Gawain Kripke talks about feeding the poorest of the world in undeveloped nations.
Gawain Kripke talks about feeding the poorest of the world in undeveloped nations.

Oxfam says it is a right for poor people of the world to have food. The number one objective of the non-profit is “help to grow movements in support of ‘food justice.’” Gawain Kripke, Oxfam America director of policy and research, explained the organization in terms that tried to downplay the activist organization’s policies that have often been contrary to those of the agricultural industry and U.S. farmers. 

Recent emphasis at meetings hosted by agricultural companies and associations has been about “feeding the world” for decades to come, and last week’s Bayer CropScience Ag Issues Forum for agricultural media was no different.

Besides Kripke talking about providing food to the current and future poor, forum speakers made presentations about increasing crop production, grower income from crop production, world agricultural economics, advances in bioscience, agricultural sustainability and weed resistance.

Oxfam focuses on poverty and raising money for philanthropy, according to Kripke. Farmers and agricultural leaders have not given Oxfam much of an audience for their views and policies, which is why it was such a educational presentation for ag media at the Bayer CropScience forum.

“We think food and hunger are justice issues; they are not technical issues. Technology plays a role, government plays a role, but ultimately to solve the problems, we have to deal with institutions and power and relationships between human beings…. There is a human right to food, and people are being denied their right. And it is up to, first of all, governments, and when governments fail, it is the responsibility of the international community to step in and assure the rights to food for all. And we see this as a rights issue, and when rights are revoked these are justice issues,” said Kripke.

Oxfam’s objectives as the director outlined from one to five are:

  1. “Help to grow movements in support of ‘food justice’
  2. “Stop land and water grabs
  3. “Take action on climate change
  4. “Invest in the productivity, resilience and sustainability of small-scale food producers, particularly women
  5. “Prevent, prepare and respond effectively to global food price crises.”

Specific actions that Oxfam supports in U.S. policy and regulatory action include:

  • Invest in small-scale food producers
  • End excessive speculation in commodity markets
  • Modernize food aid from the U.S. to other nations
  • Stop giveaways to the corn ethanol industry
  • Regulate land and water grabs by private investors.

Kripke boiled down Oxfam’s basic contention with the comment, “Most hungry people aren’t hungry for the lack of food. They are hungry for lack of money, income and lack of power.”

The average expenditure for food exceeds 50 percent of more than a dozen countries’ citizen’s total income per person per year. “So, prices really matter if you are concerned about reducing hunger globally,” he said.

“It is still true that the poorest people live in rural areas,” Kripke said. “For Oxfam, they remain the centerpiece of our focus.” He said estimates are that most of the poorest people will remain rural for the next several decades.

Going along with this view is a contention that it is too simplistic an idea to move conventional agriculture methods and systems from high-production areas of the U.S. to Africa or other low-technology countries. He said Oxfam has not come to any official decision on the use of biotech by farmers in developing nations, but he suggested that poverty-level farmers would have trouble utilizing biotechnology.

Side Note About Wasted Food

Kai Robertson, food, beverage and agriculture practice director of Business for Social Responsibility, spoke at the Ag Issues Forum about the waste of food—be it spoiled food unsold at a developing country market or more likely the overabundance of food thrown away in the U.S. population.

She outlined the many ways that food is wasted from production to table with 67 billion pounds of food going into U.S. landfills annually. She noted the pounds doubled between 1974 and 2010. The calculation is that 25 percent of the food brought into our U.S. homes is tossed and “a large majority is still edible” when thrown.

Wasted food also means wasted energy to produce and bring food to the table. Unused or unharvested food is also a waste of water in the production process.

Some of the ways food is wasted as presented by Robertson included: post-harvest storage losses from rot and spills or vermin and insect damage, restaurants guessing on how much food to prepare and the unsold food going into the garbage, sell by date packaging resulting in fresh food being thrown away rather than frozen or used in another way, only perfect produce going on store shelves and much of the lower quality crops not being used in processed foods and slow distribution because of poor infrastructure resulting in-transit spoilage.