Fear. This is the feeling that we, as humanitarian actors, have when faced with the unprecedented global food crisis that is shaking the planet. The situation is clear and the projections are each more frightening than the last.
The number of people in need of food aid is increasing everywhere, even in high-income countries. In 2021, global hunger levels surpassed all previous records, with 828 million people suffering from hunger, 150 million more than in 2019*. The year 2022 is already shaping up to be a new record: it is estimated that just over half a million people will be facing starvation and death by the end of the year**, the equivalent of the entire population of the city of Lyon facing starvation… And it will get worse in the coming years if we don’t act.
Let’s be clear, humanitarian organisations are struggling to meet these growing needs, especially as assistance is becoming increasingly expensive to implement, whether because of the increase in the price of food or the price of oil to transport it. Faced with this situation, our NGO, like other organisations, tries to adapt by, for example, composing the food baskets distributed with less expensive foodstuffs. But sometimes no alternative is possible. Humanitarian actors are then unfortunately obliged to reduce the number of people benefiting from their actions. Richard Ragan, the director of the World Food Programme in Yemen, described the situation in the country in an interview with Reuters: “We are taking food from the poor to feed the hungry”.
So what can we do to get out of the vicious circle in which we have been stuck for so many years?
We have come to this point through a combination of crises: intense droughts, endemic poverty, armed conflict, and flash floods have slowly combined to endanger entire populations. The Covid-19 pandemic disrupted food systems around the world, leading to widespread increases in food prices. The war in Ukraine has only exacerbated this situation. Disruptions in the supply chains of grain, fertilisers and oil have led to speculation and price hikes. In practice, people are losing purchasing power for food, while farmers are struggling to produce the food they need.
It is therefore a question of rethinking agriculture and food practices.
Julie Mayans, Head of Food Security and Livelihoods at SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL, explains: “For a long time now, many economists and environmental specialists have agreed, for different but complementary reasons, that the way the world grows, markets and consumes food is not sustainable in the long term. We need to reappropriate local food, not consume too much meat or dairy products, fight against food waste, diversify agricultural production and develop these sectors locally, use organic fertilisers, set up less energy-consuming irrigation systems, etc. These sustainable solutions exist and are known. It is frustrating to see that they are rarely implemented, even though they prevent food insecurity and famine!
At SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL, we train farmers in the production and use of biopesticides and compost in the Central African Republic, Cameroon, Myanmar and Venezuela. We also help fishermen to better process, preserve and market their fish locally in Bangladesh and South Sudan. In addition to enabling more sustainable agriculture, these solutions help combat climate change, which is a major factor in the current crisis.
But these projects often require a certain financial investment and, above all, a real desire to change our fundamentals. They are therefore preferred to the perpetuation of current systems, which are disastrous in the long term. Governments must rethink their agricultural policies and must aim to achieve food sovereignty***. We can see it clearly today, food is globally available but prices are going crazy and it is the weakest who are still paying the price.
We are playing with fire. The world has shown its fragility and people are paying with their lives for the consequences of this crisis. After an unprecedented peak in grain prices in May, the trend is downwards. However, this lull is misleading because it does not change the underlying problem. It should not be used as an excuse for inaction, as it risks perpetuating a dangerous global food system.
It is time to act, together. Food is a right for everyone.
Antoine Peigney, President de SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL
*State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2022 Report (SOFI) The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2022 | FAO | Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
**According to the projections of the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations) in its IPC (Integrated Food Security Classification Framework), which allows for the development of scenarios of the number of food insecure people in the world.
***Food Sovereignty is “the right of people and countries to determine their own food and agricultural policies, which must be ecologically, socially, economically and culturally appropriate” (World Food Summit in Rome, 2002).
President of Solidarités International, Antoine Peigney has also been director of the health department of Expertise France since early July 2017. He was previously the Director of International Relations and Operations at the French Red Cross from 2002 to 2016. He is a graduate of the Bioforce-Développement school in Lyon (where he was a member of the Board of Directors for 14 years, until the end of the year). A for 14 years, until 2016), Antoine Peigney carried out several humanitarian missions between 1989 and 1994: in Romania, Lebanon, Bosnia (SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL), South Sudan (Action Contre la Faim), Ethiopia (Médecins du Monde), Somalia (ACF), Mauritania (MDM), Serbia and Kosovo (Secours populaire français), Angola (Terre des Hommes) and Haiti (France 2 programme “les ailes de l’espoir”).