March 2023

Breaking the Cycle of Unsustainable Food Systems, Hunger and Debt


The food price crisis is entering a dangerous new phase – a debt crisis that is plunging millions more into hunger. IPES-Food’s new special report urges decision-makers to act on comprehensive debt relief and food system transformation, before it’s too late. 

Although food prices have receded from 2022’s record highs, public finances in low-income countries are being buffeted by sky-high import costs for food, fertilizers, and energy, and rapidly-rising interest rates. 60% of low-income countries and 30% of middle-income countries are now considered at high risk of, or already in, debt distress; while some 21 countries are nearing catastrophic levels of both debt distress and food insecurity.

Our unsustainable food systems are a major driver of the debt crisis. Import dependencies, extractive financial flows, boom-bust commodity cycles, and climate-vulnerable food systems are combining to destabilize the finances of the world's poorest countries.

In turn, unsustainable debt leaves countries critically exposed to shocks and undermines their ability to make urgently-needed investments in climate-resilient food production and food security.

The expert panel calls for urgent action to:

  • Provide debt relief and development finance on a scale for COVID-19 recovery, climate action, resilient food systems, and the Sustainable Development Goals. 
  • Repair historical food system injustices and return resources to the Global South.
  • Democratize financial and food systems governance to put the interests of the world’s poorest countries and marginalized populations first. 


Read the special report ( EN FR ES )


Read the press release ( EN )


Read a one page summary for policymakers ( EN )  



“The food crisis is still biting and now it’s sparking skyrocketing debt distress and spiralling hunger in dozens of low and middle-income countries. Rising debt bills are becoming unaffordable for many governments, just as they struggle to pay for food and fertilizer imports. Decades of progress in reducing hunger risks being undone.”
Jennifer Clapp, IPES-Food expert economist


“Many African countries’ economies and food systems are on the brink of meltdown. We’re stuck importing increasingly unaffordable staple foods while climate change batters our harvests, and interest payments spiral out of control. Our governments are starved of cash to build the sustainable food systems we need to feed ourselves.” 
Million Belay, IPES-Food expert economist


“Yes, the debts of poorer nations should be cancelled to allow them to feed their people – but this is not enough. It’s vital to break the vicious cycle of unsustainable food systems, hunger, and debt – by also investing in resilient food and farming, repairing historical injustices, and reforming decision-making on food and debt to put poor countries first.” 
Lim Li Ching, co-chair of IPES-Food