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Global Food Trends: Prospects for Future Food Security

adapted from: “World Food Trends and Future Food Security” by Per Pinstrup-Andersen. A Food Policy Report of the International Food Policy Research Institute, Washington D.C.

The world food situation has never appeared better. Enough food is being produced today that, if it were evenly distributed, no one should have to go hungry. World food production is increasing at about the same rate as population growth; real food prices in the world market are at historic lows and have been declining for a long time; and yields of major cereals have more than doubled in the past three decades. Yet, more than 700 million people in the developing world do not have access to sufficient food to lead healthy and productive lives. Besides meeting the food needs of these chronically hungry people - one-fifth of the developing world’s population - the world will be challenged to provided food at affordable prices to nearly 100 million more people each year, the largest annual population increase in history, without exploiting the natural resources. What can current world food trends tell us about prospects for future food security?

Food production increased by 39 percent in developing countries as a whole during the 1980s, with particularly impressive performances in China and the Far East. Even in Africa, where concerns regarding the future food situation are greatest, total food production increased by 33 percent during the 1980s. However, food production growth is not so impressive when compared with population growth. During the 1980s, per capita food production increased by only 13 percent in the developing countries as a group, again with China and the Far East leading (Figure 1). In Africa and the Near East, per capita food production declined. In 75 countries, less food was produced per person at the end of the 1980s than at the beginning. Three-fourths of the African countries fell into that category, as did almost two-thirds of the Latin American countries and half of the Asian countries. Fifteen countries experienced reductions of 20 percent or more in per capita food production during the decade.

Yield increases were the major source of food production growth in all developing regions except Africa, contributing about 80 percent of increased cereal production in developing countries as a whole. While cultivated area is still increasing in developing countries, it is doing so at a low and declining rate, and increased food production in the future will have to come primarily from increased yields. However, there are some signs of trouble. The annual rate of yield increases for wheat and rice is slowing in Asia: from 3 percent a year for rice in the mid-1970s and early 1980s to less than 2 percent in the late 1980s, and from 4.4 percent for wheat in the late 1970s to 2.7 percent in the 1980s.

World grain production per person increased steadily during the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, but recent trends suggest that there has been a levelling off during the 1980s and early 1990s for the world as a whole (Figure 2) and for developing countries (Figure 3). There are indications that the trend in per capita world food production is beginning to turn downward.

The recent stagnation and possible fall in world grain production per person should be of serious concern because factors other than population growth will continue to push grain demand upwards. For example, the demand for feedgrain increases rapidly once incomes increase beyond a certain level. Whereas projected growth in cereal consumption for food is very close to population growth, expected growth in feedgrain demand is more than twice the expected population growth.

Figure 1. Change in Per Capita Food Production, 1979-81 to 1989-91

(Sources: FAO (1990 and 1991) FAO Production Yearbook. FAO, Rome; and data from the World Bank)

Figure 2. World Grain Production Per Person, 1950-93

(Sources: FAO (1992). FAO Agrostat-PC, Population, Production, and Food Balance Sheets Domains, (computer disk). FAO, Rome; FAO (1993) The State of Food and Agriculture. FAO, Rome. Mimeographed)

Figure 3. Developing-Country Grain Production Per Person, 1950-93

(Sources: FAO (1992). FAO Agrostat-PC, Population, Production, and Food Balance Sheets Domains, (computer disk). FAO, Rome; FAO (1993) The State of Food and Agriculture. FAO, Rome. Mimeographed)

For more than 50 years, a combination of rapid production increases and low purchasing power among a large share of consumers have assured that international food prices increased less than other prices. Recent projections suggest that real food prices are unlikely to increase significantly during the remainder of the 1990s. Low food prices in the world market do not necessarily mean that people will be well fed. Poor people cannot express their food needs as economic demand. More than 1 billion people live in households that earn less than a dollar a day. Clearly, they are not in a position to convert their food needs to effective market demand.

Global and regional food production and consumption during the next 10-20 years will be influenced by a large number of factors. Changes in the following four sets of factors are likely to be particularly important: (1) economic growth and economic policies; (2) population growth and urbanization; (3) rural infrastructure, agricultural production technology, and access to modern inputs; and (4) natural resource management and environmental considerations.

If a sustainable balance between world food production and food needs (as opposed to food demand) is to be achieved in the coming years, economic growth must resume in those regions, especially Sub-Saharan Africa, where growth slowed down in recent years. If progress in economic growth is not to be undermined by rapid population growth and urbanization, effective population and migration policies are necessary to complement growth-oriented policies. Resources must be committed to develop rural infrastructure, expand international and national agricultural research, provide credit and technical assistance, and give farmers access to modem inputs. Measures must be developed to manage natural resources and prevent environmental degradation.

Failure to invest today in these components of agricultural development will show up in production shortfalls and accelerated environmental degradation. The mass starvation that was predicted for Asia in the 1970s and 1980s did not occur because science was effectively put to work to expand crop yields. Yield increases came about because people with foresight made appropriate decisions. Recent cuts in financial support for agricultural research and other activities essential for continued and sustainable agricultural development imply that such foresight no longer prevails.

What future food security will look like depends not on exogenous factors over which we have no control but on the decisions and actions taken by the major players: households, private- and public-sector agencies, governments, and the international community. If we continue to act as we have in the 1980s and early 1990s, more people will suffer from food insecurity, and degradation of our natural resources will accelerate.

“World Food Trends and Future Food Security” can be obtained from The International Food Policy Research Institute, 1200 Seventeenth Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036-3006, USA. Tel: (202) 862 5600 Fax: (202) 467 4439 E.Mail: IFPRI@CGNET.COM.

(Source: as given at beginning of article)

Alleviating Poverty and Improving Nutrition by Helping the Poor to Help Themselves - The Experience of the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh

In 1976, Dr Muhammed Yunus, Professor of Economics at Chittagong University, Bangladesh, launched an action research programme called the Grameen Bank project. The project tested the design of a credit programme to make financial resources/services available to landless and assetless poverty-stricken people of Bangladesh who would otherwise have no access to credit, to enable them to explore their own potential to create employment for themselves - thus increasing their income, self-esteem and standard of living - at least enough to satisfy their basic human needs.

The project had the following objectives: i) to extend the banking facilities to the poor men and women; ii) to eliminate the exploitation of the money lenders; iii) to create opportunities for self-employment for the vast unutilized and under utilized manpower resources; iv) to bring disadvantaged people within the folds of some organizational format which they can understand and operate and can find socio-political and economic strength through mutual support; and v) reverse the age old vicious circle of “low income, low savings, low investment” into an expanding system of “low income, credit, investment, more income, more credit, more investment, more income”.

The project was highly successful and in October 1983 was transformed into an independent and specialised bank - serving exclusively the poor - with Government and Central Bank approval and support. Today the Government provides 12% of the paid up share capital of the Bank, while 88% of the shares are owned by the borrowers themselves.

The Grameen Bank operates in 34,000 of 68,000 villages in Bangladesh serving almost two million borrowers, 94% of whom are women. There are 1,041 bank branches and a total staff approaching 11,000. Since 1976, the Grameen Bank has lent around US$1 billion to finance more than 500 different kinds of income generating activities classified into eight broad categories: processing and manufacturing; agriculture and forestry; livestock and fisheries; services; trading; peddling; shopkeeping; and collective enterprises. Repayment is made in weekly installments - the recovery rate as of March 31, 1994 was close to 98%.

Since its inception, all the operations of the Grameen Bank have been directed towards the Bank’s objective of alleviating poverty in the villages of Bangladesh - and its impact has been significant. Grameen Bank members have seen improvements in employment generation, agricultural productivity, income, standard of living, political participation, and the occurrence of crime.

Nutritional status has also improved in Bank members. The results of surveys conducted by the Institute of Nutrition and Food Science of Dhaka University (1981-82) and by the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (1985-86) show that while an average person (rural poor) consumed 706 grams of food per day in 1985, a Grameen member, on an average, consumed about 857g of food per day.

The most important contributors to calories in the diets of both Grameen and non Grameen members are cereal grains, followed by plants, vegetables, pulses and animal products. During the time period of the two surveys (1981-86), it was found that nearly 40% of all Grameen members were able to fulfil their minimum calorie requirements as opposed to 14% of all non-Grameen members.

Intakes of most nutrients i.e. carbohydrates, protein, calcium, iron, and vitamin A were found to be higher in Grameen households when compared to non Grameen households.

Muzammel Huq, Director of the Training and Special Programme of the Grameen Bank, author of two papers from which the information here is taken concludes:

“The poor, particularly poor women, show exceptional ability and skill to build a better life for themselves and their families once they have institutional access to credit at reasonable rates. This is proven by Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, and hundreds of Grameen type programs in about 40 countries where people and institutions concerned are creating and operating projects, programs and institutions to provide credit for self-employment as an option particularly for the resource-poor households, for earning a sustainable livelihood.”

(Source: Huq, M. (1994). Human Rights for the Poor: Experience of Grameen Bank and Huq, M. (1994). Grameen Bank: A Bank for the Poor. Papers prepared for the WANAHR inaugural meeting in Florence, Italy. For further information please contact: The Grameen Bank, Head Office, Mirpur Two, Dhaka 1216, Bangladesh. Tel: 383081-85 Fax: 880-2-803-559)


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