MELBOURNE – World leaders at a UN food crisis meeting in Switzerland must go beyond immediate aid to address the root causes of the global food crisis, Oxfam Australia said today.
Oxfam Australia’s Executive Director, Andrew Hewett, said aid was urgently needed to address the immediate threat to poor people posed by higher food prices but he also said money alone was not enough.
“World leaders must take this opportunity to address structural problems such as under-investment in agriculture and unfair trade rules, which are exacerbating the problem,” Mr Hewett said.
Among those attending the two-day meeting called by UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon, are World Bank president Robert Zoellick and WTO Director General Pascal Lamy, along with the heads of 20 other agencies. Oxfam is calling on them to consider long-term, structural solutions to the crisis and to see it as an opportunity for reform.
Speaking at the meeting, UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon said rising food prices had “developed into a global crisis” and said the international community needed to take “immediate action” and discuss ways to improve food distribution and production around the world.
After two years of drought, wheat growing areas of Australia have had good rain this year and analysts are forecasting a bumper crop. Other major wheat producers are predicting the same, which could possibly bring prices down, but not for at least 12 months.
“A bumper wheat crop in Australia won’t stave off hunger for people in Haiti or Senegal. These countries need local and sustainable food supplies,” Mr Hewett said.
“Indeed, even if the Australian harvest is good this year, there is no guarantee that it will be good next year. If it’s another drought year, then we are back to square one."
Mr Hewett warned that increasingly erratic weather, caused in part by climate change, would cause further disruption in world food production and undermine poverty reduction in the future, unless dramatic and immediate action was taken.
"Wealthy countries must take leadership on climate change by increasing funding to help poorer countries adapt to its effects and by acting immediately to mitigate against further warming,” he said.
He said experts had also predicted that biofuels targets set by wealthy countries could result in an extra 600 million people being hungry by 2025.
“An end to current biofuels mandates in wealthy countries, widely recognised as fuelling price rises and speculation, would reduce food demand and prices further,” he said.
Oxfam is also calling for fairer trade rules and increased investment in agriculture in developing countries, focused on small-scale producers and women.
Mr Hewett said governments and aid agencies should provide support for this and help fund safety nets and social protection schemes for the most vulnerable people.
Oxfam also said wealthy countries and global institutions had demonstrated hypocrisy in criticising poor countries’ policy responses, while failing to acknowledge their own culpability.
"The World Bank has criticised developing countries for imposing export bans but it has failed to bring Europe and the US to account,” Mr Hewett said.
“Decades of trade liberalization and dumping have increased poor countries’ dependency on food imports and vulnerability to shocks. Export bans may well not be the ideal response, but without coordinated global support they are among the only options poor countries have."
For an interview with Andrew Hewett, please contact Melany Markham on 0407 515 559