Hungry being squeezed by climate change, rising commodity costs and land exploitation

Published: 13th October 2014

Rising food costs, climate change and dramatic changes in land tenure are increasing the reality of hunger and leaving food-insecure people feeling they “are rated as the cheapest of the cheapest”.

This is the experience of Oxfam’s work in more than 90 counties globally and the damning findings from "Hidden Hunger in South Africa; The Faces of Hunger and Malnutrition in a Food-Secure Nation", a report commissioned by Oxfam in South Africa to assess the current state of hunger across the country.

In 1996 the World Food Summit established a goal to reduce the world’s hungry to 420 million by 2015. Far from this goal, 805 million face daily hunger across Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

Like other ‘food-secure’ nations, South Africa produces enough calories to sufficiently feed every one of its 54-million citizens. But up to a quarter of South African households lack the money to feed themselves sufficiently each month.

Poor South Africans interviewed for the report spend 50% of their income on food, and have little left for housing, education, or medicine.

Commodity prices for staple foods have been increasing in the past year and electricity prices have escalated by over 200% since 2010, forcing people to choose between food and fuel. To cope, they skip meals, eat smaller meals or rely on poorer-quality food.

One in nine people go to bed hungry

“Sadly in a world of plenty, one in nine people, or 805 million people, go to bed hungry” said Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam International.  “Climate change is pushing food prices up and food availability down.  Women and farmers in poor communities are being hit the hardest.”

Globally, extreme weather and unreliable growing seasons are becoming the new norm playing havoc with farming and destroying crops. Left unchecked climate change could lead to an extra 50 million hungry people by 2050.

Inadequate investment in agriculture across many agrarian societies has left millions around the world increasingly vulnerable to drought, price shocks, deforestation, and land grabs. Deep inequalities in access to land and water, and small and diminishing plots mean that many people are unable to farm enough land to feed their families.

Women farmers produce more than half of all the food grown in the world. Roughly 1.6 billion women depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. They are often paid less than men for the same work and lack equal access to technology, marketing networks, and labour rights protection. Nearly half of the rural population of sub-Saharan Africa live on less than $1.25 a day, while one out of every four persons are undernourished.

A global threat

“The causes of hunger are complex but the impact strips people of their dignity, perpetuates inequality and destroys human potential. Farmers are fighting for their livelihoods. Family farms and smallholder farms are threatened and unless they are protected, hunger will find its way into all of our lives. We need comprehensive agricultural investment that will keep small farms sustainable.

“Rich governments and big businesses need to do more to ensure everyone gets enough to eat” added Ms. Byanyima.

Oxfam is calling for land legislation and policies enacted or strengthened to protect the rights of farmers. Governments and donors should invest in training farmers in ecological farming practices, and assessment of climate risk. Government social protection programs for people facing hunger should be widely available. Finally, International Year of Family Farming (IYFF) National Committees should receive greater funding to implement programs to improve conditions for family and small-scale farmers.

Family farms and smallholder farms are threatened and unless they are protected, hunger will find its way into all of our lives
Winnie Byanyima
Executive Director, Oxfam International

Notes to editors

Contact information

For interviews, please contact: Sue Rooks, Oxfam Media Officer at +1 917 224 0834 or