All Party Parliamentary Group on Agroecology: Inquiry into Soil Health

The Group conducted an inquiry into soil health and protection in 2015/16, with a particular focus on agriculture.  Evidence was heard across three oral evidence sessions from a number of expert witnesses.  The following four reports were produced (please circulate widely!)

APPG on Agroecology Soil and agriculture

APPG on Agroecology Soil and farming methods

APPG on Agroecology Soil testing and data collection

APPG on Agroecology Soils and climate change

Farming, Food and Brexit: Discussion Paper from Tim Lang and Victoria Schoen

What we’ve all been waiting for:  a thorough appraisal of the pros and cons of staying in the EU from the point of view of “enlightened agriculture”.

Tim Lang and Victoria Schoen have produced a 40 page report, including a summary of the key issues at stake in the June 23 vote.

They invite you to circulate the briefing — far and wide.

Where there’s swill there’s a way – the case for feeding food waste to pigs

This joint paper from the Conservation Science Group, Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, and the Centre for Conservation Science, RSPB was published in Food Policy 58 (2016) 35–48


Livestock production occupies approximately 75% of agricultural land, consumes 35% of the world’s grain, and produces 14.5% of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. With demand for meat and dairy products forecast to increase 60% by 2050, there is a pressing need to reduce the footprint of livestock farming. Food wastes have a long history as a source of environmentally benign animal feed, but their inclusion in feed is currently banned in the EU because of disease control concerns. A number of East Asian states have in the last 20 years, however, introduced regulated, centralised systems for safely recycling food wastes into animal feed. This study quantifies the land use savings that could be realised by changing EU legislation to promote the use of food wastes as animal feed and reviews the policy, public, and industry barriers to the use of food waste as feed. Our results suggest that the application of existing technologies could reduce the land use of EU pork (20% of world production) by one fifth, potentially saving 1.8 million hectares of agricultural land. While swill presents a low-cost, low-impact animal feed, widespread adoption would require efforts to address consumer and farmer concerns over food safety and disease control.

In this paper we address some of the controversies surrounding the recycling of food waste as animal feed and quantify the potential for food waste to replace conventional animal feed and reduce the environmental impact of meat production. First, we provide an overview of the history and regulation of swill feeding, focusing on the contrasting approaches taken by the EU and two East Asian states: Japan and South Korea. Second, we consider the role that swill can play in reducing the land required for meat production, through a quantitative case-study of pork production in the EU.

We then discuss the impact of swill on other environmental impacts, including greenhouse gas emissions, before reviewing the barriers to swill feeding in Europe. We focus on the potential concerns of pig producers, the public, and policy makers. To finish, we briefly discuss the legal status of swill in other parts of the world, focussing on the world’s two largest pork producers: the USA and China

Hilal Elver backs small farms and agroecology in the face of climate change

The UN Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Prof Hilal Elver, presented the attached interim report to the UN General Assembly meeting in September 2015.

The report outlines the adverse impact of climate change on the right to food. It places particular emphasis on the geographic and socioeconomic vulnerabilities of those most affected and highlights the negative impact that current agricultural practices and food systems are having on climate change. The report concludes by stressing that in order to eradicate hunger and ensure the full realization of the right to food, more must be done to develop relevant, effective mitigation and adaptation policies and a human rights approach must be adopted as a means of achieving climate justice.

Hilal Elver has this to say about the importance of agroecokogy, including as one of her recommendations that

Scientific research institutions and Governments [should] greatly increase financial allocations to agroecology so as to demonstrate that it can feed the world without destroying the environment and at the same time reduce the adverse impact of climate change

“It is important that adaptation policies focus on ensuring the right to food for both present and future generations through sustainable agricultural practices. This implies moving away from industrialized agricultural practices. Agroecology is an ecological approach that integrates agricultural development with relevant ecosystems. It focuses on maintaining productive agriculture that sustains yields and optimizes the use of local resources while minimizing the negative environmental and socioeconomic impacts of modern technologies. Recycling nutrients and energy rather than augmenting nutrients with external inputs, integrating crops and livestock and improving interactions and productivity throughout the agricultural system rather than focusing on individual species are also important components of agroecology. It is a system that foregoes the use of synthetic inputs, such as synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, veterinary drugs, genetically modified seeds and breeds, preservatives, additives and irradiation.

Benefits of agroecology on soil quality, plant health and biodiversity

74. Small-scale farmers and agroecological practices play a central role in conserving crop diversity and developing varieties of plants that are adapted to a range of weather conditions, including droughts. During a drought in Guangxi, China, in 2010 when many of the modern crop varieties (hybrids) were destroyed, the better-adapted traditional varieties, such as drought-and wind-resistant maize, were able to survive. When a hurricane in West Bengal, India, in 2009 turned large swathes of farmland into salt ponds, only traditional salt-tolerant varieties of rice, preserved by a handful of farmers, survived. By returning to traditional varieties and planting different varieties, farmers have become more resilient to the impact of climate change and more independent from commercial seed breeders, and can avoid using expensive chemical inputs that are required for modern hybrid seeds.

Increased resilience of crops and farms

75. Locally developed crops have been shown to be extremely adaptable and robust because they have been bred over generations specifically to cope with difficult ecological and social conditions. For example, “farmer rice varieties” are often more productive than imported varieties of rice and can grow with less input than modern varieties and require less maintenance. Furthermore, research has shown that farms run on agroecological principles can be more resilient in response to natural disasters such as hurricanes. Farms in Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala that relied on sustainable agricultural methods suffered considerably less damage than conventional farms following Hurricane Mitch in 1998, with sustainable farms retaining up to 40 per cent more topsoil and suffering less economic loss than neighbouring conventional farms. Similar studies conducted in Mexico following Hurricane Stan and in Cuba following Hurricane Ike had similar findings. Agroecological farms were also able to recover faster after the hurricane.

Proven success of agroecology

76. Agroecology is particularly beneficial and well suited to the needs of poor rural communities, as it is relatively labour intensive, most effectively practised on small plots of land and relies on locally produced inputs, thereby reducing dependence on access to external inputs and on subsidies. It is also of particular benefit to vulnerable groups such as smallholder farmers, women and indigenous peoples, owing to their reliance on local inputs and practices. The shift being advocated builds on the skills and experience of the world’s small farmers. Farmers living in harsh environments in Africa, Asia and Latin America have developed traditional knowledge and skills that facilitate resilience and sustainability. One of the virtues of agroecology is that it combines local knowledge with innovative technology.

77. Brazil’s agroecology policies have already experienced success. Approximately 100,000 family farms have adopted agroecological farming practices. These farms have had average yield increases of 100-300 per cent and demonstrated greater resilience to irregular weather patterns. Brazil has also developed programmes that provide access to low-interest credit for family farmers and also offered technical support for 2.3 million families in 2010. It has stimulated agroecological systems by providing technical support for crop diversification techniques and irrigation systems.

78. Similarly, in Cuba, farmers have embraced agroecology through initiatives that support the sharing of experiences and the creation of networks. From 1995 to 2004, Cuba increased its food production by 37 per cent through agricultural development policies, farmer networks and sharing of information rather than through a reliance on the use of chemical fertilizers and heavy machinery.

79. Agroecology is beneficial not only for developing countries. In September 2014, the National Assembly of France adopted a project for the future of agriculture, food and forests that calls for the implementation of agroecology through agricultural initiatives that take the environment into consideration. Under the multi-year project agroecological actions will be undertaken that aim to improve the economic, social and environmental performance of farming operations and promote innovation and agricultural experimentation. An example of a local initiative is the law passed by the City of San Francisco, California, requiring mandatory recycling and composting of organic material rather than sending it to landfills. The city currently diverts 80 per cent of its waste to recycling and composting, with the goal of “zero waste” by 2020.

80. Despite the availability of widely endorsed good practices, many Governments, development agencies, donors and policymakers are still focusing on large-scale, high-input solutions that marginalize small-scale farmers because of existing political biases, trade rules and policies that limit the ability of Governments to support smallholder farmers and agroecological practices through investment, research funding and legal solutions to land tenure.

81. Food security involves much more than just food production. However, agribusiness investment is increasingly being seen as the only way to address hunger and poverty in a time of climate change. Within this context, “climate-smart agriculture” was introduced as a series of adaptation policies that sustainably increase productivity and resilience, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and enhancing the achievement of national food security and development goals. These claims are questioned by several non-governmental and peasant organizations on basis of the absence of criteria to assess sustainability; the absence of a right to food concept; a limited conception of resilience; the misplaced focus on climate change mitigation; and the failure to recognize the historical responsibility of the developed countries for producing greenhouse gas emissions. More importantly, there is a lack of clarity around the concept of climate-smart agriculture that could be misleading, offering leeway for socially and environmentally detrimental practices to be pursued under the guise of climate-smart agriculture.


World Bank Agriculture for Action Plan: seriously flawed

This new report by Eric Holt-Giménez, Justine Williams and Caitlyn Hachmyer of Food First “question(s) whether the Bank’s strategy will actually improve rural livelihoods, reduce rural poverty, end rural hunger and build climate resiliency, and find that the World Bank continues to operate from long-held, faulty assumptions regarding both agriculture and development. The Action Plan prioritizes public-private partnerships; increased access to conventional agricultural inputs and ‘improved seed varieties’; demographic shifts away from agriculture; and the opening of domestic markets to global agribusiness.”

It “outline(s) the history of the World Bank’s approach and the crises that led up to the Agriculture for Development report. [It] review(s) and discuss(es) the Action Plan, and then offer(s) three case studies and numerous examples of the challenges peasants face in the wake of World Bank Group projects.

[It] question(s) whether the Bank’s strategy will actually improve rural livelihoods, reduce rural poverty, end rural hunger and build climate resiliency, and find(s) that the World Bank continues to operate from long-held, faulty assumptions regarding both agriculture and development. The Action Plan prioritizes public-private partnerships; increased access to conventional agricultural inputs and ‘improved seed varieties’; demographic shifts away from agriculture; and the opening of domestic markets to global agribusiness.”

Ruthless Power and Deleterious Politics: From DDT to Roundup

This article by Evaggelos Vallianatos was published in Independent Science News, July 17.

Synopsis: The modern controversy over Roundup (glyphosate) and the documentation of its effects on humans, animals and soils, has much in common with that over DDT fifty years ago. In particular, it recapitulates attempts to sideline critics and the ongoing delusion of control of the natural world that informs modern agricultural practices.

Evaggelos Vallianatos PhD is a former EPA analyst and the author of hundreds of articles and several books, including “Poison Spring: The Secret History of Pollution and the EPA” (with McKay Jenkins, Bloomsbury Press, 2014).

Dairy Farmers Betrayed

This article by Simon Fairlie is published with his permission from The Land (Issue 18, Summer 2015)

Why, when sixteen dairy farms close down every week, does the National Union of Farmers think milk prices are too high?

“It is not the role of government to help  individual businesses with cash-flow problems”. So said farming minister George Eustice when he gave evidence to the Parliamentary Select Committte on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in November 2014. Mr Eustice was naturally not referring to those banks which were bailed out to the tune of £500 billion in 2008, with Conservative party support, because they were “too big to fail”. The Committee was examining the matter of “Dairy Prices”,  and Mr Eustice no doubt felt that the dairy farms that are going bankrupt in droves are too small to be worth bothering about.

The Committee  held its enquiry because farm gate milk prices had been falling from a high of of 34 pence per litre in 2013, to  30 pence in September 2014. By March 2015 the average price had collapsed to below 25 pence per litre. Since the cost of producing a litre of milk is about 30 pence a litre, this means that the average dairy farmer has been losing five pence on every single litre they produce.

This price crash is a repeat of a similar collapse in 2012, when farmers mounted a campaign of blockades of supermarkets and processors in protest. The outcome of these protests was a “voluntary code of conduct” for processors which has failed to provide any price security for milk producers.

As a result farmers have continued to exit from dairying at an estimated rate of 16 per week. In 1995 there were over 35,000  dairy farms in the UK but the  figure  dropped to below 10,000 in early 2015 — a loss of 71 per cent of all dairy farms in 20 years. Britain has not seen any other industry so comprehensively gutted since Thatcher’s assault on the coal industry in the 1980s.

The Establishment Washes its Hands

In the face of these figures, the Committee acknowledged that  price fluctuations had “left dairy farmers vulnerable”  and that the imminent abolition of the EU milk quota system would mean that they would “face further uncertainty”. That however was the full extent of their concern, since the Committee made not one proposal for alleviating the dairy farmers’ plight. It concluded:

“The dairy industry has a significant responsibility for its own future and is generally better placed than the Government is to lead change . . . Nor is it the role of the Government, as Mr Eustice told us, to help individual businesses with cash-flow problems”.

Why, one might ask, was the committee parroting what the farming minister George Eustice told them, when itis the job of select committees to scrutinize ministerial statements?  Could it be because the Committee (prior to the general election) was dominated by five rural Conservative MP’s, notably Richard Drax whose family has owned the 7000 acre Drax estate in Dorset since Elizabethan times — while the four Labour members, representing Inverclyde (Greenock and Port Glasgow), South Shields, North Tyneside, and Poplar and Limehouse, had about as much concern for farmers as a Dorset MP might for coal miners?

Whatever the reason, there appears not to have been a single voice in the committee dissenting from the view that when an entire industry producing a staple food is operating at a loss, and  thousands of individual enterprises are going bankrupt, the government should not step in because “that is not its role”. It shows the depth to which neo-liberal ideology has permeated every corner of the political establishment— except, of course, that corner devoted to keeping banks in business.

The dairy industry does not need a massive injection of taxpayers’ money, such as was given to the banks; it just needs some price stabilization, as was provided to some extent by the Milk Marketing Board before it was abolished by an earlier Conservative government. If it is not the role of Government to administer price controls, who else can do it? Certainly not the farmers themselves who are at the mercy of  an oligopoly of processors and supermarkets.

But it is not only the minister who is bending the Committee’s ear, since in the conclusion to their report they  state:

“We also agree with the National Farmers Union (NFU) that the future of the industry is best served by driving on volume of production rather than price in promoting British dairy products.”

If we turn to the evidence that the NFU presented to the Committee, we find further explanation:

“The NFU supports the ending of quotas and for the market to be liberalized. The quota system has, to an extent, kept an artificially high milk price within the EU which has discouraged exports.”

In other words,  the NFU actually wants milk prices to be lowered through trade liberalization. This might seem perverse for a union purporting to represent dairy farmers, but there is an unsavoury logic in their approach. The NFU represents the interests of larger landowners in the UK, who happen to own some of the largest farms in Europe. A policy based on increasing production and lowering the price so as to gain an advantage in the international market will only be of benefit to businesses large enough to achieve the economies of scale necessary to squeeze a profit from tiny margins — ultimately megadairies. Conventional small-scale producers, in the UK and throughout Europe, will be forced out of business. Indeed that is what is already happening: dairy farmers have been going bust, even though, as the NFU pointed out in their evidence, “milk production increases year on year and the dairy herd is 2.7 per cent larger this year than last.”

Milk Sovereignty

It is not only small farmers in Europe who will suffer from the drive for exports advocated by the NFU. There is now a global destination for the milk lakes and butter mountains that used to be an embarrassment:  the target is markets in Russia, Latin America, Africa and the world’s biggest milk producer, India. For example, since 2007, negotiations have been ongoing in an attempt to establish an EU-India Free Trade Association. One of the sticking points is EU access to the Indian dairy market, which India wants to exempt from the agreement, while the EU insists that it is included. The European dairy lobby, Eucolait, agrees, stating:

“it is important for the dairy sector to have an efficient market access to the Indian market. It would be unacceptable to have an outcome in which India excludes dairy products from liberalization.”

Eucolait’s  attitude is utterly unscrupulous. Eighty-five per cent of India’s milk is supplied by small farmers and co-operatives. The sector employs 90 million people, of whom 75 million are women, and represents 22 per cent of India’s agricultural produce. Dumping surplus and subsidized European milk will deprive many of the poorest people in rural India of an independent livelihood. The same will happen if milk were exported to countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, Kenya,  Rwanda and Columbia,  where the people’s milk sector is as significant as it is in India.


Sadly over the past decades there has been only muted resistance from UK dairy farmers to the globalization of milk supply, and the extermination of family farms, the exception being the spirited blockades of processors carried out by Farmers for Action. Unfortunately their spokesman David Handley, who has  a limited  understanding of the wider political stage, has declined or failed  to forge alliances with potentially sympathetic groups — notably the environmental lobby which he alienated  through Farmers for Action’s ludicrous campaign against fuel taxes (which farmers don’t even pay) in the year 2000.

A more promising route may be for the remaining small scale farmers to appeal to a potentially supportive public, who manifestly do not want megadairies. A recent YouGov poll commissioned by the charity world Animal Protection reports that 87 per cent of consumers wanted to purchase “free range” milk from cows grazed outdoors, and 56 per cent would pay more to do so. With this in mind all the dairy farmers on the Scottish island of Bute, who after capital inputs to a processor have been receiving only 17 pence per litre,  have collectively signed up to the Free Range Dairy Pasture Promise label in the hope that such branding will bring them increased prices.

This is a step in the right direction, but what is  needed is a  campaign that will attract the media and grip the public imagination. One obvious model is Britain’s most successful consumer movement ever, the Campaign for Real Ale, which in the 1980s completely reversed the apparently  unstoppable monopolization of the brewing industry by a handful of corporations intent on forcing an insipid, sterilised, gasified substitute for beer onto a sceptical  public. Thirty years on, Watneys and their like have disappeared and the brewing landscape is peopled with thousands of microbreweries, dispensing ale locally through direct sales.

Is there any reason why we could not orchestrate a similar flowering of thousands of  local microdairies? There is already a Campaign for Real Milk, operating under the happy acronym CREAM —  though judging from the state of its website it appears to be sorely in need of reinvigoration.  Such a campaign requires concerted support from a wider range of actors, an injection of funds, a forthright political agenda embracing the environmental, economic, social and health benefits of microdairies, and  some clever promotion. The time is surely right.


Eucolait, EU-India FTA: Position of the Dairy Sector, c 2011;

John Giles, How Real is Demand for Dairy Products in Emerging Markets, published by NFU, 2015;

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Dairy Prices, January 2015;

Grain, “Defending People’s Milk in India”, Against the Grain, January 2014,

Gemma Mckenzie, “Struggling Island Dairy Farmers Sign up to Free Range Milk Scheme”, The Press and Journal, 29 April 2015;…/farming/…/undefined-headline-780/

Campaign for Real Milk UK;

New research finds organic agriculture can compete economically with conventional agriculture

This research has just been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA;

Abstract: To promote global food and ecosystem security, several innovative farming systems have been identified that better balance multiple sustainability goals. The most rapidly growing and contentious of these systems is organic agriculture. Whether organic agriculture can continue to expand will likely be determined by whether it is economically competitive with conventional agriculture. Here, we examined the financial performance of organic and conventional agriculture by conducting a meta-analysis of a global dataset spanning 55 crops grown on five continents. When organic premiums were not applied, benefit/cost ratios (−8 to −7%) and net present values (−27 to −23%) of organic agriculture were significantly lower than conventional agriculture. However, when actual premiums were applied, organic agriculture was significantly more profitable (22–35%) and had higher benefit/cost ratios (20–24%) than conventional agriculture. Although premiums were 29–32%, breakeven premiums necessary for organic profits to match conventional profits were only 5–7%, even with organic yields being 10–18% lower. Total costs were not significantly different, but labor costs were significantly higher (7–13%) with organic farming practices. Studies in our meta-analysis accounted for neither environmental costs (negative externalities) nor ecosystem services from good farming practices, which likely favor organic agriculture. With only 1% of the global agricultural land in organic production, our findings suggest that organic agriculture can continue to expand even if premiums decline. Furthermore, with their multiple sustainability benefits, organic farming systems can contribute a larger share in feeding the world.

Latest on Rural Development Payments for England: £177m to people and businesses to “help them support their local rural economy”

This from Rural Services Network:

The new Rural Development Programme for England (RDPE) was formally agreed by the European Commission last month.

Under the programme, the government will be investing at least £3.5bn in rural development schemes until 2020, confirms the latest Defra update.

About £2.1bn will be spent on existing environmental schemes. The remainder of the money will be spent through the new RDPE, which is made up of four elements:

• Countryside Stewardship
• Countryside Productivity
• Growth Programme

About £900m on will be spent on Countryside Stewardship, which will help rural businesses improve the countryside environment.

Guidance for Countryside Productivity will be published on the government’s GOV.UK website during March, said the Defra update on Monday (23 February).

Potential applicants will ask for ideas for projects which the scheme could support. The full application process for grant funding will open later in 2015.

Under the Growth Programme, £177 million will go to people and business to help them support their local rural economy.

Grants will be available for starting up a business, developing a business, tourism, renewable heat and energy projects.

From 2016, there will also be grants for broadband investments. These will be linked to Local Broadband Plans developed by local authorities.

Through the LEADER element of the RDPE 2014–2020, £138m will be available to local businesses, farmers, foresters, land managers and communities.

Funding is allocated to local action groups (LAGs) in order to create jobs and growth in rural areas, mainly via small grants.

Oxfam New Briefing Paper: Working for the Few

This is taken from the summary — published January 19 2015, in time for Davos.
The full report can be found here

In November 2013, the World Economic Forum released its ‘Outlook on the Global Agenda 2014’,1 in which it ranked widening income disparities as the second greatest worldwide risk in the coming 12 to 18 months. Based on those surveyed, inequality is ‘impacting social stability within countries and threatening security on a global scale.’ Oxfam shares its analysis, and wants to see the 2014 World Economic Forum make the commitments needed to counter the growing tide of inequality.

Some economic inequality is essential to drive growth and progress, rewarding those with talent, hard earned skills, and the ambition to innovate and take entrepreneurial risks. However, the extreme levels of wealth concentration occurring today threaten to exclude hundreds of millions of people from realizing the benefits of their talents and hard work.

Extreme economic inequality is damaging and worrying for many reasons: it is morally questionable; it can have negative impacts on economic growth and poverty reduction; and it can multiply social problems. It compounds other inequalities, such as those between women and men. In many countries, extreme economic inequality is worrying
because of the pernicious impact that wealth concentrations can have on equal political representation. When wealth captures government policymaking, the rules bend to favor the rich, often to the detriment of everyone else. The consequences include the erosion of democratic governance, the pulling apart of social cohesion, and the vanishing of equal opportunities for all. Unless bold political solutions are instituted to curb the influence of wealth on politics, governments will work for the interests of the rich, while economic and political inequalities continue to rise. As US Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis famously said, ‘We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of the few, but we cannot have both.’

Oxfam is concerned that, left unchecked, the effects are potentially immutable, and will lead to ‘opportunity capture’ – in which the lowest tax rates, the best education, and the best healthcare are claimed by the children of the rich. This creates dynamic and mutually reinforcing cycles of advantage that are transmitted across generations.
Given the scale of rising wealth concentrations, opportunity capture and unequal political representation are a serious and worrying trend. For instance:
• Almost half of the world’s wealth is now owned by just one percent of the population.
• The wealth of the one percent richest people in the world amounts to $110 trillion.
That’s 65 times the total wealth of the bottom half of the world’s population.
• The bottom half of the world’s population owns the same as the richest 85 people in the world.
• Seven out of ten people live in countries where economic inequality has increased in the last 30 years.
• The richest one percent increased their share of income in 24 out of 26 countries for which we have data between 1980 and 2012.
• In the US, the wealthiest one percent captured 95 percent of post-financial crisis growth since 2009, while the bottom 90 percent became poorer.

This massive concentration of economic resources in the hands of fewer people presents a significant threat to inclusive political and economic systems. Instead of moving forward together, people are increasingly separated by economic and political power, inevitably heightening social tensions and increasing the risk of societal breakdown.
Oxfam’s polling from across the world captures the belief of many that laws and regulations are now designed to benefit the rich. A survey in six countries (Spain, Brazil, India, South Africa, the UK and the US) showed that a majority of people believe that laws are skewed in favor of the rich – in Spain eight out of 10 people agreed with this statement.

Another recent Oxfam poll of low-wage earners in the US reveals that 65 percent believe that Congress passes laws that predominantly benefit the wealthy.

The impact of political capture is striking. Rich and poor countries alike are affected. Financial deregulation, skewed tax systems and rules facilitating evasion, austerity economics, policies that disproportionately harm women, and captured oil and mineral revenues are all examples given in this paper. The short cases included are each intended to offer a sense of how political capture produces ill-gotten wealth, which perpetuates economic inequality.
This dangerous trend can be reversed. The good news is that there are clear examples of success, both historical and current. The US and Europe in the three decades after World War II reduced inequality while growing prosperous. Latin America has significantly reduced inequality in the last decade – through more progressive taxation, public services, social protection and decent work. Central to this progress has been popular politics that represent the majority, instead of being captured by a tiny minority. This has benefited all, both rich and poor.

Those gathered at Davos for the World Economic Forum have the power to turn around the rapid increase in inequality. Oxfam is calling on them to pledge that they will:
• Not dodge taxes in their own countries or in countries where they invest and operate, by using tax havens;
• Not use their economic wealth to seek political favors that undermine the democratic will of their fellow citizens;
• Make public all the investments in companies and trusts for which they are the ultimate beneficial owners;
• Support progressive taxation on wealth and income;
• Challenge governments to use their tax revenue to provide universal healthcare,
education and social protection for citizens;
• Demand a living wage in all the companies they own or control;
• Challenge other economic elites to join them in these pledges.
Oxfam has recommended policies in multiple contexts to strengthen the political representation of the poor and middle classes to achieve greater equity. These policies include:
• A global goal to end extreme economic inequality in every country. This should be a major element of the post-2015 framework, including consistent monitoring in every country of the share of wealth going to the richest one percent.
• Stronger regulation of markets to promote sustainable and equitable growth; and
• Curbing the power of the rich to influence political processes and policies that best
suit their interests.

The particular combination of policies required to reverse rising economic inequalities should be tailored to each national context. But developing and developed countries that have successfully reduced economic inequality provide some suggested starting points, notably:
• Cracking down on financial secrecy and tax dodging;
• Redistributive transfers; and strengthening of social protection schemes;
• Investment in universal access to healthcare and education;
• Progressive taxation;
• Strengthening wage floors and worker rights;
• Removing the barriers to equal rights and opportunities for women.

All web links given here were accessed December 2013 unless otherwise stated
1 World Economic Forum (2013) ‘Outlook on the Global Agenda 2014’, Geneva: World Economic Forum,
2 Credit Suisse (2013) ‘Global Wealth Report 2013’, Zurich: Credit Suisse. And Forbes’ The World’s Billionaires (accessed on December 16, 2013)
3 Calculated based on information from Credit Suisse, op. cit. Total wealth amounts to $240.8 trillion. Share of wealth for the bottom half of the population is 0.71 percent. That for the richest one percent is 46 percent (amounting to $110 trillion).
4 Credit Suisse, op. cit.
5 The World Top Incomes Database,
6 Ibid.
7 E. Saez (2013) ‘Striking it Richer: The Evolution of Top Incomes in the United States (updated with 2012 preliminary estimates)’, Berkeley: University of California, Department of Economics. and The World Top Incomes Database.