A broken food system and environmental crises are now reversing decades of progress against hunger according to new Oxfam analysis. Spiralling food prices and endless cycles of regional food crises will create millions more hungry people unless we transform the way we grow and share food. On June 1 Oxfam launches a new global campaign to ensure everyone has enough to eat, always.
Oxfam’s GROW campaign is backed by high profile supporters including former President Lula of Brazil, Archbishop Emeritus Tutu and actress Scarlett Johansson.
A new report, “Growing a Better Future: Food justice in a resource-constrained world”, catalogues the symptoms of today’s broken food system: growing hunger, flat-lining yields, a scramble for fertile land and water, and rising food prices. It warns we have entered a new age of crisis where depletion of the earth’s natural resources and increasingly severe climate change impacts will create millions more hungry people.
• New research predicts that the price of staple foods such as maize – already at an all-time high – will more than double in the next 20 years. Up to half of this increase will be due to climate change. The world’s poorest people, many of whom already spend more than half of their income on food, will be hardest hit.
• Eight million people face chronic food shortages in East Africa today. Increasing numbers of regional and local crises could see demand for food aid double in the next 10 years.
• By 2050 demand for food will rise 70 per cent yet our capacity to increase food production is declining. The average growth rate in agricultural yields has almost halved since 1990 and is set to decline to a fraction of one per cent in the next decade.
Barry Coates, Executive Director of Oxfam New Zealand said, “We have grown complacent about the fact that one out of seven people in our world do not have enough to eat. The inhumanity of even one person suffering from hunger and malnutrition should be unacceptable, let alone almost one billion people. There is enough food to feed the world. We need to ensure that everyone has enough to eat, always.
“We face a growing crisis in our food system. The problem of hunger is about to get far worse because of the impacts of climate change and the emerging shortages of fertile land, fresh water and fish stocks. The problems for vulnerable people are exacerbated by a corporate grab for large tracts of land and dwindling water supplies, conversion of land for biofuels, and the domination of supply chains by a few food giants. Feeding the world is about to get much more difficult. Millions more men, women and children will go hungry unless we transform our broken food system,” said Coates.
Oxfam’s GROW campaign will expose the governments whose failed policies are propping up this broken food system and the clique of 300 – 500 powerful companies who benefit from and lobby hard to maintain it. For example:
India: Despite doubling the size of it economy between 1990 and 2005 the number of hungry people in India increased by 65 million – more than the population of France – because economic development excluded the rural poor and social protection schemes failed to reach them. Today one in four of the world’s hungry people live in India.
United States: US policy ensures 15 per cent of the world’s maize is diverted to engines, even at times of severe food crisis. The grain required to fill the petrol tank of an SUV with biofuels is sufficient to feed one person for a year.
Traders: Four global companies control the movement of most of the world’s food. Three companies – Archer Daniels Midland, Bunge and Cargill – control an estimated 90 per cent of the world’s grain trade. Their activities help drive volatile food prices and they profit from them. In the first quarter of 2008, at the height of a global food price crisis, Cargill’s profits were up 86 per cent and the company is now heading for its most profitable year yet on the back of further disruptions to global food supplies.
Oxfam has been responding to food crises for 70 years. Now it is calling on governments – especially the powerful G20 – to lead the transformation to a fairer more sustainable food system by investing in agriculture, valuing the world’s natural resources, managing the food system better and delivering equality for women who produce much of the world's food. It is calling on the private sector to shift to a business model where profit does not come at the expense of poor producers, consumers and the environment.
Coates said, “The food system needs to serve the interests of the seven billion of us who produce and consume food, rather than the interests of big agribusiness and powerful elites. We are calling on the New Zealand government to show leadership in positioning our country at the forefront of the transition to an equitable, sustainable food system.”
Oxfam New Zealand is calling on the government to re-orient the aid programme to support small-scale farmers, especially women, as a priority; re-think our approach to trade negotiations; step up to the challenge of climate change; use our research and technology for the public good; and support consumers in being able to make fair and sustainable food choices.
“This issue is likely to be the defining challenge of our time. We need to harness the power of a broad alliance across government, business, NGOs, communities and consumers to start the transformation in the way our food system works. This is a common problem and we need to start now, urgently, to build a fairer, more sustainable and more productive food system for the future,” concluded Coates.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu said, "Many governments and companies will be resistant to change through habit, ideology or the pursuit of profit. It is up to us – you and me – to persuade them by choosing food that’s produced fairly and sustainably, by cutting our carbon footprints and by joining with Oxfam and others to demand change.”
Oxfam global ambassador Scarlett Johansson said, “Sharing food is one of life’s pleasures. On a global scale, we don’t share fairly. Close to a billion people go to bed hungry every night. The fact is: the global food system is a broken one. All of us, from Kentucky to Kenya, deserve enough to eat. That’s why I’m joining Oxfam’s Grow Campaign.”
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