They say don’t fix what isn’t broken. Unfortunately, the global food system isn’t one of these things; with 1 in 7 people in the world regularly going hungry. If you thought that hunger levels were decreasing, you’d be wrong: the global food crisis, land grabs, intensive farming and the looming threat of climate change have contributed to the number of hungry people in the world reaching an unprecedented level at almost one billion. That’s why Oxfam’s new campaign is needed now more than ever. GROW aims to ensure that the system will survive a future full of resource restrictions, climate change and an ever growing population.
It is well known that there is more than enough food to feed everyone on the planet, and Oxfam is aware that to combat hunger, sustainable patterns of production and consumption must be implemented. The rules of the broken food system are predictably set by private sector food companies. 300-500 companies (traders, processors, manufacturers and retailers) control 70 per cent of the choices and decisions in the food system globally. By setting these rules they therefore govern prices, costs and standards, extracting much of the value along the chain while costs and risks trickle down onto the weakest participants at the bottom of the chain, generally farmers and labourers. In India, Tanuja Dhanuk has recently had to ask her employers for leftovers in order to feed her family:
‘Food prices are rising. Flour is rising, rice and pulses and oil are all so expensive. Even soap is expensive,’ she says. ‘The children use mud to clean when they take a bath, and I use mud to wash clothes and with drain water.’
The private sector/food companies are therefore able to play a positive role in helping overcome food insecurity by creating trading relationships that return value to poor women and men through fair and stable pricing arrangements. Oxfam is also currently developing a food justice index, due to be published in 2012, which will assess companies against the standard of responsibility, focusing on the largest traders and food and beverage companies.
GROW highlights the importance of small-scale farmers, with the knowledge that 500 million small farms in developing countries already support almost 2 billion people – nearly one third of humanity. Contrary to popular belief, small farms are often just as, if not more efficient than big industrial farms when factors of productivity are taken into account (big farms have greater access to land, water, finance, new technologies and practices, investment and subsidies through public funds, while small farms do not).
The global food system is indeed broken, but not past the point of being irreparably so. It can be fixed. Between the years 2000-2007, the government and people of Brazil worked together to cut hunger by one third. In Vietnam, ambitious investment in small-scale agriculture helped the country halve hunger 5 years ahead of schedule. These are encouraging precedents. They also highlight the need for governments to kick start the transformation of the food system: They must invest in poor producers and provide them with the support they need to adapt, they must regulate volatile commodity markets and they must deliver a global deal on climate change.
GROW is perhaps the biggest campaign launched by Oxfam since its initiation in 1942 in response to the food crisis of the Second World War. It starts now and it starts with all of us. It isn’t just a campaign: it’s an extraordinarily large challenge, and, if successful, will benefit all 9 billion of us walking the Earth.
You can find out more information and join the GROW campaign here (You won’t be asked for a donation, instead, you’ll receive opportunities to help shape the GROW campaign, have exclusive invitations to behind the scenes events and news from across the UK and regular progress reports among other things).
Oxfam’s Welcome to GROW video: