Amid Rising Food Prices, Climate Shocks, Conflict, 2021 World Food Day Seeks a Future Without Hunger

This year’s World Food Day is focusing on transforming agri-food systems in a frantic bid to build a future without hunger. It is coming as the world food commodity prices rose in September, led by tightening supply conditions and robust demand for staples such as wheat and palm oil.

The latest Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Food Price Index averaged 130.0 points in September, up 1.2 percent from August and 32.8 percent higher than in September 2020. The index tracks monthly changes in the international prices of commonly traded food commodities.

The FAO Cereal Price Index in September increased by 2.0 percent from the previous month, with world wheat prices up almost 4 percent – and as much as 41 percent higher than a year earlier – due to tightening export availabilities amid strong demand.

World rice prices also rose in September, while those of maize increased by a moderate 0.3 percent – averaging 38 percent higher year on year – as improved global crop prospects and the start of harvests in the United States of America and Ukraine largely countered the impact of hurricane-related port disruptions in the US.

“Among major cereals, wheat will be the focus in the coming weeks as demand needs to be tested against fast-rising prices”, says FAO Senior Economist Abdolreza Abbassian.

The FAO Vegetable Oil Price Index was up 1.7 percent on the month – and about 60 percent from September 2020 – as international palm oil prices reached 10-year highs due to robust global import demand and concerns over migrant labour shortages impacting production in Malaysia. World rapeseed oil prices also appreciated markedly, while soy and sunflower oil quotations declined.

The FAO Dairy Price Index increased by 1.5 percent from August, as solid global import demand and seasonal factors in Europe and Oceania drove up international quotations for all dairy products, especially butter.

The FAO Sugar Price Index was 0.5 percent higher from the previous month – and 53.5 percent from a year earlier – underpinned by adverse weather conditions and higher ethanol prices in Brazil, the world’s largest sugar exporter. Slowing global import demand and good production prospects in India and Thailand curbed the upward pressure.

The FAO Meat Price Index was virtually unchanged in September from the previous month and up 26.3 percent on an annualized basis. Ovine and bovine meat quotations rose due to tight supply conditions, while those for poultry and pig meat declined amid ample global supply volumes of the former and lower demand for the latter in China and Europe.

World cereal output in 2021 is seen on course to hit an all-time record of 2 800 million tonnes, but that is less than the anticipated consumption requirements in 2021/22 marketing season, according to new projections in FAO’s latest Cereal Supply and Demand Brief.

FAO now anticipates 776.7 million tonnes of wheat to be harvested in 2021, with expected higher yields in Eastern Europe and Australia offsetting weather and planting-driven output drops foreseen in Canada and the Russian Federation.

The forecast for the global production of coarse grains is now pegged at 1 504 million tonnes, with global sorghum and barley harvests rising faster than that for maize. World rice production is foreseen at 50 million tonnes, a new record, primarily reflecting more buoyant expectations from India’s main crop.

At the same time, world cereal utilization in 2021/22 is now forecast at 2 811 million tonnes, up 1.8 percent from the previous season, led by an anticipated significant increase in the use of wheat for livestock feed, a trend driven in part by high prices of coarse grains.

Consequently, the 2021/22 world cereal stocks-to-use ratio is expected to stand at 28.4 percent, down from 29.2 percent in the previous year, but still indicating an overall comfortable level.

The Cereal Supply and Demand Brief also includes FAO’s latest forecast for 2021/22 world trade in cereals, which points to a 0.3 percent year-on-year contraction to 473.2 million tonnes, led mostly by lower volumes foreseen for barley and maize trade. 

World Food Day is, however, celebrated on October 16 every year to commemorate the founding of FAO. Its theme this year is, transformation of agri-food systems to build Better Production, Better Nutrition, a Better Environment and a Better Life, leaving no one behind. 

Undoubtedly, its message is more critical than ever. Climate shocks, conflict and the COVID-19 pandemic have disrupted millions of lives and livelihoods in the past year, while humanitarian emergencies in Afghanistan, Haiti and other hotspots have worsened global food security. 

More than 3 billion people, almost 40 percent of the world’s population, cannot afford a healthy diet. There is a need to change how the produces and consumes its food and build more resilient, inclusive and robust food systems that create a difference. 

Clearly, World Food Day is a call to action. On Friday, October 15, on the eve of the Day, FAO Director-General, QU Dongyu, together with the heads of the other Rome-based UN agencies, Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP), David M. Beasley, and President of International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), Gilbert F. Houngbo, will officially launch this year’s celebrations with a hybrid event to be held in Rome. 

The ceremony will feature special video messages from Pope Francis and UN Secretary-General António Guterres. 

Executive Chairman of World Economic Forum, Professor Klaus Schwab, will also make a virtual address and in the afternoon a panel of speakers will hold a Dialogue on Tea and Coffee to explore the traditions and production methods that lie behind these beverages and unite different cultures. 

Events will be held in 150 countries around the world to mark World Food Day, making it one of the most celebrated international days of the year and it will also be featured at Expo Dubai with activities and events calling for global solidarity in rethinking and reshaping our food systems. 

For a second year in a row, World Food Day will celebrate its Food Heroes through a multi-platform campaign that recognizes the farmers, producers and others who provide food to their communities – helping to grow, nourish and sustain our world.

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