Governments called on to tackle the root causes of global hunger

By agency reporter
17 Oct 2011

International development agency Oxfam has called upon governments meeting at the UN’s Committee on World Food Security (CFS) in Rome to show the political will and take action to tackle the root causes of hunger.

With more than 13 million people in dire need of food in the Horn of Africa, food prices set to remain high and volatile, and almost a billion people going to bed hungry every day, Oxfam believes it is clear that existing policies and responses are inadequate to solve the problem.

The CFS, which meets from 17 – 22 October 2011, is the global forum where major decisions should be made to tackle hunger. It is the only place in which all governments, civil society, international institutions and the private sector can formally negotiate and coordinate measures to eliminate hunger and ensure food security for all.

“The CFS holds our best hope of ushering in a new era of cooperation that ensures that everybody has enough to eat today and in the future – a system of multilateral rules that will enable governments to act collectively in the global interest, resolve conflict, align policies and allocate resources effectively,” said Barbara Stocking, chief executive of Oxfam.

“We know it is possible to reduce hunger dramatically – countries like Brazil and Vietnam have shown how it can be done. What is lacking is adequate political will by all governments to take bold decisions and address the root causes of hunger,” she added.

Oxfam is calling on the CFS to agree urgent and ambitious actions to address the causes of hunger and reduce food price volatility by scrapping harmful biofuels targets, subsidies and tariffs which are turning food into fuel, regulating commodities markets to curb excessive speculation and increasing food reserves in poor countries so they can cope with shocks and extremes in prices.

At the same time, regulation of investments, improved land governance to stop land grabs, and a commitment to increase gender equality in agriculture are needed, along with a massive increase in public investment in small scale sustainable agriculture, starting by fully delivering the $22 billion pledged at the G8 in L’Aquila in 2009 to help countries feed themselves.

“The high and volatile food prices that we are experiencing today reflect the failure to address the root causes of instability and hunger after the 2007/8 food price crisis. Unfulfilled promises of additional funding and ‘sticking plaster’ approaches are not going to solve the global food crisis, the current emergency in the Horn of Africa or prevent a future catastrophe if we continue as we are,” said Stocking.

The CFS is due to adopt the first international instrument on land governance, an important first step in stopping the growing problem of land grabs. The negotiations on the guidelines have taken place over the last week and are very close to completion, but Oxfam is concerned that negotiations were not finalised in time for the scheduled adoption today

“The dedication of governments and civil society organisations to reach an agreement on land tenure is very impressive. The guidelines provide a clear indication to empower indigenous peoples and local communities. We also welcome the recognition of women’s land rights, customary tenure and common property. Once the guidelines are adopted, the CFS must set a clear path for the implementation and ensuring that they bring real change to the lives of poor communities”, said Duncan Pruett, Oxfam Policy Adviser on land.

Since 2006, international food prices have twice risen sharply. After the food crisis of 2007/2008, prices fell in the second half of 2009 but increased again from mid-2010, reaching their highest ever levels in February 2011. High and volatile prices are expected to remain in the coming year if no ambitious and coordinated responses are developed.

The World Bank estimates that 44 million people fell below the poverty line in the second half of 2010 due to high food prices, and research for Oxfam’s GROW campaign indicates that the price of staple foods such as maize could more than double in the next 20 years. Poor households, which spend up to three-quar­ters of their income on food, are worst affected by the crippling price hikes.

Women produce up to 80 per cent of food in some poor countries yet are less likely to own their own land, often toil in the least productive areas and receive little financial or agricultural support. While welcoming the CFS focus on gender equality, Oxfam warns that it must be integrated into all discussions at the CFS to ensure that women’s rights and needs are not marginalised or addressed in isolation.

“Investing in women farmers is crucial for increased production and to feed humanity. Women must also have equal access and control over land. Ensuring gender equality, advancing women’s human rights and putting women’s needs at the centre of policies is necessary if we are to achieve the right to food for all,” said CEO Stocking.

[Ekk/3]

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