Food and livelihoods

Ethimilata Gabriel, 46, farmer and teacher. Credit: Simon Rawles/Oxfam

We want to secure the rights of people living in poverty to food and income security and decent work within the context of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, reducing inequality, and ensuring the sustainable use of land and water.

We believe that gender inequality is one of the greatest barriers to poverty eradication and sustainable development, and in all our work we promote policies and practices that challenge and redress unequal power relations between women and men.

Those engaged in subsistence and market-based livelihoods are increasingly exposed to risks derived from the economic crisis, disasters, and climate change.

We prioritise helping people manage risk and adapt their livelihoods in the face of such risks. We also campaign to transform the policies, power relations and politics that drive hunger, poverty and vulnerability.

Key strategies

  • Global campaigning to fix our broken food system. Our 'Grow' campaign aims to achieve food justice in a resource-constrained world. Read more below on our food justice campaigning.

  • Build women's livelihoods, resilience, and leadership: we will invest in developing women's leadership in economic organisations and strengthen their entitlements to own and control productive resources and assets. We will challenge beliefs and systems that limit women's ability to participate in markets and those that  undervalue women's  economic contributions. We will also support women's rights as waged workers at all levels in value chains and markets.  

  • Facilitate the right to food and enable agricultural growth in the face of climate change: we will help to identify and promote a new type of sustainable agriculture that recognises the essential role of farmers in maintaining biodiversity and providing environmental services, as well as producing food and fibre. See more on our work on climate change and disaster risk reduction.

  • Create fair and sustainable markets: we will support enterprise development as a major strategy to change power relations and increase the voice, influence and economic share of people living in poverty. We will engage with governments and companies to increase the participation of smallholders and enterprises in supply chains and informal markets in ways that benefit producers.

    We will also work with investors to promote investment that challenges power balances and enables economic growth to be more equally distributed. Business has great potential for alleviating poverty. We want to maximise the contribution that business can make towards poverty reduction. This involves challenging some practices and building a model for ethical trade. This is another route for developing sustainable livelihoods for people living in poverty around the world.

  • Address urban poverty and urban-rural linkages: we will seek opportunities to build links between rural and urban areas, especially in the development of product markets and value chains. We will work with others to develop strategies to improve urban women's livelihoods.

We will maximise opportunities to use new technologies to communicate and administer programmes.

Current activities

Women's Economic Leadership (WEL)

Women's Economic Leadership (WEL) in agricultural markets is an approach to market development which aims to help women gain both the economic power and social power to move out of poverty. 

This means securing resources and gaining influence in markets whilst changing attitudes and beliefs so as to enable equal relations with men and equality in economic decision-making.

Researching Women's Collective Action in Agricultural Markets

Women's Collective Action is a part of Women's Economic Leadership focussed on women in producer organisations. Women contribute a high proportion of agricultural labour in sub-Saharan Africa, but they are under-represented in formal producer groups and agricultural marketing. 

Women's Collective Action is a two-year research project in Sub-Saharan Africa with three main aims:

  • To discover where and how women's collective action in markets can be more effective.
  • To understand what development actors can do to promote effective collective action by women in different types of sub-sector.
  • To be clear about the benefits, costs and risks to women from engaging in collective action. 

Urban Livelihoods

Overcoming poverty through urban livelihoods is a key part of Oxfam's Sustainable Livelihoods Strategy. Between 25 and 40 percent of the world's poor live in urban areas and this number is set to double in the next 30 years.

Urban livelihoods is a relatively new area of work for Oxfam, and projects are still under development. The priority groups are slum dwellers and squatters, urban working-poor women and young people, and poor entrepreneurs living in urban areas.

Campaigns and advocacy

Food Justice

Oxfam's Grow campaign aims to transform the food system to meet three major challenges:

  • The sustainable production challenge: Feeding 9 billion people by 2050, faced with increasing resource scarcity and without wrecking the planet.
  • The equity challenge: Addressing the appalling inequalities that exist in the food system at all levels. Currently the world produces more food than we need - but nearly one billion people go without.   Women and men smallholder farmers are routinely deprived of the resources they need to thrive - of water, land, technology, investment and credit, among others.
  • The resilience challenge: Investing so that communities are less vulnerable to shocks and crises, and dramatically increasing our ability to work together to manage risks in a more fragile and volatile food system.

This will require three big shifts:

  • We must build a new global governance to avert food crises.  Governments' top priority must be to tackle hunger and reduce vulnerability - creating jobs and investing in climate adaptation, disaster risk reduction and social protection.  International governance - of trade, food aid, financial markets, and climate finance - must be transformed to reduce the risks of future shocks and respond more effectively when they occur.
  • We must also build a new agricultural future by prioritising the needs of smallscale food producers in developing countries - where the major gains in productivity, sustainable intensification, poverty reduction and resilience can be achieved. And we must reverse the gross misallocation of resources, which sees the vast majority of public money for agriculture flow to agro-industrial farms in the north.
  • Finally, we must build the architecture of a new ecological future, mobilizing investment and shifting the behaviours of businesses and consumers, while crafting global agreements for the equitable distribution of scarce resources.  A global deal on climate change will be the litmus test of success.   


Food Justice priorities for 2011

This transformation will have to be built from the top - by ambitious governments and far-sighted corporate leaders - and from the bottom, by networks of citizens, consumers, producers and communities.

Through our new campaign, Oxfam will work with all of these groups in the UK and around the world to help propel the changes needed. We will also challenge those who oppose progress, and governments whose response is absent or inadequate. 

In 2011, the priorities are:

  • Tackling food price volatility: The G20 - Volatile food prices have delivered two global food price crises in three years. In 2011, G20 leaders must act to tackle harmful food price volatility. They must regulate food markets, and reverse the drive for biofuels which diverts food from plates to fuel tanks. They must end the use of bans on the export of food crops - which exacerbate problems in times of crisis - and ensure that governments and businesses are open about the levels of food reserves they hold.
  • Urgently agreeing climate finance: Durban Climate Summit and G20 - At the UN climate summit in Durban governments must set up the Green Climate Fund. At the G20, governments must advocate global agreement on long-term sources of climate finance - including a tax on financial transactions, and raising revenue from international aviation and shipping emissions. (LINK TO CC PAGE)
  •  Preventing harmful land acquisitions: The Committee on World Food Security - Land and water are increasingly scarce and increasingly in demand. Huge swathes of land in Africa and elsewhere are being bought at rock bottom prices, in deals which offer little to local communities. Current bad practices resulting from land investments threaten food security, destroy livelihoods and undermine poverty reduction.  In October 2011 the Committee on World Food Security must agree voluntary guidelines on the governance of land to ensure that people living in poverty have secure access to natural resources.
  • Promoting investment in smallholder agriculture - Past huge increases in agricultural productivity are running out of steam, and yield growth is stagnating. 500 million small scale farms in developing countries already support nearly one third of humanity and offer huge potential to sustainably boost global yields. But this potential is not being used, due to severe underinvestment. Governments and donors must reverse their falling investment in and attention to agriculture for development - not only as a way to tackle hunger but as a spark for growth and broader economic progress.


Global Economic Crisis

In 2008, as the global economic crisis transmitted shockwaves across the world, Oxfam embarked on a combination of research and lobbying to better understand and highlight the crisis' impacts on people living in poverty.

Our gendered analysis showed that as a result of structural inequalities, the burdens of the economic crisis fell disproportionately on poor women.

Read our research on the global economic crisis

Oxfam has since raised the issues raised the issues surrounding the crisis in both our global level lobbying work and through national and regional level engagement as well through civil society campaigns including the Robin Hood Tax movement and the G20Voice blogging project.

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