The CFS is the United Nations' forum for reviewing policies concerning world food. It is the most inclusive international and intergovernmental platform for all relevant stakeholders to work together to ensure food security and nutrition.
We do not see many references these days to the food crisis in the news. It has been eclipsed by economic fears. But we are still not out of the woods. I call it our forgotten crisis - because it has not gone away.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, 10 February 2009
The extraordinary rise of global food prices in early 2008 posed a major threat to global food and nutrition security and caused a host of humanitarian, human rights, socio-economic, environmental, developmental, political and security-related consequences. In particular, it presented challenges for low income food deficit countries, and severely affected the world’s most vulnerable. It threatened to reverse critical gains made toward reducing poverty and hunger as outlined in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
The soaring prices stemmed from the cumulative effects of long-term trends, like the increasing demand of food due to the growing world population and a decline in agricultural investment, more immediate supply and demand dynamics, including those related to the rapidly increasing oil prices and diversions of maize to ethanol production, and responses like hoarding which exacerbated price volatility. Altogether, the crisis exposed underlying structural problems in the food systems of poorer countries, partly linked to serious distortions in world food markets (associated with production subsidies in rich countries and trade tariffs), that predispose to price spikes and problems with food availability. Climate-related events like droughts, floods and environmental degradation have further negative effects on many developing countries.
Already before the rapid rise in food prices, some 854 million people worldwide were estimated to be undernourished. It is estimated that the current crisis has increased the number to more than one billion undernourished people in the world.
While food prices on world markets have come down in the fall of 2008, the average levels are still higher in 2009 than they were two years ago. At the same time, lower prices on global markets have not fed through to lower prices on local markets within many developing countries. Prices are likely to rise again, and to stay volatile for a while. The global economic downturn has further increased the hardships of the most vulnerable as both formal and informal economies contracted, trade volumes declined, and remittances decreased.
The dramatic rise of global food prices and the crisis it triggered led the United Nations (UN) Chief Executives Board in April 2008 to establish a High-Level Task Force (HLTF) on the Global Food Security Crisis. The Task Force brings together the Heads of the UN specialized agencies, funds and programmes, as well as relevant parts of the UN Secretariat, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and the World Trade Organization. It is chaired by the UN Secretary-General and coordinated by his Special Representative for Food Security and Nutrition, David Nabarro. The primary aim of the Task Force is to promote a comprehensive and unified response to the challenge of achieving global food security along the lines of its Comprehensive Framework for Action (CFA). The CFA sets out the joint position of HLTF members, and aims to be a catalyst for action by providing governments, international and regional organisations, and civil society groups with a menu of policies and actions from which to draw appropriate responses. It pursues a twin-track approach: It outlines activities related to meeting the immediate needs as well as activities related to the longer-term structural needs, focusing on smallholders, and enabling them to realize their right to food, sustain an increase income and ensure adequate nutrition.
The HLTF’s Programme of Work focuses on support to effective and coordinated action in countries, advocacy for funds for both urgent action and long-term investment, broad engagement by multiple stakeholders and accountability of the international system.