Threats to food supply a global concern

If you think feeding a family is difficult, try feeding a planet.

Time out: A policy officer with the UN’s World Food Programme

Time out: A policy officer with the UN’s World Food Programme

If you think feeding a family is difficult, try feeding a planet.

“You can say there’s enough food to feed everyone on the planet, but for the first time there is a question as to whether or not that is actually true,” says Chad Shipmaker, 1996 Salmon Arm Senior Secondary grad, now a policy officer with the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP). “For the first time ever it is estimated that there are a billion hungry people in the world.”

Shipmaker says a world food crisis in ’07-08 doubled and even sometimes tripled the cost of food in a matter of a month.

“That’s not a big deal in the western world, where maybe five per cent of income goes to food, but in sub Saharan Africa it’s typically more like 70 per cent.”

Given climate change, Shipmaker says there are questions about how more crops can be grown in places like the Sahara.

“Your going to be having less and less and less, combined with increasing frequent climate shocks and drought will become more frequent.”

Shipmaker, who resides in Washington, D.C., says the  WFP’s biggest operations are in the Horn of Africa and Afghanistan.

Shipmaker’s role is to help strengthen partnerships between WFP and North American-based institutions like the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and research institutions such as universities and think tanks,” he says. “We partner with those institutions to make sure they benefit from our knowledge base and are aware of what we’re doing.”

Shipmaker also makes sure WFP officials are aware of the most advanced thinking on relevant issues.

His second role is to represent the World Food Programme at gatherings such as the Big G8 – a forum for governments of eight of the world’s larger economies, G20 – a group of finance ministers and central bank governors from 20 major global economies. The recent Rio Plus 20 has drawn criticism for failing to tackle global environmental threats.

“There are many problems and our problems are increasingly of a global nature,” says Shipmaker, who uses the example, ‘someone burns a Koran in Florida and somebody dies in Afghanistan,’ to show how closely the world is linked – so far without an organization capable of dealing with the huge global issues, be they related to food, climate or finance.

“The moral of the story is, we’re on the verge of this big global transition; we have a rapid rebalancing of power,” he says. “China has emerged and they’re powerful and they themselves are trying to figure out how to act on the world stage.”

Shipmaker, says in the past, rich countries shared with poor countries, delivering aid through a variety of agencies.

Now the rich countries are dealing with financial problems of their own.

“When it was a few rich countries, they could be more decisive,” says Shipmaker of the changes and increasing complexities on the humanitarian aid front.

In the late ’90s, G7 accounted for two-thirds of the global economic output (western countries) but by 2050 only the picture will be changed dramatically, he says.

Canada will do well, he adds, noting this country is blessed with abundant food, water and natural resources that other nations require.

“One message I would have that I would be comfortable saying, is it is in the interest of countries like Canada to help solve some of these problems because it will help us as well.”

Shipmaker points to Rotary’s Polio Plus and says not only is the program important for ethical or moral reasons, but eradicating the disease in the last two countries where it remains would save millions of dollars in inoculation costs in Canada.

Shipmaker participated in a Rotary Youth Exchange to Malaysia prior to starting post-secondary education at Okanagan University College. After one year, he attended University of Victoria, where he earned a degree in political science and history.

He credits then OUC dean Lynda Wilson for encouraging him to apply for a Rotary World Peace Fellowship.

Through the prestigious scholarship, he earned a masters in international development from Duke University and a graduate certificate in peace and conflict resolution from the University of North Carolina.

Shipmaker began working with WFP as a work placement required as part of his grad school requirements.

That segued into full-time employment.

“My masters thesis was on responding to the global food price crisis,” he says. “It was just exactly what they needed at the time.”

The WFP is the world’s large humanitarian organization, with an annual budget of $5 billion that provides assistance to some 90 million people annually.