Oxfam: Food Prices to Rise as More Go Hungry

Climate change and decreasing natural resources will put greater pressure on the world’s supply of food over the next several decades,  threatening millions of people with chronic hunger, according to a report from Oxfam International. The British-based charity says that the world’s food system is “broken,” and that food price increases have driven 44 million people worldwide into poverty already  in 2011.  “Our world is capable of feeding all of humanity yet one in seven of us are hungry today,” said Oxfam Executive Director Jeremy Hobbs.  “As climate change impacts become increasingly severe and fertile land and fresh water supplies become increasingly scarce, feeding the world will get harder still.  Millions more men, women and children will go hungry unless we transform our broken food system.”

Oxfam blames the coming crisis on governments, businesses and wealthy elites.  “Paralysis is imposed upon us by a powerful minority of vested interests that profit from the status quo,” says the report, titled “Growing a Better Future.”  Oxfam points to the price of corn as one example of the system’s problems.  The price of this staple is expected to double over next 20 years.  The impact of climate change on the crop is blamed for 50 percent of that increase.  Use of corn for biofuels also is responsible.  “U.S. policy ensures 15 percent of the world’s maize is diverted to engines, even at times of severe food crisis.  The grain required to fill the petrol tank of an SUV with biofuels is sufficient to feed one person for a year,” Oxfam said.

According to the report,  “Now the major powers, the old and the new, must cooperate, not compete, to share resources, build resilience, and tackle climate change.  The economic crisis means that we have moved decisively beyond the era of the G8, when a few rich country governments tried to craft global solutions by and for themselves.  The governments of poorer nations must also have a seat at the table, for they are on the front lines of climate change, where many of the battles — over land, water, and food — are being fought.”

According to the report food demand will soar 70 to 90 percent by 2050, and that doesn’t take the impact of climate change into account.  Additionally, droughts, floods and changes in agricultural patterns from global warming will add pressure on the food system.  “The food system is buckling under intense pressure from climate change, ecological degradation, population growth, rising energy prices, rising demand for meat and dairy products and competition for land for biofuels, industry and urbanization,” the report says, noting that the number of people going hungry is expected to surpass one billion by the end of 2011.

Oxfam wants governments, especially the G20 nations, “to lead the transformation to a fairer more sustainable food system by investing in agriculture; valuing the world’s natural resources; better managing the food system; and delivering equality for women who grow much of the world’s food.  The report also points out that the private sector needs to change to a business model where profit “does not come at the expense of poor producers, consumers and the environment.”

The average cost of key crops will increase by 120 to 180 percent in the next 20 years, according to the report.  “The food system must be overhauled if we are to overcome the increasingly pressing challenges of climate change, spiraling food prices and the scarcity of land, water and energy,” Stocking said.

The “Oxfam Grow” campaign is led by Brazil’s former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu.

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