Posts Tagged ‘global food crisis’

Global Food Crisis Threat Continues

Friday, December 26th, 2008

Dear Friend,

For months we’ve been hearing about the global food crisis. The cost of food and fuel increased suddenly and sharply, making it harder for poor people around the world to feed their families. In dozens of cities, people took to the streets in protest.

Now the focus is on the collapse of the world economy. Food and fuel prices on global markets have fallen nearly as precipitously as they rose.

So, is the global food crisis over?

Unfortunately, no. It has merely entered a new phase. We are now confronted with an environment of price volatility and uncertainty. Who knows where prices will be a year from now?

In fact, although commodity prices have fallen globally, this is not necessarily reflected in local markets. For example, one of our CRS staff recently spoke with a 28-year-old woman from the Machakos diocese in Kenya who must feed a household of 12 people, including her five children and four orphaned child relatives. She says the price of maize is still nearly double what it was last year. After she emptied her last 200-pound bag of maize, she couldn’t afford to buy more. She recently received food vouchers from Catholic Relief Services to purchase maize, beans and cooking oil. Burkina Faso is another case, where despite a rice harvest over three times that of 2007, local rice prices remained 30 percent higher than last year.

This food crisis has also exposed a vulnerability in many of the developing countries in sub-Saharan Africa, which have for years grown accustomed to importing cheap food, principally from Asia. When the prices of those imports rose past the point at which the African countries could afford them, the failure over the past decade or more to invest in African agriculture was exposed. Countries were not able to turn to their local farmers for the quantity of food that was needed because the production potential and infrastructure were not there.

But farmers seeking to grow more food face challenges. Access to credit has never been easy in the developing world, and the financial crisis will just make it harder. Add to that the fact that the prices of essential supplies, especially fertilizer, remain high. Finally, farmers who do increase production face the prospect of lower prices for their crops. According to the latest forecast from the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization, these challenges could lead farmers to cut their plantings, which could precipitate another food crisis: “If, indeed, production falls sharply next year, episodes of riots and instability could again capture the headlines.”

It is clear that we must act now to avoid crisis in the future. A key part of a food security strategy must be an increased investment in farmers who cultivate small plots, particularly those who grow staple crops. We can help farmers obtain badly needed fertilizer to maximize their harvests. We can connect farmers to markets where they can receive a good, fair price for their crops. In the midst of the food crisis, CRS launched or expanded several initiatives with these goals in mind, including programs seeking to increase production of rice in West Africa, navy beans in Ethiopia, chickpeas in Tanzania and cassava across the continent.

And we must never forget the poorest of our brothers and sisters. We must provide those who are most vulnerable–such as orphans, the disabled, the elderly–with a safety net that would include food distribution, vouchers that could be exchanged for food and cash or food for work. These programs are particularly important in urban areas, where the desperately poor can’t grow food and so have no recourse when they exhaust their resources.
As we begin this new year, it is an auspicious time to recommit ourselves to this fight to end hunger around the world.

Thank you for your continued support and your prayers.

Ken Hackett

Drought Brings Hunger to Kenya

Tuesday, December 16th, 2008

Debbie DeVoe, CRS regional information officer in East Africa, reports on the devastating impact of drought and high food prices in Kenya.

Kenya food

Although food is available in local shops, many Kenyans simply can’t afford to buy any. CRS vouchers are enabling the neediest families to purchase two to three weeks worth of supplies.. Photo by Debbie DeVoe/CRS

Finally, food and fuel prices are starting to drop across the globe. But in many countries these price drops have yet to reach the average person trying to survive during these hard times. And in East Africa, where drought is desiccating fields across the region, some families have no food stocks left and no idea where their next meal will come from.

This was the case last week for Virginia Nzyoka and her household of 12. Virginia, at 28 years old, lives with her husband and their five children. She also takes care of four young relatives who are now orphans, as well as her disabled grandfather.

Economic Turmoil Calls Us To Sacrifice for the World’s Hungry

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2008

In his latest monthly dispatch, Ken Hackett, president of Catholic Relief Services, looks at the current economic crisis from the perspective of working poor in developing nations.

As we Americans watch the financial crisis unfold, and our investments and retirement accounts plunge in value day by day, many of us are approaching the New Year with an overwhelming sense of fear and helplessness.

We are beginning to reassess plans we’ve made, wondering whether we’ve saved enough for retirement or college tuitions. And in our neighborhoods and communities, we are seeing signs of economic stress. People are out of work. Auction signs are sprouting up in front of foreclosed homes. And food pantries are reporting depleted stocks as demand for their services rises.

Economic Crisis Magnifies Plight of World’s Hungry

Thursday, October 23rd, 2008

Dear Friend,

As we Americans watch the financial crisis unfold, and our investments and retirement accounts plunge in value day by day, many of us are feeling an overwhelming sense of fear and helplessness.

We are beginning to reassess plans we’ve made, wondering whether we’ve saved enough for retirement or college tuitions. And in our neighborhoods and communities, we are seeing signs of economic stress. People are out of work. Auction signs are sprouting up in front of foreclosed homes. And food pantries are reporting depleted stocks as demand for their services rises.

This is a time of great uncertainty and anxiety. But imagine how much worse it would be if we could not afford basic food for our families. If we had to tell our kids, “There will be no dinner tonight—maybe we can eat something at breakfast tomorrow.”

This is what life is like for the working poor in sub-Saharan Africa. Poor families in places like Burkina Faso typically spend more than three-quarters of their income just on food. A sack of rice in this West African country that cost $28 this past January is now going for more than $50—more than a day laborer makes in a month. And the global food crisis, combined with the world economic meltdown, is only going to make things worse.

With the current economic turmoil, the plight of the world’s hungry people is getting much less attention in the media. And with hundreds of billions of dollars devoted to bailing out huge corporations, foreign assistance directed toward the poor will likely be a candidate for budget cuts.

We are feeling the stress at Catholic Relief Services. The increased cost of food and fuel, combined with the devaluation of the dollar, has made our work more challenging. We are calling upon the resiliency and creativity of our staff to strategically cut back in some areas and stretch our budget as far as we can. But there is one thing we will never sacrifice, and that is our mission: serving the poorest and most vulnerable people overseas.

We will continue to do what we have been doing. We’ll just have to do it smarter.

Throughout our 65-year history, the people of CRS have risen to the challenges before us. And we’ve learned how to do things better, more effectively and more efficiently.

It was 10 years ago that we faced a daunting task in responding to the devastation left by Hurricane Mitch, which tore through Central America, leaving 10,000 people dead, destroying crops and leveling houses. The need was overwhelming, and CRS was one of the first humanitarian agencies to respond.

It was in the wake of this tragedy that we refined the way we respond to disasters. We established a three-pronged approach. Our first focus is on saving lives and responding to immediate needs: providing food, water and shelter, as well as other basic necessities. But then we focus on development. The second prong is helping people rebuild their livelihoods and get back to work. The community’s involvement in their own recovery then becomes the third prong. Once the rebuilding is done, self-sustaining community organizations take over, preparing residents for future disasters so they will be more resilient and can act as their own first responders.

These were important lessons that we employed for subsequent emergencies, including the Indian Ocean tsunami. And it is this kind of insight, ingenuity and ability to adapt that will help us to get through this economic crisis and emerge as an even stronger, more efficient and more effective agency—better able to fulfill our mission. And we will do this in partnership with the American Catholic community, whose continued generosity we need and appreciate now more than ever.

Thank you for your continued support and your prayers.

Ken Hackett


Pope Benedict XVI on World Food Day Theme

Thursday, October 16th, 2008

The Vatican news service released the following statement from Pope Benedict XVI on this year’s World Food Day theme.

VATICAN CITY, 16 OCT 2008 (VIS) – Benedict XVI has written a Message to Jacques Diouf, director general of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) for the occasion of World Food Day, an annual event organised by the FAO every 16 October.

Commenting upon the theme chosen for this year’s Day – “World Food Security: the Challenges of Climate Change and Bioenergy” – the Holy Father writes that it “enables reflection upon achievements in the fight against hunger and upon the obstacles facing the FAO in the new challenges threatening the life of the human family”.

Benedict XVI highlights how “above all we must undertake to illuminate the reasons that prevent authentic respect for human dignity. With the means and resources the world has at its disposal, it is possible to supply sufficient nourishment and to satisfy the growing needs of everyone”, he says.

“The incorrect management of food resources caused by corruption in public life and increasing investment in arms and sophisticated military technology, to the detriment of people’s primary needs, has great importance”, he adds.

The Pope also highlights how “an effective campaign against hunger, in order to confront climate change or to allocate agricultural production primarily to food, calls for much more than mere scientific studies. It is necessary, above all, to rediscover the significance of human beings in their individual and community dimensions”.

“This reflects the need to build relations between peoples based on real and constant openness, to ensure that each country is able to satisfy the requirements of those in need, and to transmit the idea of relations founded on the interchange of reciprocal knowledge, values, rapid assistance and respect”.

Benedict XVI underscores the importance of “commitment to promoting effective social justice in relations among peoples”, so that the economy may be oriented towards the distribution of the goods of the earth, “to their sustainable use and to the fair division of their benefits”.

“One essential condition to increase levels of production and guarantee the identity of indigenous communities, as well as peace and security in the world”, he concludes, “is to guarantee access to land, favouring agricultural workers and promoting their rights”.

Are You Having a Food Crisis?

Monday, September 29th, 2008

October’s CRS Briefing’s theme is Harvest of Hope.

CRS President Ken Hackett’s letter outlines the current global food crisis. In feature stories from Burkina Faso, Haiti and Ethiopia, you’ll meet people who daily feel the pain of rising food prices.

Are rising food prices causing you to change the way you eat? Crimping your budget for other things?

We’d like to know how food costs have affected you, if at all. Don’t hesitate to add your thoughts about the Briefing stories.

The question: How have increased food prices affected you?

Boosting Rice Production to Fight the Food Crisis

Monday, September 22nd, 2008

Dear Friend,

The global food crisis has brought an end to what The Economist magazine has called “the era of cheap food.” This refers to the two decades before 2005 when food prices fell by three-quarters in real terms on world markets.

Food was so inexpensive that many developing countries found it was more cost effective to import food than to produce it themselves. In many African countries, for example, imported rice from Asia was so cheap that local farmers couldn’t compete, and so production flagged. But with many Asian nations limiting exports as a result of the food crisis, cheap imported rice is a thing of the past for African families—perhaps forever.

This is certainly the case in Burkina Faso. Rice there is the fourth most important food crop, after millet, sorghum and maize. For years, the west African country imported more than 70 percent of its rice from abroad, with local production covering the rest. But this has all changed after the price of rice rose by at least 60 percent in the first half of this year. Although this is a disaster for urban consumers, small-scale rice farmers can find in it an opportunity to increase their production, which will benefit them and their fellow Burkinabe.

Catholic Relief Services is carrying out a broad-based response to the global food crisis caused by skyrocketing prices for both food and fuel. A key part of our strategy is helping small-scale farmers to boost local crop production, increasing their incomes and putting more food on the market, which should lower prices for all.

An important component of this response is the CRS Rice Initiative, which seeks to increase the productivity of rice farm families in Africa. Sixteen CRS country programs across Africa have committed to participating in the Rice Initiative, which will provide small-scale rice farmers, most of whom are women, with access to improved seed varieties and high-quality nitrogen fertilizer that will quickly produce higher yields. We will also provide support to farmers in preventing post-harvest loss and in marketing their crops.

CRS has already begun “quick start” activities in four countries—Burkina Faso, Gambia, Ghana and Madagascar—using our private funds to support farmers so they can take advantage of the upcoming planting season.

CRS has also been invited to participate in a $5.1-million, two-year proposal by the West Africa Rice Development Association (WARDA, also known as the Africa Rice Center) to boost productivity in Nigeria, Senegal, Mali and Ghana.

It is our hope that we can build on our quick start in west Africa, and expand this Rice Initiative to east and southern Africa, as well as to Asian countries including the Philippines and India. In addition to WARDA, CRS intends to partner with the Philippines-based International Rice Research Institute, which brought the Green Revolution to Asia.

The Rice Initiative is an example of CRS’ ability to leverage our expertise acquired over long years of experience to launch bold new programs. Our work in seed fairs and vouchers will help us effectively distribute seed and fertilizer to the farmers most in need. Our ability to provide follow-up technical assistance, including agro-enterprise initiatives linking African farmers to profitable markets, will help them to help their neighbors by producing a more bountiful harvest.

Thank you for your continued support and for your prayers for all the suffering who are going hungry as a result of this global food crisis.

Ken Hackett


CRS Testifies Before Congress on Global Food Crisis

Wednesday, July 16th, 2008

Sean Callahan, CRS’ executive vice president for overseas operations, recently returned from a trip to east Africa and testified today before a House Agriculture subcommittee about the additional help needed by impoverished Africans affected by mounting food and fuel prices.

“CRS staff around the world has heard stories of families who are stretched to the limits of life itself by the high price of food,” Callahan told a subcommittee hearing of the House Agriculture Committee.

Family members must feed their malnourished children therapeutic milk every three hours until wasting bodies return to health. Photo by Debbie DeVoe/CRS

Family members must feed their malnourished children therapeutic milk every three hours until wasting bodies return to health. Photo by Debbie DeVoe/CRS

In some regions of Niger, he said, families have started eating only one meal a day. In dire circumstances, people have resorted to eating anza, a wild plant with bitter leaves, to supplement their diet. In northern Ghana, students have been taking CRS-provided lunches home to share with hungry family members, sharing their only meal of the day.

“Some families must make do with eating less at each meal. They are already skipping meals, or even not eating on a particular day,” he said. “Tragically, they may even have to decide which child or children may have the best chance of survival and which, already so ill and weak, will be allowed to die. These are the agonizing choices the global food crisis is forcing the poor to make.”

Callahan also alerted the subcommittee to what he saw several weeks ago in Ethiopia, where two consecutive seasons of poor rains have led to total crop failure and malnutrition.

“I visited a feeding site run by the Ethiopian Catholic Church and the Missionaries of Charity in a largely Muslim area where, over the previous five weeks, 28 children had died of malnutrition. The conditions there are already dire,” he said.

“I saw one Ethiopian parent bring a very sickly, lethargic child to the center for emergency treatment. The parent told the sisters, ‘I brought this child because I thought he could make it. My weakest child is at home.’

“My first reaction on seeing all this was simply to bite my lip, to contain my emotion,” Callahan said. “My second reaction was anger. How could we let this happen? But the more I observed, I realized that this was a place of hope. I saw kids being fed and stabilized, getting better. Parents were thanking the workers for saving the lives of their children.”

Sean’s entire testimony is posted on the CRS website.

Angels in Benin

Thursday, July 10th, 2008
CRS President Ken Hackett with Ange, a child cared for by the Missionaries of Charity in Benin. Photo by Lane Hartill/CRS

Ken Hackett and Ange. Photo by Lane Hartill/CRS

Ken Hackett, the President of Catholic Relief Services, recently visited the Missionaries of Charity — the order founded by Mother Teresa — in Cotonou, Benin. Lane Hartill, CRS’ West Africa Regional Information Officer, accompanied him and writes about the visit:

Ange and his twin sister, Angel, 11 months old, showed up here a few weeks ago. Their mother, who has three other children at home, couldn’t care for them. And it showed. They have thinning hair, twigish limbs and skin mottled with rash. But the religious sisters here are nursing Angel and her brother back to health. The twins have greatly improved in the three weeks they’ve been here. When the sisters think they are healthy enough, they will go back to their mother. The sisters will then visit their home to make sure they are cared for.

As the sisters tell us the children’s stories, the toddlers sit on the floor and stare up at their new visitors. Ken quickly spots Ange (pronounced AHN-je, which means angel in French). “Hey Spike!” he says, as he squatted and picked him up. Ange likes the attention and Ken immediately takes to him. He bounces him in his arms and listens as the sisters tell us that the number of Beninese coming to their center has jumped in recent months. Food prices have shot up here, and the poorest of the poor — those who they serve — can’t manage.

One sister says that one portion of corn in Cotonou used to cost about $.75. Now it costs about $1.25 — out of the reach of many people.

“The poor people are starving because it’s too much for them,” says the sister. “People here are living hand to mouth.”

The head sister shares anecdotes, one after another, that illustrate the problems: A woman went to the local Catholic Church and left a baby boy with another person and told her she’d be right back. She never returned. And the baby, it was later discovered, had a serious wound on his back.

Not long ago, a baby was found in a Dumpster, tied up in a sack. A passer-by heard the cries, opened the sack and brought the baby to the Missionaries of Charity.

But despite the rough circumstances, the sisters say Beninese still have hope and are persistent, many showing up at 5 a.m. to wait for food. “Even though they are suffering day after day after day, they accept it,” says the sister. “It’s amazing how they accept it.” What’s more remarkable, she says, “They have a place in their heart for God.”

“At the Missionaries of Charity,” Hackett says, “you’re in the midst of giants. [The sisters] are not trying to change something; they’re accepting it. They’re not like the rest of us who think we’re going to fix all the problems.”

Carla Brown-Ndiaye, the head of CRS’ Benin office, who is in the process of adopting a little girl from the Missionaries of Charity here, says the sisters are incredible.

“I find them to be just amazing women,” she says.

CRS Haiti receives $10 million from USAID to address food crisis

Saturday, May 24th, 2008

CRS is working in partnership with the US Agency for International Development (USAID) office of Food for Peace to meet the immediate needs of those most affected by the food crisis in Haiti. USAID is funding a $10 million emergency food security program that will enable CRS to reach 382,500 Haitians during the next 12 months.

CRS Haiti will distribute 7,730 metric tons of cereals, pulses and oils over the next two months to meet the immediate needs of vulnerable groups through orphanages, nutrition programs for pregnant and lactating women, primary school lunches and assistance for people living with HIV and AIDS.

To meet the longer term and livelihood needs of families, a Food For Work program will help people help themselves by improving agricultural infrastructure, drainage and mitigating the effects of ecological degradation.