Food security, an emerging challenge for import driven countries- Report

“In a large proportion of cities in Africa and Asia, destructive floods have become an annual event.”

Food security, an emerging challenge, after the major spikes in food prices in 2007 and 2008, is now of primary concern especially for countries, like Nigeria, that rely on buying, rather than producing, the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), has said.

Food prices are also widely expected to remain high in the foreseeable future, the independent, non-profit research institute working in the field of sustainable development added.

This development is the combined result of changes in demand, depicted by higher quantities of food needed to feed a growing world population; and changes in supply, because of competition for increasingly scarce resources such as land, water and energy and the liberalisation of international trade, the organisation said in a report titled ‘Urban Poverty, Food security and Climate change’.

Despite this rising challenge, the report noted that most policy prescriptions focus on rural food production and neglect the factors that determine urban food security.

“Urbanisation is often portrayed as contributing to rising food prices — by increasing demand for meat and dairy products, and through changing land use from agricultural to residential. But urbanisation in itself does not drive food prices upwards,” it said.

“After the major spikes in food prices in 2007 and 2008, food security is again at the top of the policy agenda. In the period 2010–2012, 12.5 per cent of the world’s population was estimated to be undernourished; a proportion that rose to just fewer than 15 per cent in low-income countries” the organisation added.

With the majority of the world’s population living in urban centres, poverty increasingly becomes an urban issue and so does food security. Insufficient income is the major cause of urban food insecurity. In low-income nations, informal employment accounts for half to three-quarters of all non-agricultural employment, Cecilia Tacoli, principal researcher with IIED’s Human Settlements Group and author of the briefing said.

The global economic crisis that started in 2008 has had a devastating impact and food insecurity is the most severe impact of the crisis.

Aside from that, low-income and informal urban settlements are exposed to environmental hazards that climate change further exacerbates, the report stated. These settlements are often located in flood plains and have little, if any, surface water drainage systems. So floods are one of the most frequent and devastating results of changing rainfall patterns, a situation experienced in Nigeria last year.

According to the report, in 2010 alone, 178 million people were affected by floods globally. In a large proportion of cities in Africa and Asia, destructive floods have become an annual event.

The recent floods witnessed in some states in Nigeria took their toll on economic indices in the country, according to analysts.

Financial Derivatives Company, FDC, a finance research and analysis firm, said due to the flood, there was increase in food index.

In addition, transporting harvested products to the markets has become more difficult and expensive as most of the roads were impassable.

With the anticipated movement to the urban areas in countries like Nigeria in the nearest future, it is expedient that the government put structures in place to meet such expectancy.

Way forward

Increasing food production is the main policy prescription for addressing food security, according to the organisation, though this neglects the crucial importance of access and affordability for low-income urban residents.

More than half the world’s population lives in urban centres, and urban food insecurity is an emerging challenge that is exacerbated by climate change. Although low and irregular incomes are its root cause, environmental hazards and inadequate housing and infrastructure contribute to higher levels of malnutrition in low-income settlements than in rural areas, the report stated.

Due to these, the organisation said that addressing urban food security requires attention to incomes, living conditions, access to formal and informal markets and the interconnections between rural and urban food security.

“More than half the world’s population now live in urban areas, and in the next 40 years virtually all global population growth will be in cities and towns of low and middle-income countries in Africa and Asia.

“Food security initiatives and policies need to take this into account and address both the production and consumption dimensions. Income poverty is the root cause of urban poverty and of urban food insecurity. Access to decent and stable employment is clearly the first priority,” the report stated.

It urged that there are several examples of how infrastructure and housing can be improved through co-production that brings together local governments and organisations of the urban poor, pooling financial resources and negotiating over the types of interventions and priorities.

“Urban planners need to make the urban poor’s access to affordable markets a central concern. At the same time, own production through urban agriculture requires better access to urban and peri-urban land. Transfers of food between rural and urban-based relatives also need to be better understood and supported: urban food security and rural-food security are closely interlinked, and successful policy prescriptions need to build on this, rather than ignore it”.

“Local and national governments, as well as development agencies, need to better recognise and support the initiative and capacity found among residents of low-income settlements as they strive to improve their living conditions. This, in turn, will help ensure food security as well as urbanisation that contribute to sustainable development,” the organisation said.

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