heavy reliance on food imports and excessive commodity speculation – were not corrected after previous food price spikes in 2007-2008.

They call for urgent reform of food systems to prevent growing numbers of people being left vulnerable to food insecurity.

World food prices

After the Ukraine invasion, world food prices recorded all time highs in March 2022, hitting some food insecure countries hard, according to the IPES-Food report.

FAO modelling suggests numbers of undernourished people could increase by 13 million this year. Food riots, civil unrest, and repressive government tactics seem likely, according to the report.

10 weeks after the outbreak of war, IPES-Food has taken stock of the growing food security crisis, pointing to unresolved drivers:

  • Food import dependencies: Global dietary diversity has been declining for decades (concentrated on wheat, rice and maize); cash crops have been promoted over more diverse food provision; some countries are now 100% dependent on imports of staple foods while being highly indebted;
  • Entrenched production systems: Geographical over-specialisation, trader and governmental preferences for commodity crops and biofuels, and reliance on synthetic fertilisers all hold back farmers’ ability to diversify food production and shift food production practices;
  • Market failure and speculation: Global wheat stocks are currently high relative to historical trends and stock-to-use ratios are reasonable; what’s exacerbating price spikes is a lack of transparency on stocks, and what appears to be excessive commodity speculation;
  • Vicious cycles of conflict, climate change, poverty and food insecurity – leaving hundreds of millions of people without the ability to adapt to sudden shocks.

Short-sighted response to food security

The expert panel warns against short-sighted responses to the crisis that exacerbate current trends – such as suspending environmental regulations, ramping up industrial food production, and further promoting export-oriented fertiliser-dependent agriculture.

Instead it calls for urgent action to:

  • Provide financial assistance and debt relief to vulnerable countries;
  • Crack down on excessive commodity speculation and enhance market transparency;
  • Build regional grain reserves;
  • Diversify food production and restructure trade flows;
  • Reduce biofuels, livestock numbers, and reliance on fertilisers and fossil energy in food production. 

Olivier De Schutter, co-chair of IPES-Food, and UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, said: “A new generation is once again facing mounting food insecurity, and it seems no lessons have been learned since the last food price crisis.

“Continuing to rely on a handful of food commodities and countries for global food supplies, combined with predatory financiers betting on food, is a recipe for disaster.

“We can only hope that this time will be different. Making our food systems resilient, diverse and less reliant on fossil fuels will help ensure the next shock – whether from conflict or climate change – does not spark another crisis.”

Jennifer Clapp, IPES-Food expert and Canada research chair in global food security and sustainability at the University of Waterloo, added: “Evidence suggests financial speculators are jumping into commodity investments and gambling on rising food prices, and this is pushing the world’s poorest people deeper into hunger.

“Governments have failed to curb excessive speculation and ensure transparency of food stocks and commodity markets – this must be urgently addressed.”

Mamadou Goita, Mali, IPES-Food expert and executive director of Institut de Recherche et de Promotion des Alternatives en Développement Afrique (IRPAD Afrique), also commented: “It’s alarming to see rising prices and the threat of hunger and food riots return to many countries in Africa.

“Rebuilding regional sovereign grain reserves is a key to resilience when these sorts of shocks hit – west Africa has made some progress, but it’s a wakeup call and all regions need support to accelerate this.”