Canada pledges $45M to World Food Program

  • May 2, 2008

{mosimage}An extra $45 million for the World Food Program plus $5 million more for the ecumenical Canada Foodgrains Bank in Winnipeg will help avert a disaster in much of the world where rising food prices are pushing the 850 million people who live on a dollar a day towards starvation.

"It is a step in the right direction," said Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace director of international programs Gilio Brunelli.

On March 20 the World Food Program sent out an emergency appeal to donor nations for an extra $500 million by May 1 to cope with rising food prices. Before the deadline came prices had again risen such that the WFP needed $755 million by May 1 to maintain ongoing programs which feed 73 million people in 78 countries.


  • The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization calculates that 820 million people world wide were malnourished and in danger of starvation in 2006, the most recent year for which there are figures available.

  • In 2006 36 million deaths were attributable to malnutrition out of a total of approximately 62 million deaths world-wide. That's 58 per cent of total world mortality, according to Jean Ziegler, special rapporteur on the right to food for the United Nations.

  • 24,000 people every day die from hunger or hunger-related illness, down from about 35.000 ten years ago and 41,000 twenty years ago.

  • About three quarters of hunger deaths are children under five.

  • Between the early 1990s and 2006 the proportion of people in developing countries going without food decreased 17 per cent, according to the FAO.

  • The United Nations World Food Program originally budgeted $2.9 billion to feed 73 million people in 78 countries in 2008. It now needs $3.66 billion to achieve the same goal because of sharp rises in prices on food commodity markets.

  • In sub-Saharan Africa 206 million people regularly go hungry, according to the FAO.

  • The United Nations Millennium Development Goals call for 2000 hunger levels to be cut in half by 2015. Numerically the goal would be to reduce the starving to 412 million. In 2006, before the crisis in food prices, the world was on pace to cut the number to 582 million.


On May 1 the World Food Program had responses from donors that filled about 60 per cent of the need, WFP spokesperson Jennifer Parmelee told The Catholic Register.

The Australians came up with $28 million.

In the U.S. President George Bush urged Congress to add $770 million in emergency food assistance for poor countries to its budget due in October. Last month the president ordered the Department of Agriculture to release $200 million in commodities paid for by the Emerson Trust. The U.S. provides about 50 per cent of international food aid with a total budget of $2.3 billion this year and a proposed budget of $2.6 billion next year.

It was not clear how much of the additional American funding would be routed through the United Nations-sponsored World Food Program.

The increase in Canada's contribution to the WFP bumps its share from 5.9 per cent of a $2.7 billion budget in 2007 to 6.3 per cent of a $3.66 billion budget in 2008. In 2007 Canada was the third largest contributor to the WFP after the United States and the European Commission.

Almost as significant as the amount was Canada's willingness to allow the WFP to buy the food closer to where it's needed rather than from Canadian farmers. This cuts down on transportation costs and supports farmers in poor countries.

"That is significant – an important change in the way we assume our responsibility as a rich country," said Brunelli.

Canada has been gradually untying its food aid over the last five years, but prior to this announcement the WFP still had to spend 50 per cent of Canada's contribution in Canada.

At the Canada Foodgrains Bank – supported by 15 church agencies representing 30 denominations, including the Catholic church through Development and Peace – executive director Jim Cornelius was quick to point out the extra money will not allow Canada Foodgrains Bank to address new needs as more an more people can't afford to buy food.

"What the funding did was at least allow us to not cut back at a time of growing need," said Cornelius.

Emergency funding should be accompanied by a new resolve to bolster agriculture in poor countries, Cornelius said.

Over the last 15 to 20 years many countries in the developing world opened their markets and at the same time cut investments in agriculture. Donor nations also de-emphasized agricultural projects when sending aid abroad. Under-investment in agriculture has left poor people more vulnerable to wild fluctuations on international commodity markets, Cornelius said.

"We need to be investing substantially in rural livelihoods, agricultural livelihoods in poor countries. That would generate the food, make sure that food is being produced to meet growing demand and provide livelihoods to people so they can feed their families," said Cornelius.

{mosimage} Most of the people most vulnerable to a food crisis are in fact small farmers. Organizing poor farmers so they have access to fertilizer and seed, advice on which crops to grow and how to grow them, and organizing them into co-operatives so they can directly access markets will both increase food production and ensure the poor can afford the food they grow, said Cornelius.

"For you and I this food crisis is not a crisis," Cornelius told The Catholic Register from Winnipeg. "We can afford to buy food and we probably should be paying more for food so that farmers can get a decent return. The problem of course is for those living on a dollar a day. They're already spending 60 to 70 per cent of their income on food. For them, this is a disaster."

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