Food crisis: «Eradicating hunger is a matter of political will»

International 7 June, 2022

The Director General of FAO from 2012 to 2019, Brazilian Jose Graziano da Silva, severely condemns the lack of a serious international response to the growing food insecurity exacerbated by the war in Ukraine.

Jose Graziano da Silva is a Brazilian agronomist, director of the Instituto Fome Zero (Institute for the Elimination of Hunger). Former Minister Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva coordinated the «Fome Zero» program in Brazil in 2003-2004 to combat malnutrition and extreme poverty. From 2012 to 2019, he served as Director General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), which put him at the forefront of growing global food security.

Food prices have been rising rapidly for several months. What is the nature of the current crisis and the specific impact of the war in Ukraine that began on February 24?

The war is one of the factors driving up food prices. Indeed, there is a risk of famine in Africa and in the poorest Arab countries, especially in those that have already suffered from conflicts and economic crisis. It is difficult to make predictions without knowing how long the conflict will last. But it is likely that the next harvest season will be compromised both in Ukraine and among its neighbors, farmers fear instability and very high prices for fertilizers and energy.

At the moment, according to FAO estimates, grain stocks are at a fairly comfortable level. But the instability of the markets encourages speculation. Sellers keep their stocks waiting for an opportunity to sell them at a better price. This is the normal behavior of economic players in a situation of great uncertainty, when we do not know exactly what volumes are available for key producers, such as China and India. Moreover, with the exception of China, where there are state-owned shares, most of the shares in the world are private, and we do not see them.

International organizations are increasingly calling for transparency of the state of reserves. Can these signals be successful?

This will not work in any way, because speculation is inherent in the fact that several large multinational corporations dominate the markets with very weak regulation. Apart from requests from agencies such as FAO or the World Food Programme not to restrict exports and keep markets open, the World Trade Organization or the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (Cnuced) are not taking any action to strengthen regulation.

Have we learned the lessons of previous food crises, in particular the crisis of 2007-2008, which led to the hunger riots? Judging by the current market and food situation, it is unlikely.