What causes food insecurity?
23 Apr 2015 | Blog | Global | Long-term Development
Pope Francis has reminded us of the scandal that in a world that produces more than enough food for everyone, too many people still go hungry every day. Why is this scandal happening?
Throughout Lent, Project Compassion has brought us stories from all parts of the globe about people who, with the help of Caritas Australia’s supporters, have built a better future for themselves, with more predictable and nutritious food. These inspiring stories show us what we can achieve by working together, just as Jesus showed his followers in the parable of the loaves and fishes.
But these stories also reveal the difficulties so many people have in securing food.
In a world that produces enough food for all, why do so many people lack food security?
There are many complex and interrelated factors that cause of food insecurity. Some of the causes are outlined below, followed by actions we can all take to help others procure more stable and nutritious sources of food.
The ‘financialisation’ of food
Increasingly, food is being traded as a commodity on international markets by speculators who have no direct interest in or need for the foodstuffs they trade. Speculation is an important driver of food price volatility. Price hikes on international food markets in 2007-08, 2010 and 2012 highlight how sudden price shocks can trigger severe and prolonged food crises.
There are lots of ways you can promote food security and food sovereignty.
Food is a human right and should not be seen as a commodity ripe for exploitation and speculation. In November 2014, Pope Francis said it is painful to see “the struggle against hunger and malnutrition hindered by market priorities, the primacy of profit, which reduce foodstuffs to a commodity like any other, subject to speculation and financial speculation in particular".
Market dominance of multinational agribusinesses and exporters
If small-scale farmers have very limited avenues to market their produce, they can be forced to sell at unfair prices. In the Oro Province of PNG, for example, there are many customary landowners and farmers contributing to a very limited number of oil palm millers and exporters. With a monopoly, the miller of the palm fruit can charge whatever price it pleases.
It has been found that just four or five businesses dominate the global trade in grain. This type of market concentration leaves power in the hands of just a few companies, and disempowers smaller operators and farmers.
Unfair trade rules
The conditions under which large companies do business with local food producers are often unfair and may not reward farmers for the worth of their labour or produce. Bigger and better-resourced farmers may get food supply contracts, while small scale farmers work as labour on contracted farms. You can help empower small farmers by buying small-scale local or Fairtrade – see our take action page to learn more
Lack of access to farming land
Land is needed to produce food and generate income. But many people simply do not have the resources or opportunity to own land. Land ownership can strengthen cultural identity and empower people by bringing participation in decision-making.
Land grabbing occurs when land that has been traditionally farmed by families is taken by large business investors, who may acquire the land to grow food for export or extract natural resources. Often disguised as a way to foster economic development, land grabbing deprives local communities of the resources they need to survive, causing poverty and social instability.
Biofuels, or agrofuels, are produced from plants such as sugar cane or corn. The production of biofuels emerged as a response to tackling climate change. However, as farm land is diverted to growing plants for biofuels, the amount of grains available for food has decreased, which has driven up prices. The growing market for biofuels has also led to increased deforestation in countries like Indonesia and Malaysia.
Natural disasters and climate change
Natural disasters, such as drought, floods, typhoons and cyclones, can wipe out entire harvests. The effects can be devastating for rural communities and families that rely on their harvests for their daily food.
Climate change affects food security because changes in climate patterns fundamentally affect agriculture. Farmers in both developed and developing countries are already experiencing many of the consequences of climate change, reporting that rains come earlier, droughts last longer, fresh water is scarcer because of rising sea levels and storm surges, and cyclones and other extreme weather events are more frequent and intensive. (Caritas Internationalis 2014)
To learn more about the impacts of climate change on communities we work with – and also how communities are working to adapt – read our paper A Just Climate: Our responsibility to act.
Conflict, war and violence impact substantially on food production and supplies. Conflict-linked food shortages can trigger years of food crises, even after fighting has officially ended.
Preventable food wastage occurs at all stages of the food chain, from the time products leave the farm gate up to when it reaches our plates. The ABC reports that in Australia alone, households throw out around $8 billion worth of edible food every year, and that doesn’t even include commercial waste from restaurants and supermarkets. Reducing food waste will help improve food security.
Pope Francis has called on us to become more conscious in our food choices, to ‘give a voice to all of those who suffer silently from hunger, so that this voice becomes a roar which can shake the world.’ Find out how you can take up Pope Francis’ call to action via the links below.
We are not powerless
The long list of complex issues above may seem daunting. But we are not powerless. Our actions really can promote more stable and nutritious sources of food for everyone. Find out what you can do.
Through our programs, Caritas Australia is helping communities around the world improve their food security and promote their food sovereignty. Here are just a few examples:
- In Indonesia, we’re helping farmers invest in more sustainable crops and prepare for changing weather
- In Nepal, we’re helping communities develop organic practices and advocate for their land rights
- In Bolivia, we’re helping communities invest in a future of more sustainable and secure food sources
- In Timor Leste, we’re helping people access markets and ‘value add’ to their produce.
Find out more
How you can promote food security and food sovereignty
Our work in food security and sustainable agriculture
About Project Compassion
Research that has been accessed for this blog
What climate change means for feeding the planet, 2014, Caritas Internationalis
Food: the fundamental right, 2013, Caritas Australia
Do Australians waste $8 billion worth of edible food each year?, 2013, ABC
The state of food insecurity in the world: strengthening the enabling environment for food security and nutrition, 2014, FAO
Cereal secrets: the world's largest grain traders and global agriculture, 2012, Oxfam
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