Oxfam estimates that current food price levels constitute an
immediate threat to the livelihoods of around 290 million people living
in countries most vulnerable to food price increases. Such vast numbers
dwarf those affected by even the largest natural disasters, such as the
2004 Asian tsunami. The current food price crisis occurs against a
backdrop of continuing hunger and vulnerability for millions.
Persistent hunger affects 854 million people across the world, a number
that means we are off-track in meeting the target set by the world
community in 2000 of reducing hunger by half before 2015. According to
the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP), the number of food emergencies has
increased from an average of 15 per
year during the 1980s to more than 30 per year since the turn of the millennium.
Food prices are likely to remain high and volatile for years to come
because of rising production costs due to high oil prices, and rising
demand for cereals, linked with the growth in the biofuels sector and
in consumer demand in emerging countries. In addition, climate change
is expected to lead to more unpredictable weather and climate-related
disasters, exacerbating volatility in yields and markets and
undermining food availability and the livelihoods of millions of
people, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.
Action is urgently needed to deal with the current crisis and to
reduce the likelihood of similar events in the future. But the crisis
offers opportunities as well as threats. For decades, low prices have
punished the rural producers and agricultural workers who make up the
majority of the world’s poor people. Now high prices could reverse that
trend, but only if the right policies and institutions are in place to
allow poor farmers and agricultural labourers to benefit.