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UNICEF's Position on Rising Food Prices

© UNICEF/2008/Markisz

JULY 2008 - UNICEF is concerned that food price increases are having negative social, economic and political impacts, especially in low income and least developed countries.

Food price increases are posing a threat to household food security in many developing countries – particularly among children and pregnant women.

Poor households spending as much as 70 per cent of their income on food are most at risk. The most vulnerable populations include people depending on humanitarian assistance, orphans, those affected by HIV and AIDS, refugees and poor urban families.

UNICEF’s principal concern is to address nutrition insecurity of these vulnerable populations. At the household level, the rise in food prices can impact food availability and food choice, especially in poor households that already lack food. Children are at a higher risk of being adversely affected as they need a high quality and nutritiously diversified diet. Women are also at great risk as they may reduce their own caloric intake in favour of their children, pregnant and lactating women being most vulnerable due to high nutritional needs.

Apart from the nutritional, health and other consequences related to spending power and shifts in spending of household incomes, as more goes into accessing food, less will be available to seek health care or meet school expenses. As a coping mechanism, children may be required to seek employment and thus drop out of school.

Urgent and unified efforts are required to mitigate both the direct and indirect consequences of the increased food prices, and to ensure that they do not reverse or impede progress toward the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The increase in food prices may not only slow down the progress towards achieving health and nutrition related MDGs, but also reverse or negatively impact child-related social indicators.  

It is critical that interventions to alleviate the situation are evidence-based. On this basis UNICEF is working with governments and partners to assess short-, medium and long-term interventions. Globally, UNICEF is closely monitoring the nutrition situation and the impact of the food price increases on women and children, and especially the most vulnerable groups. The most urgent priority is to help children that are already malnourished and protect vulnerable populations from tipping into levels of chronic malnutrition.

UNICEF’s response to the food situation is consistent with the UN Secretary-General’s proposed “Comprehensive Framework for Action”, devised by a Task Force comprising relevant specialized UN agencies, funds and programmes and the Bretton Woods institutions.

The Impact of Increasing Food Prices on Jamaican Children

UNICEF Jamaica is concerned that rising food prices, combined with increasing prices of other basic commodities, will adversely affect the health and nutrition of children, and pregnant and lactating women living in poor households, particularly in urban areas.

UNICEF commends the Government of Jamaica for having recently put in place key measures which may alleviate the impact of high food prices, including the removal of user fees for basic health services and education. UNICEF, UNDP and FAO are now engaged with the Statistical Institute of Jamaica (STATIN) and the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ) to assess the extent to which the most vulnerable households are affected by high food costs.

The continuing rise in food prices necessitates the strengthening of strong sectoral and household-level monitoring systems to capture changes in the status of children’s nutrition, health, school attendance, and other effects of aggravated poverty resulting from the food situation.

Evidence from these measures of assessment should be used to cost and finance the expansion and strengthening of large-scale programmes targeting the poor and vulnerable, such as the School Feeding Programme and the social safety net initiative, the Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH).




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