Europe sleepwalking as global food prices set to double

Publié: 1st juin 2011

Global food prices will more than double within 20 years as a new age of crisis forces the collapse of our broken global food system, said Oxfam today. The international development agency said Europe is sleepwalking as the world enters into an unprecedented and avoidable reversal in human development. 

The warning comes at the launch of Oxfam’s new global campaign to ensure everyone always has enough to eat. ‘GROW’ is backed by high profile figures including former Brazilian President Lula, Archbishop Emeritus Tutu and Jean Ziegler, the former UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food.

Oxfam’s 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) which coupled with environmental crises are now reversing decades of progress against hunger.

  • 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 per cent of their income on food will be hardest hit. 
  • 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. 
  • Eight million people, a great majority women and girls, 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.   

Like most industrialized countries, Europe places short-term benefits of big business over the interests of taxpayers and hungry people. Unregulated European financial markets reward investors speculating on food prices with soaring returns. The EU’s flawed biofuels policy has already fuelled waves of evictions and landgrabs in developing countries and diverts food from mouths to petrol tanks. Meanwhile, the EU is dragging its feet in international negotiations to tackle climate change - the greatest challenge of all to global food security.

Elise Ford, Head of Oxfam International’s EU office, said:
"The potent combination of power, policies and financial punch gives the European Union the potential to shape the global food security debate. But instead, Europe is sleepwalking as the world enters into an unprecedented and avoidable reversal in human development.”

Oxfam is calling on the European Union to kick-start the transformation to a fairer more sustainable food system, by reforming legislation at home and driving the agenda of the G20 and other key international fora. Europe must take action without delay. It must:

  • regulate commodity markets which are driving food price volatility and tackle excessive speculation;
  • put an end to the biofuels mandates and subsidies that fuel food price volatility and land grabs in developing countries;
  • invest in the 500 million small-scale food producers in poor countries who feed nearly one-third of humanity;
  • lead in the fight against climate change and its impacts on global food production. 

Jean Ziegler, former UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, said:
“Ahead of a new round of G20 meetings, world leaders have the chance to get serious about tackling world hunger and managing the global financial markets. But the EU must not wait for others. It must act now.”

Read Oxfam’s EU report: 'The EU's role in delivering food justice'.

The potent combination of power, policies and financial punch gives the European Union the potential to shape the global food security debate. But instead, Europe is sleepwalking.
Elise Ford
Head of Oxfam International’s EU office

Notes aux rédactions

Further facts 

After decades of slow decline global hunger began to rise in the mid-1990s and soared during the 2008 food price crisis. Had the previous trend of slow progress been maintained, 413 million fewer people would be hungry today.

The World Bank estimates that 44 million people fell below the poverty line in the last half of 2010 as a second global food price crisis hit.

European aid (EC + EU-15) to agriculture in developing countries in 2009 (€1.45bn) was 16 times less than the 2009 net sales of Louis Dreyfus – Europe’s largest agricultural trader (€24 billion).

Barclays Capital, Europe’s most important player in the agricultural commodity derivative market, could have earned as much as £340 million in 2010 from food speculation.

To cover Europe’s needs alone, the EU biofuels target would require converting up to 69,000 km 2 of natural ecosystems into cropland, an area larger than Belgium and the Netherlands combined.   In the process, up to 56 million tonnes of CO 2 would be released in the atmosphere every year. This would be the equivalent of putting as many as 26 million additional cars on Europe’s roads by 2020.

Stories from the South

*** India vs Brazil: the importance of investing in small-scale agriculture and social protection

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 of government failure to invest in rural agriculture or social protection schemes. Today one in four of the world’s hungry people live in India. By comparison Brazil, which is growing at a far slower rate, slashed hunger by one third in just four years thanks to a Zero Hunger.

*** Armenia: facing hunger due to food price hikes caused by climate change

"Prices are rising so much in Armenia because the climate means we can’t grow things any more. Last year there was no potato crop, and the price of potatoes is very high. We import the food and so it’s expensive", said mother of two, Emma Avenessyan, aged 23.

*** Indonesia & the EU’s hunger for biofuels: farmers unwillingly losing their land  

The EU wants to replace 10% of its transport fuel with biofuels, including biodiesel made from palm oil, by 2020. Indonesia hopes to reap the benefits of a growing demand for palm oil products in Europe, China and India. The villagers in Aruk, say about 25 of their plots were cleared for palm-oil expansion without their consent. "This is our ancestors' land which we have had for years, and now we have lost it," said Barto, one local farmer in the village. His cousin, 35-year-old Alexander, also lost his 10-acre plot last year. “I went to my land one morning, and found it had been cleared. All my rubber trees, my plants had been destroyed," he said.


Forthcoming key EU decision-making moments on global food security

June EU leaders and EU Finance Ministers likely to discuss the EC’s Markets Infrastructure Regulation (EMIR) targeting risky derivatives traded outside regulated exchanges (so-called OTC or Over-The-Counter derivatives).
4-7 July European Parliament to vote on the EC’s Markets Infrastructure Regulation (EMIR) targeting risky derivatives traded outside regulated exchanges (so-called OTC or Over-The-Counter derivatives)
July European Commission to announce whether it will go ahead with a legislative initiative that takes the full environmental impact of biofuels - that is taking into account the indirect land use change impact of biofuels, or ILUC, when calculating the CO2 balance of a biofuel.
September   European Commission to publish paper on the future of EU development policy, budget support and growth and investment.
October European Commission to put forward proposal to reform the Markets in Financial Instruments Directive (MiFID) to regulate agricultural commodity futures exchanges and other trading platforms.
17-18 Oct. EU Heads of State Summit: issues on the agenda are likely to include EU Multiannual Financial Perspectives (2014-2020), EU position for UN climate talks in South Africa (Dec), EU position for G20 summit in France (Nov), including discussions on a tax on financial transactions.
2012 European Commission to report back on the impact of the EU’s Renewable Energy Directive on land rights, food prices and compliance with the International Labour Organisation.


Angela Corbalan on + 32 473 56 22 60 or