"The price of food is a matter of life and death for the very poorest people in the world," said Tom Arnold, chief executive officer (CEO) of Concern Worldwide, the international humanitarian agency, ahead of his participation at The Open Forum on Food at World Bank headquarters.
The discussion has taken on added urgency in the wake of potentially significant cuts in the U.S. foreign aid budget — debated this week in Congress — in particular the possible reduction of spending on the U.S. Global Agriculture and Food Security Fund.
The recent increase in global food prices is having a significant impact on people in the world's poorest countries and international leaders need to address the situation with "extreme urgency," he said.
The April 14-15 Open Forum on Food will discuss the food burden, the current state of play and the impact of rising and volatile food prices as well as solutions to feeding a hungry world.
"With many families spending up to 80% of their income on basic foods to survive, even the slightest increase in price can have devastating effects and become a crises for the poorest," said Arnold. Concern works in 25 of the world's poorest countries which experience the impact of this developing situation every day.
The Food and Agriculture Organization has said there is little prospect that prices will fall significantly in the short term, and it expects the price of agricultural commodities to remain high throughout 2011.
"It is not just the consistent and rapid increase in prices that is alarming," said Arnold. "Changes in prices happen, but it is the volatility that is causing alarm, with price fluctuations becoming greater and — perhaps more worryingly — less predictable. The global food system itself is becoming more volatile. In this turbulent scenario, it is those who are least able to cope who will bear the brunt of the impact."
Concern is already responding to the recent price increases, building on the work the agency has been doing since the crises began in 2008. "Our teams on the ground are tackling this crisis by responding with food, cash, farm inputs and other measures required to help improve people's incomes or people's immediate access to food," Arnold said.
In June 2011, Concern Worldwide will co-chair, with Bread for the World (U.S.), a meeting for leading civil society groups in support of SUN/1,000 Days Initiative in Washington, D.C. The 1,000 days refers to ensuring access to decent nutrition for mothers and children during the period from the point of conception to a child's second birthday. Under-nutrition in early childhood leads to physical and mental stunting and compromises the future of individuals, economies and nations.
"Investment in agriculture, not just in increased production, but all along the 'value chain' can ensure that farmers are able to grow enough food for their families and are protected from fluctuations in local market prices. This is the responsibility of both governments and international donors," said Arnold.
On April 15, starting at 10 a.m. EDT the proceedings will be streamed live on http://live.worldbank.org/open-forum-food-crisis.
Participants in the Forum include: World Bank Managing Director, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala; Rwanda's Agricultural Minister, Dr. Agnes Matilda Kalibata; World Food Program executive director, Josette Sheeran; economist/secretary of the Intergovernmental Group (IGG) on Grains, Abdolreza Abbassian of FAO; Tom Arnold, CEO Concern; Gavin Maguire, Agriculture Markets columnist, Thomson Reuters; Professor Calestous Juma of Harvard University and the Gates Foundation; World Bank Vice-President for Sustainable Development Inger Andersen; Dr. Lindiwe Sibanda, CEO of FANRPAN; Dr. Scott Loarie of the Carnegie Institution for Science at Harvard; Thomas Erickson, vice-president Bunge North America; and David Beckman, BREAD.