Priority of our presidency must be world hunger
OPINION:Ireland can drive the European Council to halt the deep misery of food-price crisis
Next year will prove to be a very difficult one for the hungry.
World food stocks have fallen to dangerously low levels. The worst drought in half a century in the US, combined with droughts in Russia and Australia, have wiped out tens of millions of tonnes of maize and barley.
Meanwhile, excessive rainfall, in some cases 20 per cent above normal, has led some farmers to abandon sowing wheat altogether in western Europe. The UN estimates there will be 5.5 per cent less wheat on the world market in 2013.
Changing temperatures and rainfall patterns, combined with more frequent extreme weather events, are having a devastating impact on the one in eight people who go to bed hungry every night.
If the world experiences another shock such as the droughts this year, 2013 could be catastrophic for those who already struggle to feed themselves and their families.
The world’s poorest people spend 50-90 per cent of their income on food compared to just 10-15 per cent in developed countries. Preventing a food-price crisis requires a radical approach to how we grow and manage food.
Ireland can play a pivotal role during its presidency of the European Council, which starts in January, by encouraging EU governments and the international community to focus on five things:
1. Five hundred million small farms in developing countries support almost two billion people, nearly one-third of humanity. However they often lack the negotiating power, credit, training and resources to benefit when the prices of foodstuffs spike. Aid to farmers in developing countries fell by 77 per cent between 1983 and 2006. The right amount of public financing, targeted effectively, will help them help themselves.
2. Small farmers are hit hard when prices crash. One of the reasons prices have spiked and slid sharply is financial speculators. The EU’s regulatory framework should ensure futures markets operate in a fair and transparent manner without market abuse and excessive speculation.
3. We need to put an end to biofuel policies which divert food crops into fuel. Oxfam research shows if the land used to produce biofuels for the EU in 2008 had been used to produce wheat and maize, it could have fed 127 million people for the year. It is unacceptable to burn food in petrol tanks while the poor go hungry. The EU must abolish the 10 per cent renewable energy target for transport.
4. Women often bear the responsibility for growing food and feeding families but do not have the same rights or resources as males. With equal access to farming resources, women could reduce the number of hungry people in the world by up to 150 million. During its presidency, Ireland should work within the EU to ensure EU aid to food security and agriculture in developing countries reaches women farmers.
5. Climate change is causing lasting damage. On current trends, 50 million more people will be forced into hunger by 2050 – about 75 per cent of those will be in Africa. The Government should fulfil its commitment to publish a Heads of Bill for a climate law and advance the adoption of an effective law as early as possible in 2013.
During its presidency, Ireland must also work to ensure member states fulfil their obligations to support people in developing countries cope with the devastating impacts of climate change which is decimating livelihoods and driving increasing numbers into hunger.
We are entering a new era of rising food prices. If we do not prepare for it, 2013 will just be the first of many years in which millions more men, women and children will face the travesty of hunger every day of their lives.
Jim Clarken is chief executive of Oxfam Ireland