Thursday, June 2, 2011

OXFAM Reactions

The headline from Oxfam's GROW initiative, started yesterday, is their prediction that food prices will double by 2030. I imagine someone might have predicted much the same about the year 2000 in 1975 at the tail end of the last major food price crisis. I hope they are equally as wrong. Even if they are not equally wrong, there is little doubt that they are trying to estimate something with an enormous standard error looking at it from this far back, says Bellemare.

Matt at Aid Thoughts:
Of course, while Oxfam may believe this prediction now, they are trying to change behaviour so it doesn’t come true – this means that the claims will be incredibly difficult to (dis)prove. If food prices happen to double in 20 years, Oxfam will say “Look! We told you so.” If they don’t, they will say “Look at the disaster we averted!” Either way, the winning narrative will be constructed ex-post.
Evans thinks that the kind of holistic, systems-approach Oxfam is taking is the right way to go, as indeed our textbook says policy analysts need to think:
This isn’t just a campaign about biofuels, or landgrabs, or making agricultural trade fair, or climate change, or competition for land and water, or women’s rights. It’s about all these things, united beneath the overall banner of ‘food justice in a resource constrained world’. I’ve felt for ages that NGOs need to move on from single issue campaigning towards ways of pushing for whole system change – and Oxfam are going for it in a big way.
The report is upfront about some of the political economy challenges their proposed changes will face, but not enough is said about how to change the incentives of the "vested interests" (you may also know them as "stakeholder groups," depending on your ideology), says Ranil, who is also skeptical about putting quite so much faith in smallholder-led growth. Ranil also thinks they aren't being all that holistic, focusing too much on agriculture and not enough on growth in the rest of the economy.

Former Brazilian President da Silva puts his faith in the benevolence of governments: "If the political will is there no one will be denied their fundamental human right to be free from hunger."


  1. I received an email response from Kate McIntyre, whose real purpose (as my google shows me) is to advertise newsy's videos. Be that as it may, I wanted to respond to her and anyone else who might be confused by what I put.

    McIntyre wrote:
    I thought your post on the OXFAM food price increase was interesting, especially your thoughts on possible solutions. I’m not sure how much we should rely on reforming or bolstering the agricultural infrastructure and agree it shouldn’t be the sole focus when there are other economic avenues to be addressed. I found your last line with former Brazilian President da Silva’s quote about trusting governments to protect people’s right to food access very frustrating. There are millions of people dying of malnutrition and starvation worldwide; if global leaders were seriously concerned with protecting human rights, that and the countless atrocious violations of human rights and dignity wouldn’t be occurring on such a large scale, if at all.

    I wanted to share this video on the OXFAM predictions with you and your readers. I think you’ll appreciate how it analyzes news coverage from different sources to show various perspectives on the natural and man-made causes of the increase in food prices as well as possible solutions, including global governance. I hope you’ll considering embedding the video in your post.

    Kate McIntyre

  2. The last line was mostly there as a placeholder for me. I do research on government's political will, and in particular government's political will related to hunger - where it comes from, what it's effects are. I try to keep track of comments from leaders saying "If only we had the political will..." When I'm revising a journal article, I can search my blog for political will and find all these wonderful quotes. So point 1, my purpose wasn't to agree or disagree ... which is why I failed to comment on it specifically.

    The statement coming from da Silva is more interesting because he is one of the leaders most people point to first as being someone who has the will. He set up a series of important programs in Brazil that successfully decreased hunger significantly. He ought to be a pretty good poster child for the idea.

    That said, I wonder just how far even someone like him would have been able to get without a middle-income country, a large and reasonably effective government structure (including bureaucratic capacity and an effective tax administration), large-scale agriculture and trade, good infrastructure, on and on.

    Further, if hungry people really are at the beck and mercy of one person's or one party's political will to be fed, any reduction in hunger is not permanent. Their right to food will not be fulfilled in any meaningful way. In that sense, I think putting our faith in government benevolence - even self-interested benevolence - to ensure no one ever goes hungry is going to be somewhat misplaced.