News / Africa

Global Effort Needed to Solve World Food Supply Crisis

Mahata Onrao, a tea garden worker suffering from malnutrition, looks on while his wife Sukha Onrao attends to him at a rural health center in India (File Photo)
Mahata Onrao, a tea garden worker suffering from malnutrition, looks on while his wife Sukha Onrao attends to him at a rural health center in India (File Photo)

The world's food supply is in crisis says the international organization Oxfam and this week it's launched a campaign to fix it. There's some controversy over where exactly the problems lie.

Oxfam says 925 million people are going hungry around the world. In East Africa alone, it says, 8 million people are facing chronic food shortages.

Gawain Kripke, director of policy and research at Oxfam America, told VOA that if things continue as they are now, the problem will only deepen.

"The crisis on the horizon is that food prices could more than double in the next twenty years, which could send those numbers of hungry people much higher," said Kripke.

The world’s population is on the rise. Experts guess that by 2050 the total will be 9 billion. What’s more, as people around the world are getting richer, diets are changing. Meats and dairies are increasingly in demand - foods that take up more agricultural land and resources.

According to Oxfam, food pressures will go up by 70 percent over the next four decades.

But, it says, the world’s capacity to produce food is declining. The average growth rate in agricultural yields, it says, has almost halved since 1990 and to make matters worse, food crops are now being diverted to create biofuels.

It’s a bad situation, Kripke says, but not one without solutions.

He says right now only a handful of big businesses control the food market. He says a new focus on small scale farmers would solve a lot of problems.

"We think that the growth potential and productivity increase from investing in very small producers is very high," added Kripke. "And you can increase both food production but also, very importantly, help the people that most need assistance and who are most vulnerable to the vulnerabilities of high food prices and climate change at the same time."

Heidi Chow, is from the World Development Movement, a campaign group based in Britain.

She has another solution. A big part of the food crises, she says, lies with the markets.

She says food prices are volatile because trading in agricultural futures has become a big money earner for market traders.

And, as with the housing market, she says it’s not a reliable way to make sure prices reflect supply and demand.

"What we have been seeing over the last few years are extreme hikes and extreme dips as well," said Chow. "So even though there are other factors going on here, speculation amplifies and exacerbates these real world changes, making prices much higher than they ought to be."

She says in the United States and in Europe legislation is being reviewed that could see more regulation in the trading of agricultural futures. That’s key, she says, but it will be an upward struggle.

"There's very strong vested interest from the financial lobby to stop this from happening because if they are limited in their ability to speculate on these food prices then that would be limiting their ability to make money from it," she said. "So there is definitely a strong lobby in the U.S. as there is in Brussels to stop this from happening."

Kate Bailey is a food expert at Britain’s Cardiff Business School. In her opinion the effects of the market are only limited and don’t relate to the longtime food crisis that’s been developing over many years.

She says in order for the food crisis to be resolved, a global political effort will be needed.

"There are sort of political elements. Looking at trade, things like export bans - for example, when Russia put in wheat export bans, that restricts the market even further, which exacerbates the whole problem and puts the prices up," said Bailey. "So it's more about coordinated effort, to say there are various solutions but they need to be coordinated globally."

According to Oxfam there are 500 million small scale farms in developing countries. The group says it’s with them that future investment should lie.

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