World’s Poorest Need Protection From Rocky Food Prices, Says WFP Head

Published on 22 September 2011

WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran opened up a high-level seminar on commodity price volatility at the International Monetary Fund in Washington D.C. Copyright: WFP/Alejandro Chicheri  

Volatile food prices present a serious threat to the world’s poor who risk falling into hunger without the right “safety net” policies, WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran argued Wednesday at an IMF commodity seminar. According to Sheeran, the need for such policies puts finance ministers and global financial institutions at the center of the fight against hunger.

WASHINGTON D.C.—WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran opened the International Monetary Fund's high level seminar on commodity price volatility on Wednesday to make the case for policies that shield the world’s poorest from sudden jolts in food prices.

Together with IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde, Sheeran pointed to the watershed year of 2008, when skyrocketing food prices pushed the number of hungry people to over a billion for the first time in history.

“The world has been divided into two kinds of countries. Those with shock absorbers and those without,” Sheeran said. “We saw the effects of 80 per cent of people in the developing world living with no safety net. One billion people had nothing to fall back on.”

Lessons learned

She added that in addition to adding to the world’s hungry, rising food prices hampered WFP’s ability to buy food to feed them with.

Sheeran added that lessons learned in 2008 had already translated into programmes which, in the Horn of Africa, had cushioned the impact of its worst drought in 60 years.

“Through partnerships with governments, 4.5 million of the most vulnerable in Ethiopia and Kenya have shifted to productive safety programmes,” she said. “They are no longer on the emergency roll.”

Effective solutions

She cited school meals programmes and village granaries lead by women as to “win-win” solutions that could buffer the effects of volatile food prices in poor communities.

“In the Horn of Africa, the world needs to combat cynicism that nothing works.  Addressing volatility and building resiliency is doable. We need to work together to move the risk out of the red cup and back into the system so that it is not young children who are suffering from price volatility,” she said.