True Cost of a Plate of Food Around the World

This article is part of a series of opinion pieces to mark World Food Day October 16
Herve Verhoosel is Senior Spokesperson at the UN World Food Programme (WFP)

By Herve Verhoosel
GENEVA, Oct 15 2018 (IPS)

How much would you expect to pay for the most basic plate of food? The kind of thing you might whip up at home – nothing fancy, just enough to fill you up and meet a third of today’s calorie needs. A soup, maybe, or a simple stew – some beans or lentils, a handful of rice, bread, or corn?

Credit: World Food Programme

In the rich Global North – say, in New York State, USA – such a meal would cost almost nothing to make: 0.6 percent of the average daily income, or US$1.20.

In parts of the developing world, by contrast, food affordability can shrink to the point of absurdity: in South Sudan, a country born out of war and disintegrating into more war, the meal-to-income ratio is 300 times that of industrialized countries.

It is, in other words, as if a New Yorker had to pay nearly US$348.36 for the privilege of cooking and eating that plate of food.

How do people in South Sudan afford it? It’s simple. They don’t.

This is not a unique issue to South Sudan. Across the board, food is becoming ever less affordable in poorer countries that are subject to political instabilities.

Lack of access to food, and the costliness of it, have many causes: climate extremes, natural disasters, post-harvest losses, or bad governance, all of which can damage- or even shatter- farming supply chains and markets.

But, one overriding cause stands out: conflict. At WFP, we’ve long known that hunger and war are tragically symbiotic. Which makes it that much harder to eradicate the one without ending the other.

The 2018 edition of WFPs Counting the Beans: The True Cost of a Plate of Food Around the World index, now spanning 52 countries, underscores this clear correlation between food affordability costs and political stability and security.

The index looks at whether food costs for the original 33 countries analyzed in 2017 have risen or fallen, and compares costs for the same meal in some of the world’s poorest places with one of its richest, by using a New York baseline to highlight vast gaps in global food affordability.

In many countries, it was found that food affordability measured in this way has actually improved since 2017. This is situational, thanks to strong economic growth, political stability, and/or a better rainy season- or in the case of southern Africa- humanitarian assistance helping to offset the effects of severe drought.

Though despite such progress made in many countries through the past year, food costs are often still intensely disproportionate in relation to income. This is the case across much of Africa, as well as in parts of Asia and, to a lesser degree, of Latin America.

Among the countries surveyed for the study, Peru tops the list with the most affordable plate at the NY equivalent of US$ 3.44, just 1.6 percent of per capita income, vs. what that same plate would cost in New York, amounting to 0.6 percent of per capita income.

While Laos and Jordan are close runners-up to Peru, other countries have deteriorated. Almost invariably, these are nations where peace has been (further) eroded by violence, insecurity or political tension, including South Sudan- where the cost of a plate of food has soared from the exorbitant 155 percent of daily income in 2016 (USD $321.70) to 201.7 percent of daily income in 2018 (USD $348.36).

It now costs twice the national daily income to buy a plate of food in South Sudan. Northeast Nigeria took second to last place, at USD $222.05, or 128.6 percent of daily income in 2018, up from USD $200.32, or 121 percent of daily income in 2016.

These abysmal numbers highlight the vast gaps in global food affordability, where 821 million people go hungry while elsewhere one can get a simple nutritious meal with a just a handful of change.

The fact that this still occurs defies both reason and decency, and it’s why we – the World Food Programme and other humanitarian partners – are there.

However, the impact of WFP and other humanitarian actors in saving and changing lives cannot be sustained without political investment, good governance, transparent markets, and wider partnerships.

Societies cannot lift themselves out of the poverty trap if families are continuously priced out of providing their children with the nutritional meals essential for them to develop into healthy and productive adults, if climate degradation continues to threaten food security and development gains, and if protracted conflicts continue to destroy societies and force young talent elsewhere.

With a concerted global effort, the international community can achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals and end hunger and malnutrition. Governments must engage with and support their developing country counterparts in peacebuilding, conflict resolution and disaster risk reduction.

The private sector must embrace that turning a profit can go hand in hand with advancing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through employing young people to boost incomes, sourcing from smallholder farms, and through working alongside leaders to strengthen supply chains.

The shocking and outraging numbers in this year’s “Counting the Beans” index highlight that peaceful societies and affordable food go hand in hand. We have the modern technological capacities to end world hunger, but first we must end the conflict that fosters it.

Together, we can work towards reversing the figures in this year’s index, and ensure that in the future, nobody will have to work a day and a half to afford a simple meal.

Sex Offender Registry is Not Enough to Curb Sexual Violence Against Women

Protesters gather at a candlelight vigil in New Delhi. Credit: Sujoy Dhar/IPS

By Elsa D’Silva and Quratulain Fatima
Oct 15 2018 (IPS)

India recently launched a sex offender registry to deter sex offenders from perpetrating crimes against women and children by indicating that the government is keeping track of them. The personal details of 440,000 sex offenders who have been convicted for various crimes like “eve-teasing”, child sexual abuse, rape and gang rape will be registered in this database and accessible to law enforcement.

The creation of the registry is hailed by many as a welcome move in India, where violence against women and girls is pandemic. Recently, the Thomson Reuters Survey stated that India is the most dangerous country in the world with regards to sexual violence. From the start of this year, there has been a series of gang rapes of little girls ranging from babies to teenagers in all parts of the country –  NorthSouth, WestNorthEast and Central India

Neighbouring country Pakistan does not have a sex offender registry but is equally bad when it comes to violence against women and sex offences. According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), in Pakistan an incident of rape occurs every two hours and 70 percent of women and girls experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime by their intimate partners and 93 percent women experience some form of sexual violence in public places in their lifetime.

Measures to prevent sex offenses are needed in both countries and each country can learn from each other’s successful prevention programs. However, only workable solutions should be replicated, and a sex offender registry is not one.

Evidence suggests that sex offender registries have failed to reduce sex crimes and have made rehabilitation of offenders difficult. In fact, registries might work for other forms of crime but not for the sexually deviant

Sex offender registries exist in many countries including Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United States, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, South Africa, the United Kingdom, Israel and the Republic of Ireland. Sexual violence is a problem in each of those countries, too, but studies have shown that sex offender registries have little or no effect on crime prevention or recidivism. Furthermore, evidence from these countries suggests that sex offender registries have failed to reduce sex crimes and have made rehabilitation of offenders difficult. In fact, registries might work for other forms of crime but not for the sexually deviant.

Further, we think making the details public, which is how it works in the United States and is what some people in India want, is dangerous as it would further increase the risk for women and girls rather than protect them. Though the government has assured that the registry would have multiple layers of security, there are doubts that the names and identities of the victims would be revealed. The Indian authorities are planning to link the details of the perpetrators to the Aadhar database which has biometric information of the person. Reports have indicated that the Aadhar database is itself not secure and for as little as $8 one can access personal information of people.

Moreover, Googling and knowing that a sex offender lives next door does not ensure that you can google your way to safety since safety from sex offences entail more than sex offender registration laws and a registry. Research shows that most sex offenders are relatives or people known to their victims but systems that put in place sex offender registry assume that sex offenders are strangers.

Many sex offenders are not even reported – particularly in South Asia due to the cultural stigma, faulty police procedures and lengthy court cases – and they aren’t included on any registration/notification system.

Instead of implementing a sex offender registry and seeing that as a solution, more efforts should focus on addressing the underlying issues, like patriarchy and improving the effectiveness of the justice system. Specifically, we recommend the governments of India and Pakistan concentrate on the following measures:

  • Sex education in school curriculum to educate people about sex offences and teach them ways to have responsible, healthy and consensual relationships.
  • Advocacy efforts to break down social taboos around this topic and make it easier to discuss and have a dialogue in the family and community about sex offences.
  • Allocation of public resources toward the rehabilitation of sex offenders with a high risk of repeating their crimes. Research suggests that psychological treatment and cognitive behavioural treatment can reduce recidivism amongst sex offenders.
  • Including women in all policy formulation, including the passage of any relevant laws. They are the stakeholders most at risk of sexual violence and they are in a better position to provide guidelines for policies aiming to stop sex offences.
  • Training police officers to be sensitive to the needs of victim and knowledgeable about the relevant laws so they can be a resource to individuals who want to report crimes. For example, Sweden has a high reporting of sexual violence because the creation of a strong eco-system, a feminist mindset and sensitive police have made it easier to break the silence.
  • Ensuring quick and swift punishment for convicted sex offenses. Long court cases in the face of lingering social stigma puts many victims off reporting sex offences. Policy makers must take a hands-on approach to swiftly dispense justice in sex offences.

Elsa D’Silva is the Founder and CEO of Red Dot Foundation (Safecity) and works on women’s rights issues in India. She is a 2018 Yale World Fellow and a 2015 Aspen New Voices Fellow. Follow  her on Twitter, @elsamariedsilva. 

Quratulain Fatima is a policy practitioner working extensively in rural and conflict-ridden areas of Pakistan with a focus on gender inclusive development and conflict prevention. She is a 2018 Aspen New Voices Fellow. Follow her on Twitter, @moodee_q.