Food insecurity has been rising since 2018. Even before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the increasing frequency and severity of climate shocks, regional conflicts and the pandemic were all taking their toll, disrupting food production and distribution, and driving up the cost of feeding people and families.
The situation took an even more dramatic turn with the war in Ukraine, International Monetary Fund (IMF) noted recently. This pushed the prices of food and fertilisers higher still — hurting importers and prompting several countries to impose export restrictions.
The result is an unprecedented 345mn people whose lives and livelihoods are in immediate danger from acute food insecurity. And around the globe more than 828mn people go to bed hungry every night, according to the World Food Programme.
The impact of the food shock is felt everywhere. The suffering is worst in some 48 countries, many highly dependent on imports from Ukraine and Russia — mostly low-income countries. Of those, about half are especially vulnerable due to severe economic challenges, weak institutions, and fragility.
Alongside the human toll, the financial costs are also escalating. A new paper by IMF staff estimates the impact of higher import costs for food and fertiliser for highly exposed to food insecurity will add $9bn to their balance of payments pressures — in 2022 and 2023. This will erode countries’ international reserves, and their ability to pay for food and fertiliser imports.
In many places, even though food prices have eased somewhere from recent peaks, still high food — and energy — prices have fuelled a cost-of-living crisis that is likely to increase poverty and hurt growth, potentially fuelling political instability.
As a result, policymakers in many countries have introduced fiscal measures to protect people from the current food crisis. For this year alone, IMF estimates that highly exposed countries need as much as $7bn to help the poorest households cope.
Strong and swift policy action, the IMF noted is needed across four areas to mitigate the global food crisis and avert human suffering- support for people, open trade, increase in food production and improve distribution and investing in climate-resilient agriculture.
The international community must also take decisive action to ensure that the needed financing is in place to deal with the immediate crisis and to strengthen food security in the medium-to-long term.
Institutions specialised in food security, such as the World Food Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, need to be adequately funded because they play a vital role with their local presence in many nations and an unwavering focus on the human cost of acute food insecurity.
More grants and concessional financing from donors and international organisations, are urgently needed to support cash and in-kind assistance for people suffering most acutely from food insecurity. In some countries, debt relief will also be needed.
As an additional line of defence, IMF financing supports countries in meeting external financing needs associated with the global food shock.
Unprecedented humanitarian challenge clearly requires rapid action to ease suffering of millions around us who do not have enough to eat and provide financing to those countries which are in need.