Refugees and the Food Cost Crisis

The U.N.'s António Guterres appeals to nations to help ward off hunger and political turmoil.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres meets Sudanese refugees waiting to be repatriated.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres meets Sudanese refugees waiting to be repatriated.

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Yes. This is having a negative impact on the availability of food in the global markets. It is important to recognize this is not a crisis of the moment; this is a structural change in the food markets that requires a comprehensive response. That comprehensive response needs to make sure that we influence markets in order for more incentives to exist for farmers to produce and for food to be available at prices the poor can afford. That of course relates to the need to move ahead with trade, to move ahead with technology, to move ahead with incentives for farmers. It requires also the reconsideration of biofuels for some situations. What types of incentives do you have in mind?

If, for instance, a country reduces exports, and reducing exports keeps artificially low the prices paid to farmers, as farmers try to cope with increasing input costs, obviously this will reduce areas that will be farmed in the following year. This is the kind of thing that needs to be avoided. Farmers need to have adequate [compensation] for their own costs, and it is important to have a positive influence in markets. It's not by disregarding the market economy that we'll be able to cope with this problem. Have rising food prices caused existing refugee populations to grow—or perhaps created new ones altogether?

There is more and more interlinkage between war and conflict, extreme poverty, and environmental degradation and climate change. Poverty situations are enhanced by rising food prices, there is increased instability in societies, and that can trigger conflict, as dwindling water resources have helped to trigger conflict in a situation like Darfur. It is not the only reason, of course. The political dimension is extremely important in a place like Darfur. But all of these things contribute to displacement. What needs to be done most in the next few weeks?

The single most important action today is to support the countries financially that are coping with this challenge in a more dramatic way, to make sure that social unrest will not jeopardize democratic development and will not have a negative impact on the sustainability of peace where peace has been reached in such difficult circumstances.