Belfast Telegraph

Access to food is a basic human right, not a luxury

Tackling global hunger means taking on powerful vested interests - and winning, argues Colin Roche

Our food system is broken. It might not look like that. Our supermarket shelves might be weighed down with produce from all across the planet. But, nevertheless, the system is not working. There's more than enough food produced in the world to feed everyone, yet one in seven people already goes hungry.

We produce more food than ever, yet the numbers going hungry are no longer going down. There's now no option but to develop a food system that's fit for purpose and delivers for all of us, north and south, rich and poor.

Instead of a system which ensures everyone gets fed, vast amounts of food are wasted each year and yet more is being diverted to provide fuel for cars - often in the mistaken belief that using these biofuels is helping to combat climate change. So, when a major harvest fails, food prices spike, pushing tens of millions into poverty and hunger. Price rises already this year - the second price spike in three years - have pushed 44 million more people into poverty.

At the same time, climate change is already having devastating effects on the ability of people to grow food. Poor farmers can no longer rely on the seasons on which they have depended for years and natural disasters are increasing.

New research commissioned by Oxfam for our report published today - Growing a Better Future: Food justice in a resource-constrained world - forecasts price rises for rice, wheat and maize more than doubling within the next two decades, with a large portion of that rise being a result of the effects of climate change on agricultural production.

Meanwhile, the world's population is continuing to grow. With another two billion people on the planet by 2050, it's likely we will have to produce as much as 70% more food by then just to stand still. In this age of crisis, it is the most powerful who are gaining the spoils and, predictably, the poorest who miss out. Even as the world food system fails in its fundamental job - to ensure everyone is fed - huge profits are being made.

The large food companies which control vast tracks of the global food system continue to push for more biofuels; they profit from price surges, while grabbing the very land people have relied on for generations to provide food, fuel and a way of life, while decades of progress in tackling hunger goes into reverse. This rush to grab the world's resources leaves those with the least power behind.

So we must deliver food for more people, using less carbon and other finite natural resources and ensure that every man, woman and child has enough to eat.

It is possible and it can be done. But it requires governments to take up this challenge and act together in many different fields.

This means world leaders delivering a global climate change deal and living up to their own climate responsibilities.

It means investing in the small farmers, particularly women, who are best placed to feed the most vulnerable given the right support.

It means ensuring the food system works for everyone by ending destructive support for biofuels, regulating food speculation and halting massive landgrabbing.

And it means standing up to the powerful and vested interests - the pushers of oil and coal who seek to prevent action on climate change and those who seek to misuse the food system at the expense of the most vulnerable. Progress can be made. Brazil, for example, has rolled back hunger dramatically. Between 1990 and 2005, the proportion of hungry people almost halved.

Fixing the global food system won't be easy. It will require people, progressive companies and governments to remake a sustainable food system which delivers for all.

If we do so, we can ensure that everyone always has enough to eat.

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