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Food prices to double within 20 years

By Ben Grossman-Cohen

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WASHINGTON, D.C - The price of staple foods such as corn, already at an all time high, could more than double in the next 20 years according to a new report released today by international humanitarian organization Oxfam. Up to half of this rise is due to climate change and the world’s poorest people, who spend up to 80 percent of their income on food, will be hardest hit.

The new report, ‘Growing a Better Future’, was released as part of Oxfam’s new global GROW campaign launching on June 1st, to address the increasing pressures on our food system, including extremely volatile food prices, which have pushed an estimated 44 million people into poverty in the last year. The report warns that spiraling prices and endless cycles of regional food crises will create millions more hungry people unless we transform the way we grow and sell food.

“We are fighting both sides of the war on hunger,” said Raymond C. Offenheiser, President of Oxfam America. “US policies are making it more difficult for the small farmers, who grow much of the world’s food, to have enough to feed their own families.  With sensible reforms to increase productivity and resilience of small farmers around the world, we can GROW a better future that holds greater economic prosperity, national security, and a more stable food supply for everyone for generations to come.”

Oxfam’s GROW campaign is backed by high profile supporters including former President Lula of Brazil and Archbishop Emeritus Tutu.

"We can't wait anymore,” said Former President Lula of Brazil. “Political leaders and global companies must act now to ensure that all people can put food on their table. There are no excuses. We have the capacity to feed everyone on the planet now and in the future. If the political will is there no one will be denied their fundamental human right to be free from hunger.

The new report catalogs the symptoms of today’s broken food system, including growing hunger, flat-lining yields, a scramble for fertile land and water and rising food prices. It warns we have entered a new age of crisis where depletion of the earth’s natural resources and increasingly severe climate change impacts will create millions more hungry people.

Eight million people, a great majority women and girls, face chronic food shortages in East Africa today, while local and regional crises could see demand for food aid double in the next 10 years. Oxfam estimates that by 2050 demand for food will rise 70 percent yet our capacity to increase food production is declining. The average growth rate in agricultural yields has almost halved since 1990 and is set to decline to a fraction of one percent in the next decade.

Oxfam’s GROW campaign seeks to expose the failed policies that are propping up the broken food system and fight for common sense solutions:

CHALLENGES

  • Traders: Four global companies control the movement of most of the world’s food. Three companies - Archer Daniels Midland, Bunge and Cargill – control an estimated 90 percent of the world’s grain trade. Their activities help drive volatile food prices and they profit from them. In the first quarter of 2008, at the height of a global food price crisis, Cargill’s profits were up 86 percent and the company is now heading for its most profitable year yet on the back of further disruptions to global food supplies.
  • India: Despite doubling the size of it economy between 1990 and 2005 the number of hungry people in India increased by 65 million - more than the population of France - because economic development excluded the rural poor and social protection schemes failed to reach them. Today one in four of the world’s hungry people live in India.
  • United States: US policy ensures 15 percent of the world’s corn crop is diverted to engines, even at times of severe food crisis. The grain required to fill the gas tank of an SUV with biofuels is enough to feed one person for a full year.

SOLUTIONS

Oxfam America released a 5-point plan of urgent actions to address an imminent food crisis. The plan calls for President Obama, the US Congress and the private sector to take immediate steps to reduce the pressure on the US economy, consumers and poor people around the world by:

1. Investing in Small-Scale Food Producers
2. Ending Excessive Speculation in Agricultural Commodities
3. Modernizing Food Aid
4. Stopping Giveaways to the Corn-Ethanol Industry
5. Regulating Land and Water Grabs

“This is an emergency and President Obama and other powerful actors in Congress and the private sector should treat it like one,” said Offenheiser. “We can no longer afford for the priorities of a few lobbyists to trump the interests of the American public and the billions who go hungry. We can end this age of crisis and put our country and the world on track towards a new age of prosperity.”

Oxfam global ambassador Djimon Hounsou said, “I am joining Oxfam’s GROW campaign because we have the power to change our future. Hunger is a man made challenge with practical solutions.  If we work together we can build a better world where mothers don’t have to go hungry so their children can eat.”

Archbishop Desmond Tutu said, "Many governments and companies will be resistant to change through habit, ideology or the pursuit of profit. It is up to us – you and me – to persuade them by choosing food that’s produced fairly and sustainably, by cutting our carbon footprints and by joining with Oxfam and others to demand change.”

Notes to editors:
The report can be found at: http://www.oxfamamerica.org/publications/growing-a-better-future