Food crisis: needs and prospects?

These half-moon structures on barren soil were created in the village of Gobro, Niger. They are designed to conserve rainwater during the next rainfall, replenish the water table, and encourage the regrowth of vegetation. @ Fatoumata Diabate/Oxfam

Les chiffres

The numbers

The current food situation is more alarming than ever. According to David Beasley, Director of the World Food Program, we are facing the worst food and humanitarian crisis since World War II.

After remaining relatively stable since 2015, the prevalence of undernourishment (SDG indicator 2.1.1) has climbed from 8.0% to 9.3% in 2020 and has continued to rise to 9.8% in 2022. The UN’s State of Food Security and Nutrition 2022 [1] report estimates that between 702 million and 828 million people worldwide, representing 9% and 10.5% of the population, were hungry in 2021. In other words, 46 million more people than in 2020 and 150 million more than in 2019 would have suffered from hunger in 2021.

These already alarming numbers have continued to grow. In 2023, nearly 350 million people are acutely food insecure. This is more than double the number in 2020 and more than ten times higher than five years ago. The situation is not about to improve since the world food supply is at its lowest level for the last three years.

The UN report on the state of food security and nutrition in 2022 provides a technical and precise view of the reality of undernourished people in the world and the regions mainly affected. More than 425 million live in Asia, more than half of the total number; 278 million in Africa, more than a third; and 57 million, or 8%, are in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Prevalence of undernutrition between 2005 and 2021. @FAO

Western countries are not totally spared as in Europe, despite the EU agricultural system supported by the CAP, rising food prices continue to threaten Europeans and remind us that the global food crisis is real and more present than ever. In January, food prices across the European Union rose by an average of 18.4% compared to the previous year. Hungary is the country with the highest increase (48.2%), then Lithuania (32%) followed closely by Slovakia (28.6%).

In France, INSEE estimates that food prices have increased by 14.8% in one year, while consumer prices have increased by 6.2% between February 2022 and February 2023.

Women wait for food aid distribution in Mao, Chad. EC/ECHO/Mathias Eick

The factors

Conflict remains one of the most important factors in the current crisis [2].

Maria Haga, Deputy Vice President in charge of the External Relations and Governance Department of the United Nations International Fund for Agricultural Development, explains that hunger is both the result of conflict and the cause. Indeed, hunger is used as a weapon of war, as we have seen in many countries: starving people, destroying their means of production, poisoning rivers and wells, burning land, etc. So many practices that are more and more commonly used to enslave populations or allow forced displacement of populations, which necessarily generates food needs.

We must not forget the considerable impact that the Covid-19 pandemic has had – and continues to have – on the food situation. Successive confinements, reduction of production, loss of crops and income, have plunged millions of people into a state of precariousness, especially food. The pandemic has revealed social inequalities: a study conducted by ACF in France shows that half of the people who will use food aid in 2021 did not feel the need before the health crisis.

The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World report estimates that since the beginning of the pandemic, the number of people facing hunger has increased by 150 million, with an increase of 103 million between 2019 and 2020 and 46 million in 2021[3].

The assumption that hunger would begin to decline as early as 2021 as a result of economic recovery has not been borne out. The attached graph from the FAO estimates that there would still be nearly 670 million undernourished people in 2030, a figure that would be 78 million lower if the pandemic had not occurred.


In addition, the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 18, 2022, plunged the world into an economic crisis and exacerbated the global food crisis. Although the “Black Sea Grain Initiative” agreement »[4] allowed a return to a certain stabilization of prices[5], it remains fragile, especially in view of the Russian uncertainty of extending[6].

If the current geopolitical context is worrying, the climate situation is more than alarming. Over the last few years, events and disasters linked to global warming have continued to multiply and have pushed the populations of already vulnerable countries into increasingly precarious and even deadly situations.

Rising temperatures, increased rainfall, floods, longer periods of drought and more frequent natural disasters [7], All of this has enormous consequences on the global food crisis, including difficulties in accessing means of production, increased water shortages for crops and livestock, but also on the ability to produce food in sufficient quantity and quality.

The seasons are changing, impacting the cultivation periods, subject to unpredictable weather and climate conditions[8].

On March 22 and 24, the UN Conference on Water was held. The UN calls to prepare for a global freshwater crisis[9]. Correlated to the release of the latest IPCC summary report[10] reporting the alarming situation of rising temperatures (2°C rise by 2100), the climate is not getting any better and promises a more deadly food crisis than ever.

Man walking in a flooded rice field. Photo: Nonie Reyes / World Bank.

WHAT about Goal 2.1.1 of the SDGs?

In the face of these growing threats, what perspectives can we draw on?

The heads of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank Group (WBG), the World Food Programme (WFP), and the World Trade Organization (WTO) called in a joint statement for rescuing “hunger hotspots” and facilitating trade, among other measures. In particular, they call on States and donors to support efforts both in terms of crisis prevention and responses to needs in the areas most affected by food risks.

In this context, France, during its presidency of the Council of the European Union in March 2022, has launched the FARM (Food and Agriculture Resilience mission) initiative. This project, the result of a meeting between multiple members both private and public,[11] aims to stem the food crisis caused by the war in Ukraine by assisting the most affected and vulnerable countries. This project has led to the creation of a private sector coalition for food security in which stakeholder companies are committed to supporting and implementing FARM’s missions (supporting the Ukrainian agricultural sector, maintaining access to food and agricultural commodities for the most vulnerable countries, building agricultural capacity in a sustainable manner in the most affected countries, etc.).

Although some measures are also taken on the part of the UN[12], of the FAO[13] or the Europ[14], the goal 2.1.1 of the Sustainable Development Goals to eliminate hunger by 2030 seems illusory. With the current data and economic factors, there is still a lot of work to be done before this goal is reached.

All these initiatives are not able to alleviate the current food crisis and, in my opinion, this is the result of three factors: the first is the fragility of a global food system that is too centralized, leading to profound instability as soon as a crisis occurs; the second is the overly sectoral management of these crises (climate change, conflict, health crises, economic disparities, etc.); and finally, the maintenance of an emergency response system, in the short-term.

The fragility of the world food system has been widely highlighted by the various crises. The war in Ukraine has considerably disrupted all exports of agricultural products, exposing world food/fertilizer markets to a huge reduction in availability and therefore to considerable inflation of these products[15] and a shortage in the most vulnerable countries. The Russian Federation and Ukraine being among the most important agricultural producers of the planet, this refers to this overly centralized, just-in-time system that relies on a minority of actors[16].

Not to mention that Russia is one of the main exporters of nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus fertilizers, whose prices have soared since the end of 2020, mainly due to the increase in natural gas and coal prices as well as under the influence of the increase in transportation costs inherent in the covid-19 pandemic. The over-reliance of the global food market on resources held by a minority of countries makes the rest of the world dependent on them and prevents an adequate response to the current food crisis.

The three Cs, so commonly referred to, have exacerbated the current food crisis. However, these causes should not be thought of as a superposition of factors that must be treated individually, since their consequences result from their interdependence. In a country subject to a deadly conflict, it is extremely complex to organize the sanitary protection of the populations (impossible to set up confinements, vaccines and masks…). For example, in Ethiopia, Sudan or Yemen, countries that are victims of deadly conflicts, the number of victims of famine has increased by 500% since the Covid-19 pandemic. In addition, climatic conditions will restrict the agricultural resources and crops of the populations, which have often been impacted by the conflicts (destruction of crops, means of production, displacement of populations, etc.). In Somalia, which is experiencing an unprecedented drought, millions of livestock are dying (over 9 million). And, very often, for the agricultural populations, it is the only means of subsistence for their families, which accentuates their poverty. Therefore, the increase in needs is the result of the interconnection of the factors involved.

In this regard, Antoine Peigney, in an article published on November 25, 2022[17] reported on the difficulty of humanitarian organizations to respond to the growing needs. Adapting to climate change, rising food prices and the need to provide assistance is as difficult as it is necessary.

Responses to the growing humanitarian food needs must necessarily involve change and adaptation. Accompany the essential emergency response with a Nexus-type approach, when the context allows and with the populations concerned, to establish continuity with a more sustainable response.

ECHO funds helped women-headed households rent small plots to produce their own food using tools and seeds provided by FAO. Mathias Eick EU/ECHO

Adaptation also involves research on the different local varieties of cereals and plant species to select those that will be able to develop and be the most resistant to the new climatic conditions of today and tomorrow. Return to certain forgotten species that appear to be less dense, but which have the quality of being more robust and therefore more adapted, species that can grow in extreme conditions. These adaptation measures must be thought out and studied taking into account the local specificities (context, environment) and with the populations: farmers. It is through the reflection and the implementation of this type of adapted systems that food sovereignty can be achieved, by the populations and for the populations.

In this vein, some NGOs, notably SOLIDARITES INTERNATIONAL, are seeking to set up humanitarian aid models based on these adaptations, which take into account the risks and challenges for both local communities and the environment.

“For example, we train farmers in the manufacture 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 fight climate change, which is a major factor in the current crisis.”

Julia Mayans, Food Security and Livelihoods Officer at Solidarités International.

Southern Sudan: Responding to food insecurity

In Raja County, Western Bahr el-Ghazal State, communities depend on agriculture and fishing. In order to cope with the consequences of droughts and floods, SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL has helped improve the food security and livelihoods of 2,400 families, thanks to the support of the Comité Interministériel de l’Aide Alimentaire (CIAA).

Crop and vegetable seeds, tools and transportation were distributed to local farmers. Food security and livelihood specialists also provided training on sustainable farming practices and best post-harvest techniques.

To ensure the effectiveness of the project, SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL consulted with communities, farmer groups and local technical experts before the start of activities to select the most locally appropriate seeds and tools to meet people’s preferences. Seeds (including sorghum, groundnut, eggplant, tomato, pumpkin, etc.) were purchased by local contractors and distributed to communities in August 2021.

SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL worked with 19 food security and livelihoods specialists from Raja County, who provided technical training to 105 farmer groups on sustainable agronomic practices and post-harvest management techniques. They also made weekly visits to the demonstration plots to monitor seed progress and provide technical advice to farmers.

The implementation of new systems, research projects and new agriculture require two prerequisites, namely time and funding, hence the need to initiate change today. It is a question of rethinking agriculture, rethinking food practices, consuming in a more local way, avoiding food and water waste, developing alternative methods of irrigation, cultivation, in short, sustainable solutions for populations and for the planet, always with the aim of achieving food sovereignty.

Action Contre la Faim, committed to the climate, also defends a transversal and multisectoral approach, which allows the implementation of response and prevention measures to disasters but also preparation measures so that the most vulnerable populations can guarantee a better form of resilience to the different crises[18]. ACF promotes greener and more sustainable systems to achieve food and nutritional security in the face of climate change, including agroecology, which has already proven its worth in the past[19].

From now on, each actor, whether humanitarian, state, civil or organizational, is interconnected and committed. However, these projects require a considerable financial investment and, above all, a radical change in mentalities and ways of thinking and conceiving the current system.

SOLIDARITES INTERNATIONAL as well as ACF and other NGOs show another possible path to take to fight this food scourge, through the implementation of a response that goes from emergency to sustainable development. Governments must break out of the “pattern” that does not allow them to break the vicious circle of food insecurity. These models and actions require financial, technological and technical investments and changes in mentality. Being able to feed oneself is a necessity and a right that States must respond to in the service of their population.

Inès Legendre.


[2] In 2021, more than two-thirds (70%) of the total number of food-insecure people were concentrated in just 10 countries: the Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Yemen, northern Nigeria, Syria, Sudan, South Sudan, Pakistan, and Haiti. All of these countries are either in conflict or suffering from the consequences of past conflict. With more than 500,000 people living in famine conditions in their midst, Somalia, Yemen, Afghanistan and South Sudan are the most affected countries.


[4] The “Black Sea Grain Initiative” is an agreement signed by Russia, Ukraine and the United Nations on July 22, 2022. This agreement aims to supply the markets with food and fertilizers in a context of global shortage and rising prices, related to the war in Ukraine.

[5] The agricultural and grain price indices closed at minus 2% and minus 5%, respectively, from levels recorded two weeks ago, while the export price index was unchanged. Corn, wheat, and rice prices were down at minus 6 percent, 7 percent, and 2 percent, respectively. Year-on-year, prices are down 15 percent for corn and wheat, and up 19 percent for rice. Compared to average prices in January 2021, corn and wheat prices are up 24 percent and 7 percent, respectively, and rice prices are down 3 percent.

[6] Originally set to run until November 19, 2022, the agreement has been extended twice by the parties involved. The second extension, announced by President Erdogan, refers to an agreement to extend the agreement by 120 days from March 19. However, Russia has gone back on this agreement and only wants an extension of 60 days, which shows a certain fragility in the situation.

[7] The number of people exposed to the risks of natural disasters has reached 2 billion.

[8] It is estimated that more than 3.6 billion people live in areas where water is a potentially scarce resource for at least one month a year.

[9] Worldwide, 2 billion people (26% of the population) lack access to safe drinking water and 3.6 billion people (46%) lack access to a safely managed sanitation system. On this subject, see le rapport mondial de l4ONU sur la mise en valeur des ressources en eau 2023

[10] Publication of the 6th IPCC Synthesis Report:

[11] This project was initiated in March 2022 by members of the French government, private actors, representatives of the WFP and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the European Commission and the European Investment Bank, and endorsed by the European Union, the European Council, members of the G7, and the African Union

[12] The UN has provided food aid to over 140 million people with $14 million in contributions.

[13] FAO has invested $1 billion to support over 40 million people in rural areas

[14] Europe, for its part, is helping Ukraine to export its agricultural products, providing infrastructure and means to transport Ukrainian foodstuffs. In particular, the 27 EU countries have committed to coordinated actions through four priorities: solidarity (emergency and humanitarian aid), open trade, sustainable production and global cooperation. In June 2022, the EU countries approved the commitment of 8 billion euros for the period 2020-2024 for food security.

[15] For the year 2022, the FAO food index had risen by 12.6% to an average of 159.3 points in March. Cereal prices were up 17 percent from February and world wheat prices were up 19.7 percent. As cereals are the staple of many crops and livestock, food and meat prices have also risen.

[16] . Before the crisis, they alone supplied 30% of the world’s wheat exports, 20% of corn exports and nearly 80% of sunflower seed products.

[17] Crise alimentaire mondiale, va-t-on apprendre de nos erreurs ? A. Peigney, Défis Humanitaires. 25/11/2022


[19] file:///C:/Users/assistfondateur/Downloads/acf_promotingagroecology_fr.pdf 



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