Climate change and decreasing natural resources will increase pressure on food supplies in the coming decades, threatening millions of people with chronic hunger, Oxfam International said in a report Tuesday.
The international humanitarian relief and development organization calls the world's food system "broken," saying food price increases have driven 44 million people worldwide into poverty just this year.
“Our world is capable of feeding all of humanity yet one in seven of us are hungry today," Oxfam Executive Director Jeremy Hobbs says in a press release.
"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,” Hobbs says.
Oxfam puts the blame for the 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 cites the price of maize, or corn, as an example of problems with the system. It says the price of this staple is expected to double during the next two decades. The effects of climate change on the crop are blamed for half that rise. Use of corn for biofuels also accounts for a chunk. Oxfam criticizes government policies in both areas.
"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 says in its press release.
Triple digit increases are also expected in the prices of rice and wheat.
The Oxfam report cites three main challenges that it says must be addressed:
- Equity: A quarter of the food bought by consumers in wealthy countries may be wasted, while 1 billion people in developing countries lack enough food, it says.
- Resilience: Oil price hikes, speculative trading in markets and weather-related losses are raising food prices, Oxfam says, and regulatory institutions are inadequate or missing.
- Sustainability: Demand for food will increase by 70% by 2050, but yields will inch up by less than 1% a year in the next decade, Oxfam says.
"Without urgent action to tackle the interlinked challenges of production, equity, and resilience, the future will be one of zero-sum competition between states, resource grabs by powerful elites, and ecological collapse," the report says.
Some recent "victories" give reason for hope, the organization says:
- Vietnam has cut hunger rates in half, five years ahead of schedule, through land reform and investment in small farms.
- Programs in Brazil reduced hunger by 33% from 2000 to 2007.
- Canada has reduced red tape to get food aid to the needy.
To replicate those success stories, Oxfam says, governments "must act as custodians of the public good rather than allowing elites to drag them by the nose"; businesses must "embrace progressive regulation rather than seek to undermine it or water it down"; and citizens and customers must demand that government and business take proper action.