IF campaign’s success will help fix broken food system

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‘When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist’ said Dom Hélder Câmara, the Catholic Archbishop of Olinda and Recife, Brazil (1909-1999). Dom Helder was in fact talking about the need to tackle the structural causes of food insecurity. If he were alive today, he would agree with campaigners that the current world food system is broken and unsustainable. Supported by over 100 British Aid agencies, the IF campaign is the largest coalition of its kind since Make Poverty History in 2005. CAFOD, one of the founder members, and others are addressing the structural issues which keep people hungry including land grabs, tax evasion, transparency and aid.

There is enough food for all in the world today, yet one in seven people go to bed hungry. Our present food system works for the few – rich consumers and big, rich and powerful players like the agri-business multinationals, against the many – the poor of all countries but especially the poor and powerless in developing countries. Tragically many of the chronically hungry are themselves food producers – small-scale farmers who cannot produce enough to feed their families all year round.

The IF campaign seeks to click the ‘repair button’ within the current broken food system. 2013 is a key moment. It could mark the beginning of the end of food insecurity, if only the world’s richest and most powerful governments listen to campaigners and act. The UK will host the G8 summit of rich nations in June, with the promise to hold a special session on hunger in London on the day before official talks begin. Ending hunger is no simple matter. We need to change policies, to change the way food is produced and bought and sold, and developing countries themselves need to act. Aid is still needed but there must be enough of it and it must be the right sort of aid.

The UK, which alone among G8 nations is on track to meet its commitment to achieve the UN 0.7 per cent aid target, is in a good position to lead the international community. The IF campaign wants the UK government to use its presidency of the G8 in 2013 to put pressure on the world’s richest nations to commit to the 0.7 per cent target and to put more life-saving aid into sustainable small-scale agriculture and nutrition. Small-scale agriculture is at the heart of the campaign. 70 per cent of the world’s poorest people, about 1 billion people, live in rural areas. Hunger is a daily reality for them. More than half the world’s small scale farmers themselves go hungry because they do not produce enough food to feed themselves and their families all year round. Yet at the same time the world’s 450 million small farms produce more than half of all the food that is consumed globally each year. Aid to make small-scale agriculture productive could have a huge impact on hunger both of the farming families themselves and the communities around them.

Aid to agriculture from all donors has fallen over the last 30 years, from 17 per cent of all aid in 1980 to under 4 per cent in 2006. It is increasing now and is expected to increase further as donors acknowledge that high food prices are here to stay and now accept that climate change will have its most severe impacts on food production in tropical countries, perhaps halving yields in Sub-Saharan Africa by 2020.

Funding for the vital work of adapting to climate change is in jeopardy. The Green Climate Fund, set up in 2010 with the mission of helping developing countries reduce their own emissions and adapt to climate change, has a target of $100 billion by 2020, but as yet has no money pledged to it. Funding, the IF campaign says, should be provided by a levy on international shipping.

Developing countries themselves are called on to act because their policies have a decisive impact on their own food producers. But action requires finance and their main source of finance is tax revenue. The OECD, however, estimates that developing countries lose three times more to tax havens than they receive in aid each year. Tax havens allow corrupt and immoral companies to evade taxation in the countries where they operate. The IF campaign is calling for a new international tax treaty which would drastically reduce tax evasion.

In 2003 African governments, recognising the key role of agriculture in development, pledged to devote 10 per cent of government spending to agriculture but 10 years later only a handful of countries have reached this target. A strong and effective tax treaty could provide the funds needed for African countries to make a real difference to agriculture without having to rely so heavily on international aid. CAFOD is calling on the UK Government to do its part by introducing a requirement in the Finance Bill for UK companies and wealthy individuals to report on the impact of their tax schemes on developing countries.

Climate change, rising incomes in fast growing emerging economies and population growth means that the demand for food will continue to rise in years to come. Yet good arable land with accessible water, suitable for producing food, is a limited resource. The sharp rise in food prices of 2007/08 highlighted the fragile nature of the global food system and boosted investment in land in developing countries, now better known as ‘land grabbing’. Currently it is estimated that an area the size of London is sold or leased to land investors every six days. Over half of this land is used to grow biofuels for European cars while other investments are seen as strategic food reserves for rich countries, such as Middle Eastern oil producers, already dependent on imported food. Too often these land investments are undertaken with scant regard for the needs of local communities who are forced off the land on which they depend for their own food security.

The fourth dimension ask of the campaign is transparency. Too many decisions are hidden from the people they directly affect, be they land deals, budget allocations or aid projects. Transparency, easy access to this information, is the first step towards accountability – the ability of ordinary citizens to hold their governments to account. Transparency and accountability, the IF Campaign points out, are vital within the food system because so much power is concentrated in the small number of companies controlling food production, processing, trading and retail.

The key demands of aid for small-scale agriculture, scaling back of large scale land investment, clamping down on tax evasion and transparency, if acted upon, could make 2013 the year in which brought an end to world hunger into sight.

Cheruiyot Collins works in Nairobi for CAFOD as Policy Advocacy Adviser on Food Security in the Horn and East Africa region.

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