Two years old, and still GROWing!!

Alison Woodhead

Blog post by Alison Woodhead

Oxfam International, Head of GROW Campaign
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This week marks the second birthday of the GROW campaign – a good time to pause and reflect.

GROW is our contribution to the global struggle to fix our broken food system. Our ambition – “a future where every one of us will always have enough to eat” – is big. But it needs to be, because so is the problem, and the solutions needed!

Nearly 900 million people go hungry today in a world that grows plenty of food for everyone. Climate change, over-use of and competition for natural resources, waste, entrenched inequalities and injustice, and population growth all point to a precarious future. If we can’t get it right today, what hope for tomorrow?

GROW decided to tackle a bunch of these knotty, interrelated problems. We started GROW with a “conversation”, hosting events in more than 30 countries: waiters serving a ‘table for 9 billion’ in Ireland; Nobel Prize winner Rigoberta Menchu debating the issues in Guatemala; videos of support from former Brazilian Lula de Silva and African music star Angelique Kidjo; Oscar-nominated actor Djimon Hounsou joining the UN Special Rapporteur on Food Security at a launch event in the US.

But we can’t solve these problems alone, so we’re working with a huge number of farmers’ and women’s groups and civil society organizations across the world. The GROW (or ‘Cultivons’ in West Africa and ‘Crece’ in Latin America) campaign is now active in more than 50 countries!

Stopping land grabs

Our first focus was on land. Companies and governments have been scrambling to buy up vast tracts of land in developing countries - an area the size of London every six days! The result - local people losing their homes and their farm and pasture lands, too often without compensation or consent. So we joined allies and partners to get an international agreement on standards to improve the way countries govern rights and access to land. This was ratified in May 2012 by the UN Committee on World Food Security. We then took on the World Bank over its role in financing land grabs. With 50,000 supporters and help from Coldplay, we got the Bank to acknowledge that they need to safeguard land rights in their own deals and agree to an independent review of the impact of its work on land rights.

Behind the Brands

Today we’re looking hard at the role of the private sector - specifically the world’s 10 largest food and beverage companies that together make over $1 billion a day – through our Behind the Brands campaign. We wanted to know how these companies, which include Nestle, Coca Cola and Unilever, do business and how they affect the food system. We did a forensic review of their social and environmental policies – and found that all of the companies were failing, some far worse than others. This April, we tackled the shameful way the big chocolate companies are treating women in their cocoa supply chains.  More than 100,000 people got involved and urged the ”Big Three”, Nestle, Mars and Mondelez – that together control 40% of the chocolate market and purchase a third of the world’s cocoa - to take action. Within weeks, all three said they would tackle the issue of empowerment of women, review their supply chains, and sign up to the UN Women’s Empowerment Principles.

GROW has really come alive inside 50 or more countries worldwide.  Here’s a sample: In Tanzania, we raised awareness about the critical role that women play through our ‘Female Food Heroes’ project which includes a national competition and “Big Brother”-style TV show that reached millions across Tanzania and inspired similar projects from Canada to Tajikistan. In Guatemala, with partners and allies we got the Government to increase its investment in food production programs run by the Ministry of Agriculture. In Pakistan, we are working with farmers and the government on a new initiative to achieve ‘Zero Hunger’. In Holland, we got four global banks to adopt new policies to prevent involvement with land grabbing. And in France, Germany and Belgium we ran active national campaigns against banks to stop their damaging food commodity speculation, and several banks, like BNP Paribas and Credit Agricole have listened and acted.

Rocketing food prices

Of course the world has a long way to go to reduce hunger and end injustice in the food system.  Food prices remain high and volatile, meaning the poorest have to buy cheaper and poorer quality food (see our recent research in 10 countries). While we have helped to put land rights onto policy-makers’ agendas, we need to keep working to ensure this is turned into real action on the ground. We need to keep pressuring big business to act responsibly. We need to keep combining our voice with others (which we believe is the key to any success!).

Checking climate change

But perhaps the biggest challenge facing the planet’s future is the impact of climate change on our ability to produce food. With dwindling natural resources, increasingly unpredictable and extreme weather, and increasing demand for food, getting enough to eat will get harder still for many millions of vulnerable and poor people. The latest science shows we are on course for levels of climate change that will have disastrous impact on many important food systems. The window for cutting greenhouse gases to manageable levels is very short – which is why GROW will focus on the critical issues of food and climate change from 2014.

We’ll also be ramping up our Behind the Brands work to create a ‘race to the top’ among the biggest food companies in the world. And we’ll continue our diverse and innovative work in so many countries across the globe.

Joining in

But we’ll need your support to help us make a difference. Politicians only take notice when evidence is accompanied by numbers. GROW is part of a burgeoning movement and we need you to get involved – through taking actions in your own life, putting pressure on governments and companies and joining our global conversation about food.

Thanks for your support!

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