Two weeks of food barons’ profits can fund famine response in East Africa

The non-governmental organization Oxfam International said Monday that the amount corresponding to less than two weeks of profits from food billionaires would be enough to finance the entire UN appeal to respond to the hunger crisis in East Africa, which is currently facing a lack of funds.

The NGO noted that billionaires in this sector have increased their collective wealth by $382 billion (about €377 billion) since 2020, while the appeal formulated by the UN is for a total of $6.2 billion (about €6.12 billion), currently barely 16 percent funded, amid high food price inflation.

“A monstrous amount of wealth is being hoarded at the top of global food supply chains,” said Hanna Saarinen, head of food policy at Oxfam Intermón. “While rising food prices are contributing to a growing catastrophe that is leaving millions of people unable to feed themselves. World leaders are sleepwalking towards a humanitarian disaster,” she warned.

“We need a new world food system to truly end hunger. A system that works for everyone. Governments can and should mobilize sufficient resources to prevent human suffering. A good option would be to tax the super-rich who have seen their wealth skyrocket to record levels over the past two years,” he explained.

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In this regard, Saarinen has stated that “this essentially broken global food system, which is exploitative, extractive, poorly regulated and largely in the hands of big agribusiness, is becoming unsustainable for people and the planet and is pushing millions to starvation, in East Africa and around the world.”

Oxfam has highlighted that people in East African countries spend up to 60 percent of their income on food, in a region that also relies heavily on imported food. Thus, food and beverages account for 54 percent of the CPI in Ethiopia, while in Somalia maize prices were six times higher than world prices in May compared to a year earlier.

Similarly, in some Somali regions, spending on the minimum food basket has soared more than 160 percent compared to 2021, with the price of a kilo of sorghum 240 percent higher than the five-year average. In the case of Ethiopia, food inflation has soared 43.9 percent since last year, with a 70 percent increase in food prices between January and May this year, more than double the global increase.

In Kenya, the price of maize meal, the main staple food, doubled in seven months and rose 50 percent in just between June and July, an increase in food and energy prices that will increase poverty by 2.5 percent, pushing about 1.4 million people into extreme poverty.

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For their part cereal prices in South Sudan tripled in May from their previous year’s levels, while the price of bread has doubled since 2021. Thus, the average price of cereals has been more than 30 percent above the average of the past five years.

Saarinen has therefore stressed that “rich nations must immediately cancel the debt of these countries, which has doubled in the last decade, in order to enable them to free up resources to cope with the soaring hunger and import the necessary grain.” “This money can and should be easily recovered by taxing the ultra-rich,” he has argued.

Oxfam Intermón has also called for governments to better regulate food markets and ensure more flexible international trade rules in favor of the most vulnerable consumers, workers and farmers. In this way, it called on governments and donors to support smallholder agriculture, which in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa provides more than 70 percent of the food supply.

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