Oxfam America Launches a New Program to Address the Broken Food System


Photo credit: Johan.V./Creative Commons
This guest post was written by Vicky Rateau, manager for Oxfam America's new GROW campaign. She is based in Washington, DC.

The movement for reform to our flawed food system is growing stronger every day. Cooks, consumers, and campaigners alike are waking up in increasing numbers to the dangerous and unsustainable impacts of the way much of our food is grown, sold, and consumed.

This progress could not come at a more important moment. Our global food system works only for the few—for most of us it is broken. It leaves consumers lacking sufficient power and knowledge about what we buy and eat, and almost a billion people hungry worldwide, millions of whom live here in the U.S. The failure of the system flows from failures of government—failures to regulate, to correct, to protect, to resist, to invest—which mean that companies, interest groups, and elites are able to plunder our resources and to redirect flows of finance, knowledge, and food to suit themselves.

And now we have entered an age of growing crisis, of shock piled upon shock: Vertiginous food price spikes and oil price hikes and devastating weather events that catch us somehow unaware and unprepared. Behind each of these slow-burn crises continue to smolder creeping and insidious climate change; growing inequality, chronic hunger, and vulnerability; and the erosion of our natural resources. The broken food system is both a driver of this fragility and highly vulnerable to it.

But all of this can change, and in fact it already is. Today Oxfam is launching our new campaign GROW. GROW is a campaign for the billions of us who eat food and the one and a half billion men and women who produce it. GROW is a campaign for a better future where we expose and overcome the threats we face and help build movements for a new era of prosperity.

This better future is one where we grow what we need, so everyone has enough to eat, always. Getting there will take all the energy, ingenuity, and political will that humankind can muster. We must mount powerful campaigns to win significant transformations in how our society faces common threats and manages scarce resources.

GROW may be ambitious, but we will seek practical changes on the substantive issues that keep poor people hungry. We will campaign for investments in small-scale food producers to increase their productivity, self-reliance, climate resilience, and economic opportunity. We will campaign for an end to excessive speculation in agricultural commodities that drives food price spikes. We will campaign to modernize food aid so that 50 cents of every dollar is no longer wasted serving industry lobbyists ahead of hungry people and the American taxpayer. We will campaign to stop giveaways to the corn-ethanol industry that drive up food prices. We will campaign to regulate land and water grabs to instill much needed transparency and sanity into global land deals.

The powerful elites in poor countries that seize land and block reform; the special interest lobbies of rich countries that tip the playing field against small farmers on the backs of taxpayers; the multinational traders who profit as food markets unravel; the financial institutions that bet on them doing so, these will be our targets. We will name them, and we will shame those who try to protect the status quo at the expense of the hungry.

Governments must renew their purpose as custodians of the public good rather than allowing these vested interests to set the agenda. And we must be hold elected officials accountable if they don't, demanding change at the ballot box. We must build power and ensure politicians quiver in fear that we might use it.

Responsible businesses can help enable this future of prosperity and many already are. They are breaking ranks with protectors of the status quo, strengthening the will of politicians and governments to act. They are embracing effective regulation rather than undermining it. They are directing their business models and practices towards addressing the challenges we face.

But they must do better and citizens and customers must demand this of them. The incentives under which businesses operate must shift so that they can no longer impose their social and environmental costs on others and instead flourish in their responsible behavior.

Inspired by such ideas, and motivated by a desire for a better future, organizations, businesses, movements, and networks for a new prosperity are appearing, growing, and connecting up all over the world. Poor farmers are demanding fair shares from national budgets and market chains; leaders and scientists are working on sustainable agriculture; environmentalists are calling for a healthier and safer future; women are claiming their rights to opportunity; communities are leading healthier lifestyles; movements are forming—such as Fair Trade, which links ethical consumers and the private sector; and grassroots campaigns are clamoring for the right to food to be respected. The list is long and growing.

We are proud to stand alongside them. We will join their efforts to make practical positive changes in how we produce, consume, share, and manage food and other resources to move beyond this age of crisis to a new age of prosperity. Soon there will be nine billion of us on the planet and for better or worse we are all in this together. For those of you looking to be leaders in the fight for a better future, we hope you will join us and GROW.

Vicky Rateau is the manager for Oxfam America's new GROW campaign. She is based in Washington, DC.
Read more about the global food system:
The Incredible Vulnerability of Our Food System, and What Can be Done About It (Video)
Eating Local Food: The Movement, Locavores and More
Why World Food Prices Are Poised to Keep Climbing
Is the World One Poor Harvest Away From Chaos?

Tags: Agriculture | Farming | Peak Oil