According to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), more than 800 million people, or 9.8% of the world population were affected by hunger in 2021 – 46 million more than in 2020, and 150 million more than in 2019. Today, more people are hungry than at any point in human history. And although they are mostly concentrated in the developing world, this doesn’t mean that developed countries have nothing to worry about.
In a survey from December 2021, when asked respondents if they had personally experienced a shortage of food in recent weeks, 56% of respondents in the UK said yes, while 9% said they had not personally experienced this but knew people who had.
In this post, we will dive deeper into the current food crisis and its causes.
Food insecurity refers to the situation when people do not have the ability to get or eat enough food or the type of food they’d like to eat, in ways that are considered socially acceptable.
The first stage of food insecurity is worrying about the ability to obtain food. The next stage is compromising the quality and variety of food, and then reducing quantities and skipping meals. Finally, the last stage is experiencing hunger.
One of the reliable indicators of food insecurity are food banks. Food banks are community organisations that can help people who struggle to afford to buy enough food to eat. According to Trussel Trust, the largest network of food banks in the UK, in the last five years food bank use has increased across the UK by 73 percent, going from around 900,000 to around 1.6 million.
Food insecurity is more than just a lack of food. It can have damaging effects on physical and mental health. Being unable to afford or access food in “normal” ways can also lead to individuals feeling stigmatised and isolated.
What Are the Causes?
Food shortages are a worldwide problem and cannot be explained by a single cause. It takes a perfect storm to produce such a global phenomenon.
The global problems are amplified in Britain by a shortage of east European workers, including drivers, since Brexit.
Rising energy bills, higher fuel prices, and supply constraints are also hitting post-Brexit Britain harder than other major economies.
Greater trade barriers on imports from the bloc have caused a sharp rise in grocery bills for food products imported from the EU.
The COVID-19 pandemic triggered a global systemic crisis. In addition to the direct impact of the virus on people’s health, the measures taken by governments all over the world harmed economies. Local lockdowns and recommendations to self-isolate disrupted trade routes and supply chains and resulted in people losing their jobs, food shortages, and food prices increasing.
All of this has caused reduced availability and affordability of food and led to increased food insecurity. Vulnerable households were affected in both higher and lower-income countries, and impacts have continued through 2021 and into 2022.
Conflict, Violence, and Wars
Conflicts, wars and violence have impacted food production and supplies throughout history. In countries and regions affected by war, food insecurity is always very high.
Yet, in 2022, the world is facing one of the most serious global threats in decades. The war in Ukraine is severely deepening worldwide food insecurity. Food markets are extremely concentrated, in terms of supplies, as well as reserves. A staggering 86% of wheat exports is in the hands of 7 countries, while 68% of the world’s wheat reserves is held by only 3 countries. The situation is similar when it comes to coarse grains, corn, rice and soybean. Before the war, Russia and Ukraine supplied about 30% of the world’s wheat and barley. Thirty-six countries relied on them for more than half of their wheat imports.
As a result, food inflation rates are spiking around the world. In March this year, international prices of the most globally traded food commodities were at their highest points since records began in 1990. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation‘s (FAO) food price index, oils have gone up by 137.5%, cereals by 69.5%, and dairy by 47.1%.
What Can Be Done?
In June this year, the UK government announced the food strategy which introduces long-term measures to support a food system that offers access to healthy and sustainable food for all.
Although the UK is largely self-sufficient in wheat, most meats, eggs, and some sectors of vegetable production, there are concerns about the cost of food linked to global gas prices.
The main objectives defined in the strategy are:
- To deliver a prosperous agri-food and seafood sector that ensures a secure food supply in an unpredictable world and contributes to the levelling up agenda through good quality jobs around the country.
- To deliver a sustainable, nature positive, affordable food system that provides choice and access to high quality products that support healthier and home-grown diets for all.
- To deliver export opportunities and consumer choice through imports, without compromising our regulatory standards for food, whether produced domestically or imported.
We live in a volatile world. Food systems in most countries today are not designed for major catastrophes, and they have been tested intensively over the past few years.
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