I read with interest the letter to the editor on rising food costs ("Food costs are far from unreasonable," Dec. 29). Rising food prices have certainly become a topic of interest.
The challenge the province faces is we have become overwhelmingly dependent on imported food. To understand why food prices are rising one needs to pay more attention to how the global food system is doing.
Over the past few years there have been major floods in Australia, wildfires in Russia and the Ukraine and this past summer we witnessed a severe drought in the breadbasket of the United States.
These extreme weather events in key food producing countries are but part of the reason for higher food prices across the globe.
The global food system is increasingly industrialized and is directly affected by fuel and transport costs - from the fertilizers and tractors to the delivery trucks.
And now that we decided to include ethanol in our gasoline mix, more and more corn is headed for car engines rather than bellies. And, of course, as oil prices increase so, too, does the demand for ethanol and other biofuels which in turn will mean a higher demand and price for corn.
Of course, in the big scheme of things, we are still quite fortunate.
On average families in North America can expect to spend less than 20 per cent of their household budgets on food purchases.
In many poorer countries and regions families can spend up to 75 per cent of their household budgets on food costs.
In such circumstances, even the slightest increase in food prices can prove catastrophic and can lead to hunger. In 2008 and 2010 many poor countries witnessed food riots.
Not surprisingly, the growing increase in food prices has triggered a keen interest in land deals, especially in poor countries where land is relatively cheap. Recent data indicates that, over the past decade, land eight times the size of the United Kingdom has been sold off globally.
For thousands of poor rural women and men who farmed this communal land, these deals have become land grabs where families are being forcefully removed without due compensation. Land that could and should be used for local food production is now owned by private investors.
Oxfam has discovered that more than 60 per cent of the land investments between 2000 and 2010 were in countries with serious hunger problems.
Yet two-thirds of the investors plan to export everything they produce on the land. Nearly 60 per cent of global land deals in the past decade have been to grow crops that can be used for biofuels.
If the province wants to keep food prices reasonable, then it is important we invest in our local food producers, be they farmers or fishers.
We need a provincial food strategy that looks to reduce our dependency on food imports.
We need to improve and build our local food system.
Likewise, the world needs to put a stop to land grabs and should increase investments in local farmers, especially rural women. Study after study has found that, with proper assets and supports, women farmers can be part of the solution to help feed the millions who go hungry.
Finally, we need to pay more attention to the impact of climate change and extreme weather patterns.
Our failure to slash greenhouse gas emissions only offers a future of greater food price volatility.
Bill Hynd is the Atlantic outreach officer with Oxfam Canada. He writes from St. John's.