Climate Change

Food prices are expected to rise more, and cost may be too heavy to bear for many

Climate crisis may undo last century’s achievement in curbing extreme hunger

By Richard Mahapatra
Published: Wednesday 29 March 2023
The “cost-of-living crisis” — caused primarily by rising prices — is gripping the world to such an extent that the World Economic Forum’s Global Risk Report 2023 has found this the topmost severe threat in the next two years. Photo: iStock

Is the world heading to another year of unprecedented food price rise? All the indications are pointing towards this, making 2023 the third consecutive year of record price rise. 

The 21st century is turning out to be a period of extreme food crises. The first 22 years dealt with three major global food price hikes in 2007-08, 2010-11 and 2021-22. The current year will add to this record-breaking period of high global food prices. 

“Around four-fifths of low-income countries and more than 90 per cent of lower-middle-income countries have seen year-on-year food price increases in excess of 5 per cent in 2023,” according to the World Bank’s Food Security Update.

Read more: India has pushed back poverty, still home to most poor people in world: UNDP index

The “cost-of-living crisis” — caused primarily by rising prices — is gripping the world to such an extent that the World Economic Forum’s Global Risk Report 2023 has found this the topmost severe threat in the next two years. 

The Union Ministry of Finance has already warned that food prices will rise in 2023 due to various reasons; the extreme weather events and the looming El Nino being the prime ones that would impact overall harvests.

The World Food Programme (WFP) has forecast that 345.2 million people will be food insecure this year. This is more than double the number in 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic started. It also means that 200 million more people are food-insecure in comparison to pre-pandemic levels.

One tends to fear whether the last century’s achievement in curbing extreme hunger will be undone in the 21st century. In the 20th century, the world nearly eradicated famines and saw the rise of a system that enabled averting extreme food scarcity situations through massive relief operations. 

Rise of democratic systems also helped in effective responses to such situations. Last century also reported fewer severe conflicts and wars that primarily caused famines earlier.

But the world is witnessing the descent of famines or famine-like situations notwithstanding past developments. And this period, extreme weather events and climatic factors are replacing conflicts and war as the main reasons for creating such situations. 

The food price rise of 2021-2022 is part caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the resultant disruption in food supply and distribution. But the number of climate events damaging crops and displacing people has played a defining role in increasing food prices and thus people’s affordability for food. 

The famine of the Horn of Africa is majorly caused by climatic events like the unprecedented drought spell. 

At present, 0.9 million people are already surviving in famine-like conditions, according to the WFP. This population has been increasing for the last five years — it has gone up by 10 times.

Besides the conflicts, climatic events and rising food prices have played a major role in pushing this population into this desperate situation.

Read more: Poverty is ecological: We must accept income poverty is the wrong yardstick

Food price rise has massive impacts. On average, “a 5 per cent increase in the real price of food increases the risk of wasting by 9 per cent and severe wasting by 14 per cent,” according to a study by the International Food Policy Research Institute. 

This adds to the malnutrition burden and may lead to mortality in the face of food scarcity. This is a typical famine situation. While the mortality rate of a famine of the past was high and we could reduce it to near zero, the new century might see a reversal of this. 

The only difference is that, unlike in the past, the current crop damage and price rise are caused by climatic factors. However, like in the past, the victims remain nearly the same: The vulnerable population of the poorest and low-income developing countries.

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