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The Prince of Wales calls for an improved economic understanding of food security

Published on 29th February 2012

The Prince of Wales said yesterday that an understanding of the economic relationship of food security to natural capital is critical to our ability to maintain economic growth.

In the closing remarks of a meeting convened on the subject by his International Sustainability Unit (ISU), The Prince warned that natural capital (the resources that nature provides) was being depleted at an unsustainable rate imposing threats to food security and, in turn, more widely to economic and political security.

Highlighting that this depletion is often influenced by multiple factors including water, energy, food and environmental change, His Royal Highness called for a better understanding of these links and for the language of economics to be used so that they could be more readily understood.

The Prince of Wales said: “We may now understand the issues of food, water and energy security are indeed linked; but bizarrely, in a world that is dominated by economic decision making, we remain almost entirely blind to the economics of these relationships.” Focusing on food security is a constructive way to link sustainable development with immediate economic priorities, as food price rises and food insecurity are important issues for many governments. Since 2008 global food markets have experienced higher and more volatile prices than at any time since the 1970s. This has had a major impact on poverty and hunger in the world’s poorest regions: the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation estimates that the number of malnourished people has risen to over one billion over the past five years, with around the same number suffering from hidden hunger or poor nutritional quality of food. Rapidly rising food prices have also sparked riots across the world and contributed to political instability.

The meeting, held at the Royal Society in London, was a continuation of a two-year work programme by the ISU on food security and followed its 2011 report, “What Price Resilience?” During that period, the ISU has consulted the public, private, scientific and Non-governmental organisation (NGO) sectors and identified three core requirements to move discussions on food security forward: improved data collation; coordinated programme development at the national and international levels; and, integrated economic analysis.

The focus of yesterday’s discussions was to gather consensus on a programme of work that would assist countries develop a broad-based economic analysis of food security within the constraints of energy and water security as well as demographic and environmental change. This would enhance governments’ abilities to assess the impacts of risks to their food system and the potential benefits of alternative responses.

The meeting was attended by leading scientists, economists, leaders from the larger international institutions and government representatives from 14 countries and was followed by a dinner at Clarence House hosted by His Royal Highness.

Notes to editors

1. HRH The Prince of Wales established the International Sustainability Unit (ISU) to help build consensus on how to resolve some of the key environmental challenges facing the world – these include food security, ecosystem resilience and the depletion of natural capital. The ISU works with governments, the private sector and non-governmental organisations with the aim of building partnerships to help address these challenges.

2. 'What Price Resilience?' was published by the ISU in July 2011. It takes a broad and integrative approach, looking at the role played by economic development, energy, climate, biodiversity and ecosystem services in agriculture, fisheries and food systems. It analyses the deeper causes behind a global food crisis which has led to damaging price volatility and substantial increases in the number going hungry. It argues that these risks are likely to intensify in coming decades – more shocks and disruptions can be expected if we continue with ‘business as usual’.