Urgent action is needed to prevent hundreds of millions more people slipping into hunger as a result of volatile food prices and increasing energy and water scarcity, said international agency Oxfam today. Decades of underinvestment in agriculture coupled with the increasing threat of climate change mean that despite recent price falls, future food security is by no means guaranteed, and in fact the situation could get worse, said Oxfam on the opening day of a UN conference in Madrid to address the issue. Oxfam’s warning comes on the day that two new reports are published, detailing the threats to global food security and exposing the lack of adequate coordinated international action to tackle hunger.
The reports, A Billion Hungry People and The Feeding of the Nine Billion are published by Oxfam and the UK think tank, Chatham House respectively, and together are a call to action to politicians, and representatives from the private sector and civil society meeting to discuss the implementation of the UN Taskforce’s response. Although global food prices have fallen in the last few months, they are not back to previous levels, and are likely to rise sharply again in the future. Furthermore, price volatility itself is a problem, and more needs to be done to address the underlying structural issues that cause the chronic hunger affecting 1 in 6 people in the world today, according to Oxfam. Current severe food shortages in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique and Zimbabwe are evidence that the global food crisis is far from over. Even before recent price rises, there were over 850m people classified as undernourished. Now, there are nearly a billion, as a result of the price rises, alongside other factors such as political instability and conflict.
“Not enough has been done to tackle the situation. There is a lack of coordination at all levels and the opportunity for root and branch reform of the aid system has not yet been taken. International institutions and donors must reverse decades of under-investment in agriculture and scrap blatantly distortionary polices such as biofuels mandates that make things worse,” said an Oxfam representative, who is attending the conference. “The recent decision by the EU to reinstate export subsidies for dairy is the direct opposite of what’s needed: a retrograde step that calls into question their commitment to longer term reforms,” he added.
The Feeding of the Nine Billion, published by Chatham House and part-funded by Oxfam, predicts demand for food will increase as the world’s population grows by 2.5bn to 9.2bn by 2050. It also notes a UN prediction that climate change will increase the number of undernourished people worldwide by between 40m and 170m. Meanwhile, Oxfam’s A Billion Hungry People includes recommendations for reform of the humanitarian aid system and makes a strident call to poor countries to do their bit by investing more in agriculture, targeting women and small-scale producers. Developing countries must increase social protection measures for vulnerable populations – including cash payments and employment creation programs for those at risk of hunger. Rich countries must ensure long-term predictable funding to developing countries for investment in agriculture and climate change adaptation.