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Rising food prices and impact on children

The current spike in global food prices is attracting attention globally but not to the extent that it requires.  World food prices surged to a new historic peak in January, for the seventh consecutive month, according to the updated Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Food Price Index, a commodity basket that regularly tracks monthly changes in global food prices.

"The new figures clearly show that the upward pressure on world food prices is not abating," said FAO economist and grains expert Abdolreza Abbassian. "These high prices are likely to persist in the months to come. High food prices are of major concern especially for low-income food deficit countries that may face problems in financing food imports and for poor households which spend a large share of their income on food." 

Poor households are particularly vulnerable to the higher costs of food and governments of low-income food importing countries face higher import bills and higher energy prices. Evidence from the global food crisis in 2007-08 has shown the intra-household effect of rising food prices such as reduction caring time for children, allocation of resources for food increases impacting other household expenditures particularly on child education, and specifically the impacts on children and child wellbeing (both boys and girls) other than first order nutrition effects. In fact, in India, the share of food, beverage and tobacco group in the rural consumer price index (CPI rural) is more than 50% of the household consumption pattern for January 2011, meaning more than half of the spending in a rural household was on food products. The high price for food is also being exacerbated by the global rise in oil prices and the socio-political unrest in the Middle East.

Children, particularly belonging to poor households in low-income countries, are affected directly when food becomes dearer beyond just the nutritional aspects. To offset the rising cost, children are pulled from schools and put to paid work outside homes to abate hunger at home. This has grave implication for the children and the overall socio-economic growth of a country. Child labourers have less available time to study, or spend less time at school or in worst cases drop out of school –and all risk reducing income earning potential in future due to lack of marketable skills, poor health and illiteracy, feeding the poverty cycle.

Additionally, child labour increases as an indirect outcome of higher cost of imported food leading to trade deficits that depress the level of economic activity leading to unemployment and lower government revenues in the long term that might be spent on public services.

The Global March Against Child Labour hold that hundred of millions of people were going hungry before these spikes in food prices because they could not afford food. With higher prices, the numbers are swelling, and more and more children face the prospective burden of shouldering household food security.  Immediate and substantial remediation, practical solutions and inflation check measures are needed to resist higher prices and strengthen local economies so that people have access to nutritional food.

Link: FAO has published an updated guide for policy-makers in developing countries to assist them in addressing the negative impacts of high food prices or to tap into their opportunities.