Food Insecurity and Rice

Food insecurity is a worldwide problem. If you’ve never encountered it, consider yourself fortunate. Over three quarters of a billion people are starving right now — about half the number of obese and overweight people in the world.

The World Food Program, the food assistance branch of the UN, is in the business of saving people from starvation. They feed 80 million people in 75 plus countries every year, but their efforts aimed are at curing starvation, not preventing it. Food assistance isn’t a sustainable solution to food insecurity, but it is welcome relief from starvation.

Rice is one key to worldwide hunger. Rice is the most important food crop for people in the lowest-income countries in the world. More than 3.5 billion people depend on rice for more than one fifth of their daily calories. For over 500 million of the poorest people on earth, rice provides more than half of their daily calories. For every billion added to the world’s population, 100 million tons of rice are needed to feed them.

But dependence on a single commodity is a delicate balance. Without delving into political and distribution issues with rice, any increase in the cost of rice or worldwide rice demand puts many of the poorest people in the world into crisis. This occurred in 2008 when there wasn’t even a shortage of rice but a shortage of wheat. Rice was also an initiator of the Indochina war after WWII.

The more countries and people forced to rely on food imports, the more fragile the country and the more vulnerable the people are in times of food price volatility. Food insecurity and political instability go hand in hand. One has only to think of parts of Africa.

My hat’s off to the World Food Program as they have saved countless millions from starvation. But that is only part of the solution. Food insecurity has to be discussed before actionable plans can be formulated. Personally, I’m doing something about it; I hope you are too.