|One out of seven people are going hungry around the world as the prices of food staples soar [Reuters]|
The price of some food staples could double in the next 20 years because of rising demand and climate change, a British-based charity has warned.
In a report released on Tuesday, Oxfam said world hunger was already increasing due to rising food price inflation and oil price hikes, as well as environmental changes such as droughts and floods.
“The food system is pretty well bust in the world,” Barbara Stocking, the Oxfam chief executive, said.
“All the signs are that the number of people going hungry is going up.”
The charity said 925 million people – one out of seven – are hungry, and the figure is likely to surpass one billion by the end of this year.
“If you think we have a crisis here, in 30 years it will be a cataclysm if the status quo remains,” Gonzalo Fanjul, a policy adviser for Oxfam, said.
Biofuels adding to demand
The report, called Growing a Better Future: Food Justice in a Resource-Constrained World, said: “The food system is buckling under intense pressure from climate change, ecological degradation, population growth, rising energy prices, rising demand for meat and dairy products and competition for land for biofuels, industry and urbanisation.
“The scale of the challenge is unprecedented, but so is the prize: a sustainable future in which everyone has enough to eat.”
The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) says food prices are higher than they have been in the last 20 years, surpassing the 2008 price spike that set off food riots in cities around the world.
Wheat prices, which have remained largely flat so far in 2011, are still more than 70 per cent above levels traded a year ago after the worst drought in decades devastated crops in the Black Sea region.
Prices for corn have more than doubled in the last 12 months with global production unable to keep pace with record demand, driven partly by the growth of the US ethanol industry.
Instability fuelled by high oil prices is likely to continue, the Rome-based FAO said.
Oxfam’s report partially blamed commodities traders, saying three companies control 90 per cent of the trade in grain.
It urged greater regulation of speculation in the global food market, but also opposed support for using food as a feedstock for biofuels.
“Financial speculation must be regulated, and support dismantled for biofuels that displace food,” it said.
It called for building a multilateral system of food reserves, ending biofuel subsidies so more crops go toward edibles, and more investment in the 500 million small farms in developing countries that support two billion people.
“The vast imbalance in public investment in agriculture must be righted, redirecting the billions now being ploughed into unsustainable industrial farming in rich countries towards meeting the needs of small-scale food producers in developing countries,” the report said.