McGill conference examines impact of economic crisis on the hungry

Published: 23 June 2009

UN report shows sharp increase in undernourished population as a result of worldwide downturn

The global economic crisis has had a devastating impact on the world’s hungry. In the past year, approximately 100 million people have been added to the ranks of the roughly 1 billion people worldwide considered by the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization to be undernourished, according to its report issued June 19, 2009.

Thus, the second annual McGill Conference on Global Food Security, Oct. 5-7, 2009, could not be more timely. This year’s conference, which draws on leading experts from around the world on various aspects of food supply and production, is focused on questions related to the effect the economic crisis has had on food supplies and prices and what can be done to alleviate nutrition problems that are particularly acute in the developing world, although not uncommon in the developed world.

“We know the economic downturn has punished the developing world in particular,” said Chandra Madramootoo, Dean of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at McGill University’s Macdonald Campus in Ste. Anne de Bellevue, and the driving force behind the conference. “While we in the West have seen some decreases in commodity prices, that hasn’t resulted in lower food prices in other parts of the world. On top of that, there have been far-reaching effects on nutrition as people have lost jobs or had income reduced and can no longer afford a balanced diet.”

“A dangerous mix of the global economic slowdown combined with stubbornly high food prices in many countries has pushed some 100 million more people than last year into chronic hunger and poverty,” FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf said Friday in announcing the organization’s report. “The silent hunger crisis – affecting one-sixth of all of humanity – poses a serious risk for world peace and security. We urgently need to forge a broad consensus on the total and rapid eradication of hunger in the world and to take the necessary actions.”

Average food prices in many parts of the developing world remain as much as 24 per cent higher than they were in 2006, the FAO reported.

Topics on the preliminary conference program include: food security in a challenging economic environment, the effects of the global recession, access to farm credit, the investments needed for agricultural development and the response of international agencies to challenges of food security. As well, conference participants will examine the effects of climate change, markets and trade, and biofuels.

Representatives of developing and emerging economy countries attending the conference will come from Ethiopia, Guatemala, Brazil, Russia, India, China, Guyana, Haiti, Indonesia, Kenya, Mexico and Vietnam. They will speak on their specific country experiences and the effects of the financial crisis on food supplies.

The will be joined by officials from a wide range of international agencies devoted to food issues, including the World Bank, the United Nations, the Canadian International Development Agency, the United Nations World Food Program, the International Food Policy Research Institute and the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, as well as leading academics from McGill and other universities.

The conference, which is open to the public, takes place October 5-7, 2009, at McGill’s New Residence Hall, 3625 Avenue du Parc, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

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