Broken food system and environmental crises spell hunger for millions. Oxfam launches global GROW campaign

Published: 31st May 2011

A broken food system and environmental crises are now reversing decades of progress against hunger according to new Oxfam analysis. Spiralling food prices and endless cycles of regional food crises will create millions more hungry people unless we transform the way we grow and share food.   Tomorrow, Oxfam launches a new global campaign to ensure everyone has enough to eat always. 

Oxfam’s GROW campaign is backed by high profile supporters including former President Lula of Brazil, Archbishop Emeritus Tutu and actress Scarlett Johansson.

A new report, ‘Growing a Better Future’, catalogues the symptoms of today’s broken food system:  growing hunger, flat-lining yields, a scramble for fertile land and water and rising food prices. It warns we have entered a new age of crisis where depletion of the earth’s natural resources and increasingly severe climate change impacts will create millions more hungry people.

  • New research predicts that the price of staple foods such as maize, already at an all time high, will more than double in the next 20 years. Up to half of this increase will be due to climate change. The world’s poorest people who spend up to 80 percent of their income on food will be hardest hit.
  • Eight million people face chronic food shortages in East Africa today.  Increasing numbers of regional and local crises could see demand for food aid double in the next 10 years.  
  • By 2050 demand for food will rise 70 per cent yet our capacity to increase food production is declining.  The average growth rate in agricultural yields has almost halved since 1990 and is set to decline to a fraction of one percent in the next decade.

Jeremy Hobbs, Executive Director of Oxfam said, “Our world is capable of feeding all of humanity yet one in seven of us are hungry today. In this new age of crisis, as climate change impacts become increasingly severe and fertile land and fresh water supplies become increasingly scarce, feeding the world will get harder still. Millions more men, women and children will go hungry unless we transform our broken food system.”

Oxfam’s GROW campaign will expose the governments whose failed policies are propping up the broken food system and the clique of 300 – 500 powerful companies who benefit from and lobby hard to maintain it. For example:

India: Despite doubling the size of it economy between 1990 and 2005 the number of hungry people in India increased by 65 million - more than the population of France - because economic development excluded the rural poor and social protection schemes failed to reach them. Today one in four of the world’s hungry people live in India.

United States: US policy ensures 15 percent of the world’s maize is diverted to engines, even at times of severe food crisis. The grain required to fill the petrol tank of an SUV with biofuels is sufficient to feed one person for a year.

Traders: Four global companies control the movement of most of the world’s food. Three companies - Archer Daniels Midland, Bunge and Cargill – control an estimated 90 per cent of the world’s grain trade. Their activities help drive volatile food prices and they profit from them. In the first quarter of 2008, at the height of a global food price crisis, Cargill’s profits were up 86 percent and the company is now heading for its most profitable year yet on the back of further disruptions to global food supplies.

Oxfam has been responding to food crises for 70 years. Now it is calling on governments - especially the powerful G20 - to lead the transformation to a fairer more sustainable food system by investing in agriculture, valuing the world’s natural resources, managing the food system better and delivering equality for women who produce much of the world's food. It is calling on the private sector to shift to a business model where profit does not come at the expense of poor producers, consumers and the environment.  

Jeremy Hobbs, Executive Director of Oxfam said: “For too long governments have put the interests of big business and powerful elites above the interests of the seven billion of us who produce and consume food. G20 Governments meeting in France this year must now kick start the transformation of our global food system.

"The G20 must invest in the 500 million small scale farms in developing countries which offer the greatest potential for increasing global yields – and they must help them adapt to a changing climate. They must regulate commodity markets and reform flawed biofuels policies to keep food prices in check.

“Governments must also ensure that women, who produce much of the world’s food, have the same rights to land, resources and opportunities as men – with equal rights women producers could feed themselves, their families, and up to 150 million additional people,” said Hobbs. 

Former President Lula of Brazil said: "We can't wait anymore. Political leaders and global companies must act now to ensure that all people can put food on their table. There are no excuses. We have the capacity to feed everyone on the planet now and in the future. If the political will is there no one will be denied their fundamental human right to be free from hunger."

Archbishop Desmond Tutu said: "Many governments and companies will be resistant to change through habit, ideology or the pursuit of profit. It is up to us – you and me – to persuade them by choosing food that’s produced fairly and sustainably, by cutting our carbon footprints and by joining with Oxfam and others to demand change.”

Oxfam global ambassador Scarlett Johansson said, “Sharing food is one of life’s pleasures.  On a global scale, we don’t share fairly.  Close to a billion people go to bed hungry every night. The fact is:  the global food system is a broken one. All of us, from Kentucky to Kenya, deserve enough to eat.  That’s why I’m joining Oxfam’s GROW Campaign.”

Our world is capable of feeding all of humanity yet one in seven of us are hungry today.
Jeremy Hobbs
Executive Director, Oxfam

Notes to editors

The report and report summary are available at: Growing a Better Future

Contact information

Anna Mitchell on +44 1865 339157 or +44 7796 993 288, or