Rich world's response to food crisis inadequate, says Oxfam

“Rich countries' farm subsidies have systematically undermined production in poor countries.”
Jenny Heap
Head of Oxfam's Economic Justice campaign
Published: 7 July 2008
  • G8 summit must set out clear action plan

  • Biofuels mandates must be reviewed and EU parliamentarians should vote no 

  • Farm trade reform needed in addition to handouts

  • Proposed WTO free trade deal not the answer

The rich world's response to the global food crisis has been inadequate and at times hypocritical, said international agency Oxfam today. World leaders must set out a plan for a much more comprehensive response at the G8 in Japan next week.

Jenny Heap, Head of Oxfam's Economic Justice campaign said: "The response so far has largely been dominated by hand-wringing and hypocritical criticism of developing countries. Some money has been forthcoming – and this is welcome – but rich world politicians are failing to acknowledge the impact of their own unfair policies."

According to the Guardian newspaper on Friday (4 July), a leaked report from the World Bank suggests that of the rush for biofuels has pushed up food prices by 75% and yet the rich countries look set to go ahead with mandatory targets. Oxfam is urging MEPs to reject the EU’s proposed biofuels target when they vote in the European Parliament on Monday (7 July).

The World Bank estimates that increases in prices of wheat, rice and maize cost developing countries $324bn last year alone – the equivalent of three years global aid spending. Food inflation has wiped out 10% of the GDP of Senegal, Haiti and Sierra Leone, and around 5% of GDP in Vanuatu, Mozambique and Eritrea, according to latest World Bank analysis. “Food inflation might cause pain in rich countries – but it is shattering entire economies and people’s lives in developing countries,” Heap said.

"At the G8 next week world leaders need to do much more to show they are ready to tackle this food crisis in the long term. They must reiterate their promises to increase aid – needed now more than ever – and make the necessary reforms including increasing investment in agriculture in poor countries, targeting women and small farmers," Heap said.

Also, the European Commission are proposing to offer €1 billion of unspent agriculture funds to help farmers from poorest countries boost their food production. Oxfam welcomed the urgently needed money, but said the Commission needed to go further and seize the opportunity to reform.

"Rich countries' farm subsidies have systematically undermined production in poor countries. While prices are high they should take the chance to end the unfair subsidies once and for all. Aid should not distract from the urgent need for fundamental root and branch reform in the EU and US,” Heap said.

The World Trade Organization is due to meet later this month but Oxfam challenged the assertion that the proposed global free trade deal would alleviate the situation and said that rapid liberalization, without sufficient flexibility for poor countries, would further expose developing countries to shocks.

"The latest proposals at the WTO fall far short of what is needed and represent a step backwards in terms of development. Any agreement based on what is currently on the table will not help solve the food crisis or reduce poverty,” Heap said.