When world leaders meet at the UN this week they will endorse a momentous goal to end extreme poverty and hunger by 2030. For a world grappling with crises, tragedies and injustice, it is a rare vision of hope. Can we make it a reality?
It won't be easy. While the proportion of people going hungry in the world is declining – from around 19% of the population in the early 1990s to around 11% now – the progress is far from even everywhere. In Africa, the number of hungry people is still increasing – up from around 180 million in the early 1990s to around 230 million now by the latest estimates.
But it can be done. Oxfam has been working on food crises for decades in every part of the world. In that time we've seen some countries make huge strides in eradicating hunger. Under the leadership of former-President Lula, Brazil halved the number of hungry people in a decade. Across East and South East Asia nearly 400 million people have been lifted out of hunger since the early 1990s. In Ghana the proportion of the population going hungry was slashed from around 50% in the early 1990s, to less than 5% now.
To build on those, and many more, success stories we need to fix our broken food system. Too much power is concentrated in the hands of just a handful of companies that together control most of the seeds that are sown, the grains that are traded, the foods that appear on our supermarket shelves. Too little power is in the hands of small-scale food producers – the roughly 1.5 billion farmers, pastoralists and fisherfolk who together are responsible for most of the food we consume in the world, but who make up the majority of those still facing hunger.
Too often they are denied their rights to secure ownership of land, with women facing the worst discrimination of all. They lack the support services, research, infrastructure and safety nets that big agri-business players can rely on. Where they can access markets to sell their goods, especially the supply chains of global brands, they are almost certainly not paid enough to live and thrive on.
And on top of all this, they face the added burden of a changing climate. Caused overwhelmingly by the greenhouse gas emissions of the richest countries and people in the world, it is the poorest farmers who have contributed least that bear its greatest costs. More droughts and floods, unpredictable seasons and rising seas are already making it harder to produce food in poor communities around the world. Scientists project a future of frightening drops in crop yields, disruption to fisheries, new pests and diseases that will make it harder still.
Increasingly extreme weather is causing problems for major grain-producing regions too. The dramatic effects on world food prices of massive droughts in Russia and the US mid-west in recent years is just a taste of what is to come as climate change gathers pace. As food prices spike, it is people in poverty in urban as well as rural areas who risk being priced out of buying their family's staples.
This is why the first real test of our leaders' commitment to ending hunger is an agreement at the UN climate change talks in Paris this December. To help put us on track, serious money must be on the table to help the poorest countries and communities to cope. To adapt to the changing climate they need support for new irrigation systems, insurance schemes, more resistant seed varieties, stronger safety nets and much more. Whether they get it will to a large extent determine whether the target of “zero hunger” by 2030 can be kept within reach.
But to sustain this progress the Paris deal must also slash greenhouse gas emissions, far and fast enough to avert the very worst effects of runaway global warming. Millions of communities will simply not be able to adapt beyond a certain level of temperature increase. From Pacific islands like Vanautu to the coastal regions of Bangladesh, those thresholds are already being reached.
Oxfam is convinced that hunger is not and need never be inevitable. We applaud our leaders for setting a new goal to eradicate it by 2030, but the real work starts now. We'll be pushing them all the way in every area that matters until it is done.
The next step must be taken in Paris, and we all need to demand they make it a big one.
This entry posted by Tim Gore, Head of Policy, Advocacy and Research for Oxfam's GROW Campaign, on 22 September 2015.
Photo: Paddy rice seedlings ready for transplanting in the rice fields which are now being used but which were damaged by the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004. Lho-nga village, District Aceh Besar, Aceh Province, Sumatra, Indonesia. Credit: Jim Holmes/Oxfam, November 2014
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