Farmers-improve-food-security-in-Burkina-Faso

Food security

Supporting the smallholder farmers, women, and Indigenous Peoples at the heart of our food systems.

At a time when there is enough food for everyone on the planet, food security remains elusive for far too many people. More than 800 million people worldwide—almost three times the size of the US population—don’t have enough food to eat, and decades-long progress to feed more people is now backsliding as the climate crisis, conflict, and COVID-19 converge to push people into poverty—including those who produce, process, and make food available to communities around the world.

So how do we fix our food systems to ensure food security for all? It starts with the recognition that the way we grow, process, and sell a lot of our food has become exclusive, unhealthy, unequal, and unsustainable in the face of the climate crisis. We must support local communities to grow nutritious foods, make sure food is available to everyone, and build a world where everyone can afford it.

Oxfam’s mission is to fight inequality to end poverty and injustice. That’s why we work with women small-scale farmers, local food entrepreneurs, and Indigenous Peoples to strengthen our local food systems and to steward our precious natural resources that agriculture relies upon. We advocate for stronger governmental policies that protect the land and rights of smallholder farmers, small business owners and workers, and women who are often responsible for food in the home. And we tackle the tremendous power and influence held by large food and beverage companies that play an enormous role in the health and equity of our food systems—with massive implications for food security.

What is the definition of food security?

Food security is about ensuring no one goes hungry. But it is much more than that.

Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social, and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food that meets their food preferences and dietary needs for an active and healthy lifestyle. This implies the importance of functioning food systems—including agriculture production, good infrastructure to store and move food to where it needs to go, local businesses that transform raw ingredients into the food we all love to eat, as well as local markets that make food available—all without worsening the climate crisis and inequality.

So what does this mean in practice?

  • Availability: The first step in ensuring food security is local food availability. If food is not available on store shelves and market stalls, people will be food insecure. In settings where food markets are not functioning, we help traders, shop owners, and vendors finance food purchases and we also work to ensure the availability of food aid.

  • Access: Physical, social, and economic access to food so that everyone—men and women and nonbinary people alike—has the ability to obtain food in ways that are socially acceptable, and that people have the financial resources needed to purchase that food.

  • Utilization: People are food secure when the food they have access to is nutritious, free of diseases, and of sufficient quantity that it allows them to live a full, active lifestyle. Importantly, different populations have different food needs—pregnant women, infants, and young children have unique nutritional needs that must be met. A diversity of foods is also required for food security at the household and community levels. Alongside food, clean water and sanitation facilities are essential components of food security.

  • Stability: Skyrocketing food prices and seasonal food shortages due to climate change and conflict imperil food security.

What are Oxfam’s solutions to food insecurity?

Oxfam‘s Behind the Barcodes campaign has worked to hold supermarkets–including Whole Foods–accountable for the mistreatment of farmers and workers around the world.
Oxfam‘s Behind the Barcodes campaign has worked to hold supermarkets–including Whole Foods–accountable for the mistreatment of farmers and workers around the world. Photo: Becky Davis/Oxfam America

Challenging corporate power in food supply chains

The global private sector will increasingly shape the welfare of the world over the next decade. Since 2013, Oxfam has pushed the world’s largest food and beverage companies and retailers to change the way they do business. Our Behind the Brands campaign (2013-2016) and our Behind the Barcodes campaign (2018-present) challenge these companies to adopt stronger social and environmental sourcing policies.

But making commitments is only the first step. The true measures of success are improvements in the lives of people living in poverty and protections for our environment and natural resources. Companies–retailers, manufacturers, processors, agribusinesses, and financial institutions alike—have a responsibility to do right by the people most vulnerable in their supply chains.

That's why we call on companies to move away from business models founded on short-term profit maximization toward more holistic ones that value social and environmental performance and good governance. We fight for equal pay and equal treatment for women, push for climate action to mitigate the effects of the climate crisis on food production, and call for inclusive and accountable leadership—all to achieve more equitable food value chains.

Supporting smallholder farmers to adapt to climate change

As weather becomes more extreme due to the climate crisis, so do the challenges facing smallholder farmers trying to feed their families and communities on farms less than five acres in size. We work with small-scale producers to adopt climate-resilient agriculture practices, increase productivity and improve their incomes, and to support collective action to help groups of producers take advantage of market opportunities and engage with local and national governments to articulate their needs and demand action.

Oxfam promotes the adoption of farming practices based on agro-ecological principles, such as the system of rice intensification and agro-forestry. As women make up about half the agricultural labor force, we focus on making sure critical resources are directed toward women who receive less advice, support, training, and access to land and financing than men. We also work with partners and allies to challenge harmful and discriminatory laws and practices as well as promote investments in agricultural development that improve lives and livelihoods.

Khwas Blov (left) and Sol Preng are two women from the Malik village of Cambodia who helped mobilize their community to challenge a Vietnamese rubber plantation company’s seizure of a large amount of their farming and burial areas, communal land, and spirit forest.
Khwas Blov (left) and Sol Preng are two women from the Malik village of Cambodia who helped mobilize their community to challenge a Vietnamese rubber plantation company’s seizure of a large amount of their farming and burial areas, communal land, and spirit forest. Photo: Savann Oeurm/Oxfam America

Securing land rights for women small-scale farmers

Land is the primary asset of small-scale farmers. Equitable access to and control over land empowers women and their communities to have a meaningful voice in decisions that affect their lives. Yet land inequality is increasing globally, threatening the livelihoods of 2.5 billion people involved in smallholder agriculture. And biodiversity hotspots that maintain the ecological balance of our planet and help regulate the climate that enables global food production are under threat.

That’s why Oxfam works to secure women’s land rights, enable women and their communities to be directly involved in decision-making on the land issues that affect them, and strengthen transformative leadership for women’s land rights. We help protect forests and biodiverse lands, such as in the Amazon, from exploitation that drives carbon emissions, and we support land rights defenders and promote campaigns to defend community land rights and respect Indigenous Peoples’ rights. We also advocate in global forums to strengthen land rights in policy and practice, such as through the Generation Equality Forum and monitoring commitments under the Sustainable Development Goals.

A corner of a community garden in Adjuntas, Puerto Rico, is devoted to herbs. “Women are encouraged to produce their own food ...,” says Juana Cruz, 60, who volunteers at the community garden. “[We] encourage women to use this as a source of employment and a potential source of revenue.”
A corner of a community garden in Adjuntas, Puerto Rico, is devoted to herbs. “Women are encouraged to produce their own food ...,” says Juana Cruz, 60, who volunteers at the community garden. “[We] encourage women to use this as a source of employment and a potential source of revenue.” Photo: Ana María Abruña Reyes / Todas for Oxfam America

Equipping food entrepreneurs with tools to grow food and fight hunger

We are also redoubling our efforts to catalyze innovations in food systems through the Urban Food Hives initiative. In partnership with SecondMuse and partners in six cities across Africa, Asia, and the Americas, the initiative equips women and youth food entrepreneurs with the tools to grow, process, and distribute food in an equitable and sustainable manner—including a favorable policy environment as well as access to capital, a strong workforce, sufficient infrastructure, and open markets.

The initiative also aims to help consumers in urban and peri-urban centers access nutritious and affordable food. The big vision of the Urban Food Hives is to spur a movement around the world and create replicable and scalable models of what is possible to transform the future of food systems to be climate resilient, nourishing, and equitable.

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