The seeds of a better harvest
Here’s what Oxfam reckons we need to do to really tackle hunger in our world.
Support small scale farming
The 500 million small farms in developing countries support almost two billion people, nearly one-third of humanity. The accepted wisdom is that large-scale industrial farming is more efficient. But conventional economics has overlooked the crippling financial and environmental costs associated with the fertilisers, pesticides and heavy machinery employed in industrial scale farming. And while industrial-scale farms enjoy tax breaks, subsidies and other government support, almost nothing has been done to support, promote and develop smallholdings.
Support and expand the fair trade system
Nearly three quarters of the food on Earth passes through the hands of about 500 large companies between grower and consumer. The companies set prices and control the income of producers. The various fair trade approaches bypass this bottle-neck by directly connecting producer and consumer, so each has a much greater stake in the other’s wellbeing.
Show and tell
Worldwide Food shocks like the one that struck in 2008 are exacerbated when nobody really knows how much food is available. This can lead to panic buying or food export bans, as nations jostle to secure food for their people, pushing prices up further. Authoritative global statistics would reduce these problems.
Create regional food reserves
A properly managed system of food reserves, created and shared by countries working together, would act as a buffer to soften dramatic shifts in food pricing. Food could be released from reserves onto the market in times of scarcity to provide emergency aid and to bring prices down.
Stop subsidising biofuels
Oxfam believes subsidising the biofuels industry with about $20 billion a year to fuel unsustainable personal transport is not a great investment, and we need to stop pouring the world’s food into vehicles.
Stop paying rich farmers to dump food
Poor farmers around the world are struggling to compete with the heavily subsidised industrial agriculture of the richer nations. The subsidies given to large scale farming also stimulate over-production in some crops, leading to waste. Shipments of large amounts of this otherwise waste food are currently dumped onto developing countries at below cost price, or even free as aid. This feeds people in the short term, but reduces local food prices to the point where local producers are suddenly unable to make a living. This can put them at risk of immediate starvation, and means they are less likely to be willing or able to replant next year.
Reign in the speculators
Elected governments need to take control of the world’s financial markets, especially when it comes to food trading. Limits on prices and how much traders can ‘bet’ on food trading are being discussed by the ‘Group of 20’ major world economies this year.
Fund climate change adaptation
A new fund to help countries respond to climate change was agreed at the international climate talks in Cancun in 2010. This, and other measures like it, must be up and running as soon as possible.
Expand social protection
Tackling hunger should be a national priority backed by concerted action for all nations. Today, four out of five people in the world receive no direct support from their government, regardless of their situation. Charity projects are left to pick up the pieces, but they lack the consistent, co-ordinated and culturally appropriate resources that a national programme should provide.
Measure and strive for wellbeing, not wealth
Gross Domestic Product is an incredibly short-sighted way of looking at economic success. Wars and national disasters can increase GDP, and it counts consumption of natural resources, such as cutting down a forest for timber, as income, but not as the loss of an asset. It is time to replace this with global measure that accurately charts human wellbeing and environmental sustainability.