New and existing funds provided by the EU and the UK government will be made available to South Sudan following the declaration of famine in the country.
The UN has warned that about 40% of South Sudan’s population are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance and that people are already dying from hunger caused by famine in parts of the country.
An emergency package of €82m (£69m) has been announced by the European commission to tackle what the UN described as a “man-made” famine in the oil-rich country, which has been ravaged by three years of civil war.
This money will supplement funding provided by Britain’s Department for International Development (DfID), which is making £100m available to South Sudan this year, in addition to a similar amount pledged last year as part of a package aimed at preventing migration from east Africa.
The UK has also announced £100m to Somalia, which is under threat of famine.
The EU’s commissioner for humanitarian aid and crisis management, Christos Stylianides, who recently visited South Sudan, has called on government and opposition forces to stop blocking humanitarian organisations from accessing some of the worst hit areas.
His exhortation was echoed by Pope Francis, who stressed the need for urgent action and said millions could be “condemned to death” by the famine. “Now more than ever there should be a commitment by everyone to not just talk but contribute food aid and allow it to reach suffering populations,” said Francis.
The US remains the single largest donor of humanitarian assistance to South Sudan, having provided more than $2.1bn (£1.7bn) since 2014.
The declaration of famine – and the threat of similar crises in Somalia, Yemen and parts of Nigeria – came as the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) warned that the world’s ability to feed itself is endangered by increasing pressure on natural resources, climate change and mounting inequality.
In a report released on Wednesday(pdf) the FAO said that, while progress has been made in reducing global hunger over the past 30 years, a “business-as-usual” approach to food production is not an option in the face of population growth that is likely to expand the global population to almost 10 billion people by 2050.
More than 650 million people, or 8% of the world’s people, would be undernourished in 2030 under this scenario, even if rates of hunger fell.
The report warned that the the expansion of food production and economic growth has exacted a heavy toll on the environment. It also highlighted major trends, such as the “feminisation” of agriculture as young men migrate to work in cities, leaving women to work the fields.
This phenomenon is especially prominent in north Africa and western Asia. The share of women in agriculture in Chad, for example, had increased from 30% to as much as 57% over the past 20 years.
“The expanding role of women in agriculture can be empowering if women have a greater say in decision-making and the control of household resources,” said the report, The Future of Food and Agriculture: Trends and Challenges.
“However, it may also exacerbate women’s workloads, as infrastructure and institutions in low-income countries are rarely adapted to supporting working women.”
The report’s authors predict that changes in what people eat will pile further pressure on resources and drive deforestation as more people – outside the poorest countries, at least – eat fewer cereals and larger amounts of meat, fruits, vegetables and processed foods. In addition, it is predicted that climate change will affect every aspect of food production.
The report’s authors concluded that it is possible to feed the planet in a sustainable way, but that doing so will require significant changes to our food production systems. Without this, far too many people will be hungry by the 2030 deadline for the sustainable development goals, which have targeted the eradication of chronic food insecurity and malnutrition.
“Major transformations in agricultural systems, rural economies and natural resource management will be needed if we are to realise the full potential of food and agriculture to ensure a secure and healthy future for all people and the entire planet,” said the study.
“High-input, resource-intensive farming systems, which have caused massive deforestation, water scarcities, soil depletion and high levels of greenhouse gas emissions, cannot deliver sustainable food and agricultural production.”
The report called for “holistic” approaches, such as agroecology – which takes into account natural ecosystems and uses local knowledge to plant a diversity of crops – as well as “climate-smart” agriculture.
Technological improvements, along with drastic cuts in economy-wide and agricultural fossil fuel use, would also help address climate change and the intensification of natural hazards, added the authors.
Olivier De Schutter, the former UN special rapporteur on the right to food, and co-chair of the international panel of experts on sustainable food systems, said he found the report refreshing in comparison with what he described as the “overly simplistic” approach adopted by the FAO in the past, based on “the urgent need to increase production”.
De Schutter said the organisation was correct to acknowledge that there had been a broad misconception about industrial agriculture, which has been seen by many as the only way to meet the challenge of population growth.
“It is also extremely important that, rather than emphasising the need for productivity increases alone, the report recognises the need to address waste and losses in food systems,” said De Schutter.
- This article was amended on 22 February 2017 to clarify that the UK has not made new funding available in response to this week’s declaration of famine in South Sudan.