Oxfam Report: 'World Must Learn Lessons From Food Price Crisis'
Small farmers in developing countries have not benefited from higher food prices, thanks in part to flawed trade and
agricultural policies that have made them vulnerable and weakened their positions in markets, said international agency
Oxfam in a new report released today, World Food Day.
In the report 'Double Edged Prices', Oxfam says that all governments, donors, and agencies, must learn the lessons from
the crisis. These include the importance of investing in agriculture, having trade policies that ensure food security,
and designing social protection systems that protect the poorest.
High food prices are impacting on people's lives in the Pacific. Barry Coates, Oxfam New Zealand's Executive Director
has recently returned from the Papua New Guinea Highlands: "The price of staple foods like rice has more than doubled
over the past year. While there are opportunities to replace imports with locally grown food, most farmers lack the
land, seeds and capital to boost their local food supplies. As a result, the 40 per cent of people who live below the
poverty line in PNG are under pressure. Some people are reducing the amount they eat, but most are cutting back on meat
and other protein sources. This increases the risk of malnutrition and ill-health, particularly for children."
Teresa Cavero, author of the report and head of research at Oxfam in Spain, said: "The trend in agriculture, as in
international finance, has been towards deregulation and a reduced role for the State. This has had devastating effects
and innocent lives have been blighted by exposure to market volatility. It is time the world woke up to the need for
developing country governments to support their poor farmers, and the obligation of developed countries to help them to
"In countries where governments have invested in agriculture, and put policies in place to target vulnerable or
marginalised groups, the impacts of food price inflation have been less severe. In contrast, where there has been
unmanaged trade liberalisation, underinvestment in agriculture, and little support from government, the effects have
been devastating," she added.
The sharp rise in global food prices has pushed 119m more people into hunger, taking the global total to 967m. Higher
food prices mean people are eating less and lower quality food, children are being taken out of school and farmers are
being forced to migrate to cities to live in slums. Women are especially vulnerable because they rarely own land and
have limited access to credit and other services, but they bear much of the responsibility for feeding and caring for
Meanwhile, some of the biggest international food companies have made windfall profits. Commodity-trader, Bunge, saw its
profits in the second fiscal quarter of 2008 increase by $583m, or quadruple, compared with the same period last year.
Nestl�'s global sales grew nearly 9 per cent in the first half of 2008, and UK supermarket Tesco, has reported profits
up 10 per cent from last year. Seed company, Monsanto, reported a 26 per cent increase in revenue to a record $3.6bn in
the fiscal quarter that ended May 31, 2008.
"Misguided or inadequate national agricultural policies, coupled with unfair trade rules and poor economic advice, has
created a situation where big traders and supermarkets are gaining from price rises, and small farmers and consumers are
losing out," said Cavero.
Oxfam criticises the international community's inadequate response � both in terms of money and coordination. At an
emergency meeting in Rome earlier this year, $12.3bn was pledged for the food crisis, but little more than $1bn has been
disbursed so far. This is in stark contrast with the response to the current financial crisis, where huge financial
resources have been mobilised by the international community in a matter of days.
Cavero: "It is shocking that the international community has failed to organise itself to respond adequately to this.
The UN taskforce produced a good plan - the Comprehensive Framework for Action - but there is still not clear leadership
to implement it. Developing countries are being bombarded with different initiatives and asked to produce multiple plans
for different donors. We need to see one coordinated international response, led by the UN, which channels funds
urgently to those in need, and leads on implementation of the longer-term reforms."