Better Land, Water, Energy Management Needed to Fight Hunger

Smarter use of land, water and energy is needed for the world to continue to make gains against hunger, the International Food Policy Research Institute said today as it released its annual Global Hunger Index.

The gauge shows 20 countries with levels of hunger that are “extremely alarming” or “alarming,” down from 26 last year and 43 in 1990 when the institute began compiling the index. Burundi, Eritrea and Haiti scored the worst, while the Democratic Republic of Congo, a perennial poor performer, didn’t have enough data to be ranked. The bulk of low-scoring countries are in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

“Demographic changes, rising incomes and associated consumption patterns, and climate change, alongside persistent poverty and inadequate policies and institutions, are all placing serious pressure on natural resources,” the Institute said in the report. “There is enough planet for all of us -- if we don’t waste it.”

The worst U.S. drought in more than 50 years pushed the price of corn, the country’s most valuable crop, to a record $8.49 a bushel in August. Soybeans reached an all-time high last month while wheat touched its highest levels since 2008 in July. World food prices saw their biggest monthly increase since 2009 in July and are up 2.4 percent for the year.

Food Riots

The higher prices have destabilized family food budget and increased hunger in the past five years. A 40 percent run-up in global costs pushed as many as 150 million people into extreme poverty in 2007 and 2008, while record-high prices in 2011 touched off food riots in North Africa and the Middle East, the authors of the report said.

One negative response to volatility has been large-scale international purchases or leasing of land in poorer countries to provide crops for export, or to grow flowers or produce biofuels, according to the report.

Companies including Bangalore, India-based Karuturi Global Ltd., the world’s largest rose grower, and Saudi billionaire Mohamed al-Amoudi’s Saudi Star Agricultural Investment Plc have been acquiring property in Ethiopia and other countries for projects that are billed as developing local economies while being criticized for exploiting poorer regions.

‘Land Grabs’

Such “land grab” behavior may impede food security in the countries where the purchases take place, the study said.

“It has really reduced the land available for food,” Claudia Ringler, a deputy division director for IFPRI, said during a conference call with reporters after the report was released.

Spending on agricultural research needs to increase, focusing on investments that reduce hunger and malnutrition, such as in seeds with better yields and and education for women, which lowers birth rates, the institute said in the report. Still, a simple focus on boosting production, by increasing fertilizer use for example, may not lead to sustainable growth, Ringler said.

“Fertilizer is often not a positive story,” she said. “There are so many more productive ways of using scarce government funds,” such as for better farmer training or mitigating the effects of climate change, Ringler said.

Today’s report shows Angola, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Malawi, Nicaragua, Niger and Vietnam have made the most progress in reducing hunger since 1990. The index, which focuses on developing nations, is calculated using the proportion of a country’s population that is undernourished, the prevalence of underweight children and the child mortality rate.

Concern Worldwide and Welthungerhilfe, two other anti-hunger organizations, collaborated in publishing the report.

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