“The global food system is broken,” reads a new report from Oxfam International. While much of Growing a Better Future: Food Justice in a Resource-Constrained World
essentially reviews the major factors that contribute to food insecurity, Oxfam’s call to transform the food system is certainly timely, given this year’s high food prices
(blamed in part for inflaming popular revolts
in the Middle East) and fears of another global food crisis
Despite producing enough food for everyone, one in seven people globally face chronic under-nutrition and almost one billion people are food insecure. Hunger is concentrated within rural areas in developing countries, and within families, women are often disproportionally affected, having serious implications for maternal and child health.
“We face three interlinked challenges in an age of growing crisis: feeding nine billion without wrecking the planet; finding equitable solutions to end disempowerment and injustice; and increasing our collective resilience to shocks and volatility,” write the authors of the report.
A “Perfect Storm” for Hunger
If current trends continue, population growth, natural resource scarcity, and climate change will put increasing stress on the food system in the future and create a “perfect storm” for more hunger, says Oxfam.
In the short term, oil price hikes, extreme weather, and speculative trading in markets have caused food prices to rise. With global population slated to grow to 9.1 billion and the global economy projected to be three times as big, demand for food may increase by as much as 70 percent by 2050. Food scarcity will also be deeply affected by the depletion of other natural resources including water, oil, and land.
According to the report’s predictions, child malnutrition levels in sub-Saharan Africa are expected to grow by 8 million by 2030. This estimate is before taking into account the effects of climate change, which could reduce agricultural yields by 20 to 30 percent in sub-Saharan Africa by 2080. The latest UN Population Division projections over that same time period predict an additional two billion people will be living in the region.
The Broken Food System
Up until now, many governments in developed countries have either ignored rising food prices or made it worse by imposing trade restrictions or encouraging the production of biofuels, says Oxfam. Thirty to fifty percent of all food grown is wasted, at least in part, as the result of poor consumer and business practices in rich countries, write the authors, and national governments are not doing enough to address climate change and manage scarce resources, especially water.
Another major challenge that contributes to global hunger is equitable access to land, technology, and markets, says Oxfam. In Guatemala, for example, less than eight percent of agricultural producers hold almost 80 percent of the land, and in developing countries, despite sharing an equal or larger burden of the work, women account for only 10 to 20 percent of landowners. Large companies, rather than local farmers, make the majority of decisions regarding key resources such as land, water, seeds, and infrastructure, while ignoring the technological needs of small-scale farmers.
“Growing a Better Future”
The report concludes that “from the failing food system to wider social and ecological challenges, the dominant model of development is hitting its limits.” The authors recommend three ways to effectively reduce hunger and fix the broken food system:
1) Make food security a top priority for national and international governing bodies; To make this a reality, write the authors, governments must invest in climate adaptation, disaster risk reduction, and social protection, while international governance of trade, food aid, financial markets, and climate change must work to reduce risks of future shocks and respond quickly and effectively when shocks do occur. The policies and practices of both governments and businesses should support the needs and interests of small-scale farmers, ensuring access to natural resources, technology, and markets.
2) Support small-scale food producers in developing countries; and
3) Set clear global targets for the equitable distribution of scarce resources.
While not exactly novel or ground-breaking ideas, these reforms certainly are lofty and the report avoids sugarcoating issues of food security, directly calling out governments and the private sector for their role in supporting food injustice. But, some argue that simpler solutions, like promoting fertilizers and new technologies among poor farmers, might be more effective at fighting malnutrition. Others question the validity of the reports assertion that the average food prices will more than double in the next 20 years.
Despite criticisms, this report and the corresponding GROW campaign will hopefully help further highlight the importance of food security and the need to move towards a more sustainable future.
Image Credit: “Thriving in Africa,” courtesy of flickr user Gates Foundation.