Did you make it to Hyde Park in London on 8 June 2013?
If you are food poor regardless of where you live this was about you. See food poverty doesn’t affect Africans only and if you thought so, think again. Here in the UK over 500,000 people rely on food banks, because the food has become so expensive
The IF campaign (Enough Food If) run by several International Charities and aims to lobby the UK and other G8 countries on two aspects FOOD SECURITY and TAX AVOIDANCE.
These charities argue that there is enough food for everyone but 2 million children are dying of hunger every day because
- large corporations are buying up land in developing countries and using it to grow food that is then shipped out those countries
- land is used to grow bio fuels so the west can drive cars that do not damage the environment
- seeds are too expensive and women in particular cannot access them
- large corporations dodge tax in developing countries which means that governments in those countries are denied a revenue that could be put towards feeding their citizens
- moreover that the G8 countries should give more aid that will fund access to food and the UK government in particular should enshrine into law the UN target for developed countries to give 0.7% of GNI in aid
I can’t argue with the sentiments of this campaign at some level and yet I do have a problem with it and I wrote about some of my reservations in this post over at Africa on the Blog.
I think most of the reasons that people are going hungry are first and foremost structural in nature and when I raised this point with one of the leading NGOs behind this campaign at a recent meeting I was told it is not in their remit to address structural problems.
It is my belief that in order to tackle these structural problems we need a huge dose of political will.
Lets take the EU’s agricultural policy. A consequence of this policy is that surplus food is damped on developing countries markets with a consequence of killing of agricultural businesses in those countries.
To compound this situation, certain agricultural products from African countries are excluded from the EU’s common market. This is something that the G8 should be lobbied about and address as a matter of urgency
If you are a farmer in a developing country you currently have no real hope of fighting the level of protectionism in western markets and depending on your product you may be excluded from the local market because the surplus food from western will end up on the local market as food aid.
Besides EU policies, the policies of the World Trade Organisation to liberalise trade have failed to address protectionism amongst developed countries and instead produced a situation in which a few global companies rule the world.
The IF campaign has argued that if these global companies paid taxes in developing countries then that money would be available to feed the poor and hungry. I am not entirely convinced by that argument either.
It is not to say that I support non payment of tax but instead that some of these countries such as Uganda, already have too much food but there is no political will to get it to those that have none. Moreover corruption and misuse of aid money in that country is well documented . Uganda for instance reduced the incidence of HIV throughout the 1990s because the Museveni’s government made HIV reduction a priority. Could the same drive and energy be applied to food poverty reduction?
Could the EU and the USA reduce subsidies to their farmers?
Secondly we need to look at the effect of the policies of the World Bank and IMF on global poverty and hunger. An interesting article by Chossudovsky entitled, ‘Global Poverty in the Late Twentieth Century’ analyses the extent of the impact of the policies of these institutions on developing countries.
Chossudovsky argues that the IMF and World Bank have imposed practice such as the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) on the developing world and killed off internal markets and industries within the developing world and necessarily increased poverty, unemployment and hunger. He notes too that, trade liberalization has seen the relocation of firms to underdeveloped regions to access cheap labour, creating unemployment in western countries on the one hand and left citizens in the developing countries unable to afford basics like food and shelter on the other.
Although this an old article I would argue some of the issues it raises are still relevant today. SAPS have been replaced by Poverty Reduction Strategies but the basics of the policy have not changed much. Countries have to meet political and economic conditions before accessing help from these institutions. Think Greece
The point I am trying to make is that at some level this campaign is simplistic as it fails to address the fundamental failures of the international structure that disadvantages those in developing countries. Furthermore, if the global companies create jobs in the G8 countries, can the governments of those countries do anything about their tax dodging and risk losing several jobs and foreign direct investment?
Another reason I have a problem with the IF campaign is that it feels like MAKE POVERTY HISTORY before it, those going hungry are unlikely to have a seat at the top table, their voices are missing we don’t know what they would like the G8 to do that will improve their lives.
Don’t get make wrong, I am not saying that we should not address the issue of food poverty. Having grown up in Uganda, I have first hand experience of being food poor. In my case it was not because my parents were poor but it was due to civil wars that meant that we could not access the food that was going to waste on farms and gardens.
This is still the situation in some parts of Africa such as Mali, Central African Republic and Congo. Food poverty in this instance is directly linked to political instability and no amount of matching in Hyde Park will mitigate civil wars. Furthermore, there is an awful lot of food going to waste and most of that food is transferred from developing to developed countries.
Political will is required to address this level of inequality most of which exists in the international structure. The focus should not therefore be on governments of developed countries only but governments in developing countries too. This level of inequality requires more than a campaign in a pretty London park.
Your thoughts please?