Around a billion people around the world suffer from hunger. At this year's G20 summit in Mexico, food security will be one of the topics of discussion - but experts fear that other issues may steal the spotlight.
Hunger and malnutrition are a daily reality for millions of people. Especially dramatic is the situation in West Africa, where 18 million people are caught in a struggle for survival. However, their suffering may not be in the foreground among the discussion topics at this year's G20 summit in Los Cabos, Mexico - despite the fact that food security was deemed an area of focus by the host country and by the current G20 representatives. Instead, it's possible that the eurozone debt crisis may overshadow this issue.
The world's poorest countries have been heavily affected by the worldwide financial crisis, as evidenced by the dwindling flow of funds to these places. While in the second half of 2010 around $309 billion was invested in developing countries, in the second half of 2011 the figure dropped to $170 billion. According to a press teleconference statement by Neil Watkins of anti-poverty NGO ActionAid USA, the G20 conference should seek to find solutions for all economies, not just the largest ones.
Watkins believes that the most significant measure for combating the hunger crisis is to make changes to biofuel policies. ActionAid USA found that augmented corn production in the U.S. for biofuel led to a rapid increase in food import prices in Mexico.
"Between 2005 and 2011, the tortilla prices rose by nearly 70 percent," said Watkins. "Since 2005, the increase in ethanol fuel usage in the U.S. has resulted in up to $500 million in corn price rises in Mexico each year."
Watkins pointed out that already last year, experts advised the G20 to abolish biofuel subsidies in order to stabilize food prices - without success.
Reasons for optimism
However, Adam Taylor from relief organization World Vision sees some grounds for optimism. The summit has only taken place since 2008, so it could just need some time to define its aims, he says.
"I believe there's hope that the G20 will start focusing on global growth and tackling problems like malnutrition and hunger, and recognize that this is necessary for stimulating short-term and long-term economic growth," said Taylor.
According to Carlos Sere from the Rome-based International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), food security in the developing world is, in today's interconnected world, also in the interest of industrialized regions such as Europe and North America.
"If we don't deal with the problem of food security in developing countries, this could, for example, lead to a major migration problem in Europe," Sere told DW.
Food as a basis for peace
Sere noted that the Arab Spring uprisings in Tunisia began with the self-immolation of a grocer. "Food is a foundation for peace," he said. For this reason he underlines the importance of helping small-scale farmers, who help maintain natural resources.
Shenggen Fan, Director General of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) in Washington, hopes that this year's G20 summit will not result in too many new initiatives; but rather, in the realization of past promises. In an interview with DW, he highlighted the need to combat export bans on certain foodstuffs, as this leads to increased food prices in times of crisis.
He directed one of his requests at Germany, which he believes to be particularly good at agricultural research: "I hope that Germany shares its knowledge and technologies with developing countries so that they can produce more food." He also sees Germany as a role model in the field of efficient utilization of natural resources, and thinks the country could act as a beacon for others.
Expectations and initial successes
Experts want to see the creation of mechanisms for monitoring the realization of promised measures, and they also want them to apply to the private sector. But there are concerns that many companies will still be primarily interested in their own profits - which is why they also suggest more government control. Land-grabbing should not be part of this picture, says Fan, explaining that countries like China and India sometimes buy land in Africa, South Asia and Latin America only to produce food there for themselves.
The AMIS allows for more reliable agricultural market information
David Hallam, Director of the Trade and Markets Division at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), mentions a G20 initiative that has already had success: the Agricultural Market Information System (AMIS), created in 2011. The idea for this came to him, he told DW, when rice prices seemed to go up and down around the world in 2007 and 2008 without a good reason - a result of incomplete market data. This in turn led to misdirected policies and panic buying.
The AMIS allows access to reliable information on the current market situation. And it's functioning well, says Hallam. Apart from G20 nations, counties like Egypt and Nigeria are part of the system, as well as other major food producers and importers.
Hallam was satisfied with the outcome of last year's G20 summit, as it pushed the issue of food security closer to the top of the agenda. He expects the 2012 summit to produce at least similar results, if not more.
Author: Christina Bergmann / ew
Editor: Sonya Diehn