A desperate and largely unknown humanitarian crisis is deteriorating in the Lake Chad Basin region of West Africa, forcing millions of people to flee their homes and leaving millions more in need of humanitarian assistance. Oxfam is providing life-saving support but help is urgently needed to prevent the crisis turning into a catastrophe.
We know from experience that a more equitable and sustainable kind of human development is possible. Now, from the failing food system to wider social and ecological challenges, the dominant model of development is hitting its limits. The prospect of hundreds of millions more hungry people and billions forced closer to the breadline in the coming years are a wake-up call to us all: it is time to change course.
‘More-of-the-same’ development demands ever more of our small world’s ultimately finite resources. It takes a laissez-faire approach to markets, expecting them to deliver social progress in a way they never can without big shifts in public incentives, regulation and investment. It permits global systems to spin out of control, and vested interests to privatize benefits and socialize costs.
More-of-the-same development obsesses about a narrow notion of economic activity, ignoring the stock of human, social and natural assets. It leans heavily on the false hope that corporations will somehow magically deliver technological fixes to all the challenges we confront. And it fails to see the practical and democratic promise of shared solutions with a human face.
Some elites will be the last to acknowledge the bankruptcy of a model whose benefits they have monopolised. But growing numbers are waking up to the challenge of our generation, and to the exciting opportunities of a transition to a new prosperity.
In this age of interdependence, more efficient, equitable and resilient forms of human development are for the first time not only desirable. They are essential.
We face three interlinked challenges in an age of growing crisis: feeding 9 billion people without wrecking the planet; finding equitable solutions to end disempowerment and injustice; and increasing our collective resilience to shocks and volatility. No ‘silver bullet’ technology or policy will make these challenges vanish.
The good news is that practical solutions are both urgent and available – from simple common sense acts we can all take, to bold shifts in how we manage shared resources and value social progress. They are good for producers, good for consumers, and good for the planet. Their benefits can be shared by the many, not just the few, and they are built to be resilient in the long run.
Growing a better future will take all the energy, ingenuity and political will that humankind can muster. If the best solutions are to win out, we must mount powerful campaigns to win significant reforms in how our societies manage common threats and resources and create platforms for opportunity. From global negotiations to national decision making, we must work for three big shifts:
- First, we must build a new global governance to avert food crises. Governments’ top priority must be to tackle hunger and reduce vulnerability – creating jobs and investing in climate adaptation, disaster risk reduction, and social protection. International governance – of trade, food aid, financial markets, and climate finance – must be transformed to reduce the risks of future shocks and respond more effectively when they occur.
- Second, we must build a new agricultural future by prioritising the needs of small-scale food producers in developing countries – where the major gains in productivity and resilience can be achieved. Governments and businesses must adopt policies and practices that guarantee farmers’ access to natural resources, technology and markets. And we must reverse the current gross misallocation of resources which sees the vast majority of public money for agriculture flow to agro-industrial farms in the North.
- Third, we must build the architecture of a new ecological future, mobilising investment and shifting the behaviours of businesses and consumers, while crafting global agreements for the equitable distribution of scarce resources. A global deal on climate change will be the litmus test of success.