The Silent Tsunami: Addressing the Global Food Crisis

DHAKA, BANGLADESH - JULY 17: A man holds a handful of rice grains at a market in Dhaka. Rice, a staple for Bangladesh's 144 million people, has nearly doubled in price in the past 12 months. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

NEW YORK, October 16, 2008 – Rising food prices, failing crops, and other agricultural and financial factors are causing a crisis of epic proportions. Called “the perfect storm,” the current global food crisis is putting the lives and livelihoods of millions of people under serious threat. What can be done to to stop it?

Asia Society, in partnership with Oxfam America, launched the Global Food Crisis Series to address this silent tsunami. In the first program of the series, Raymond Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America, Christopher Delgado, strategy and policy advisor to the Agriculture and Rural Development Department of the World Bank, Masood Hyder, representative to the Senior Steering Group of the UN High Level Task Force for the World Food Programme, and moderator Mira Kamdar, Asia Society Bernard Schwartz fellow, discussed how the crisis calls for international cooperation for global relief and future crisis prevention.

After nearly 30 years of relatively low food prices, prices have suddenly doubled within the past few months, affecting millions, but especially small farmers and the poor. “Every developing country has rethought its food security strategy,” said Delgado. "They had to."

Hyder explained that there were 850 million people already at risk of famine before the current situation arose but due to the global push for biofuels, export bans, increase in production costs, climate change, and other factors, there are now 130 million more people severely impacted by the crisis.

But despite this dire statistic, help has been slow and strained. The focus has shifted from Asia—considered “on the rise” —to Africa. The financial crisis has also affected funding for international organizations such as the World Food Programme.

The panelists agreed that both short- and long-term goals must be addressed when planning a solution to the crisis. For the immediate future, international programs need donations and small farmers need state assistance to survive. Countries should also engage the international market while stabilizing their politics and agro-economies. Looking ahead to 2050, when the world population is expected to reach 9 billion, the panelists stressed the need for international response to help farmers adjust to climate change and to prevent economic factors from affecting agricultural sectors.

Reported by Theresa Omansky

Masood Hyder explains the dilemma of the poor (39 sec.)



Raymond Offenheiser addresses the vulnerability and volatility of food security (59 sec.)



Offenheiser questions the US farm bill: is it saving or subsidizing the destruction of the family farm? (42 sec.)



Listen to the complete program (1 hr., 31 min.)