A "broken" food system coupled with depleting natural resources and severe climate change will more than double the price of staples such as corn in the next two decades as demand spirals, hitting poor people the hardest, according to an Oxfam International report.

The international aid agency’s "Growing a Better Future," a 74-page report released Tuesday, chronicles symptoms of a worldwide food crisis that "will create millions more hungry people unless we transform the way we grow and share food."

The report was released before Oxfam’s launch Wednesday of a global GROW campaign to pressure governments to beef up policies to address hunger, and lobby companies to do their share in helping drive down food prices.

"Our world is capable of feeding all of humanity, yet one in seven [925 million people worldwide] of us are hungry today," says Jeremy Hobbs, executive director of Oxfam. "In this new age of crisis, as climate change impacts become increasingly severe and fertile land and fresh water supplies become increasingly scarce, feeding the world will get harder still.

"Millions more men, women and children will go hungry unless we transform our broken food system."

'The food system is buckling under intense pressure from climate change, ecological degradation, population growth, rising energy prices, rising demand for meat and dairy products and competition for land for biofuels, industry and urbanization.'—Oxfam report

The report predicts the demand for food will grow 70 to 90 per cent by 2050, without even considering the impact of climate change. As well, droughts, floods and changes in agricultural patterns from global warming will add pressure on the food system.

"The food system is buckling under intense pressure from climate change, ecological degradation, population growth, rising energy prices, rising demand for meat and dairy products and competition for land for biofuels, industry and urbanization," it says.

The report says the number of people going hungry is expected to surpass one billion by the end of this year.

In India, where one in four of the world's hungry lives, despite the fact the size of its economy doubled between 1990 and 2005, the number of hungry people increased by 65 million, more than the population of France, says the report. That's because economic development excluded the rural poor and social protection programs failed to reach them, it adds. 

Companies drive 'volatile' prices: Oxfam

Oxfam says commodities traders are partly to blame for rising food prices, adding that three companies – Archer Daniels Midland, Bunge and Cargill — control 90 per cent of the trade in grain.

"Their activities help drive volatile food prices and they profit from them," says the report, which calls for greater regulation of speculation in the international food market.

Oxfam is also calling on governments, especially the "powerful" G20, "to lead the transformation to a fairer more sustainable food system by:

  • Investing in agriculture.
  • Valuing the world’s natural resources.
  • Managing the food system better.
  • Delivering equality for women who produce much of the world’s food.

As well, the report says, the private sector needs to shift to a business model where profit "does not come at the expense of poor producers, consumers and the environment."

Oxfam, founded in the United Kingdom in 1942, describes itself as an international confederation of 15 organizations in 98 countries that aims to find solutions to poverty and injustice.