Increasing water scarcity, desertification, and crop failures due to extreme weather events are becoming more and more of a threat to global food production. While world population continues to rise rapidly, food production is unable to keep pace. Due to the global food crisis in 2008, the number of hungry people for the first time reached the symbolic 1-billion-threshold –corresponding to about 16 percent of world population. And thus, the UN Millennium Development Goal of halving the number of hungry people by 2015 slides further out of reach. The reasons for this dramatic situation are varied and often interdependent.
Rising food shortages have, among other issues, awakened the interest of financial investors. The enormous increase in food prices in 2008 can be partly explained by speculation in agricultural commodity markets. At the same time, the interest from investors in farmland, especially in developing countries, has been on the rise for several years. On the one hand, governments of food insecure countries from the Middle East and Asia have attempted to outsource food production to foreign countries. And on the other hand, increased demand for biofuels and rising meat consumption has launched a wave of land grabbing. The urgent need for investment in agriculture disposes many developing countries to promote large-scale land purchases.
Food insecurity may be a consequence or cause of conflicts. Violent conflicts often lead to the destruction of agricultural infrastructure and means of production, as well as to the displacement of local communities. All of these factors are major contributors to famine. Yet determining at which point food insecurity is triggering conflict is complicated. Large-scale purchases of land can lead to local conflicts in areas where arable land is already scarce, where different user groups compete over land, or where there are large inequalities in distribution. This is particularly likely if land rights of locals are not secured and if there is a lack of conflict resolution institutions. It is less clear, however, whether rising food prices cause riots in urban areas.
Attempts to address the global food crisis exist on various levels. Locally, irrigation infrastructure is being built and seeds that adapt to changing climate conditions are being imported. At the global level, voluntary guidelines for sustainable management of land are currently being developed and the regulation of speculation in agricultural commodities is being discussed.