Man spreading fair trade coffee beans out to dry in the sun, Honduras. Credit: Gilvan Barreto/Oxfam
Oxfam is concerned that high food prices will cause increased food insecurity.

Issues – Agriculture and poverty

Investment in Agriculture

Agriculture can drive growth and development. The way it contributes – or not – to poverty reduction depends on many factors.  Investment in agriculture can help promote food security, bring more work to the area, and reduce the proportion of their budget families spend on food. Governments can help by directing investments in ways that prioritize those benefits.

With new threats to agriculture emerging as a result of climate change, extra investment is needed to establish more sustainable water management practices, to promote crop diversification and to encourage farmers to conduct their agricultural activities in other locations.

Access to Land and Other Assets

Ensuring secure access to land – and its fair distribution – is essential for sustainable agriculture. Owning land helps smallholders access credit, manage their resources and can provide a means of social security. But land rights are tenuous at best.

Although they produce between 60 and 80 percent of the food in most developing countries, women own less than two percent of the land.  And there are new threats to land rights today, such as land grabbing for bio-fuel production (see below).

Jobs and Wages

Labor is often the only asset that small producers and landless people possess. Agricultural workers are amongst the poorest people in rural areas. Their jobs are often temporary, wages are low and working conditions can be very hazardous.

More and more women are in waged agricultural jobs, but despite their numbers, they are generally “invisible” to governments, donors and international institutions. Their organizations can be weak and their access to social security and other benefits is minimal.

Access to Markets

Once farmers produce a surplus, they need to sell it. But, these days, the situation is more complex. Big companies are squeezing the farmers in their supply chains by passing price and payment risks onto them. At the same time, the rise of supermarkets could give farmers the opportunity to sell to different markets, if they can meet the high standards and take the risks, and it does create more opportunities for waged agricultural workers in job markets.

Both the demand for bio-fuels and the increase in food prices have been in the news lately.  These problems illustrate how the issues above play out across the globe.

Bio-fuels

With the world needing to find new sources of fuel and concerns over carbon emissions growing, bio-fuels have been touted as a great alternative to fossil fuels. But with large-scale plantation agriculture behind much of their production, bio-fuels have been associated with deforestation and environmental degradation, land-grabbing, water scarcity, increasing inequality and human and labor rights abuses.

Nonetheless, if managed well, they may represent an opportunity for many developing countries to stimulate agricultural development, create employment opportunities and increase rural incomes for poor agricultural workers and producers. Read more.


Food Prices

Prices of rice, corn and wheat have all reached record levels in the last few months, leading not only to higher prices, but, in many countries, food shortages.

Oxfam is concerned that high food prices will cause increased food insecurity. Poor people in developing countries already spend between 50-80 per cent of their income on food.  Yet, food price increases may also be an opportunity for those same people in the form of higher incomes. Read more.