World's food system broken, Oxfam warns

Doubling of prices and 70 per cent rise in demand means millions more will go hungry

Cahal Milmo
Wednesday 01 June 2011 00:00
Comments

Millions more people across the world will be locked into a cycle of hunger and food crisis unless governments tackle a "broken" production system which is being exploited by speculators and will cause a doubling in basic foodstuff prices in the next 20 years, a leading aid agency has warned.

Research by Oxfam has highlighted a combination of factors, ranging from climate change and population growth to subsidies for biofuels and the actions of commodities traders, which will throw development in poor countries into reverse unless radical reform of the global food system is undertaken.

The charity found that the world currently produces enough food to sustain the population, but still 925 million people go hungry every year. This situation will dramatically worsen as the population reaches 9 billion by 2050, meaning demand for food will increase by 70 per cent at a time when capacity to increase yields is running at less than 1 per cent a year.

Barbara Stocking, Oxfam's chief executive, said: "The food system is pretty well bust. All the signs are that the number of people going hungry is going up. 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."

In a 74-page report drawn up for the launch of a four-year campaign to pressure governments and corporations to increase the affordability of basic staples, Oxfam apportioned some of the blame for the drastic increase in food costs, which has already seen prices double since 1990, to commodities traders and speculation in the global foodstuffs market.

With the world's poorest people now spending up to 80 per cent of their income on food, the aid agency said they were particularly vulnerable to the volatility in prices from which large agricultural trading companies profited. It said that up to 90 per cent of global grain trading happened between just three companies, each of which had made substantial profits from fluctuations in prices since the 2008 food crisis.

One of the companies, the American conglomerate Cargill, saw its profits increase by 86 per cent in the first quarter of 2008 and is heading for its most profitable year yet following further disruption to global supplies, according to the study. Cargill said it welcomed the report, saying that there was a "significant challenge" in meeting demand for food in 2050.

Oxfam is calling for regulators to place limits on trading in agricultural futures – contracts designed to reduce uncertainty in prices, which however, critics say are perversely driving prices higher. The aid agency said global food production was further skewed by subsides for biofuels, large-scale landowners in poor countries and the disproportionate influence of seed manufacturers at a time when increased investment in 500 million small farms in the developing world would yield dramatic benefits for rural and urban populations.

Jeremy Hobbs, Oxfam's executive director, said: "For too long, governments have put the interests of big business and powerful elites above the interests of the seven billion of us who produce and consume food."

The charity said the effects of many of the issues it was highlighting were already being seen in food insecurity "hot spots" around the world, in particular the Horn of Africa, where eight million people across Somalia, Ethiopia and northern Kenya are facing chronic food shortages due to drought.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in