Image credit: Tom Greenwood/OxfamAUS
Fixing the Broken Food System
Author | Oxfam Australia
In the struggle to feed their families, women and men living in poverty are too often exploited or marginalised by the huge power imbalances in the food system.
But people are fighting back to build a better and fairer world.
Farmer organisations and cooperatives are demanding markets and companies give fairer deals to their members. Women farmers are forming organisations to deal with the particular problems they face. Consumers are influencing company behaviour through their purchasing decisions — such as through the fair trade, organic, or slow food movements — or more actively through consumer campaigns.
Movements to transform our broken food system have sprung up everywhere. From Australia to Bangladesh, more and more people are working together to alter the way we produce, consume and even think about food. Oxfam is part of that process.
Oxfam has been responding to food crises for nearly 70 years — from Greece in 1942 to Biafra in 1969, Ethiopia in 1984 and Niger in 2005, plus countless other silent disasters that play out beyond the gaze of global media. All have been entirely avoidable — the result of disastrous decisions, abused power, and perverted politics. More recently, Oxfam has found itself responding to growing numbers of climate-related disasters. Prevention is better than cure. So Oxfam is calling for a new vision and joining with movements across the world to build a future where everyone has enough to eat, always.
A new system …
Our current food system creates hunger in a world with plenty. We must centre a new food system on the needs of the vast majority of the hungry — small-scale food producers.
Simply producing more food, in a way that continues the marginalisation of small-scale food producers, will fail to address the global shame where one in eight go hungry each night. More of the same is not the answer.
Stop land grabs
We must stop governments and investors pushing small-scale producers off their land and offering it to foreign governments and large corporations at rock-bottom prices. The evidence shows that with the right policy framework, small-scale production can be a route out of poverty and hunger. Yet millions of small-scale producers are currently being forced off their land and into urban slums, looking for work in major cities.
In China, growth in agriculture has had four times the impact on reducing poverty as growth in the manufacturing or service sectors. (2)
Investing in small-scale producers will hit the double target of productivity gains and reductions in hunger.
Our current food system allows enormous waste. It is estimated that more than 30% of all food is wasted worldwide. (3)
In Australia, where around $8 billion in food is wasted each year, consumers and businesses must change their behaviours and practices. In developing countries, where waste is the result of poor storage and transport, governments can urgently increase investment to tackle this problem, and dramatically increase the amount of food available in poor communities.
A new future… for HER
Truly transforming the food system requires a focus on women.
Women make up a large proportion of the population of small-scale farmers, up to 60% in some regions. (4)
However, due to economic, legal and social disadvantage and discrimination, women farmers control less land and livestock and have far less access to improved seed varieties, fertilisers, credit and government agricultural support services. (5)
Such discrimination is a violation of fundamental human rights. It also makes no sense to marginalise a major proportion of food producers. Estimates suggest that by simply providing women small-scale farmers with the same meager level of access to resources as their male counterparts, they could increase yields on their farms by 20 – 30% reducing the number of hungry people by around 100–150 million. This would in turn reduce the number of hungry people in the world by 12 – 17%. (6) If we seriously invested in and supported women small-scale farmers, they would be the driving force, bringing real change to their communities.
A new global governance
Our current system is buckling under the weight of food price crises.
Recent research undertaken by Oxfam shows that incomes of poor people in developing countries have not kept up with the rapid rise in food costs.
Governments and the private sector need to work to raise incomes to a livable wage and improve social protection for the hungriest as a matter of urgency.
Governments’ top priority must be to respond fast, fairly and effectively to food price rises. Food is central to the welfare of all of us; governments must investigate the increasing criticism of the efficiency of global food markets, and act quickly to resolve problems identified.
There is a global imperative to reduce the risks of future food price shocks and respond more effectively when they occur.
We must build solutions towards a new ecological future which can meet the challenge of more, from less. This can be achieved. We can mobilise investment and shift the behaviour of producers, businesses and consumers.
A clear goal is crafting global agreements to equitably distribute scarce resources; a global deal on climate change will be a litmus test of this success.
Be part of the solution, visit Oxfam Australia.
Oxfam Australia works to bring about positive change in the lives of people living in poverty. Oxfam’s GROW campaign is working to change the fact that almost 870 million people go to bed hungry every night, not because there isn’t enough food, but because of deep injustices in the global food system. Oxfam has contributed articles on Fair Trade and Food Security to the Foodwise website.
(1) Fan, S., Nestorova, B. and Olofinbiyi, T. China’s Agricultural and Rural Development: Implications for Africa, International Food Policy Research Institute, 2010.
(2) The Future of Food and Farming, Final Project Report – 4.4, Foresight, The Government Office for Science, London, 2011. Accessed at www.bis.gov.uk/ foresight/our-work/projects/current-projects/global-food-and-farming-futures/ reports-and-publications
(3) Baker, D., Fear, J. and Denniss, R. What a waste – An analysis of household expenditure on food, , Policy Brief No. 6., 2009.
(4) Roles of women in agriculture, prepared by the SOFA team and Cheryl Doss, Rome, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2010.
(5) The State of Food and Agriculture – 2010- 11, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2011.
(6) The State of Food and Agriculture – 2010- 11, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2011.