|FAO Food Index for January 2011. The index measures monthly changes in international prices of a basket of food commodities. Source: www.fao.org|
And the recent catastrophic weather around the globe could put yet more pressure on the cost of food, an issue that has already contributed to spark protests across the Middle East.
The Index, a commodity basket that measures monthly changes in global food prices averaged 231 points, topping the peak of 224.1 recorded during the last food price crisis in 2008.
This is the highest level since FAO started measuring food prices in 1990.
Prices of all monitored commodity groups registered strong gains in January, except of meat, which remained unchanged.
FAO has warned that the new figures clearly show that the upward pressure on world food prices is abating and these high prices are likely to persist in the months to come.
This trend of high food prices and the likely food shortages in the world offer PNG a real golden opportunity to be food secure and self reliant.
Besides, PNG should take advantage of the situation and improve on its agricultural productivity and production, especially in the food and livestock sectors.
This is possible as PNG has suitable climatic conditions and genetic diversity to produce a variety of food crops and access to improved far
World leaders and international organisations are already raising concerns with the current trend.
World Bank President, Robert Zoellick, urged world leaders to ‘put food first’ and wake up to the dangers of rising food price inflation.
"We are going to be facing a broader trend of increasing commodity prices, including food commodity prices" he said
FAO Director-General, Jacques Diouf, said the rapid increase in hunger and malnourishment since the food crisis of 2008 reveals the inadequacy of the present global food system and the urgent need for structural changes.
Some countries are likely to ban food export, especially for major commodities such as grains and cereals and essential oils.
High food prices also are likely to put upward pressure to the domestic inflation in both developed and developing countries.
People are going to be badly affected from riots and protests, a scenario that is already unfolding in the Middle East.
Farmers are likely to go on strike in opposition to governments’ imposition of new export tax regimes in order to safeguard domestic food security.
This will affect millions of people in all parts of the world.
During the last food price crisis in 2008, the World Bank estimated that some 870 million people in developing countries were hungry or malnourished.
The FAO estimates that number has increased to 925 million.
The causes of increase are many, including tight supplies, unfavorable weather conditions, diverting land to non-food production (especially biofuels), and rising demand in emerging economies.
The bottom line reason appeared to be that the world has been consuming more food than it has been producing.
Simply the world is not efficient enough in producing agricultural outputs, especially food commodities.
Also to be blamed is the long-term policy of encouraging cash crops and industrial crops at the expense of food crops.
However, most importantly, the world is not investing enough in agriculture.
The sector is grossly underinvested and underused.
It is often misplaced in policy decision making and development investments.
And Papua New Guinea is very much in this category.
FAO stated clearly that the key to long term food security lies in boosting investment in agriculture.
“The food and economic crisis will have severe impact on millions of people in all parts of the world.
“The global food import bills could pass the one trillion dollar mark in 2011, a level not seen since food prices peaked in 2008.”
Papua New Guinea should make use of this opportunity not only to produce enough for her own consumption but also for export to needy countries.
In doing so, PNG could establish new food trade relationships and niche markets.
Once established, it would be easier to continue and maintain such exports.
The time is right for us to make this happen.
PNG has the advantage because of its huge resource base and potentials which are yet to be explored.
This nation has just six million people with enormous agricultural resources such as vast land mass, fertile soils and favourable climate for various types and kinds of crops.
Papua New Guinea has a rich bio-diversity and a variety of food species, fruits and nuts, and cash crops.
Farmers can grow various crops including cereals and pulses together with a range of livestock species.
There are also abundant land and bio-mass, creating opportunities for bio-fuels as well.
Papua New Guinea has made modest advances on the technology front in terms of improved varieties and practices for a range of agricultural commodities and environments.
There is a huge potential in applying modern bio-technology, processing techniques and value adding, and linking farmers to markets.
Much of these can be achieved through science and technology with appropriate policy and capacity development.
This also means that there must be favourable policies towards agriculture with adequate investment.
The global food crisis is a real golden opportunity for PNG not only to be food-assured and self-reliant, but also be prosperous by being efficient in agricultural production, down-stream processing and exporting to the rest of the world.
And we must not allow this opportunity to go by.