When you cast your eye around the huge variety of crops growing in our Biomes and Outdoor Gardens, or talk a walk up the aisles of your own supermarket, it’s hard to imagine that one eighth of the world’s population goes to bed hungry.

And with the world population set to hit nine billion by 2050, demand for food is only going to increase.

That’s what’s worrying Oxfam, and why we’ve been supporting their GROW campaign, which encourages governments and businesses to take action to enable hundreds of millions more people to feed their families, and to prevent climate change from destroying the world’s crops.

Find out what the problems are – and five ways you can help…

So what are the problems?

Climate change: Changes in average temperatures and rainfall patterns are causing crops to fail, and shortages are driving up prices worldwide. In July 2010, temperatures exceeded 40 degrees Centigrade in Russia, destroying millions of acres of wheat. Wheat production plunged by 30% and the price increased internationally by 85%.

Food price spikes: The average price of staple foods like maize and rice could more than double by 2030 – with more than half of that increase due to changes in climate. When large swathes of land for growing food is given over to producing crops for things like biofuels or palm oil it can exacerbate these shortages and price spikes – meaning people on the breadline can’t afford to eat.

Land grabs: Every second, poor countries lose an area of land the size of a football pitch to banks and private investors. High food prices and a demand for new fuels have both played a part. The people who live there lose the land they rely on to grow food and feed their families. Their homes, jobs and livelihoods are taken from them – sometimes violently – and there is nothing they can do about it.

Lack of support for small-scale farmers: There are 500 million small-scale farms around the world. Most of them are women, who work hard to grow crops such as cocoa or coffee beans – to make enough money to buy food to eat. By providing women with equal access to farming resources such as tools, seeds and transport, 100-150 million people could have enough to eat.

So what you can do about it?

The good news is that there are lots of ways we can all help make the global food system work better. Here are five to start you off.

  1. Do your bit to save energy. All that stuff that can seem a bit ‘sensible’– like turning off lights when you’re not in the room, turning down the thermostat by 1 degree, or taking the bike rather than the car for short journeys – really does add up to something. It means that, overall, we consume fewer fossil fuels, create less carbon dioxide, and help mitigate extreme weather conditions, which can affect the price – and availability – of food for all of us. Funny how a light switch in the UK can touch a farmer’s life in the Gambia…
  2. Don’t throw away food. Did you know that in industrialised countries, consumers and retailers throw away about one third of all food that is produced? There’s masses you can do: write a better shopping list, use leftovers, share grow-your-own gluts, make compost from peelings, pickle and freeze, buy misshapen veg (they taste just as good!).
  3. Buy good food that’s fairly produced. What you buy can make a real difference to the lives of the farmers who grow it. Your wallet really is your weapon. Choosing fairtrade food can help small-scale farmers get a fair amount of money for the work they have put into growing it.
  4. Eat less meat. So much valuable land and resource is taken up for crops that are needed to produce meat, leaving less to produce staple crops to feed people. Half of all maize and wheat in the world is used for animal feed. You can help reduce this figure by eating less meat during your week.
  5. Get involved in the GROW campaign. You can support Oxfam’s work in this area by joining the GROW campaign

Photo credit: Gates Foundation