Food Crises: Addressing the Current Crisis and Preventing the Next One

  • Date: Nov 10 2009
  • Policy Number: 20093

Key Words: International Health, Food Security

The American Public Health Association (APHA), in its commitment to health and human rights, seeks to ameliorate the effects of the 2008–2009 global food crisis, aims to prevent a recurrence, and takes note of the following:

The Declaration of Alma-Ata,1 Conclusions of the World Food Summit of 1996 and its Plan of Action for World Food Security2; the Rome Declaration of the High-Level Conference on World Food Security3; the Millennium Development Goals4; the Voluntary Guidelines to Support the Progressive Realization of the Right to Adequate Food in the Context of National Food Security5; the Challenge of Climate Change and Bioenergy and its Comprehensive Framework for Action issued on June 5, 2008, by Heads of Government from 180 countries6; and the G-8 Leaders’ Statement on Global Food Security issued on July 8, 2008,7 have called on the global community to commit to promoting food security and proper nutrition and to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger in the world, especially in developing countries.

Despite such a clarion call, limited progress has been made. According to the United Nations World Food Programme, already 2 billion people suffer from hidden hunger and micronutrient deficiencies.8 Furthermore, a child dies every 6 s from hunger-related causes, and 178 million children younger than 5 are stunted or short in stature because of poor nutrition.8

The productivity of farmers in the poorest countries is chronically low, caused by the inability to pay for seeds, fertilizers, and irrigation. The United States and Europe subsidize the diversion of food crops to produce biofuels such as corn-based ethanol. These factors in addition to climate change and the growing global demand for food and feed grains are preventing achievement of the first Millennium Development Goal: to eradicate poverty and hunger by halving the proportion of people whose income is less than $1 a day; achieving full and productive employment and decent work for all, including women and young people; and halving the proportion of people who suffer from hunger by 2015.9

A critical step forward in the actualization of global food security is to secure adequate resources that are efficiently and effectively administered to populations in need. Resources to combat hunger from donors such as the United States and other donor nations have decreased over the past 5 years. Despite a modest donor response after the recognition of the food crisis in early 2008,10 US emergency food aid declined nearly 52% in average tonnage delivered over the past 5 years.11

In April 2008, former President George W. Bush directed the US Secretary of Agriculture to draw down the Bill Emerson Humanitarian Trust to meet emergency food aid needs. This release was estimated to provide $200 million in emergency food aid through the US Agency for International Development. In addition, President Bush requested $770 million in additional allocations, including $395 million intended to preserve price parity in existing food aid programs.12 Historically, approximately 80% of US funding allocations for in-kind food donations has gone to Africa.11

Transportation expenses account for approximately 65% of US food aid expenditures, and US Cargo preference laws require 75% of food aid to be shipped on US-flag carriers.11 Recent global financial turmoil is exacerbating concerns about food and fuel costs, which have driven another 75 million people into the abyss of hunger and poverty and could potentially push 100 million more people in the developing world into extreme poverty and hunger, with serious consequences for global peace and security.13

In April 2009, President Barack Obama called for $448 million dollars to address the acute crisis around the world and an addition $1 billion dollars for longer-term strategies to improve food security and safety.14 Countries suffering from the food crisis receive resources and technical assistance from many different nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and donors with varied priorities and demands, placing pressure on food and agriculture ministries.

To end this current food crisis in the world, there must be short-term emergency measures and long-term solutions from governments and international organizations.

In 1935, Viceroy Lord Linlithgow stated "No preventive campaign against malaria, against tuberculosis, or against leprosy, [and] no . . . relief or child welfare activities, are likely to achieve success unless those responsible recognize the vital importance of . . . defective nutrition, and from the start give it their most serious consideration."15

Today, malnutrition underlies 50% of deaths of children younger than 5 and can reduce success of other health interventions. As of April 2008, the United Nation’s food aid programs called for a public investment of an additional $24 billion annually to halve the number of people suffering from food insecurity by 2015.16 A third global summit of more than 150 world leaders pledged in Rome “urgent and coordinated action” to resolve the ongoing crisis.17

Immediate short-term and long-term action is critical to assist countries affected by the food crisis and to advocate for policy changes. Such changes include supporting small-scale producers, improving delivery of seeds and fertilizer to rural communities, developing grain storage systems and processing facilities, strengthening social safety nets and local and national market structures, developing buffer food stocks and other risk management mechanisms—all vital tools for ensuring food security. Additional measures should include strengthening linkages between public research and technology, providing access to credit, and reforming policy to reduce the barriers to private-sector investment.6

Solutions require governments to embrace a human rights–centered policy framework for food and agriculture. The current food price crisis and growing hunger demand new agricultural and food systems that focus on feeding communities instead of commodities traded in international markets.

Therefore, APHA

  1. Encourages the US government to support and finance initiatives explicitly aimed at improving food security and developing long-term and sustainable food production and supply systems around the world to prevent any further acute food crisis and its related consequences.
  2. Recommends that the United States revise its food and agriculture policies to decrease shipping and processing costs of food aid and to ensure that more funding for food aid is spent in recipient countries through cash transfers that increase local food production and benefit local food programs.
  3. Recommends that the US government, foundations, and other donors increase substantially their resources dedicated to strengthening food and agriculture in developing countries.
  4. Recommends that international NGOs include capacity building and strengthening of national and local food production and supply systems in their projects to ensure long-term sustainability after project funding ends.17
  5. Recommends that all food security programs consider the nutritious value of food supplements and food aid when planning projects and consider overnutrition as well as malnutrition.
  6. Encourages genuine partnerships with affected countries to strengthen food security and joint policy development and implementation. Such partnerships should include discussions and negotiations on food assistance with the recipient countries rather than unilateral decisions by the donors.
  7. Urges donors, recipient countries, multilateral institutions, and other entities involved in food and agriculture sectors to be mindful of the environment and climate change in the world when developing food security policy and programs.
  8. Urges governments and international organizations to provide solutions that will stabilize food production and distribution to meet the global demand for nutritious, adequate, and affordable food.
  9. Urges the International Monetary Fund and other international financial institutions to alter their current fiscal and monetary policies, which often prevent developing country governments from adequately establishing and expanding agricultural system capacity and workforces. Policies in future loan and grant programs should allow countries to increase public spending in food and agricultural budgets, in particular, and to widely publicize such policy changes to finance ministries and staff.18


  1. Declaration of Alma Ata. International Conference on Primary Health Care. Alma-Ata, USSR, September 6–12, 1978.
  2. World Food Summit. World Food Summit Plan of Action. Rome, Italy: The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations; 1996. Available at: www.fao.org/docrep/003/w3613e/w3613e00.HTM. Accessed December 19, 2009.
  3. World Food Summit. Rome Declaration on World Food Security. Rome, Italy, November 1996.
  4. United Nations. Millennium Development Goals Report: 2008. New York, NY: United Nations; 2008. Available at: www.un.org/millenniumgoals/pdf/The%20Millennium%20Development%20Goals%20Report%202008.pdf. Accessed December 19, 2009.
  5. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Voluntary Guidelines to Support the Progressive Realization of the Right to Adequate Food in the Context of National Food Security. Adopted by the 127th Session of the Food and Agriculture Organization Council. Rome, Italy, November 2004. Available at: www.fao.org/righttofood/publi09/y9825e00.pdf. Accessed December 19, 2009.
  6. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. High-Level Conference on World Food Security: The Challenges of Climate Change and Bioenergy. Report of the Conference. Rome, Italy, June 2008. Available at: www.fao.org/foodclimate/conference/doclist/en/?no_cache=1. Accessed December 19, 2009.
  7. 2008 Hokkaido Toyako Summit. G8 Leaders Statement on Global Food Security. Hokkaido, Japan, July 8, 2008. Available at: www.g8.utoronto.ca/summit/2008hokkaido/2008-food.html. Accessed December 19, 2009.
  8. United Nations World Food Programme. World Hunger Series 2007, Hunger and Health. Rome, Italy: United Nations World Food Programme and EARTHSCAN; 2007. Available at: www.un.lk/un_team_in_SL/pdf/1026.pdf. Accessed December 19, 2009.
  9. Sachs, JD. The power of one: how to end the global food shortage. Time, April 24, 2008. Available at: www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1734834,00.html. Accessed December 19, 2009.
  10. United Nations World Food Programme External Affairs and Resource Development Department. Contributions to WFP by Programme Category from 2003 to 2008. Available at: http://one.wfp.org/appeals/wfp_donors/Contributions_WFP.pdf. Accessed December 19, 2009.
  11. US Government Accountability Office Report to the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, US Senate. Foreign Assistance: Various Challenges Impede the Efficiency and Effectiveness of US Food Aid. GAO 07 560. Washington, DC: US Government Accountability Office; 2007.
  12. US Agency for International Development. Statement of James R. Kunder, Acting Deputy Administrator, US Agency for International Development. US Response to the Global Food Crisis: Humanitarian Assistance and Development Investments, Before the Committee on Agriculture, US House of Representatives, July 16, 2008. Available at: www.usaid.gov/press/speeches/2008/ty080716.html. Accessed December 19, 2009.
  13. United Nations Secretary–General’s message on World Food Day. New York, NY, October 16, 2008. Available at: www.un.org/events/PDFs/SG_message_World_Food_Day.pdf. Accessed December 19, 2009.
  14. News Conference, President Obama. April 2, 2009. Available at: www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/news-conference-by-president-obama-4-02-09/. Accessed June 10, 2009.
  15. Viceroy Lord Linlithgow, Public Health Commissioner, Government of India (1935). In: Rao BS. The Industrial Worker in India. Woking, UK: Unwin Brothers, Ltd; 1939:69, p 245. Available at: http://www.ias.ac.in/jarch/currsci/6/245-246.pdf. Accessed January 12, 2010.
  16. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Soaring food prices: facts, perspectives, impacts and actions required. Presented at High-Level Conference on World Food Security: The Challenges of Climate Change and Bioenergy, Rome, June 2008. Available at: ftp://ftp.fao.org/docrep/fao/meeting/013/k2414e.pdf. Accessed December 19, 2009.
  17. US Government Accountability Office. Testimony before the Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health, Committee on Foreign Affairs, House of Representatives. International Food Assistance: Local and Regional Procurement Provides Opportunities to Enhance U.S. Food Aid, but Challenges May Constrain Its Implementation. Statement of Thomas Melito, Director International Affairs and Trade Team. June 4, 2009. GAO-09-757T. Washington, DC: US Government Accountability Office; 2009. Available at: www.gao.gov/new.items/d09757t.pdf Accessed December 19, 2009.
  18. American Public Health Association. APHA policy statement 2005-3: Expenditure ceilings imposed on poor countries must be lifted to achieve the millennium development goals. Washington, DC: American Public Health Association; 2005. Available at: www.apha.org/advocacy/policy/policysearch/default.htm?id=1308. Accessed December 19, 2009.

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