At the start of this year, an estimated 925 million people worldwide were going hungry. And the report – ‘Growing a Better Future’ – suggests that the situation will only worsen. Food prices are forecast to increase by 70-90 per cent by 2030 but with the additional effects of climate change, these rises could easily double. To feed the world’s growing population, Oxfam calls for a radical overhaul of the food system. The charity proposes changes in three key areas – better global governance of trade, food aid and markets, support for small-scale farmers and a rebalancing of resources to protect the globe’s ecology and offset climate change.
According to the charity’s research, the world’s poorest already use up 80 per cent of their household income on food and rising costs will drive millions more into extreme poverty. In the Philippines for example, people spend proportionately four times more on their food than consumers in the UK. With the World Bank reporting food prices around 35 per cent higher than this time last year, many Filipinos are struggling to make ends meet. The BBC spoke to people in Manila about the rising costs. Evie owns a small roadside shop and told the BBC that whereas she used to sell bottles of cooking oil for 1,100 pesos in 2010, now the price has gone up to 1,500 pesos. When buying for her own family, Evie admitted to choosing “the cheapest type of food and eating less of everything else”.
In response to the growing hardship, the government of the Philippines has introduced an extra cost-of-living allowance for workers on the minimum wage. This adds an extra 22 pesos (around 0.50 dollars) onto the daily minimum wage of 404 pesos. Though the money will be no doubt be welcomed, it falls short of what many Filipinos were hoping for, especially since the allowance only applies to basic earnings and not to any overtime or bonus pay.
But the government has to balance the demands of workers with those of businesses, which are also struggling in the harsh economic climate. With extra costs of fuel and commodities such as cotton, factories and businesses are seeing their profit margins decrease. Some have therefore applied for a temporary exemption to wage increases, allowing them to pay less than the minimum wage until the business climate improves. With over 11 million Filipinos unemployed and one tenth of the population working overseas, the government authorises such exemptions on a case by case basis as part of its policy to preserve employment.
For the Philippines, as for other countries round the world, it is a difficult balancing act to safeguard jobs and ensure people have enough to eat. But if current rises in food costs are just a warning call, as Oxfam suggests, then governments will have to concern themselves not only with immediate solutions but also policies and investment for the longer term future.