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September-October 2011

Vol. 35, No. 5

Food justice: Oxfam embarks on new project

Oxfam International has launched the GROW campaign which looks to correct the injustices that cause food insecurity by "growing better" (making significant improvements in agriculture), "sharing better" (by revamping food chain management and distribution), and "living better" (protecting resources and addressing climate change). By focusing specifically on land grabbing, climate change, food price spikes and enhanced support for small scale farming, Oxfam will traverse new advocacy territory taking on some of the biggest actors standing in the way of food security and real progress on protecting the planet. The following article highlights some of the campaign's breadth and goals.

On June 1, Oxfam International launched "Growing a Better Future: Food Justice in a Resource-constrained World" (GROW). In spite of the slow but continual decline in numbers of hungry people the world witnessed prior to 2008, numbers have grown in the past three years, reaching almost a billion people. The GROW campaign takes a realistic look at where we are heading. Challenges like population growth, overconsumption and climate change will require a future food system that fits into a world of resource limits.

Specifically, in the United States work must be done around increasing investments that will truly benefit small holder food producers. Oxfam America's five-point plan of urgent actions call for President Obama, the U.S. Congress and the private sector to take immediate steps to reduce the pressure on the U.S. economy, consumers and poor people around the world by investing in small-scale food producers; ending excessive speculation in agricultural commodities; modernizing food aid; stopping giveaways to the corn-ethanol industry; and regulating land and water grabs.

The majority of population growth through year 2050 is expected to be concentrated in the most cash poor and food insecure countries. Currently, a majority of U.S. initiatives to fight hunger respond to a growing population by pushing increased production through advanced agricultural technologies including fossil fuel intensive inputs and genetically modified seeds. In many of the countries where Maryknoll missioners live and work concerns are raised around who the real beneficiaries will be: big multinational enterprises or local farmers?

Oxfam suggests that "growing better" in this case really involves "sharing better." Today three companies - Archer Daniels Midland, Bunge and Cargill – control an estimated 90 percent of the world's grain trade. In the first quarter of 2008, when the food crisis was at a critical peak, Cargill's profits were up 86 percent; and this year, while food prices continue to rise and countries scramble to ensure food security, Cargill is heading for its most profitable year yet.

Oxfam proposes that policies and programs focus on prioritizing the needs of small-scale food producers in developing countries, where the major gains in productivity, sustainable intensification, poverty reduction, and resilience can be achieved. It is important to reverse the current misallocation of resources, where currently a good portion of public money for agriculture flows to agro-industrial farms in Northern countries.

Price volatility has been a critical issue leading to food price crises. Farmers are unsure how and what to plant with prices fluctuating as they have for the past four years. Oxfam recommends increased transparency to allow regulators to monitor speculators and limit their activities.

Food aid is another opportunity for the U.S. to "share better." Oxfam's GROW report shows that, according to U.S. legislation, 75 percent of food aid must be sourced, bagged, fortified, and processed by U.S. agribusiness firms with contracts from the U.S. Department of Agriculture ensuring that the largest portion of U.S. food aid dollars go into the pockets of U.S. agribusiness companies. Moreover, U.S. policy also stipulates that the food must be freighted by U.S. American companies on U.S.-flagged ships at taxpayer expense. Nearly 40 percent of total food aid costs are paid to U.S. shipping companies.

In terms of "living better" Oxfam is taking on what and how much people consume, especially people in northern countries since the planet is already at unsustainable levels of consumption. Humans must now recognize earth's needs to rest and grow back some of its natural resources (fertile soil, animal life, biodiversity, forests and atmospheric space). The challenge is to work within current planetary limits so that there is space for future generations to produce and consume their fair share.

Go here to read more and become involved.

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