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Risky jobs and domestic violence - new report reveals ‘hidden’ social costs of today’s high food prices

A new era of high and volatile food prices is causing life-changing shifts in society, according to Oxfam and the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) in a joint report published today.


The report, entitled 'Squeezed', highlights how the failure of wages to keep pace with five years of food price rises is putting a strain on families and communities including: increased incidences of domestic violence, alcohol and drug abuse; dramatic changes in the workforce as agricultural jobs are abandoned in favor of riskier but better paid work such as mining; and a breakdown in community life as expensive social events such as weddings are put on hold. The report also highlighted that people are skipping meals or relying on cheaper, lower quality and sometimes contaminated food to make ends meet.


'Squeezed' is the first of four annual reports that will assess the how high and volatile food prices are impacting on the wellbeing of urban and rural communities in ten countries: Bolivia, Guatemala, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Kenya, Zambia, Indonesia and Vietnam.  

The era of high, volatile food prices


Oxfam’s researcher, Richard King said:


“Poor people across the globe are feeling the strain in this era of high and volatile food prices - from the nurses in Zambia who are forced to moonlight as street vendors to make ends meet to low-income households in the UK who are borrowing money, dipping into savings or turning to food banks to have enough to eat. The implications of high and volatile food prices go way beyond the dinner table and are driving social change that must be better understood and addressed if communities are going to survive intact.”


Research findings include:

 •Food safety is a growing concern as families are forced to turn to cheaper, poor quality and sometimes contaminated food to stretch the budget.

 •Increased migration is occurring as people leave rural homes for the city or other countries for more economic opportunities. In Ethiopia, food prices were blamed for people moving to the Middle East.

 •Heightened family tensions are revealed in increased incidences of domestic violence, alcohol and drug abuse as many men struggle to fulfil their traditional role as the 'breadwinner’.

 •Unpredictable profits and higher costs mean a new generation of farmers are turning to riskier occupations, including gold mining in Burkina Faso and jungle fishing in Bangladesh.

 •Community life is breaking down as families cut back on important community events such as weddings and funerals in an effort to save money.

 •The squeeze on family budgets is causing women to enter the workforce in ever greater numbers, and grandparents and older daughters are being forced to step in to help with childcare.

 •Families also report skipping meals, foraging or growing their own food.  In Bangladesh people are turning to hunger recipes such as 'pantabhat’, a watery fermented rice dish.


For the complete article, please see Oxfam International.