Global food crisis looms as crop prices set to rocket
Oxfam has warned that average prices of staple crops will more than double in 20 years if urgent action is not taken to change the international food system, which is already failing to feed nearly a billion people a day.
New research published in Oxfam’s report, “Growing a Better Future”, forecasts that average international prices of key staples, such as maize, will increase by between 120 and 180 percent by 2030, with up to half of this increase due to climate change. The world’s poorest people, who spend up to 80 percent of their income on food, will be hit hardest.
Oxfam states that decades of steady progress in the fight against hunger is now being reversed as demand outpaces food production. Depleting natural resources, a scramble for fertile land and water, and the gathering pace of climate change is already making the situation worse.
Oxfam warns that by 2050 demand for food will rise by 70 percent yet our capacity to increase 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 percent in the next decade.
Eight million people, the majority of them women and girls, currently face chronic food shortages in East Africa. Increasing numbers of regional and local crises could see the need for food aid double in the next 10 years.
“We are sleepwalking towards an avoidable age of crisis,” Oxfam Chief Executive Barbara Stocking says. “One in seven people on the planet go hungry every day despite the fact that the world is capable of feeding everyone. The food system must be overhauled if we are to overcome the increasingly pressing challenges of climate change, spiralling food prices and the scarcity of land, water and energy. We must consign hunger to history.”
Oxfam’s Grow campaign to eradicate hunger has been launched in 45 countries and is backed by high profile supporters including former President Lula of Brazil and Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu.
Oxfam, which has been working on food crises for 70 years, will expose the governments whose failed policies are propping up the broken food system and the powerful companies who benefit and lobby hard to maintain it.
For example, despite doubling the size of India’s economy in 1990-2005, the number of hungry people in the country increased by 65 million - more than the population of France - because economic development excluded the rural poor, and welfare programmes failed to reach them. Today, one in four of the world’s hungry people live in India.
Another example is the US, whose policy ensures 15 percent of the world’s maize is used to make fuel, even at times of severe food crisis. The amount of grain required to fill the petrol tank of a 4x4 vehicle with biofuel is sufficient to feed one person for a year.
Meanwhile, EU targets in practice mean that 10 percent of transport fuel will be biofuels by 2020.
Oxfam is calling on Prime Minister David Cameron and other G20 leaders to agree new rules to govern food markets so that everyone has enough to eat. They must increase transparency in commodities markets and regulate future markets, scale up food reserves, and put an end to biofuel policies.
Greater investment is needed in the 500 million small farmers, especially women, who are often overlooked but who are the single biggest opportunity to boost food production. The UK government and others meeting at the UN climate change summit in Durban in December must get the global climate fund up and running so that people can protect themselves from the impacts of climate change and are better equipped to grow the food they need.
The private sector must also shift to a business model where profit does not come at the expense of poor producers, consumers and the environment.
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.”