Feed people, fight climate change: Act now!
Climate change is making people hungry. Together we can stop it.
2 years, 50 countries. So what have we achieved?
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Palm oil is everywhere, in food and everyday items you don’t even realize. It’s in your morning bowl of cereal, your afternoon biscuits, your dinner pizza, in soap and even in the biodiesel that fuels your car. And sadly, in many places, it comes with human and environmental costs.
To find out why, I recently joined an Oxfam field trip to Indonesia, the world’s largest palm oil producer. We wanted to talk to those affected by big palm oil plantations.
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What is the GROW campaign about?
A: Currently, nearly 1 in 8 people regularly go hungry. This is unacceptable. The GROW campaign is about transforming the broken food system so that it works for everyone today. It is also about ensuring that the system is fit for a future where resource constraints, environmental challenges such as climate change, and a growing population will make feeding the world harder still. We must get to grips with these challenges now to minimize their impact on people.
We say GROW because:
- We need to grow more food. That means empowering small-scale producers to grow it themselves – to meet the challenge of feeding nine billion by 2050.
- We need to let the planet grow back its natural resources, for example forests, atmospheric space, fish, fertile soil, animal life and biodiversity.
- We need to grow out of crisis and into cooperation by building a global food governance system to cope with food crises and volatility.
- We need to grow a great deal in our ability to share what this planet provides us. For example fair shares on tackling climate change, and other resource crises.
- We need to grow a global movement for change, a call to action, for people power to lead the transformation.
- Poor countries need to grow economically – and investing in small scale agriculture is the key to this.
- Governments need to provide secure access to land for smallholder farmers, and especially for women – who often face the biggest battle to call it their own.
Why launch this campaign now?
A: Until very recently, we were making real progress as the number of hungry people in the world was slowly but continually declining. But now this progress has swung into reverse and the number of hungry people has reached almost one billion, an unprecedented level. Without urgent action these numbers will continue to rise – laying waste the lives of millions more people, undermining the economic growth of countries around the globe, and increasing global insecurity.
In particular, the looming threat of catastrophic climate change and the potential for a second food price crisis means that the time left for governments to address these issues and put us all on course for a secure, hunger free and more prosperous future is short.
How will we manage to feed a world with 9 billion people in it?
A: The majority of the population growth up until 2050 will be concentrated in the poorest and most food insecure countries, this presents a challenge in the fight against hunger. However, the most important thing isn’t the number of people; it is what and how much they consume. We are already at unsustainable levels of consumption with a population below 7 billion.
We need to focus on establishing sustainable patterns of production and consumption. By tackling this we will place ourselves back within planetary limits today and create the space for future generations to produce and consume their fair share.
Is Oxfam suggesting small-hold farmers can replace industrial farming?
A: 500 million small farms in developing countries already support almost two billion people, nearly one-third of humanity. Big industrial farms usually have higher yields, but this is explained by the fact that they have greater access to land, water, finance, new technologies and practices, investment and subsidies through public funds – not by their size. When all these factors of productivity are taken into account, small farms are often just as, if not more efficient.
Is Oxfam asking people to change their eating habits e.g. stop eating meat, eat less food?
A: At present, higher incomes and increasing urbanization leads people to eat less grains and more meat, dairy, fish, fruit, and vegetables. This ‘Western’ diet uses far more scarce resources: land, water, atmospheric space while the amount of food wasted by consumers in industrialized countries is enormous – quite possibly as much 25 per cent.
An unprecedented shift to more sustainable eating trends must take place in both industrialized and emerging economies. We are not advocating ‘vegetarianism’, but it is clear that the overall amount of red meat consumed in many rich countries, for instance, needs to be lower.
Some places are just not suitable for growing food – including hot, dry places. You can’t blame this on climate change or the broken food system.
A: It is clear that some small-scale producers survive on the absolute margins, working depleted soils – they may never be able to produce enough food to feed their communities or provide a decent income. But these are the exceptions, not the rule. Oxfam is proposing for these groups a different approach, including cash transfers and food aid as well as supporting them to find alternative livelihood options.
Climate change and resource depletion means that, unless we take urgent measures, the area of land not suitable for growing food will expand.
Is Oxfam for or against economic growth?
A: Economic growth is often promoted – by companies, governments and international institutions – as the most effective way to lift people out of poverty. Economic growth has reduced poverty in developing countries in the past, but – by ignoring the issue of equality – rich country governments and poor country governments have failed to maximize the benefits of that growth. In some cases, despite economic growth, poor people have become worse off.
We are proposing a fundamental shift in the how economic growth is viewed. We need to move away from economic growth simply being about the size of the growth, to one which covers the quality of growth.
What is Oxfam’s view on the use of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) in agriculture / GMO foods?
A: So far, GMOs have not delivered on earlier promises of yield growth and have not transformed the livelihoods of smallholder agriculture. The obsession of some to focus on ‘silver bullet solutions’ and technical quick fixes such as GMO, whilst attractive to agribusiness, ignores the broader and much more important problem of chronic under investment in, and pervasive marginalization of, smallholder agriculture by governments, international agencies and the private sector.
This is not to say that GM will never deliver and has no role to play. However there are many other options which are proven to increase the productive capacity of smallholder agriculture which should be prioritized.
Is Oxfam advocating organic farming? If not, why not?
A: Organic is certainly part of the solution. Pressures on land, water, and ecosystems can be reduced through practices that boost yields, use soils and water more sensitively, and reduce their reliance on external inputs – such as organic techniques. These could also significantly reduce the carbon footprint of agriculture.
However, investment in smallholder agriculture should be tailored to the particular contexts of the farmers. For example, chemical fertilizers may be appropriate in situations where organic fertilizers are scarce. Oxfam’s interventions on this are two-fold: we work with farmers to build up their soil organic matter to rehabilitate their soils while also helping them to access inorganic fertilizer to supply the rest of the nutrients their crops need. Ultimately, we work with farmers to shift towards the least external inputs possible while still increasing their productivity.
What is the current role of food companies in the food system?
A: They set the rules of the system – often at the expense of poor producers. The responsibility of the private sector in setting the terms on which people engage in markets cannot be overstated. 300 to 500 companies – traders, processors, manufacturers, and retailers – control 70 per cent of the choices and decisions in the food system globally, including those concerning key resources such as land, water, seeds and technologies, and infrastructure. By setting the rules along the food chains they govern – for prices, costs, and standards – they determine where most costs fall and where most risks are borne. They extract much of the value along the chain, while costs and risks cascade down onto the weakest participants – generally the farmers and laborers at the bottom.
What does Oxfam want the private sector/food companies to do?
A: Oxfam believes the private sector can play a positive role in helping to overcome food insecurity, and make healthy returns from developing solutions to the challenges we face. This means creating trading relationships that return value to poor women and men through fair and stable pricing arrangements. These relationships must facilitate access to the necessary skills, credit, and infrastructure and ensure these standards of all participants in the chains they govern. It also means supporting government measures to tackle food insecurity.
Oxfam has developed a food justice index, which assesses companies against this standard of responsibility, focusing on the largest traders and food and beverage companies.