Robert Nash (United Kingdom)
Policy Adviser - Private Sector - Oxfam GB
Worldwide hunger for a fairer food system
Phil Bloomer: Worldwide hunger for a fairer food system
DECADES ago, I was campaigning on hunger in Leeds as a young man. At the time, I was in my teens and appalled by hunger in a world of plenty.
And now, I am here again, campaigning with Oxfam. But this time we are joining with voices around the world to warn that 30 years of relatively cheap food seems to be over, and that we must change the food system radically if we are to not see 50 years of human development go into reverse.
Our latest research shows that food prices are set to double in the next 20 years. Demand is expected to rise by 70 per cent by 2050, but rising food prices, climate change and dwindling land, water and energy resources will only make it harder.
This is why Oxfam launched its first truly global campaign, GROW, in 45 countries around the world. And, for a seasoned campaigner like me, it is incredibly exciting to see that there is already such a big movement out there determined to make hunger history.
The figures show 239 million people are still undernourished in Sub Saharan Africa. Around 578 million people in the Asian and Pacific region are also undernourished. Today, one in four of the world’s hungry people lives in India.
Every week in India, people spend more than twice the proportion of their income on food than we do in the UK; as a proportion of their income, Indian people pay our equivalent of £10 for a litre of milk and £6 for a kilo of rice. Despite the fact that India more than doubled the size of its economy since 1990, the number of hungry people has increased by 65 million because economic growth excluded the poor and social protection schemes failed to reach them.
The global food system is broken and needs mending. Food and hunger are political. The politics of power are keeping food out of the mouths of people who need it the most. As the population grows, demand for food is going up, but we are not producing enough to keep up with that demand. After decades of steady progress in our efforts to get rid of hunger, we are now going in reverse.
In a world where there is plenty of food and resources, a new, fairer food system where everyone has enough to eat is possible. And I am not saying this because I am a stubborn campaigner at heart – but because it has been done.
The Brazilian and Vietnamese governments have made gigantic progress towards eradicating hunger in the last decade. Hunger fell by one-third in Brazil between 2005 and 2009 thanks to the government’s Zero Hunger campaign, which provided support for small farmers and cash for poor mothers to purchase food.
Last year the Vietnamese government reached a very important milestone: they had halved the number of hungry people in the country. How did they do it? By investing in agriculture and land reform over the previous 12 years.
So, research and experience prove that hunger can be eradicated and a new food system can be created. And a big part of the solution is political will followed by politicians, corporates and civil society taking action on this now.
What we need is for the UK government along with other G20 leaders (when they meet in November) to agree new rules to govern food markets so that everyone has enough to eat. They must scale up food reserves, put an end to biofuels policies which divert food from bellies into fuel for car tanks, and support financially poor countries in adapting to climate change. These efforts would not work without investing in small farmers – especially women farmers. Providing women farmers with equal rights to the land and agricultural support could feed up to 150 million additional people.
Companies need to be more transparent on how their operations impact on food prices and on food stocks. Both corporations and governments need to stop the race for land and water. In the last 10 years, private companies and foreign governments have bought up to 80 million hectares of land across the developing world – an area more than twice the size of Germany – often over the heads of the poor communities who rely on it for food. This needs to stop.
We can also make a difference through the choices we make as consumers and citizens. We can buy fair trade products, food that has been grown sustainably, and we can demand that supermarkets promote justice and equity in their supply chains. And as citizens we can make our voices heard for our government to act boldly on climate change and food security for all.
It was through decades of campaigning for land rights and the right to food that Brazilians have seen the number of hungry people decline. The same is true for the rise of fair trade that helps so many women and men feed their families. The hundreds of thousands of people around the world who have already shown their support for Oxfam’s GROW campaign are going to come together, and grow a movement, to make sure that we can fix the food system once and for all.
Phil Bloomer is director of campaigns and policy at Oxfam GB. For more information about Oxfam’s GROW campaign, please go to
Published on Friday 10 June 2011 01:00, http://www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/news/debate/columnists/phil_bloomer_worldwide_hunger_for_a_fairer_food_system_1_3461010