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Access to food is a human need

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala's picture

Hunger is something I knew all too well as a teenager living through the terrible years of conflict of the Nigerian-Biafran war.

My family then – as many families do when war happens – lost everything. Eating each day became a question mark. I saw many children die of kwashiorkor and other diseases because they didn’t have enough to eat.  

Now – many years later and secure in the knowledge I do have food on the table each night - when I read about rising and volatile food prices I can recall the desperation and the emptiness that was hunger  when I was a teenager.The sheer statistics today of the number of hungry people – almost a billion each night going to bed hungry – does not do justice to the emotional and physical impact of a person not having enough to eat. It does not do justice to the situation faced by 60 percent of the world’s hungry – women.
The specter of 2008 looms large today in the current debate about food – 2008 was a time when hunger pangs served as the fuel for discontent. 2008 should be our warning beacon as we ponder today the steps needed to ensure this and the next generation of people have enough to eat.

Food prices are not only rising, but they are also volatile and it’s expected this volatility will continue for some time. 

Uncertainty about prices – caused in part by climatic shocks – has only served to help drive up prices.
We do know there are measures which can be taken to help put food into the hands of those who need it most.  First and foremost, there’s the need to invest more in agricultural productivity and production.  In the last two years, countries like Burkina Faso and Malawi have demonstrated that and have doubled their output and moved from being net food importers to food exporters. 

Secondly we need greater investment in infrastructure so farmers don’t lose half their produce simply trying to get goods to market.  Farmers and others also need to be armed with risk management tools to help them better manage price volatility. Better weather forecasting would also help people to plan ahead. Greater transparency – more information on the quality and quantity of grain stocks – is also needed. 

Thirdly we know agriculture must be managed in a sustained way and farmers and we need to address climate change by addressing emissions from agriculture. 
We know too we have to look after those people who’re especially vulnerable to the devastating impacts of hunger – pregnant and breast-feeding women and children – especially those under two. 

The World Bank has been working in many of these areas but far more needs to be done. With so much known about the action needed, and with the benefit of history, it boils down to a simple question – what are we all waiting for? We do need global action to put food first.


Submitted by Alberto on
Thank you for this article... I would prefer to see as a title "Access to food is a human right". I'm sure you are aware of the implications of this. To say food is a need doesn't add anything, anyone knows that... to say food is a right implies that States are responsible to provide food to citizens, and that the aid for development should go in this direction. Thank you

Submitted by Gabriel Key on
This is an excellent article, thank you for posting it. I agree, there is much to be done to bring stability and sustainability to people's ability to access to food. Because food is essential for life and having access to safe and secure access to food is a cornerstone to human security,this problem must be addressed with immediate, middle, and long term solutions. I agree with the second and third recommendations and strongly believe programs addressing those recommendations should be implemented immediately. But, these are solutions that will take time to implement and more time to see results. Additionally, many of these solutions will require cultural or technological changes in order to see the full benefit resulting from the implementation of these solutions. Therefore, it is very important to address what can be done now or in the short term. According to recent information released by the World Bank, FAO and many other institutions around the world, one immediate solution is to work with small scale farmers to implement tools and techniques capable of reduce the massive amount of food that is lost after harvest and before going to market. According to often cited estimates, this amount of food is between 20 and 50 percent of the harvest. These Post Harvest Lost Prevention tools and techniques can be as simple as using sturdy and durable plastic bags to store and transport gains or beans to as complex and impermiable containers with inert gas. When implemented correctly, they respect and work within cultural and economic boundaries while still providing immediate and longer term sustainable solutions. Thank you and kindest regards,

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