Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 1 December 2020

Munich Security Conference: 'Politics make the world go hungry'

'Mass hunger is a political problem, not a supply-side issue,' senior specialists say

Participants attend the 2020 Munich Security Conference (MSC). Johannes Simon/Getty Images
Participants attend the 2020 Munich Security Conference (MSC). Johannes Simon/Getty Images

Food specialists have painted a stark picture of how conflict and government mismanagement is driving hunger to record levels despite technological advances increasing yields and arable land.

With more than 800 million people starving, and an eighth of them needing emergency food aid, the crisis is causing increased migration and destabilising societies, the Munich Security Forum heard on Friday.

Mariam Al Muhairi, the Emirates Minister of State for Food Security, said the issue is an “absolute” national priority for the UAE.

Ms Muhairi said the UAE has less than five per cent arable land but the government is encouraging the private sector to invest in agriculture.

“We are growing quinoa, salmon and blueberries in the desert. It is all done with technology. We are seeing a real boom,” she said.

But she acknowledged the technologies the UAE uses to cultivate the desert are too costly to apply in poorer countries.

Janani Vivekananda, an adviser at Adelphi, a German public policy centre, said despite climate change, world hunger is largely not about availability of food but about “access, inequality, poverty and government policies”.

She cautioned that technology could give farmers in poor countries “false expectations”.

Before applying sophisticated technologies, farmers need to learn to read the markets to determine their cost and benefit, and be informed of changing weather patterns caused by climate change, she said.

Ms Vivekananda said although non-state groups have destabilised farming societies, governments are also responsible for food shortages by using scorched earth tactics to pacify their people.

“Food security is increasing the risk of violence at every level in society between households, between different groups, and between people and the state,” Ms Vivekananda said.

Werner Baumann, the chairman of Bayer, the German Pharmaceutical company, said technology can help farmers escape subsistence living but cannot change their leaders.

“Often they are prevented access to these technologies because their countries are so badly run,” he said.

The Head of the UN World Food Programme, David Beasley, said the private sector has “solutions that can provide sustainability all over the earth” to end world hunger but conflicts first would have to end.

He said it was “inexcusable” that every five to six seconds a child dies of hunger.

Catherine Samba-Panza, former president of the Central African Republic, said inner societal disparities within farming communities are a problem, pointing that agriculture is mostly done by women and by the young, but females do not own the land.

“We must tackle all these factors if we want to come to serious global solutions which can be a blueprint to solve food insecurity,” she said.

Updated: February 15, 2020 10:27 PM

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