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We don’t need to sleepwalk into catastrophe

by Oxfam | June 2, 2011

At Oxfam, we aren’t shy about speaking out. But we are very careful to back up what we say. Three years of research by an inter-disciplinary team based in several countries laid the foundation for the GROW campaign.

We knew from our programs in over 80 countries that eating had become ever more of a challenge for millions of people. We knew that the climate had begun to go haywire, that farmers knew not when or what to plant. And we knew that in 2008 something suddenly went seriously wrong with food prices, as the cost of eating drove the number of hungry people to over one billion for the first time.

But we did not know for sure why. So, we set our in-house researchers to work on the big picture. We asked universities and specialized institutes to help us with additional technical studies. We convened experts from within and outside the Oxfam federation. The first major result is the report “Growing a Better Future: Food justice in a resource-constrained world“, that we released on June 1, when we launched the campaign.

Besides participating in shaping the research and building the analysis, I had the pleasure of editing the text, to ensure it was concise, consistent and pointed. (Well, at seventy pages perhaps “concise” is not the best word.) We wanted the presentation of our findings to offer clarity for a varied public, but also to convey the gravitas needed to be taken seriously in the halls of power.

As the subtitle implies, the report warns that decades of comfortable surpluses are a thing of the past. In 2008, the world turned a macabre corner into an era of crisis in which demand for food outstrips supply, climate change makes farming riskier than ever, and arable land and water are increasingly scarce.

The report pinpoints the way we produce and consume as a cause of the resource crunch – and also a victim of that crunch. It identifies the mistaken government policies that make matters worse. And it names the vested interests that profit from our fragile and failing food system.

The report’s title, “Growing a Better Future,” captures the central message: We don’t need to sleepwalk into catastrophe. Governments, companies and individuals can rethink how we produce and consume food. We can join with the thousands of people around the world who are already building more sustainable alternatives.

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