USDA Warns that Food Security Challenge Will Worsen by 2023

05 Aug 2013

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By Nosa Alekhuogie

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has warned that food security would deteriorate in some of the world’s poorest countries by the end of the next ten years, the number of people who would also be facing food insecurity by 2023.

This is likely to increase by nearly 25 per cent to 863 million at a slightly faster rate than projected population growth of 16 per cent, said USDA’s Economic Research Service.

The agency, which focused on 76 low-and middle-income countries classified by the World Bank as being on food aid, experiencing food insecurity, stressed that the situation was about to get worse.

The USDA further stressed that the face of food aid has also begun to change, in the past, “food aid” has begun to evolve into “food assistance”, which includes help provided in the form of cash and vouchers for people in need. This can save millions of dollars in transportation and storage costs.

The US agency added that despite improvements over the years, sub-Saharan Africa is projected to remain the most food-insecure region in the world. In the past decade global food aid, including the amount making its way to sub-Saharan Africa, has been on a downward trend. Only 2.5 million tonnes reached sub-Saharan Africa in 2011, whereas during the decade as a whole it ranged from just under three million tonnes to just over 5 million tonnes, according to USDA, citing World Food Programme (WFP) data.

According to reports of the IRIN humanitarian news and analysis, by 2015, the world’s largest food aid agency, WFP, expects almost a third of its assistance programmes to be delivered in form of cash, vouchers and new kinds of “digital food” through smartcards and e-vouchers delivered by SMS. In 2011, WFP set aside $208 million for distributions using cash or vouchers, but still spent over one billion dollars on food.

They also reported crises that drive the need for food aid are either man-made (conflicts, economies in crisis) or natural disasters (floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, droughts) or a complex mix of both, which makes people chronically dependent on assistance. If food is not available in flooded areas, actual food supplies are the answer. In the case of chronic shortages, experts suggest cash or vouchers, integrated into a broader social protection system, might be the answer.

Some of the countries that will remain food insecure by 2023 are Somalia, Zambia, North Korea, Afghanistan, Burundi, Yemen, and Democratic Republic of Congo.

A food aid expert, Christopher Barrett, expressed belief that the threats over the coming decade are the ones we already face; conflict first and foremost, a variety of natural disasters, and major macroeconomic disruptions.

He also expressed belief that more countries, which used to rely on food assistance, will develop their own effective safety net programmes and it could be through employment guarantee schemes, conditional or unconditional cash transfers, unemployment or agricultural insurance.
Food insecure countries’ reliance on “markets, and thus on local and regional suppliers, will continue to grow,” said Barrett. This could happen especially if a World Trade Organisation (WTO) agreement is reached in the next ten years.

The WTO Doha Development Round of negotiations, which has begun on a new agreement that could help reduce the number of poor people in developing countries, has been in stop-start mode for some years. The talks are aimed at reducing global barriers to market access, including for agricultural produce.

In countries with weak governance, international food assistance could end up playing the role of a social safety-net, but not very well “unless integrated into national programmes- and there will continue to be political tensions about whether to do that or not.

In these places, future genuine humanitarian emergencies are likely to be driven by combination of factors: The Somalia famine was blamed on a bad drought, but indeed there was a bad drought, but there was also a related food price spike, ongoing conflict, and a highly politicised crisis of access.

In other places, rapid onset natural disasters will probably not be major arenas for food aid because it is too slow and will be replaced by cash or other interventions” said David Maxwell, who is also a Food aid specialist.

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