Cornflakes at the soup kitchen

Click to see what poverty means to Amira and other children

Amira, the little girl in the photo, had her picture taken as part of a Save the Children campaign against poverty. Unfortunately, we’re used to similar images and actions, except that Amira lives in London and the campaign is the first in the charity’s history to help children in the UK. In the text she wrote to go along with her portrait, Amira explains that it’s great when there’s money to pay the electricity bill because then you can enjoy a long list of things, starting with lights, and ending, well down a long list of things most of us take for granted, with TV. There are 3.5 million children living in poverty in the UK according to figures from the Institute for Fiscal Studies quoted by It shouldn’t happen here, Save the Children’s report on child poverty. One in eight of the poorest children go without at least one hot meal a day, and one in ten of the UK’s poorest parents have cut back on food for themselves to make sure their children have enough to eat.

It’s not just in the UK. According to the US Department of Agriculture, 50 million people lived in food-insecure households last year, 12 million adults lived in households with very low food security (what they used to call food insecurity with hunger), and 8.6 million children lived in food-insecure households in which children, along with adults, were food insecure. The charity Feeding America says that hunger is a reality for 1 in 6 people in the United States. They serve 14 million children including 3 million under-fives, but this may not reflect the whole picture. My colleague Kate Lancaster says that in her home state of Vermont,  there are numerous small local-based groups that probably wouldn’t be known outside the immediate community also providing meals.

I had a look on to see if we had any data, but our reports about hunger only seem to be about developing countries. That said, the general argument that hunger is a problem of poverty rather than availability is even more true in the rich countries than elsewhere. France is the world’s fifth largest exporter of farm and food products, but earlier in the summer a soup kitchen I pass on my way home was serving cornflakes. Maybe it was all they could afford once the winter surge of donations was used up. And cornflakes may not be so affordable next year, given the recent surge in cereal prices following the US drought and poor weather in other major exporting countries.

The OECD participates in the Agricultural Market Information System (AMIS) set up by the G20  “to enhance food market transparency and encourage coordination of policy action in response to market uncertainty”. The Rapid Response Forum, AMIS’s main body for reacting to abnormal conditions, may meet once an updated forecast of US harvests is available later this week. Or they may not. The FAO Food Price Index averaged 213 points in August 2012, the same as July, but 18 points less than a year ago and 25 points below the peak reached in February 2011.

According to this statement from the French Ministry for Agriculture, following a videoconference with the US, Mexico (current G20 president) and various international organisations, the present situation is worrying but there’s no threat to global food security. They probably meant no additional threat. The USDA’s July report on global food security estimates the number of food insecure people in the 76 developing countries covered at 802 million in 2012, and projects that number to rise by 37 million over the next 10 years.

There’s no projection for the OECD countries, but almost a hundred years after Save the Children was set up to tackle hunger in post-World War I Vienna, who would have predicted that it would be turning its attention to Europe again?

Useful links

Price Volatility in Food and Agricultural Markets: Policy Responses

Patrick Love

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