Rising food prices are causing widespread suffering in developing countries, and even in the rich world, the combination of high food and fuel prices threatens hardship for millions. Food prices have surged by about 20% this year and about 345 million people are experiencing acute food insecurity, compared with 135 million before the Covid-19 pandemic.
Food price rises around the world are the result of a “broken” food system that is failing the poor and concentrating power and profits in the hands of a few, food experts have said.
Alex Maitland from Oxfam explained the current crisis was “the latest in a long series of failures in the global food system”, which has been made even more fragile recently owing to extreme weather and the impacts of the climate crisis, economic upheaval and the pandemic. He said: “The war in Ukraine has caused massive price volatility and disruption of food supplies globally, but this is just the latest blow facing a global food system that was already broken. Global food chains are dominated by a small number of multinational corporations. It’s unsurprising that these corporations can squeeze such massive profits.”
Consumers are not the only victims: farmers, too, struggle to make a living when big companies abuse their dominance.
Maitland said: “The people who produce and buy food are the ones who suffer from a system that puts shareholder profits over people. Half of the world’s undernourished are smallholder farmers and their families. The poorest spend far more of their income on food than the richest.”
Vicki Hird, head of sustainable farming at Sustain, a coalition of civil society groups in the UK, said: “Farmers have no control over setting prices and are ever poorer for it. It’s estimated that 25% of farm households in the UK are living under the poverty line.” She added: “The current food crisis is not a new one, just accelerated due to the Ukraine invasion, and unless governments recognise this and act to tackle the real causes – the corporate profits at the expense of farmer incomes, workers’ wages, consumers and the environment – we will just lurch from this crisis to the next.”
Tim Lang, emeritus professor of food policy at City, University of London, said both developed and developing countries were seeing the impacts of years of increasing distortion in food markets.
“We need to rethink the food system. People can’t afford a healthy diet, and this is a very serious problem. A lot of people are making a huge amount of money out of food, but food producers get about 8% of the £250bn a year we spend on food,” he said.