September 2, 2014 OPINION/NEWS




Anant Mishra

The extraordinary rise of global food prices in early 2008 posed a major threat to global food and nutrition security and caused a host of humanitarian, human rights, socio-economic, environmental, developmental, political and security-related consequences. In particular, it presented challenges for low income food deficit countries, and severely affected the worlds most vulnerable. It threatened to reverse critical gains made toward reducing poverty and hunger as outlined in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

The soaring prices stemmed from the cumulative effects of long term trends, like the increasing demand of food due to the growing world population and a decline in agricultural investment, more immediate supply and demand dynamics, including those related to the rapidly increasing oil prices and diversions of maize to ethanol production, and responses like hoarding which exacerbated price volatility. Altogether, the crisis exposed underlying structural problems in the food systems of poorer countries, partly linked to serious distortions in world food markets (associated with production subsidies in rich countries and trade tariffs), that predispose to price spikes and problems with food availability. Climate-related events like droughts, floods and environmental degradation have further negative effects on many developing countries.

Already before the rapid rise in food prices, some 854 million people worldwide were estimated to be undernourished. It is estimated that the current crisis has increased the number up to one billion undernourished people in the world – one in six people. While food prices on world markets have come down in the fall of 2008, the average levels are still higher in 2009 than they were two years ago. At the same time, lower prices on global markets have not fed through to lower prices on local markets within many developing countries. Prices are likely to rise again, and to stay volatile for a while. The global economic downturn has started to further increase the hardships of the most vulnerable as that both formal and informal economies contract, trade volumes decline, and remittances decrease.

The dramatic rise of global food prices and the crisis it triggered led the United Nations (UN) Chief Executives Board in April 2008 to establish a High-Level Task Force (HLTF) on the Global Food Security Crisis. Under the leadership of the UN Secretary-General, the Task Force brings together the Heads of the UN specialized agencies, funds and programs, as well as relevant parts of the UN Secretariat, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and the World Trade Organization. The primary aim of the Task Force is to promote a comprehensive and unified response to the challenge of achieving global food security, including by facilitating the creation of a prioritised plan of action and coordinating its implementation. The Secretary-General appointed Assistant Secretary-General David Nabarro. As coordinator of the Task Force Mr. Nabarro is supported by a small HLTF Coordination Secretariat to help the HLTF pursue its Programme of Work.

In July 2008, the Task Force responded to the request for a plan of action and produced the Comprehensive Framework for Action (CFA). The CFA is a framework that sets out the joint position of HLTF members, and aims to be a catalyst for action by providing governments, international and regional organizations, and civil society groups with a menu of policies and actions from which to draw appropriate responses. It pursues a twin-track approach: It outlines activities related to meeting the immediate needs, like investing in food assistance and social safety nets, as well as activities related to the longer-term structural needs, like scaling up investment in agriculture within developing countries, increasing opportunities for producers, pastoralists and fisher folk to access land, water, inputs, and post-harvest technologies, focusing on the needs of smallholders, and enabling them to realize their right to food, sustain an increase in income and ensure adequate nutrition. In December 2008, the Task Force agreed on its Programme of Work for 2009, focusing on support to effective action in countries, advocacy for funds for both urgent action and long-term investment, inspiring a broad engagement by multiple stakeholders and improving accountability of the international system.

The Obligations of States

The nature of the legal obligations of States parties is set out in article 2 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in General Comment No. 12 also defined the obligations that States parties have to fulfil in order to implement the right to adequate food at the national level. These are as follows:

– The obligation to respect existing access to adequate food requires States parties not to take any measures that result in preventing such access;

– The obligation to protect requires measures by the State to ensure that enterprises or individuals do not deprive individuals of their access to adequate food;

– The obligation to fulfil (facilitate) means the State must pro-actively engage in activities intended to strengthen people’s access to and utilization of resources and means to ensure their livelihood, including food security;

– Whenever an individual or group is unable, for reasons beyond their control, to enjoy the right to adequate food by the means at their disposal, States have the obligation to fulfil (provide) that right directly. This obligation also applies for persons who are victims of natural or other disasters.

While all the rights under the Covenant are meant to be achieved through progressive realization, States have some minimum core obligations which are of immediate effect. They have the obligation to refrain from any discrimination in access to food as well as to means and entitlements for its procurement, on the grounds of race, colour, sex, language, age, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. States are further prohibited to take retrogressive measures, i.e. deliberate measures which result in the deterioration of current level of fulfilment of the right to food.

The Covenant requires that States take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that everyone is free from hunger and as soon as possible can enjoy the right to adequate food but they have a margin of discretion in choosing the ways and means of implementing the right to adequate food. Finally, States have to ensure the satisfaction of the minimum essential level required to be free from hunger.

Food Security Crisis in East Africa

The Horn of Africa is currently experiencing a major humanitarian crisis due to drought. About 13.3 million people in the Horn of Africa—Somalia, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, and eastern Uganda—have been affected by a devastating drought. This is the region’s worst drought since 1995. In some areas, 2010-2011 has been the driest period in 60 years. Soaring local and global food and fuel prices have made the situation worse.

Though rain has started to fall, the effects of a severe drought are gripping East Africa and helping to trigger a food and livelihood crisis that has snared countless people. Hardest hit are northern Kenya, southern Ethiopia, and south-central Somalia, where years of conflict are compounding the crisis for untold numbers of families.

Many of the people who live in this region are herders who depend on their animals —camels, cows, goats, and sheep—for both food and income. The crisis, aggravated by entrenched poverty and years of marginalization, has affected them deeply, and in some parts of Ethiopia more than 60 percent of the herds have died. But farmers, particularly in southwest Ethiopia, are also suffering.

In south central Somalia in July 2011, the price of sorghum had rocketed 240 percent higher than it was a year ago. In Kenya, the price of corn had climbed 40 percent higher in the same period. In northern parts of the country, milk is rarely available— and three times its normal price—leaving Kenyan children with less than a quarter of their usual intake.

In July 2011, more than 9,000 Somali refugees a week were arriving in the Dadaab refugee camp in north-eastern Kenya—the largest refugee camp in the world and severely overcrowded with more than 360,000 people. And the UN is reporting that almost half the Somali children streaming into refugee camps in Ethiopia are malnourished.

There were clear early warning signs many months in advance, yet there were insufficient responses until it was far too late. Governments, donors, the UN and NGOs need to change their approach to chronic drought situations by managing the risks, not the crisis. This means acting on information from early warning systems and not waiting for certainty before responding, as well as tackling the root causes of vulnerability and actively seeking to reduce risk in all activities.

Global Water Crisis and Food Insecurity

A water crisis is, essentially, a situation where the available potable (drinkable) and unpolluted water in a region is significantly less than the region’s demand. However, how is one to take an estimate of potable water and compare it to the demand to come up with the resultant crisis? In 2001, the United Nations Environment Program’s 2nd Working Group on Climate Change went with the estimate put forward by the Falkenmark Water Stress Indicator, which states that at levels between 1,000 and 1,700 cubic meters per person per year, periodic or limited water shortages can be expected. When the level drops below 1,000 cubic meters, it is termed as a “water crisis”.1 According to the Food and Agriculture Organization estimates, by 2025 approximately 1.9 Billion people worldwide will be living in regions facing absolute water scarcity, and around 2/3rds of the world’s population will be living in conditions of partial or full water scarcity. Also, according to the recent Millennium Development Goal Assessment Report published through the World Health Organization/UNICEF Joint Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation, near about 884 Million people worldwide have inadequate access to safe drinking water.

Now, according to recent estimates, these water deficits have affected not only the accessibility to drinking water, but also production levels in grains, leading to increased imports in not only smaller countries, but China and India, also. This combined with the drop in the water tables due to widespread over pumping using diesel and electric pumps has led to water scarcity and, thereon, cutback in grain harvest. With countries such as China having developed a grain deficit, this could also go on to have a huge economic impact, as this would drive prices up, having cut the supply. Putting this in perspective, it is believed that, currently, out of the 800 million people living in Africa, about 300 million currently live in a situation of water stress. Since, by approximation, more than 80% of the African population is dependent on an agricultural lifestyle, this will affect a lot of people in Africa, especially the Sub – Saharan Region.

Indian National Food Security Act, 2013

The Parliament of India signed the Indian National Food Security Act, 2013, colloquially known as the Right to Food Bill, into law on 12th September 2013, before which it had been promulgated by a presidential ordinance on the 5th of July 2013. This law, in its essence, aims to provide food security to nearly 800 Million people across India. The basic provisions of this statute stipulate that the pre – determined beneficiaries are entitled, as per their eligibility, to purchase 5 kilograms of cereal per person per month at the following prices:

? Rice at Rs. 3/- per kilogram (approximately US 0.046$) ? Wheat at Rs. 2/- per kilogram (approximately US 0.031$) and ? Coarse Grains or Millet at Rs. 1/- per kilogram (approximately US 0.015$).

Certain categories of the population, such as pregnant women, lactating mothers, and certain categories of the child population in India would also be eligible to free meals under this statute.

The Lok Sabha in its 27th Committee Report clarified the intent of this Act, stating that their analysis of “food security” included a two part impact: at a macro level, wherein they try and make available sufficient food grains to meet the domestic demand, and at an individual level, wherein they are trying to ensure adequate accessibility to food at affordable prices. They claim that this is a paradigm shift in their resolution to the problem of food insecurity from a welfare approach to a rights based approach.

The Indian Ministry of Agriculture’s Commission on Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP) calculated in May 2013 that, if the targeted Public Distribution System was to make available food grains to approximately 820 Million people in three years according to the stipulated provisions of this act, then the annual requirement would be exceeding 61 million metric tonnes, annually,6 which was then revised by the Lok Sabha (included in Schedule IV of the act) to be 54.3 million metric tonnes, annually. These numbers have led to this Act being dubbed as the one of the biggest moves by any government to provide and distribute subsidized food through a ‘rights based’ approach. Further calculations by the Commission estimated the total expenditure for the implementation of this Act to be 1.25 – 1.5 trillion Rupees (approximately US$ 20 Billion – 24 Billion).

The criticism for this Act has come forward due to the fact that the economic community deems that the policy – makers have grossly underestimated the fiscal impact of this statute. At the 33rd Technical Advisory Committee Meeting on Monetary Policy of the Reserve Bank of India, it was stated that this would skew the food price inflation more towards a negative side as the supply would now be tilted towards cereal production. It was also estimated by the CACP that this Bill would bring forward expenditure to approximately 21.8% of total receipts, leading to it being dubbed, also, as one of the greatest risks taken by the Indian Government, by far.

Though the success of this Act is far from being determined, the UPA government has been quick to state the success of similar social legislations such as the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), and draw parallels. Instead of focusing on whether or not the Government can afford to implement such a provision, we have Food Minister Mr. KV Thomas asking, “can we afford not to?” This can be seen as a possible benchmark for national food security legislations, worldwide, though much analysis needs to be done before one can deem it a success or otherwise.




Anant Mishra

I am Anant Mishra, former youth representative United Nations.Almost 4 years of experience, I have served in number of committees including United Nations Conference for Trade and Development and Economic and Social Council primarily focusing on international trade, education, finance, economics. food crisis and disputes. Currently I am serving as State Convener – Chhattisgarh for a nation wide think tank Centre for Education Growth and Research, New Delhi. I am also serving as a member of the organising committee Global Entrepreneurship Summit 2014.Prior to this I was a foreign affairs columnist for bureaucracy today and economy analyst for business insider.Currently I am an editor for foreign affairs with political mirror, columnist for the business digest and author on international relations with youth ki awaaz. I am also an author for Indian Economic Review, Delhi School of Economics. I am an author for UNICEF. I am an educationalist with, security analyst with indian defence review.


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