We are living in unprecedented times of overlapping and compounding crises. Around a tenth of the global population was undernourished in 2020, partly because of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic (FAO, 2022). Furthermore, the effects of climate change have reduced agricultural productivity growth by 21% since 1961 (IPCC, 2020). These effects have been exacerbated by the conflict in Ukraine: Ukraine and Russia provide around one-third of the world’s wheat and barley, one-fifth of its maize, and over half of its sunflower oil, while Russia alone exports a fifth of the world’s fertilisers and is the world’s top natural gas exporter (UN News, 2022).
The Food Price Index, a measurement of the price of a basket of food commodities, has therefore soared: in March 2022, the index reached its highest level since FAO started recording (FAO, 2022). Furthermore, wheat, maize, and rice prices have respectively increased by 20%, 29%, and 8% between September 2021 and 2022 (World Bank, 2022).
An estimated 1.7 billion people now live in an economy severely exposed to rising food prices, escalating energy prices, or tightening financial conditions (UNCTAD, 2022). People are therefore increasingly unable to afford safe, nutritious, and healthy diets. There is a Global Food Crisis. These times will not be short-lived. The ripples of the conflict in Ukraine, for example, will continue to affect food supply and prices until at least 2024 (World Bank, 2022).
Humanitarian and emergency interventions are critical instruments to ensure that the most vulnerable individuals and households can meet their food security, nutrition, and other essential needs during this crisis. However, there are not enough resources to meet these increased needs: WFP alone has a funding gap of USD 5.2 billion.
Nationally led social protection systems complement humanitarian responses to ensure that people’s lives can be protected and improved on a grander scale than emergency interventions alone can achieve. These systems could address the global food crisis by:
- Ensuring that people can access nutritious and healthy foods financially (by providing cash, vouchers, and subsidies) and physically (by directly giving people food). Increasing access to nutritious foods also improves human capital, physical, and cognitive development, which can further improve people’s earning potential and resilience to future food crises
- Improving the availability of affordable food by sourcing fresh food from local farmers for food assistance, encouraging farmers to grow more food for local communities, subsidising agricultural inputs, using public works programmes to improve agricultural outputs, and providing farmers with social protection benefits so that they have the security to introduce different and more productive agricultural techniques
- Increasing the utilisation of the food that people can afford by creating sustained multi-sectoral linkages to health, food, education, water, sanitation, and hygiene systems
- Bolstering the stability of food security and nutrition outcomes by expanding social protection systems to cover the newly poor or vulnerable, increasing benefits to match the increased needs during the global food crisis, using existing social protection systems a__AWs a platform for the response, and adapting the design of social protection systems to reflect changes in people’s circumstances
National governments across the globe are already using social protection systems in these ways to respond to the Global Food Crisis. For example, in response to the inflationary aspect of the crisis, 158 economies implemented 609 social protection responses – a threefold increase in just five months (Gentilini et al., 2022). Subsidies, such as utility bills, fuel, food, and agricultural inputs, accounted for 36% of these responses and alone reached 329.5 million people.
However, the situation is constantly evolving. We need to examine the evidence and ensure that we optimise the implementation and strengthening of the social protection response to the global food crisis and fill an evidence, learning, and capacity gap. Therefore, building on the discussions commemorating World Food Day 2022, Universal Social Protection 2030 Working Group members on Social Protection and Food Systems will hold a webinar on the crucial role of Social Protection in responding to the Global Food Crisis and building forward better.
This upcoming discussion will bring together Governments, multilateral organisations, and academics to define the nature of the global food crisis, explain its implications, exchange lessons learned from past crises, detail how social protection can respond to the multifaceted impacts of the crisis, and chart forward a multi-actor and multi-sectoral systems approach to countering the increasing unaffordability and unavailability of food. These recommendations can support national social protection systems in addressing food security and nutritional needs and facilitate the longer-term socio-economic development and recovery of countries affected by emerging shocks. The webinar will be streamed on 27 October. Registrations for the webinar can be accessed here.