In the crosshairs of hunger and climate change: New ILRI-CCAFS study maps the global hotspots

Please find a corrected and revised statement below, along with a link to download revised maps here: http://ccafs.cgiar.org/resources/climate_hotspots. All edits to the original article posted on this blog are reflected in RED and BOLDFACE below.

Five per cent reduction in crop season sensitivity to change capacity to cope: Corrected version

Five per cent reduction in crop season sensitivity to change capacity to cope: Corrected 13 Jul 2011 (map credit ILRI/CCAFS/Notenbaert).

A new study out today reveals future ‘hotspots’ of risk for hundreds of millions whose food problems are on a collision course with climate change. The scientists conducting the study warn that disaster looms for parts of Africa and all of India if chronic food insecurity converges with crop-wilting weather. They went on to say that Latin America is also vulnerable.

The red areas in the map above are food-insecure and intensively farmed regions that are highly exposed to a potential five per cent or greater reduction in the length of the growing season. Such a change over the next 40 years could significantly affect food yields and food access for 369 million people—many of them smallholder farmers—already living on the edge. This category includes almost all of India and significant parts of West Africa. While Latin America in general is viewed as having a ‘high capacity’ to cope with such shifts, there are millions of poor people living in this region who very dependent on local crop production to meet their nutritional needs (map credit: ILRI-CCAFS/Notenbaert).

This study matches future climate change ‘hotspots’ with regions already suffering chronic food problems to identify highly-vulnerable populations, chiefly in Africa and South Asia, but potentially in China and Latin America as well, where in fewer than 40 years, the prospect of shorter, hotter or drier growing seasons could imperil hundreds of millions of already-impoverished people.

The report, Mapping Hotspots of Climate Change and Food Insecurity in the Global Tropics, was produced by the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS). The work was led by a team of scientists at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) responding to an urgent need to focus climate change adaptation efforts on people and places where the potential for harsher growing conditions poses the gravest threat to food production and food security.

The researchers pinpointed areas of intense vulnerability by examining a variety of climate models and indicators of food problems to create a series of detailed maps. One shows regions around the world at risk of crossing certain ‘climate thresholds’—such as temperatures too hot for maize or beans—that over the next 40 years could diminish food production. Another shows regions that may be sensitive to such climate shifts because in general they have large areas of land devoted to crop and livestock production. And finally, scientists produced maps of regions with a long history of food insecurity.

Future of Pastoralism in Africa Conference

ILRI scientist Polly Ericksen, lead author of the hotspots study (photo credit: ILRI/MacMillan).

‘When you put these maps together they reveal places around the world where the arrival of stressful growing conditions could be especially disastrous,’ said Polly Ericksen, a senior scientist at ILRI, in Nairobi, Kenya and the study’s lead author. ‘These are areas highly exposed to climate shifts, where survival is strongly linked to the fate of regional crop and livestock yields, and where chronic food problems indicate that farmers are already struggling and they lack the capacity to adapt to new weather patterns.’

‘This is a very troubling combination,’ she added.

For example, in large parts of South Asia, including almost all of India, and parts of sub-Saharan Africa—chiefly West Africa—there are 265 million food-insecure people living in agriculture-intensive areas that are highly exposed to a potential five per cent decrease in the length of the growing period. Such a change over the next 40 years could significantly affect food yields and food access for people—many of them farmers themselves—already living on the edge.

Higher temperatures also could exact a heavy toll. Today, there are 170 million food-insecure and crop-dependent people in parts of West Africa, India and China who live in areas where, by the mid-2050s, maximum daily temperatures during the growing season could exceed 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit). This is close to the maximum temperature that beans can tolerate, while maize and rice yields may suffer when temperatures exceed this level. For example, a study last year in Nature found that even with optimal amounts of rain, African maize yields could decline by one percent for each day spent above 30ºC.

Regional predictions for shifts in temperatures and precipitation going out to 2050 were developed by analyzing the outputs of climate models rooted in the extensive data amassed by the Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Researchers identified populations as chronically food-insecure if more than 40 per cent of children under the age of five were ‘stunted’—that is, they fall well below the World Health Organization’s height-for-age standards.

CCAFS poverty and climate change hotspots presentation: Wiebke Foerch and Patti Kristjanson of CCAFS

CCAFS staff members Wiebke Foerch, based at ILRI, and Patti Kristjanson, based at the World Agroforestry Centre, hold discussions after ILRI’s Polly Ericksen presents her findings on poverty and climate change hotspots at the World Agroforestry Centre in May 2011 (photo credit: ILRI/MacMillan).

‘We are starting to see much more clearly where the effect of climate change on agriculture could intensify hunger and poverty, but only if we fail to pursue appropriate adaptation strategies,’ said Patti Kristjanson, a research theme leader at CCAFS and former agricultural economist at ILRI. ‘Farmers already adapt to variable weather patterns by changing their planting schedules or moving animals to different grazing areas. What this study suggests is that the speed of climate shifts and the magnitude of the changes required to adapt could be much greater. In some places, farmers might need to consider entirely new crops or new farming systems.’

Crop breeders at CGIAR centres around the world already are focused on developing so-called ‘climate ready’ crop varieties able to produce high yields in more stressful conditions. For some regions, however, that might not be a viable option—in parts of East and Southern Africa, for example, temperatures may become too hot to maintain maize as the staple crop, requiring a shift to other food crops, such as sorghum or cassava, to meet nutrition needs. In addition, farmers who now focus mainly on crop cultivation might need to integrate livestock and agroforestry as a way to maintain and increase food production.

CCAFS Bruce Campbell following Andy Jarvis' seminar on CCAFS

Bruce Campbell, coordinator of the CGIAR program ‘Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS)’, based in Copenhagen, talks with guests at a seminar given about CCAFS by Andy Jarvis at ILRI’s Nairobi campus on 13 May 2011 (photo credit: ILRI/MacMillan).

‘International trade in agriculture commodities is also likely to assume even more importance for all regions as climate change intensifies the existing limits of national agriculture systems to satisfy domestic food needs,’ said Bruce Campbell, director of CCAFS. ‘We have already seen with the food price spikes of 2008 and 2010 that food security is an international phenomenon and climate change is almost certainly going to intensify that interdependence.’

Ericksen and her colleagues note that regions of concern extend beyond those found to be most at risk. For example, in many parts of Latin America, food security is relatively stable at the moment—suggesting that a certain amount of ‘coping capacity’ could be available to deal with future climate stresses that affect agriculture production. Yet there is cause for concern because millions of people in the region are highly dependent on local agricultural production to meet their food needs and they are living in the very crosshairs of climate change.

The researchers found, for example, that by 2050, prime growing conditions are likely to drop below 120 days per season in intensively-farmed regions of northeast Brazil and Mexico.

Growing seasons of at least 120 days are considered critical not only for the maturation of maize and several other staple food crops, but also for vegetation crucial to feeding livestock.

In addition, parts of Latin America are likely to experience temperatures too hot for bean production, a major food staple in the region.

Mario Herrero, Polly Ericksen and Wiebke Foerch prepare to listen to Andy Jarvis' seminar on CCAFS

Mario Herrero, another ILRI author of the study, with climate Polly Ericksen and CCAFS staff member Wiebke Forech, all based at ILRI’s Nairobi headquarters, wait to hear a presentation from visiting CCAFS scientist Andy Jarvis at ILRI on 13 May 2011 (photo credit: ILRI/MacMillan).

The study also shows that some areas today have a ‘low sensitivity’ to the effects of climate change only because there is not a lot of land devoted to crop and livestock production. But agriculture intensification would render them more vulnerable, adding a wrinkle, for example, to the massive effort under way to rapidly expand crop cultivation in the so-called ‘bread-basket’ areas of sub-Saharan Africa.

Philip Thornton at Andy Jarvis' CCAFS Seminar

Philip Thornton (white shirt, facing camera), of ILRI and CCAFS, and other ILRI staff following a seminar on CCAFS given by Andy Jarvis at ILRI Nairobi on 13 May 2011 (photo credit: ILRI/MacMillan).

‘Evidence suggests that these specific regions in the tropics may be severely affected by 2050 in terms of their crop production and livestock capacity. The window of opportunity to develop innovative solutions that can effectively overcome these challenges is limited,’ said Philip Thornton, a CCAFS research theme leader and ILRI scientist and one of the paper’s co-authors. ‘Major adaptation efforts are needed now if we are to avoid serious food security and livelihood problems later.’
Five per cent reduction in crop season sensitivity to change capacity to cope: Corrected version

Areas where average maximum temperatures are expected to exceed 30⁰C by 2050, corrected version (map credit: ILRI-CCAFS/Notenbaert).

Read the whole report: Mapping hotspots of climate change and food insecurity in the global tropics, by Polly Ericksen, Philip Thornton, An Notenbaert, L Cramer, Peter Jones and Mario Herrero 2011. CCAFS Report no. 5 (final version). CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS). Copenhagen, Denmark. Also available online at: www.ccafs.cgiar.org.

Click here for the CCAFS online media room with more materials, including corrected versions of the news release in English, Spanish, French and Chinese, and also versions of the two maps shown here in high resolution suitable for print media.

All the maps will be made available online later this year; for more information on the maps, please contact ILRI’s Polly Ericksen at p.ericksen [at] cgiar.org or CCAFS’ Vanessa Meadu at ccafs.comms [at] gmail.com.

Note: This study was led by scientists at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) for the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS). CCAFS is a strategic partnership of the CGIAR and the Earth System Science Partnership (ESSP). CCAFS brings together the world’s best researchers in agricultural science, development research, climate science and Earth System science, to identify and address the most important interactions, synergies and tradeoffs between climate change, agriculture and food security. The CGIAR’s Lead Centre for the program is the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) in Cali, Colombia. For more information, visit www.ccafs.cgiar.org.

Researchers call for regional approaches to deal with high food prices

Malawi, Nr Dedza, Khulungira village

Researchers in eastern and southern Africa are calling for a new regional and integrated approach to address high food prices associated with global food shortages. They are doing this to help prevent a repeat of the global high food price crisis of three years ago.

Under the leadership of the Association for Strengthening Agriculture Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA), a regional body that seeks to transform agriculture and improve livelihoods, a team of researchers from key national, regional and international organizations in eastern and southern Africa (ESA) have determined that a ‘regionally coordinated response . . .  is potentially more effective in responding to the food price crisis than individual country responses.’

This is one of the key findings from a 2009 study that investigated food-price changes in the national and regional markets in eastern and southern Africa, which would provide an ‘evidence base for effective policy action.’

Joseph Karugia led a core team of researchers who were coordinated by the Regional Strategic Analysis and Knowledge Support System-East and Central Africa (ReSAKSS-EA), which is based in Nairobi, Kenya, at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI). Karugia says that ‘Regional blocks can become effective avenues for policy creation and implementation because they offer a much wider and stronger platform to address the challenges posed by the global food price crisis and to exploit the opportunities that high food prices may offer.’

Between 2007 and 2008, most countries in the region (and across the globe) experienced a rise in food prices that threatened the livelihoods of many of the region’s poor. Causes of the rise in prices were attributed to rising incomes and growing uses of food grains for bio-fuel production and animal feeds. In addition, an increasing world population and urbanization, coupled with high agricultural input prices, reduced world stocks of food staples and exports. Declining agricultural resources also contributed to the low supply of food.

Unlike past food-price spikes, such as those in the mid-1990s, where only a few commodities were affected, the recent rise in prices saw substantial increases in the price of the world’s key cereals, oilseeds and dairy and meat products.

For resource-poor farmers and consumers in Africa, high prices translated into higher costs of living occasioned by the increase in the prices of basic foods and staples such as maize, rice and wheat. Prices of different foods across many countries in the region went up by between 11 and 50 per cent between March 2007 and March 2008.

In the wake of the crisis, ASARECA brought a team of key researchers together in a study to find out ‘the magnitude and implications of food prices’ in the region. ‘One of our key aims was to come up with practical short-, medium- and long-term options for governments and other stakeholders for addressing the problem posed by the crisis,’ Karugia says.

The researchers analyzed trends and outlooks in individual countries as well as the region and presented evidence about the regional food situation. They also explored connections between high domestic food prices in this period and global food prices and examined regional and national dimensions of food-price increases and how they related to food security in the region.

From the study findings, presented in a paper, ‘Responding to the food crisis in eastern and southern Africa: policy options for national and regional action’, researchers argue that the considerable scope offered by regional blocks such as the East Africa Community (EAC), the Common Market for East and Southern Africa (COMESA), and the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) provides an opportunity to create and implement regional policies and strategies to improve food production, distribution and availability in ways that individual countries could not handle alone.

The findings of this research suggest that new ways of approaching food distribution can improve food security in the region by for example, enabling improved regional trade that would allow easier movement of foods, especially ‘non-tradeable’ commodities such as bananas, shipped from countries where they are readily available to countries where consumers face food shortages. This model of food distribution could effectively deal with challenges that result from failure of staple crops such as maize. This way, the report says ‘the income effect of rising food prices could be dampened if it is relatively easy for the household to substitute one staple food whose price is already rising with a cheaper food product that is nutritious and as easy to handle as the previous one.’

Findings from this study provide thought-provoking perspectives useful to policymakers and governments in managing the frequent food crises in the region.

The findings highlight the important role of regional trade, Domestic food prices are, to a large extent, determined by local and regional demand-and-supply conditions; if policies on informal trade were improved, this region’s food security would also improve. The researchers note that an inability of households to find alternative cheaper nutritious foods would lead to ‘lower resource allocation towards non-food items’. This would then affect other sectors, such as education, health care and water and sanitation, with the ‘eventual deterioration of human capital and overall household welfare.’

Although rising food prices are contributing to food price inflation, the researchers note that the domestic markets in the ESA region are resilient and are not always directly affected by global events. Arguing that the best way to address the food price crisis is to do so regionally, they say policies should aim to ‘increase household purchasing power, have no negative impact on food supply response and should not reduce income of poor food sellers.’

This study calls for paying renewed attention to the agricultural sector, which is essential for improving production. It also notes that high food prices provide incentives to the private sector to invest in the agricultural sector. However, productivity increases will require significant and sustained investments in agricultural research and extension, as well as development of agricultural and general infrastructure along with credit and risk-management instruments.

The complete findings of this research can be accessed on http://mahider.ilri.org/bitstream/10568/184/1/resakss%20workingpaper27.pdf

For more information please visit the websites of ResaKSS and ASARECA.

Responding to rising food prices

Mozambique, Angonia province, nr Ulongwe town

The global financial crisis currently monopolizing the attention of economists and policymakers throughout the world has diverted attention from the earlier and potentially more dangerous food crisis that began in earnest in 2006 and peaked in mid 2008.

The news may not be all bad. Higher prices for livestock products, for example, may well favour small-scale livestock keepers. But because the volatility of food prices is nowhere more precarious than in sub-Saharan Africa, understanding how food prices work in this difficult region is key to finding solutions.

Responding to the need for answers and suggestions, collective action from various research partners is called for. Besides ILRI, these include regional organizations such as the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in East and Central Africa (ASARECA), as well as a network called the Regional Strategic Analysis and Knowledge Support System (ReSAKSS), which has a central node in Washington and three sub-regional offices in Africa: at Pretoria for southern Africa, at Ibadan for West Africa and at Nairobi for East Africa. The latter office, located at ILRI and coordinated by Joseph Karugia, is called ReSAKSS-ECA (Eastern and Central Africa).

“Research from a multi-institutional regional study undertaken by ASARECA, ILRI, ReSAKSS-ECA and other partners,” says Karugia, “shows significant variation in the regional food situation compared to the global one, largely because of the region’s exceptional diversity in production and trade conditions.”

Significantly, rice and wheat, two crops that dominate global commodity trade, are not particularly important in ECA. Moreover, demand for maize, the dominant cereal, is largely satisfied locally in both formal and informal markets, making little impact on global trends. The results of the regional study referred to by Karugia provide practical short-, medium- and long-term options for governments and other stakeholders. This information is freely available at http://www.ilri.org/research/Content.asp?CCID=96&SID=264.

more…

Collective action on food crisis

“Food Needs to Move!” Especially across national borders.
“The levers to solve this problem are in our own hands.”—Joseph Karugia

Collective action on food crisis

New research showing how the global food price crisis is playing out in 17 countries of eastern and central Africa was presented at a roundtable discussion in Nairobi 22 July 2008.

The research results show that the regional food situation differs significantly from the global one, largely because of this region’s exceptional diversity. That regional diversity provides these countries with opportunities to turn the volatile global and local food situations to their advantage.

By integrating markets and simplifying trade within the region, policymakers can efficiently link areas with food deficits to areas with food surpluses. This integration will help the region’s small farmers get better prices for their crops and livestock while also helping the region’s urban consumers get reliable year-round access to staple food items.

The July Roundtable on the Global Food Crisis was organized by the Kenya country offices of the World Bank and World Food Program and the Nairobi-headquartered International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI). Fifty key decision-makers in agricultural and rural development met on ILRI’s campus to discuss interventions that governments, development agencies, research organizations and nongovernmental organizations could make to help poor people cope with the rising prices of staple foods.

Joseph Karugia, a Kenyan agricultural economist, provided an overview of the regional food situation. Karugia coordinates a Regional Strategic Analysis and Knowledge Support System for Eastern and Central Africa (ReSAKSS-ECA). His review was based on a study led by the region’s leading agricultural research group, the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA). Under pressure by policymakers needing to take action to address the food price crisis, a team of 26 researchers within ASARECA and several centres supported by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) that work in this region, including ILRI, with study activities coordinated by ReSAKSS-ECA, conceived and executed the study together and with speed.

“Our regional food prices have generally risen much slower than global ones,” Karugia said. Even the countries within the region are being affected differently by the global food prices, largely because of their different “food baskets”. Kenya’s main staple is maize, but in Uganda it’s plantain, in Ethiopia it’s teff and in Rwanda it’s beans. Those countries that deal in non-traded commodities are buffered from the rising prices of globally traded staples. “Rice and wheat,” Karugia said, “two hugely important staples globally, are relatively trivial in this region. Moreover, most of the region’s maize needs are met outside the global markets because most people in the region obtain their maize in locally, in informal as well as formal markets.”

One result is that while the food price index (FPI) of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which captures trends in major food commodities, rose by 56% between March 2007 and March 2008, the FPI increases in this region were all below 40% and in most cases significantly lower. The FPI increased by 39% in Ethiopia, 20% in Burundi and Kenya, and just 11% in Tanzania. In several other countries in the region, including Madagascar, Malawi, Rwanda, Uganda and Zambia, the increase was less than 10%.

It’s not only the staples of these neighbouring countries that differ. Their climate and rainfall patterns differ, and consequently their planting and harvest times differ, too.

These within-region variations give policymakers a powerful lever for transforming a global food crisis into a regional opportunity for farm producers and urban consumers alike.


“The spatial and temporal distribution of production and staggered harvesting
in the countries of eastern and southern Africa offer large opportunities for trade.”

By integrating the region’s food markets and simplifying its food trade regulations, Karugia said, the region could link up food-deficit to food-surplus areas and thus provide its citizens with staples in an given season. A truly integrated regional market would provide farmers with remunerative prices and alternative reliable markets for their produce while also providing urban consumers and rural net buyers of food with a variety of reasonably priced food staples throughout the year.

Most of the trade in food in this region is informal. It is wasteful not because it is informal but rather because of the many obstacles the informal traders have to face. Karugia explains: “At the border between Kenya and Uganda, trucks laden with sacks of grain and other food staples are unloaded, reloaded onto bicycles, bicycled across the border to be reloaded onto trucks on the other side. This is not an efficient way to move food!”

It would be a shame, Karugia said, quoting the economist Paul Romer, for the eastern and southern Africa region “to waste a good crisis”. “This global food price crisis provides the 19 countries of eastern and southern Africa with a golden opportunity to promote agricultural-led development through increased domestic production, regional trade and integration.”

The ASARECA research presented at this roundtable discussion was a demonstration of this new networked science. Diverse scientists from ReSAKSS-ECA, ASARECA and the CGIAR worked together for months amassing data from country and regional organizations and consulting with key experts and partners within governments, policy think tanks, research institutions, emergency relief agencies and the private sector. Although their individual perspectives on, and interpretations of, the data they collected vary considerably, the research group reached consensus on several points.

The poor in this region are spending 40 to 70% of their income on buying food.
The poor are being hit hardest by the rise in food prices, especially the rural net buyers of food.
Contrary to popular belief, most of the farming households in the rural areas are net buyers rather than net producers of food if price rather than volume of food is considered. Poverty forces them to sell their grain and other crops at harvest time, when prices are at their lowest, and to buy grain again, several months later, when the households run out of the staple, often at two to three times the price at which they sold their grain.
Prices of agricultural inputs are increasing across the 17 countries of the region. (The price of fertilizer rose 200% in Kenya in the last year.)
Yields of staple food crops are stagnating or decreasing in 17 of the 19 countries of Eastern and Central Africa (only Egypt and Mauritius are increasing their yields) because farming is moving onto increasingly marginal agricultural lands, causing yield aggregates to fall.

One other salient fact leaped out of the data—the region cannot continue to spend less than 10% (and in some cases as low as 2%) of its national budgets in a sector that provides 25% of the region’s gross domestic product, 75% of its citizen’s livelihoods, and food for 100% of its people. ‘We have neglected our agriculture, our farmers and our food markets for decades,” says Karugia. “This is the result.”

Karugia and his many colleagues in this multi-institutional, multi-disciplinary, and multi-commodity project asked themselves one central question: What levers can we pull to take advantage of the higher food prices? The two conventional answers—increase farm production and control consumer demand—were deemed by the group to be too slow to be useful. This regional group of scientists concluded that a regional strategy for exploiting the food price hikes offered the best opportunities for the most numbers of people: “Exploit the regional diversity by facilitating regional trade”.

Priority actions for such a regional strategy would include the following:
Markets: Remove export bans, eliminate non-trade barriers, simplify trade regulations and upgrade infrastructure along the region’s main trade corridors.
Farmers: Reduce the high cost of fertilizer and other agricultural inputs and facilitate their trade, widen use of best-bet agricultural technologies, pilot innovative risk-management strategies such as index-based insurance schemes.
Institutions: Strengthen market information and intelligence as well as frameworks for preparedness, response and learning.

Addressing these issues in these ways, with evidence-based policy options, is thus feasible, say the study team, and should lead to lowering the prices of food staples while also raising farm productivity and agricultural livelihoods.

In summing up the day’s roundtable discussion, host Carlos Seré, who is ILRI’s director general, said that it’s not only food we should be moving within the region but also the agricultural technologies that allow greater and more sustainable food production. The current food price crisis also has that silver lining: “When you have high food prices, you can move those technologies for improved food production. And you can get attention for neglected alternative crops, such as cassava chips for livestock feed. Which become viable as the price of grain staples rise.”

“This is something happening now,” Seré said. “We need smart interventions that target the region’s poor consumers and farmers alike. We need to get fertilizers into the region’s high potential farming areas. The key thing is to work with markets—to arbitrage across countries and across the region. We must reduce trade barriers within the region, which will greatly improve the efficiency of its markets.”

“We must also think through new crop portfolios for this region,” he continued. “How, for example, could we continue to support maize production in Kenya without penalizing those farmers pursuing a more diversified system that includes sorghum or millet?”

Seré concluded: “Climate and other fast-evolving changes affecting developing-country food production will make our problems worse in future. Finding the institutional frameworks for addressing these problems in collective action is our challenge.”

Welcome address by ILRI director general Carlos Seré

In welcoming participants to the roundtable forum, ILRI director general Carlos Seré said: “Global analysis of the food situation is relatively simple. We need to bring the discussion and analysis down to regional levels to increase the specificity, the granularity, of our information.” . . . Read more
Read profile of Carlos Seré

Interview with Ravi Prabhu, a member of the study team and coordinator of a CGIAR initiative called Collective Action for Eastern and Southern Africa

Let’s take a look at what we heard today from Joseph Karugia and his ASARECA, ReSAKSS-ECG and CGIAR team.

We heard that have opportunities to exploit regional food heterogeneity, capacities and systems that we are not doing a good job of exploiting . . . Read more


The latest version of the ASARECA Food Crisis Report is available: http://www.asareca.org/resources/reports/resp2food_pr_main.pdf

Further Information Contact:

Joseph Karugia
Coordinater, ReSAKSS-ECA
International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI)
Nairobi, KENYA
Email: j.karugia@cgiar.org
Telephone: +254 (20) 422 3016

Rising milk and meat prices bring threats and opportunities

More equitable trade policies and substantial investments in agricultural research are urgently needed to help poor farmers seize new market opportunities.
 

milk pricesSoaring food prices are dominating headlines. Rising prices represent threats for poor consumers as well as opportunities for poor milk and meat producers. The politics of food have grown complicated with almost as much speed as the rise in food prices. For many people who are poor, this has become an immediate crisis in their lives. It has suddenly become much more difficult for them to secure sufficient nutritious food.

ILRI’s director-general, Carlos Sere, says that governments should start focusing on the livestock sector to combat famine. He warned that the prices of livestock products will skyrocket if the prevailing conditions do not change.

But for some 800 million smallholder livestock farmers, this crisis could turn into an opportunity. Given the right support, they could earn more income from milk and meat, giving them more hope for the future.

The surge in prices of milk and meat, as well as rice, wheat and other cereal grains, is a global problem that will have the greatest impact on the world’s poor. Increasing milk and meat consumption are contributing to the spike in milk and meat prices. More people in the developing world are consuming larger quantities of animal source foods, while consumption in industrial countries is flattening out. The main driver in the increase in milk and meat prices has been the surge in demand for the products in China and India, where,fortunately, hundreds of millions of people are improving their diets as well as their incomes.

Many other factors are also contributing to the high prices. Rising global oil prices have had a negative effect on agricultural production, transportation and fertilizer costs; diversion of food grains and agricultural land to biofuels means more grain and land is being used for energy production and so less is available for food and recent bad weather, such as in Australia and New Zealand where severe droughts have hampered agricultural production.

Demand soars in Asia’s rapidly emerging economies

Over the last decade, consumption of livestock products in the emerging economies of China and India has grown dramatically. As incomes of the poor rise from USD2 a day to USD10 a day, people typically switch from a predominantly starchy diet to a more varied diet that includes more vegetables, milk, meat and eggs.

In 1985, Chinese consumers ate an average of 20 kilograms (44 pounds) of meat, equivalent to half a pound per person per fortnight. This has increased 40 per cent and today they eat an average of 50 kilograms (110 pounds) per year. This is equivalent to half a pound per week. However, many poor people are too poor to eat meat – or eat only tiny amounts. In contrast, people in the US are consuming over half a pound of meat per person every day. US per capita red meat and poultry consumption increased 8 per cent between 1980 and 2005, and now stands at 187.5 pounds per person.

Poor consumers will be hardest hit by rising prices

Higher meat and milk prices will have the greatest effect on world’s poorest 2 billion people, who live on less than USD2 a day. For most of the 800 million people who live on even less – USD1 a day – these price increases mean they will go hungry more often and their diets will not be as nutritious. Threats and opportunities exist and this depends on whether the poor are net consumers of these foodstuffs or net producers, interestingly more rural farmers are net consumers.

In some areas, the price of milk has doubled. This is bad news for consumers in high milk consuming countries such as Kenya and India. For example, the price of milk in northern India has risen from 17 to 24 rupees in last 2 years, an increase of 50 per cent. Meat prices, while not rising quite as dramatically, are expected to keep increasing in large part because the corresponding price jumps of cereal grains used to feed livestock raised in industrial systems.

The world’s growing population will keep up the pressure on demand. Some estimate that by 2030, global food demands will double from current consumption. This does not mean that the result is all bad news for the poor. Many poor farmers with a surplus to sell could benefit from rising prices. For these farmers and their families, the rising prices of milk and meat offer new opportunities to climb out of poverty as they produce and sell more livestock and livestock products. India is a great example. With its sprawling crowded cities and population of over one billion, tens of millions of people could use dairy products to get themselves and their families out of poverty. Recent food price rises are also encouraging poor farmers in northeast India to expand their production of small local pigs. The soaring price of grains along with higher transportation costs is reducing the supply of exotic pigs from northeastern Indian states and stimulating demand for local black pigs that do not need costly feeds and can thrive on locally produced fodder and kitchen wastes. With the right support and infrastructure, poor farmers could seize the new market opportunities and climb out of poverty.

Food grains for people or for livestock?

With soaring demands for milk and meat comes more livestock and this brings more stress on the environment. ILRI’s long-term research aims for sustainable animal agriculture that helps poor farmers intensify their production systems while conserving their land, water and other natural resources. Livestock farming in poor countries is radically different from the industrial, grain-fed, feedlot form of livestock production practiced throughout the West. In industrial systems, it takes 8 kilos of grain to produce 1 kilo of meat. The ruminant livestock of poor countries do not compete with people for their feed, as they eat mainly grass, forages and crop wastes.

Food grains for people or for biofuels?

Another complicating factor in efforts to increase food production is the diversion of grains and oilseeds to produce ethanol and biodiesel. The World Development Report 2008 estimates that filling up a typical 4×4 SUV with ethanol uses enough maize to feed a person for a year. The report also found that biofuels would raise the prices of grain globally. This will lead to higher rates of malnutrition among the poor in the world’s least developed countries. Governments are reassessing their biofuels policies as there is growing concern about grain and oil-based crops, such as maize, soybean and oil palm, being used for producing biofuels while millions of poor people simply do not have enough food to eat. Not all biofuels are bad for food production and support is gathering for biofuels produced from non-consumable products such as wastes from sugarcane and sweet sorghum residues.

Recommendations

There are no quick fixes for today’s soaring food prices and their negative impacts on poverty levels and food security and availability. An international commitment to fairer and more equitable trade, together with substantial investments in agricultural research and development, are urgently needed to cope with current and future demands.
 

Fairer and more equitable trade
A major concern is that the spike in commodity prices could pit the globe’s poorer South against the relatively wealthy North, elevating demands from the South for reform of rich nations’ farm and environmental policies. It could also pit neighboring countries against each other. Trade barriers, production subsidies, import subsidies and export bans will all hit the poor the hardest.

ILRI recommends:

  1. Develop smart subsidies for the most vulnerable groups. Put more funds into the hands of the poorest people to buy the food they need instead of resorting to protectionist trade barriers to keep prices low.

2. Cut subsidies to European and US farmers and open rich markets to poor suppliers.

3. Get higher prices into the hands of small-scale livestock producers to encourage them to produce more.

Increasing investments in agricultural development and growth
Food productivity increases are critical for meeting rising food demands. Without the necessary increases in productivity, the global food crisis will worsen, prices will continue to rise and it will be even more difficult for poor people to access nutritious food.  It is critical that governments substantially increase their investments in agricultural research.

ILRI recommends:
1. Invest in rural market transport and infrastructure to ensure food supply from rural producers, especially of perishable, high value products, including livestock products.

2. Use options identified by scientific research to refine the integration of crops and livestock so as to raise smallholder productivity.
 
3. Exploit the fact that the new prices now make many livestock technologies developed over the last 30 years financially feasible.