06/03/2011 07:53 EDT | Updated 08/03/2011 05:12 EDT

Food Prices Rising: Here's What on the Menu

Oxfam's report is a clarion call to action, especially to Canada, with its impressive wealth but little resolve to deal with hunger's ultimate enemy: climate change.

Oxfam is a difficult group to ignore. An international confederation of 14 organizations in 98 countries, it speaks on poverty issues with about as much clout as any other group on the planet, save the United Nations.

So when it tells the world that there a crisis in food prices coming, it doesn't do so from an altitude of 30,000 feet but from all the communities where it directly works.

The organization released its compelling findings on the future of food this week in a report titled, Growing A Better Future and it carries relevant data that should urge all of us -- governments and global citizens -- to action.

After reminding us that food prices have doubled in the last 20 years, Oxfam predicts that the average cost of key crops could increase between 120 per cent and 180 per cent by 2030 -- roughly 20 years away.

To complicate matters, while global population will reach nine billion by 2050, the growth rate in agricultural yields has almost halved in the last 20 years. Do the math and it's simple: hunger on a grand scale is about to move its way across the planet.

The increase in the price of food is occurring even in the most advanced countries on earth. For poorer nations, it's becoming desperate. How would you fare if you spent up to 80 per cent of income just on food? That's what people in the Philippines are paying out right now -- four times more than those in Britain.

The report reveals that the shortage of food has actually arrived at the point of a global crisis. What will the future be like for those 1.2 billion people who live on less than $1.25 a day? Just a 10 per cent rise in food prices will see another 10 million people swell their ranks.

Oxfam could have played it safe -- calling on the wealthier nations to give more aid dollars to the struggling regions -- yet the organization knew this would solve little. So their report hit us right where it needed to; in our own way of living.

Understanding that few of us in the affluent West want to hear it, Oxfam spoke truth to power and wealth, calling for nations to agree on new rules governing global food markets. For far too long the wealthy nations have controlled who eats and who doesn't by the effective use of subsidies, the proliferation of massive food producing conglomerates, and environmental degradation on such a grand scale that it threatens the entire planet's ability to produce food.

This last point -- the devastating effects of climate change -- has so far achieved limited action in international circles. The Copenhagen Climate Conference in 2009 accomplished little in addressing the food crisis. Oxfam rightly worries that we are about to witness a repeat performance at the upcoming United Nations climate summit in South Africa this coming December.

This volatile intersection between climate change and food has Oxfam Canada worried. While the Harper government in Canada has made some progress in delivering more food aid to needy regions through its partnership with the World Food Program, it has effectively undercut such measures by its embarrassing lack of substance on the climate file.

This country is still viewed as a laggard by its international partners when it comes to effective action on the devastation resulting from climate change -- a source of concern for Oxfam Canada as well as an incentive to press the government to take Growing A Better Future seriously.

As world hunger reaches alarming proportions over the next two decades, governments of both the poor and wealthier nations will have little excuse for being poorly prepared. Oxfam's report is a clarion call to action, especially to Canada, with its impressive wealth but little resolve to deal with hunger's ultimate enemy: climate change.

It might already be too late. With global hunger about to arrive on such a grand scale, coupled with this country's poor environmental record, our international reputation will only slip further.