Cohen, M. and J.L Garrett (2009). The food price crisis and urban food (in)security. (pdf, 436KB)
Urbanization and emerging population issues working paper series No.2, IIED, London.
Rapid increases in food prices in 2007 and the first half of 2008 attracted high-level policy attention. During the course of 2008, the United Nations organized an inter-agency High-Level Taskforce on the Global Food Security Crisis and issued a Comprehensive Framework for Action. Over 40 heads of state and government attended a High-Level Conference on World Food Security, sponsored by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), and focused mainly on how to address the price increases. Donors pledged more than US $12 billion to assist low-income, food-importing countries in coping with the effects of soaring prices.
The speeches, declarations, plans, and pledges all duly noted the vulnerability of poor urban dwellers, who rely primarily on market purchases for their food, and for whom food purchases account for the bulk of expenditures. Yet most policy prescriptions focused on addressing constraints to rural-based food production. In addition to strengthening of social protection schemes, the declarations called for increased investment in smallholder agriculture, attention to macroeconomic and trade measures, and the development or rebuilding of national and regional food stocks. While action in these last three areas potentially contributes in the longer term to greater urban food security, policymakers and analysts nevertheless paid less attention to efforts that would have a direct impact on preventing urban hunger.
In this paper, we argue that the disproportionate attention that policy solutions to the food price crisis give to rural dwellers is likely misplaced. Although in developing countries rural poverty is often deeper and more widespread than urban poverty, rural dwellers are often net producers of food, frequently of the very staples whose prices are rising. We outline the pathways of impact of food price rises on urban dwellers; highlight the evidence so far on how those impacts have played out during this crisis; and describe current policy responses and suggest how to improve them to better protect the urban poor in the short- and longer-term.
Stage et al (2009). Is urbanization contributing to higher food prices? (pdf, 102KB)
Urbanization and emerging population issues working paper series No. 1, IIED, London.
The recent spike in food prices has led to a renewal of interest in agricultural issues and in the long-term drivers of food prices. Urbanization has been mentioned as one possible cause of higher food prices. In this paper we examine some of the links through which urbanization is considered to be contributing to higher food prices and conclude that in most cases urbanization is being conflated with other long-term processes, such as economic growth, population growth and environmental degradation, which can more fruitfully be seen as related but separate processes. We discuss long- and-short term factors affecting food prices, and conclude that the one important way in which urbanization in poor countries may affect food prices, at least potentially, is that it increases the number of households who depend on commercial food supplies, rather than own production, as their main source and hence are likely to hoard food if they fear future price increases. The best policy option for managing this is larger food reserves. Attempts to curb urbanization, on the other hand, would be ill advised.
JOHANNESBURG, 13 July 2009 (IRIN) – The number of poor and food-insecure people in developing countries is increasing more quickly in urban areas than in rural areas, and could be dropping off the policy radar, says new research by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).
“Poverty is still viewed by many as a rural problem, as both governments and donors continue to allocate resources to rural development in order to reverse the bias of urban policies of the 1970s and 1980s,” Shahla Shapouri and Stacey Rosen, researchers in the department’s Economic Research Services, write in the USDA’s Food Security Assessment 2008-09.
In 2008, when the food crisis focused greater attention on agriculture and development in rural areas, for the first time in history more than half the world’s population lived in urban areas, the researchers said, citing UN Population Fund (UNFPA) statistics.
By 2030 the majority of people in all developing countries will live in urban areas, and UNFPA estimates that about 60 percent of the urban slum population will be under the age of 18. “This realization has not yet translated into policy action in most countries,” Shapouri and Rosen noted.
Sub-Saharan African countries have the world’s highest rates of urban growth and highest levels of urban poverty, according to the State of the World’s Cities Report 2006/07 by UN-Habitat, the UN human settlements programme. The slum population in these countries doubled from 1990 to 2005, when it reached 200 million.
The urban poor in Africa are more exposed to economic shocks – as the food price crisis in 2008 demonstrated – particularly in countries importing most of their food requirements.
Poor and food-insecure people will account for a large share of urban growth because of both rural migration and natural growth, since fertility rates are higher among the poor than among higher income populations
In lower-income Latin American and Caribbean countries, 45 percent of total grain supplies between 2004 and 2006 were imported, compared to 31 percent in sub-Saharan Africa, and 12 percent in lower-income Asian countries.
“Poor and food-insecure people will account for a large share of urban growth because of both rural migration and natural growth, since fertility rates are higher among the poor than among higher income populations,” the researchers pointed out.
“These developments will translate to higher poverty and more food insecurity in urban versus rural areas, and present a challenge to create employment opportunities for the urban poor.”
Trying to find a solution
Countries like India and China are trying to implement programmes to slow the pace of urbanization; in sub-Saharan Africa, “governments have increased investment in rural development with the expectation that this will slow the pace of urban migration, but so far there is no evidence to suggest that this will happen,” Shapouri and Rosen warned.
“Can the experience of the developed countries that adjusted and accommodated high urban growth rates be replicated by developing countries? The answer is not simple because of the differences in public attention and investment.”
In days gone by, the wealthy urban population in developed countries forced the authorities to devote attention to poor living conditions in local slums.
However, the rich in developing countries can now afford water pumps and generators for electricity, “thereby protecting themselves from the unhealthy conditions of the urban poor. That schism reduces pressure on developing country governments to invest in urban public services, of which the poor are the main beneficiaries.”
Improved safety-net systems to help cope with food insecurity and economic shocks are likely to become more important as the urban population increases.
Some countries are promoting urban gardening, but limited access to clean water and high population density pose the risk of contamination, the researchers cautioned.
Health hazards emanating from food in urban areas are a critical concern: buying pre-cooked food from street vendors, close contact between humans and poultry and other domestic animals for slaughter, and generally unhygienic conditions in urban markets can have significant health consequences, as has become apparent in China and various countries in Southeast Asia in recent years.
Shapouri and Rosen said quality control and urban agriculture could contribute to a healthier, safer living environment, and recommended improvements in infrastructure that would allow the efficient flow of food into cities from the countryside and via imports.
PUNE: A survey conducted by the city-based Arogya Sena has revealed that 24% of workers in the unorganised sectors are malnourished. The instance of malnourishment among women working in agriculture fields on a daily wage basis is as high as 47%.
The results of the survey, conducted last year, have recently been released. The survey sought to assess the impact of rising food prices on the diet of daily wage labourers.
“The current scenario of continuing inflation of food prices raises a serious concern about food and the nutritional security of the poor. The continuous rise in food prices has eroded the purchasing power of the workers of the unorganised sector,” said cardiologist Abhijit Vaidya, national chief of Arogya Sena, a voluntary organisation that works for the health rights of the common man.
Workers of the unorganised sector are worst hit because food, to begin with, has always been unaffordable for them and higher prices have only made things worse, said Vaidya.
The survey was conducted on 311 people divided into six groups for purposes of study. The first group comprised of 48 male labourers from Maldhakka chowk. The second were 50 male labourers from Timber market. The third group constituted 72 labourers (24 male and 48 female) from Market Yard and the fourth and fifth group comprised of 52 labourers from Dhankawdi iron market and 57 women labourers. The last group studied was an all-women labourer group (32) from the agriculture fields in Bhandgaon (Pune-Solapur road).
“We have found that an unorganised worker spends 49.6% of his income on food-related items. But despite this, the average calorie intake of a labourer is just 1,137.8 calories a day, which is too little,” said Vaidya.
The main components of their meals usually are chappati or bhakri, rice, cereals and vegetables. Non vegetarian and dairy products are rarely eaten.
Explaining the present definition of the poverty line, Vaidya said the government has pegged it on a monthly income of Rs 434 for an individual.
“It is presumed that this is the amount required for a person to get a required intake of 2,100 calories a day. In this definition, it was wrongly considered that the urban poor spend their entire earnings only on the purchase of food items. And virtually no consideration was given to the expenditure incurred on shelter, clothes, health, education etc,” Vaidya explained.
The current average income of an urban labourer is around Rs 1,100 a month. On this, he cannot fulfil his daily food requirement of 2,100 calories, even if he spends his entire monthly income on food-related items. The reason for this is that food prices are constantly rising,” said Vaidya.
There is no doubt the urban poor has enjoyed some increase in income as a result of high economic growth and liberalisation of the economy. Yet, a vast majority of them living in rural areas are dependent on meagre incomes from agriculture and low-productivity jobs from non-agricultural activities, which rise and fall with the ebb and flow of precarious events.
“There is an urgent need on the part of the government to strengthen the rationing system. And, at the same time, the government must see to it that all food-related items are being made available to the urban poor at the cheapest rates possible,” said Vaidya. If the poor remain underfed, it would be impossible to tap their potential to accelerate growth, he added.
“We will present the survey report to Bhalchandra Mungekar, a member of the planning commission in the first week of May. A copy will also be sent to the chief minister of the state for discussion in their cabinet,” Vaidya said.
JOHANNESBURG, 6 January 2009 (IRIN) – Urban families in Lesotho, a small landlocked southern African country, are struggling to cope with rising food prices, according to a recent survey.
Practically every household interviewed in a vulnerability assessment reported being affected by escalating food costs; more than half of urban households admitted borrowing food to get by, and more than 40 percent said they had been forced to cut down on meals.
People living with HIV, pensioners and Basotho living off remittances and grants on the outskirts of urban centres were the worst affected, the Lesotho Urban Vulnerability Assessment Survey discovered.
“Food security is a chronic problem in Lesotho, but high food prices have hit people living in the peri-urban areas particularly hard,” said Bhim Udas, country representative of the World Food Programme (WFP), which was involved in the survey. “Most of the people with low incomes spend 75 to 80 percent of their money only to buy food.”