The point of departure for Grow is that the survival and flourishing of humanity in this century will be determined by its success in rising to two historic challenges: ending hunger and learning to live within the planet’s ecological boundaries.
The warning signs of a gathering emergency are clear. We have entered an age of crisis: of food price spikes and oil price hikes; of scrambles for land and growing water stress; of climate change that Oxfam can already see affecting its programmes around the world. The threat that now faces us contrasts with steady, indeed historically unprecedented, development over the last 60 years. This constitutes a profound challenge to our existing models and understanding of development.
GROW has a simple message. Together we can avoid this grim future, but it will require decisive national and international action. We must simultaneously meet three challenges:
The sustainable production challenge
The food system must be transformed. By 2050, demand for food will increase by 70 per cent. This demand must be met despite flat-lining yields, increasing water scarcity and growing competition over land. At the same time agriculture must rapidly adapt to climate change if precipitous declines in productivity are to be avoided, and its carbon footprint must be slashed.
The equity challenge
In the developing world, nearly 1 billion of us go without enough to eat. Meanwhile an obesity epidemic is rapidly spreading from industrialized to emerging economies. Fair shares and social justice matter just as much as production. Moreover, how we grow the extra food required will matter as much as how much food is grown. Key to meeting the equity challenge is investing in small farmers. Hunger and poverty are concentrated in rural areas. Unlocking the potential of small producers represents our single biggest opportunity to increase food production, boost food security and reduce poverty and vulnerability. Background paper from Swati Naryan on India’s dismal performance on hunger here.
The resilience challenge
The food system is increasingly fragile. Oil price shocks are transmitted to food prices through input and transport costs. More frequent and serious weather events, a sign of climate change, are disrupting farming. But perhaps most shocking is the role of governments in triggering, rather than averting, food price crises. Policies of narrow self-interest and zero-sum competition such as land grabs, biofuel programmes and export bans make a bad situation worse.
We must radically change how we collectively manage risks and build resilience to shocks and volatility. But the institutions needed to protect the most vulnerable are often inadequate or entirely missing. Correcting this institutional deficit will mean building what the GROW campaign calls a ‘new prosperity’. This will require three big shifts.
Build a new global system to avert food crises
Governments must develop integrated strategies to build poor people’s resilience to hunger, by creating jobs, adapting to climate change, investing in disaster risk reduction, and extending social protection. Globally, we must regulate for resilience, building a system of food reserves, increasing market transparency, putting in place rules to tackle export restrictions and ending trade-distorting agricultural subsidies. The annual $20bn subsidy to biofuels must be overhauled. Finally, we must build and reform the international institutions we need to manage risks and respond to shocks. Food aid must be untied and, along with a new global climate fund, properly funded. Background paper from Alex Evans here.
Build a new agricultural future
Donors, international organisations and national governments must prioritise 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. This particularly applies to women farmers, who in many countries grow most of the food, yet are largely excluded from support from the agricultural system. Companies must embrace the opportunities provided by smallholder agriculture. Donors and international organisations must continue to raise agriculture spending within aid budgets (down from 20.4% of aid in 1983 to just 3.7% in 2006). Rich countries must end their trade-distorting agricultural subsidies. New global regulations are needed to govern investment in land to ensure it delivers social and environmental returns. And national governments must invest more in agriculture, while carefully regulating private investment in land and water to ensure secure access for women and men living in poverty. Background papers on agroforestry in Bolivia and improving food security in Nepal.
Build a new ecological future
National governments must intervene to speed up and direct the low carbon transition, for example by investing R&D in clean energy. There is a long way to go – currently global subsidies for renewable energy are just $57bn compared to $312bn for fossil fuels. They can create incentives through the use of subsidies and tax breaks to guide private capital to where it is needed. They can tax undesirables – such as greenhouse gas emissions – to direct economic activity towards desirable alternatives. And they can regulate: for example, to stop companies polluting or to encourage them to provide goods and services they otherwise would not. But ultimately our success or failure in building a new ecological future will depend on a global deal on climate change.
Achieving this new prosperity will take all the energy, ingenuity and determination that humankind can muster. The scale of the challenge is unprecedented, but so is the prize – a sustainable future, free of hunger. That future will have to be built from the top down and from the bottom up. From the top, ambitious leaders will drive success, overcoming the opposition of vested interests. Far-sighted corporate leaders will break ranks with damaging industry lobbies. From the bottom, networks of citizens, consumers, producers, communities and civil society organisations will demand change. Oxfam will work with these groups, and others like them, to build a growing global movement to end hunger and set a path towards a new prosperity.
Excited? I am, as is Alex Evans. And Lula – see below, who as president of Brazil, delivered extraordinary progress in reducing hunger. Join the campaign here (tell your friends) or start by signing the petition to the G20 leaders here.
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Coming up next: some top killer facts, and why on earth did we call it GROW?