Food Security: New Threats, New Approaches

If you ever spend an afternoon watching the news on television, it's filled with experts predicting what security risks the global community might face next. And for understandable reasons, a premium focus is placed on terrorism, violence, revolutions and mass protests that present security challenges.

One thing we are learning quickly is -- if you want to see stable governments become unstable on a global scale, put constraints on supplies of food and fresh water. It is a recipe for unrest. And we are seeing it happen in pockets throughout the world today. Most recently in Uganda, where riots are breaking out, as street demonstrations over commodity prices escalate. Protesters have been met with force from the Ugandan government. Outside of the capital, a 2-year-old was killed after being shot in the chest and head when the police opened fire with live ammunition near a crowd of unarmed protesters.

In a press briefing last week, Robert Zoellick, president of the World Bank, cautioned that the world's poor were "one shock away from a full-blown crisis" when it came to food security. Already, food prices are at an all-time high, with the United Nations' FAO price index rising 25 percent last year and surging to a record in February, 2011. At the press conference, Zoellick said 44 million people fell into poverty last year due to increases in food prices, and a further spike of 10 percent would send an additional 10 million into poverty.

In the long term, resource scarcity combined with population growth and development of emerging markets will combine to create a systemic security threat, upending long-standing institutions and international relationships that serve as the foundation of global security. What's most concerning is the inability of traditional institutions to deal with increasingly complex geopolitics, particularly with issues of the size and scale of food security.

How we have traditionally thought about these issues is concerning. When it comes to development, there are no quick fixes. Certainly, money helps -- and for that reason, shrinking foreign aid budgets are a concern -- but what's needed is closer integration with markets on the ground. We need to not just deliver rice or flour, but make sure we're creating sustainable markets that work for the poor and provide them with good quality food, which includes essential vitamins and minerals. As a global community we should support policies that help lift people out of poverty, not simply treating the symptom (hunger), which is like putting a band-aid on a gaping wound.

There are some global models that reflect a successful multi-stakeholder approach. Notably, this past September, Secretary Hillary Clinton launched the "1,000 Days" initiative to focus attention and development efforts on improving nutrition at the earliest stages of life -- from conception through age two. In this effort, they've brought together governments, foundations, large international nonprofits, and nonprofits focused on local markets. Also important is the broader efforts of the U.S.'s global hunger and food security initiative called Feed the Future that expands access to improved health through nutrition and agriculture. By assuring the future of agriculture and improving nutrition at local levels, we improve long-term outcomes for a wide range of health and development efforts.