Aid agencies say investment in farming needed to tackle global hunger and food price hikes

Campaigns and Advocacy, Media Releases article written on the 18 Apr 2008

MELBOURNE: At the conclusion of a meeting of 30 leading UN and aid agencies today in Rome, international development agencies CARE and Oxfam, who organised the meeting, called for radical reforms to the food aid system to deal with the challenge of food price hikes and impending food crises all over the world.
“CARE considers hunger as an issue of prevention, not cure. We work with communities to make sure that poor people without land can earn an adequate income to provide food for their families, as well as working with farmers to increase their agricultural production in an environmentally sustainable way,” says CARE Australia Head of Overseas Operations Robert Yallop.
“The conference in Rome highlights that food security must be taken into account in all the work we do and that cooperation between aid agencies is crucial to mitigating the risk to those who are most vulnerable”
Andrew Hewett, Oxfam Australia’s Executive Director said “Food riots have pushed global hunger onto the political agenda and demonstrated that the international community continues to act too late. We must stop seeing food crises as one-off events and start tackling the underlining problem – chronic poverty. The world has become much better at sending in teams to save lives but it seems incapable of doing what is needed to prevent crises happening in the first place”.
Among a number of measures, the agencies called for increased donor and national government investment in small-scale agriculture in developing countries.
In countries such as East Timor, late and insufficient rainfall in the last year has extended the ‘hungry season’. East Timor currently produces about 50 per cent of its own rice and imports the other 50 per cent. Shifting production to alternative crops such as maize would prevent food shortages in this country. In a country where the majority of people spend between 60-70 per cent of their incomes on food, farmers need help to shift their production.
Keryn Clarke the Country Manager of Oxfam Australia’s program in East Timor said, “Food shortages in East Timor are becoming part of life. The East Timorese government has been putting low-cost rice on the market in order to keep the prices down, but this can only be a stop-gap measure. Given the situation in East Timor, the solution is to help suppliers keep the prices down. If farmers can increase the yield of their crops, and this is possible, then they can supply local markets.”
CARE’s Robert Yallop echo’s this fact of life in Timor Leste. “CARE workers in Timor Leste tell us that already 70 per cent of the income of the poorest people is spent on household food, and the malnutrition rate of Timorese children is at 49 per cent. Food security doesn’t only affect health. When there is a food shortage in a household, education will no longer be a priority for poorer families, as children also have to work to get enough to eat. Productive assets, such as pigs or chickens are sold to cope with the shortage. We need to focus how we can prevent the underlying causes that create this risk, and the range of issues that flow from them.”
Chronic and cyclical problems need to be addressed through social protection mechanisms, such as direct assistance to the most vulnerable, drought insurance to farmers as well as interventions geared towards mitigation and prevention such as grain banks, local food storage and support to agricultural diversification so that farmers are not dependent upon one crop.
“Both national governments and donors must push for reform in the food aid system if we are to prevent the current crisis from continuing and escalating,” said Mr Hewett. “The problems experienced in countries like East Timor are chronic, but they are also solvable. We must aim to prevent hunger and cease using stop gap measures.”
Oxfam and CARE are calling for more aid of the right kind in the right place at the right time. Investment in small scale agriculture is one of a number of changes that need to be made to the food aid system. The agencies have called on governments to:
– Ensure financial services such as insurance and credit are available to poor farmers
-Deliver an equitable post Kyoto climate change mitigation and adaptation agreement recognising that climate change is going to exacerbate these problems
-Deliver a WTO Doha round agreement which eliminates rich countries’ trade-distorting export agricultural subsidies
-Greater attention to disaster preparedness
-Improvement of agricultural production.
-Increase attention to household income purchasing power
For more information or an interview with Andrew Hewett or Keryn Clarke, please contact Melany Markham
0407 515 559.
For information or an interview with CARE Australia’s Robert Yallop Contact Roslyn Boatman 0419 567 777.