Hunger: The food crisis, prices, speculation & facts

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Manchester being the place it is one can find all sorts of causes and campaign groups through the internet and networks, but fail to interact with them in the integrated way some fondly enjoin groups to do. So, whilst putting out feelers and finding our inboxes and facebook pages flooded with postings from worthy groups one doesn’t like to cut out, we ended up using personal contacts and experiences to help us launch the new Agribusiness campaign on a wet Saturday morning in suburban Manchester.  

Our photographer and webmaster being kept in by the domestic priorities we turned to our friends in SPEAK and Friends of the Earth (with whom we have build relationships through the Climate Act and RBS Tar Sands campaign) and they bolstered numbers and took photos. (Thanks Ali for the photos!)

Manchester group and John Leech MP
Photos: Ali Abbas, Friends of the Earth Manchester

In his first campaign action with us Eric Mulvihill explained his motivation: “This campaign is important to me because I support small farmers everywhere,  for two reasons: firstly my own ancestors were small...

We have created a reading group to help you get up to speed on WDM’s new campaign on corporate power in the world of food production. The reading group is split into five topics, with a selection of longer and shorter articles, youtube videos and short films. Each session also has some suggested discussion questions for you to work through.

We hope that through taking part in this reading group you will feel more confident in your understanding of the wider issues that surround WDM’s agribusiness campaign. We also hope you’ll enjoy your discussions with other WDM activists. The reading group is available for people to do in their own time, or with a group of people locally, and we are also providing online skype sessions for people to join, which we hope will connect up activists across the country. You have the option of joining a monthly group, looking at one of the topics each month, or a weekly group, looking at one of the topics each week. These discussions will be facilitated, but the facilitator will be encouraging you all to talk through your thoughts, ideas and reactions to the readings; they will not be question and answer sessions.

Dates for the online groups:

Weekly discussions

Food sovereignty - Wednesday 23 April: 7-8.30pm...

£600 million in UK aid money is going to a scheme to help big businesses increase their profits in Africa, a report by the World Development Movement reveals today. The report slams the scheme as fuelling a ‘corporate scramble for Africa’.

The UK government is channelling £600 million in aid to the G8-sponsored ‘New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition’, claiming it will lift 50 million people out of poverty by 2022. But campaigners say the scheme is set to benefit multinational companies like Monsanto and Unilever at the expense of millions of small-scale farmers, and is likely to increase poverty and inequality on the continent.

Campaigners believe the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition will disempower small-scale farmers. Photo: malias/Flickr

In return for receiving aid money and corporate investment through the New Alliance, the African countries involved have to change their laws, making it easier for corporations to acquire large tracts of farmland, control the supply of seeds, and ship...

Today a group of smartly dressed business people from companies including Diageo, Monsanto and Unilever turned up at the UK government's Department for International Development (DfID). They were carrying a cake, a gift for development secretary Justine Greening, to say thanks for all the help her department has given their companies to expand their reach in Africa.

Except that those brandishing the Africa-shaped cake were WDM campaigners, there to highlight how DfID, along with its rich country peers, have been supporting the corporate scramble for Africa as part of a scheme known as the 'New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition'.

DfID celebration

The New Alliance doesn't sound at all objectionable at first. After all, who doesn't want everyone to be able to eat decently? But behind the innocent-sounding name, the reality is very different.

Hundreds of millions of pounds of the UK aid budget is being channelled through this initiative, which is demanding that African governments change their laws to facilitate the expansion of agribusiness. There will certainly be some winners from the scheme which is helping the multinational companies involved to access raw...

Last week, global corporation Unilever announced that it is to triple its production of tea in Tanzania. It’s the latest outcome of Unilever’s partnership with the Tanzanian government, formed in 2013 to much fanfare, to ‘reinvigorate’ the Tanzanian tea sector.

The company claims that their new investment will generate approximately £90m in revenues for the country. The tea-growing scheme will be based in the new Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania (SAGCOT), a 7.5 million hectare area of fertile land now designated for industrial farming by corporations. The announcement has been hailed by the corporate world as a sure sign that Tanzania is now a place to do business.

Tea plantation in Tanzania. Gumtau/CC

Tea plantation in Tanzania. Gumtau/CC.

Unilever’s latest expansion is part a new wave of corporate interest in African agriculture. In return for corporate investment and aid, African states are reforming policies to make it easier for corporations to operate in their farming sectors. Unilever’s plans in Tanzania form part of the G8’s New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition launched in 2012. Under the initiative, corporate...

It's not hard to work out who is behind the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). With its hugely undemocratic and dangerous provisions that will enable corporations to sue governments for defending their citizens, the clues are blatantly obvious that this EU-US trade deal is about strengthening the rights of corporations to profits – above all else. Whether it’s in healthcare, environment or energy, big companies are set to profit from the rules being rewritten in their favour.

This is music to the ears of the financial sector who have been fighting tooth and nail against attempts to regulate in both the US and the EU since the financial crisis. TTIP presents a prime opportunity for the financial sector to free-ride off this agenda of deregulation and liberalisation.


Protest outside the European Parliament in Brussels

The proposed rules on the negotiating table would forbid regulations that limit the number of investments or financial services suppliers, and/or limit the total value and number of their transactions or operations. This has huge ramifications for not just...

Yesterday about 15,000 members of Brazil’s biggest movement, the Landless Workers Movement (MST), marched to the headquarters of Brazil’s federal government from the camp where the MST’s sixth congress is taking place.

Everyone who was able to march had a break from the talks and discussions of the congress to march through the Brazilian capital. The march followed an action in the morning by the Sem Terrinha (‘little landless’ – the children in the movement) at the Ministry of Education. The children hand-painted its walls and invading the entrance. For many of the children, it was their first action as part of the movement.


Photo: Ninja Midia/flickr

For everyone else, the afternoon’s march definitely wasn’t their first, as massive demonstrations and marches are a vital part of the MST's struggle for popular agrarian reform.


I was in the international bloc with about 200 others and the organisers were really strict about keeping us together the whole time. The entire march was organised in four long columns. This meant that it was hard to grasp how huge the march really was, as you had to stay in your place in the line. The MST developed this way...

My name’s Lauren and I have been working at WDM on work experience for the past 4 days. It has been a really great week and I have been able to compare my politics lessons at 6th form college to the real world of campaigning.

Every day I spoke with a member of each team, getting a low down on everything they do and allowing me to ask as many questions as possible. These overviews were with Dan from the food campaign, Sam on the Climate change campaign, Morten on social media, Angela about fundraising and Ralph on the activism team. The factor which was pretty obvious was how passionate everyone was for their work and the causes of the campaigns. These meetings were highly informative and allowed me to get a real understanding of the work that WDM do on a daily basis.

My other tasks involved actually doing some research for the food campaigns team who are about to launch a campaign to stop the corporate takeover of African food. This included photo research for Heidi plus some snooping on the huge corporations who are involved with the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition and finding out controversies behind these companies. I absolutely loved these tasks, I really felt...

A popular media campaign on commodity derivative trading?? Well, yes!

From its launch in the summer of 2010, to the long-awaited victory earlier this month, the World Development Movement’s food speculation campaign was never out of the news for too long. Here are some of the highlights.

In July 2010, the new campaign attracted headlines across the UK media – helped by the ‘choc finger’ incident, in which hedge fund Armajaro used the futures market to buy up almost the entire European cocoa supply, pushing prices to a 33-year high.



In December that year, we showed how speculation was pushing up the price of Christmas turkey, and on Shrove Tuesday the media reported how banks were making pancakes more expensive.



We targeted Barclays, the biggest UK player in food speculation, outside its AGM in 2011, getting the issue reported across the mainstream media again.



Through the summer of 2011, record food prices kept food speculation on the media agenda....

A couple of group members from Brighton and Hove WDM and Glasgow WDM look back on campaigning on food speculation:

"It's March 2013 and I'm standing outside a bank, on the busiest shopping street in Brighton on a Saturday afternoon, dressed in a white coat and pretending to be a therapist, counselling a poor banker on his addiction to gambling on food prices, while someone films us for posterity.



Amazingly, people aren't shouting things at me. Instead, they're stopping to talk and find out exactly what it is bankers are up to this time. 'Oh yes,' says one. 'Food speculation. It's all over the news, isn't it?'

It occurs to me that three years ago, the issue of commodity speculation was barely on the agenda. Since WDM started the campaign, our group has targeted Barclays on several occasions, including at the university Freshers Fair and at its branches in Brighton and Hove. We've played a giant game of snakes and ladders on the seafront...

Since working at WDM, I have often found myself doing unusual things such as dressing up in a shark costume or building a cardboard detonator for an action outside HSBC. I’d only been working at the organisation a couple of months before I was asked to climb into the front of a digger outside RBS to protest against their involvement in tarsands just another day (not) in the office!

So in May 2013, I didn’t find it strange when I found myself wearing a bright blue Barclays eagle mask while trying to ride a ‘Barclays bike’ – for the second year in a row. It was the Barclays AGM and we were there to protest against their role in food speculation, welcoming shareholders with the chant ‘speculation means starvation, what we need is regulation!’ and ‘One, two, three four… Bank on hunger no more! Five, six, seven, eight… Osborne you must regulate!”.



Barclays is the UK’s biggest player in food speculation, and we estimate that in 2012...

Earlier this week EU negotiators agreed legislation which would see limits on food speculation introduced in Europe for the first time. It follows over three years of campaigning by WDM local groups, supporters and staff and our allies. Here’s how…

Ingredients
3 reports
6 briefings
57 MEPs – met and lobbied by WDM local group and staff members
450 economists – signed up to a letter demanding reform
5,494 action cards – signed by concerned members of the public
3,244 signatures added to a petition to lead MEP Markus Ferber
45,952 actions taken by dedicated WDM supporters


Prepare carefully: take a complex issue and make it sexy and accessible
Our food speculation campaign launched in summer 2010 with interviews on the BBC Radio 4 Today Programme and Newsnight as our report highlighted how bankers were literally gambling on hunger. 900 people signed-up to take our phone action to demand action from the UK’s financial regulator.

Give the banks a good grilling
Early in 2011 we honed in on Barclays – the UK’s biggest player in food speculation. We calculated that the bank had made up to £...

Limits to curb speculation on food prices agreed
UK blocks proposals for tougher regulation

EU negotiators last night agreed to introduce regulation to prevent speculation by banks and hedge funds driving up food prices and exacerbating the global hunger crisis. The new controls will place a limit on the number of food contracts that banks and other finance companies can hold, and will force traders to open their activity to greater public scrutiny.

Anti-poverty campaign group the World Development Movement has hailed the decision as an historic step forward, but said that the UK government’s opposition to tough controls has resulted in serious loopholes in the regulation. In particular, limits will be set at national rather than EU level, which campaigners say risks a regulatory ‘race to the bottom’ as countries could compete to set  weaker limits.

The group is urging the European regulator ESMA to ensure that the new rules are implemented effectively, and not watered down further by industry lobbying.

Goldman Sachs, Barclays, Deutsche Bank, JP Morgan and Morgan Stanley together made an estimated £2.2 billion from speculating on food including wheat,...

Negotiators could agree regulation tomorrow (12 December)

The UK Treasury and the finance sector have colluded in lobbying against European legislation which would prevent financial speculation driving up food prices, new research reveals today.

The World Development Movement has uncovered details of a series of meetings held by the then Financial Secretary to the Treasury Mark Hoban from 2010 onwards, urging finance companies to lobby against proposed regulation which includes provisions aimed at stopping speculation by banks and hedge funds pushing food beyond the reach of millions of people. The anti-poverty group has accused the government of whipping up opposition to the legislation, against the public interest.

The UK Treasury has lobbied against strong regulation to curb food speculation.

Mark Hoban and other Treasury ministers encouraged the City to coordinate lobbying efforts with the Treasury, and travelled to European capitals to persuade other governments to oppose tighter regulation of the commodity and other financial markets...

UK pension funds are betting an estimated £1.5 billion on food prices, meaning that around £180 belonging to the average UK pension saver is being used to speculate on global food prices, according to a report released today by the World Development Movement. The campaign group is calling for tough regulation to stop food speculation contributing to the global hunger crisis by driving prices up.

UK pension funds are betting an estimated £1.5 billion on food prices.

The report reveals how pension funds and other institutional investors have poured vast sums of money into the commodity markets in recent years, pushing global prices upwards and fuelling global hunger and poverty. Pension funds’ involvement in commodities has been facilitated by investment banks including Goldman Sachs and Barclays. Barclays announced in February this year that it was pulling out of food speculation, however it continues to facilitate speculation by investors such as pension funds.

The World Development Movement’s...

I joined WDM four weeks ago as an intern and I must say it is an exciting time for a start, as I will be involved in a new ambitious campaign that will be launched in the new year. The campaign is rooted in global justice issues and will be about challenging the corporate control of the African food system through the G8’s New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition (New Alliance).

WDM will contest this initiative as part of the global movement for food sovereignty, which demands the right to food to be fulfilled, and that food producers and consumers can determine their own food systems and have control over the skills and resources that form them.

The New Alliance is supposedly committed to eradicating hunger in Africa, building on previous initiatives (such as the green revolution) that have failed so far to reach that goal. It is a partnership between the powerful G8, a number of African governments, transnational corporations and some domestic companies. Under its cooperation frameworks, African countries promise to reform their land laws and make other policy changes to facilitate private investment in agriculture. In exchange, they get hundreds of millions of dollars in donor assistance and promises from foreign companies and their local partners to...

You couldn’t make it up. Three years ago (conveniently just as we launched our food speculation campaign), hedge fund Armajaro caused a massive spike in cocoa prices

In an event that has become the poster child of the excessive and profiteering food speculation we’ve been challenging with our campaign, the trader took control of virtually the entire European cocoa market by buying up the majority of the cocoa futures contracts on the London exchange. With chocolate makers and the like still needing a supply of the beans, prices hit a 33-year high and other traders threatened to leave the market if it wasn’t better regulated.

Cocoa beans

Cocoa beans. Credit: flickr.com/carsten_tb

The incident not only exposed how speculators can push up prices, causing major problems for everyone else, but also how existing ‘regulation’ of the commodity markets was a total joke: in theory, the exchange should have intervened to prevent trades of this size taking place, but in practice they did...

Monday was an exciting day for me. Because after years of talking about their work in public talks, food sovereignty briefings and film nights, WDM had a visit from the MST!


Isis and Ana join me, Christine , Miriam and Heidi at the office

Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (MST) is a landless peasant movement in Brazil. They have been enormously successful in the last 15 years at driving through a bottom up process for much needed land reform. Because of them 370,000 families, many of them previously landless, have been able to settle on 7.5 million hectares of land. This has been done by occupying land and reclaiming it from the landed elites that have long been dominant in Brazil. After occupying the land, what’s even more exciting, is what the MST do with it. Families are empowered to work together and set up producer cooperatives making what was once fallow and unproductive land into a fertile resource. Added to this the movement also runs a national agroecology school where peasants from across the Brazil and even the world can come to learn about alternative agricultural methods, as...

Five banks made an estimated total of £2.2 billion from speculating on food including wheat, maize and soy between 2010 and 2012, prompting campaigners to accuse the banks of fuelling a global hunger crisis.

Goldman Sachs is the leading global player in food speculation.

Goldman Sachs, Barclays, Deutsche Bank, JP Morgan and Morgan Stanley were the top five global investment banks involved in global commodity markets between 2010 and 2012, making an estimated £640 million ($1 billion) from speculating on food in 2012 alone. Financial speculation fuels price spikes, pushing food prices beyond the reach of millions of people.

The figures were released today by anti-poverty campaign group the World Development Movement, which is calling for tough controls to curb food speculation. Proposed new regulation is due to be discussed at the European Union on Wednesday (6 November), but is at risk of being watered down by objections from the UK government [link to today’s press...

A leaked document has revealed attempts by the UK government to scupper proposed controls on food speculation ahead of negotiations in Brussels next Wednesday.

New rules to prevent banks driving food prices up through financial speculation are due to be finalised in the European Union. But a memo sent by UK negotiators to their counterparts from other European countries last week reveals the UK government’s push to prevent major loopholes in the proposals being closed in the draft regulation.

The memo states UK negotiators’ opposition to strict limits on the amount that banks and other financial players can speculate in commodity derivative markets – a measure that campaigners see as essential to stop speculation destabilising food markets and fuelling global hunger. Instead UK negotiatiors are pushing for the continuation of a system of self-regulation under which speculators have been able to cause huge spikes in the price of foodstuffs.

The memo is likely to have been written by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), the UK government body tasked with regulating the financial sector, and the FCA would certainly have reviewed it. Yet the changes it is calling for would constrict the FCA’s ability to...

Last month WDM supporter, Joel, gambled with his food for a week. Here he tells us why he put himself through the ordeal.

Playing with my Food

How would you feel if your food supply rested upon the toss of a coin? If your ability to eat depended upon arbitrary events which are entirely out of your control?



Last month I experienced this for myself by gambling on my own food for seven days. Before every meal I tossed a coin – heads I ate, tails I didn’t (and a no snacking policy prevented me escaping the inevitable bouts of hunger). The high point of my luck was three heads in one day, and the low point was the exact opposite – three tails resulted in me going without a meal on Friday.

So why did I put myself through this? It was an attempt to create for myself the horror of being at the mercy of a volatile food market – a type of market which, in recent years, has had a powerful influence on the lives of millions of vulnerable people around the world.

A Chaotic Market
Anyone following WDM’s campaigns will no doubt be aware of the issue of food speculation.

Following the relaxation of regulations in the...


Protesters outside the tory party conference last year

Remember being at school and spending ages working on something – a painting, maybe – only for some nasty kid to come along and ruin it just as you were adding the finishing touches? Last week the UK government was being that kid.

For the last two years, WDM has been campaigning hard to make sure new European rules on food speculation will be strong enough to prevent speculators flooding the markets for food contracts and causing massive spikes (or slumps) in food prices.

We’ve now reached the final stage of the negotiations (you can see how far we’ve come here).This is where the three EU institutions meet for regular negotiations to try and agree the final text of the legislation on food speculation alongside a whole packet of other financial reforms. 

After years of intense lobbying by WDM local group members, staff and our allies across Europe, a couple of weeks ago the European Commission published a proposed compromise text. It looked good. It wasn’t perfect, but most of our biggest concerns about ways speculators might be able...

Last month I stood outside the European Parliament whilst a group of actors, dressed up as bankers, were wrapped in barrier tape by activists. This spectacle was designed to greet European decision makers as they entered one of the first key negotiation meetings on food speculation reforms. The problem being, that even though we have position limits in the proposed legislation, there is still a threat of dangerous loopholes entering the final text. These loopholes could make this legislation impotent against a powerful financial sector hell-bent on continuing their profit making despite the moral implications of food speculation. 

This week food speculation reforms are back on the agenda. We drastically need to keep the pressure up to remind negotiators of the need for strong, water tight, regulations. If not, millions of people are still vulnerable to global food price shocks that will force them below the poverty line. 

To do this, we need your help to conjure up an almighty twitter storm today and tomorrow. If we can get hundreds of tweets sent to key negotiators in the run up to Wednesday’s...

Veteran broadcaster David Attenborough caused a minor furore earlier this week with his comments on population control, saying that famines in Ethiopia were ‘about too many people for too little piece of land’. Sending flour bags to Africa was ‘barmy’, he said, suggesting that famine was nature’s way of dealing with too many people.

We thought such ideas has been consigned to history long ago. Sadly not. Here’s the text of the letter our new director, Nick Dearden, wrote to the Telegraph in response:

Sir David Attenborough is right to be concerned about threats to Africa’s ability to feed itself. Backed by £400 million of British aid, the G8’s New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition is forcing African governments to adopt policies that make it easier for foreigners to take over agricultural land, much of which will be used for the production of biofuel or other export crops.

But if his concerns are really about too many people and too little land,...

Recent protests in Colombia have been drawing to an end after several weeks of disruption and riots. At first miners were protesting in order to raise their voice against the heavy handed behaviour of the government towards miners. Farmers then joined in with the movement, with farmers, students and unions coming together to demand much needed changes in the country’s agricultural policies. At first the scale of the protests was underplayed with Prime Minister Santos even stating that the protests were not happening. However their dramatic scale throughout Colombia demonstrated that the situation could no longer be denied or ignored. On the 7th September, a month after the start of the protests - the leaders of the farmers’ strike and the government had come to an agreement with lower fertiliser prices and easier access to loans for farmers being promised, yet continued strikes and road blockades by protestors show that these concessions may not be enough.
 


Photo Credit – Erik Anderson


Farmers seek a review of the free trade agreements that saw the increased opening of the Colombian agricultural markets to international trade...

In 2003 Brazil’s government launched the Zero Hunger programme with the aim of eliminating hunger and poverty. Since its launch malnutrition amongst children has decreased and there has also been a reduction in the number of households facing some degree of food insecurity. The positive impacts of the Zero Hunger programme have led to it being used by African leaders as a blue print for ending hunger in the continent by 2025.

Unlike the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition scheme developed by the G8, the Zero Hunger programme originated in the global south and looked at improving conditions for small scale farmers. As well as tools, technical assistance, and training the Brazilian government also created government run restaurants, food banks and school feeding programmes that were supplied from the food bought directly from the farmers. Yet the question remains as to whether Zero Hunger has been enough to address the structural causes of hunger that exist in Brazil. 

 ...

 

On Saturday, an interesting sight greeted tourists emerging from Blackfriars station. Outside the imposing offices of corporate giant Unilever, 50 campaigners, growers and community activists from the expanding UK food sovereignty movement had built a pop-up community garden.

Hunger summit garden

The action, one of five held around the UK, was timed to coincide with ‘hunger summit’ being held at Unilever as part of a series of events being hosted by the UK government as part of the G8. We were there to challenge the G8’s approach to global agriculture, known as the “New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition”, which is seeing aid money support big business, and developing countries forced to implement policies which will exacerbate rather than reduce hunger. Our demand was for a shift away from this corporate-led approach to one that...

African farmers’ movements and civil society groups have rejected the G8’s New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition as part of a “new wave of colonialism” targeting their food systems for corporate profit.

The warning comes in a statement sent to G8 leaders today (3 June 2013) in advance of the ‘hunger summit’ to be hosted by David Cameron in London on 8 June, which will include a meeting of the New Alliance.

United Nations Photo

The New Alliance was launched by the G8 in May 2012 as a private sector investment platform for multinational corporations seeking to penetrate agricultural markets in Africa. Six African governments have already signed up to the initiative, with four more expected to join at the London hunger summit this week.

The African civil society statement notes: “Africa is seen as a possible new frontier to make profits, with an eye on land, food and biofuels in particular.” It notes that “blatant land grabs” backed by G8 powers such as the...

Food is a major tenet of Greekness. It's the centre from which Greek family life emanates. Most Athenians I know will have a huge tin can of olive oil and packages of fresh produce from their family's 'original' village in their apartment's kitchen. The connection to the land, even in a dusty, congested city like Athens, is palpable. I've heard stories as extreme as people flying pre-prepped tupperware to children studying abroad. Suffice to say, food is really as vital a part of daily life as your Mediterranean clichés might lead you to suspect. So when austerity bites, it hurts low- or no-income families but it also affects a big part of Greek life.

Food is getting more expensive. Global food prices are up around 10 per cent as of this time last year. With food prices "close to historical peaks" (World Bank), and Greek unemployment at its own historical peak, the poor either eat badly or nor at all. Although there is a plethora of what we might call 'crisis porn' out there - emotional, passionate opinion pieces about how much the Greek people are suffering - this blog isn't supposed to be one of them. Greece isn't a waste...

Strange as it sounds, the latest advocate of strict limits on food speculation is none other than the chief executive of one of Germany’s biggest banks - and one that's been profiting from it. In a letter sent earlier this week to Foodwatch, one of WDM’s German allies, Lars Hille of DZ Bank speaks out in support of regulation of the agricultural commodity markets as well as announcing his own bank’s withdrawal from the practice.

DZ Bank window

Credit: flickr.com/Awfulknitter

The move brings the total number of European banks who have responded to public pressure on the issue, with statements that they are reducing, suspending or withdrawing their involvement in food speculation, to eleven. While some of the announcements may have been more of a PR exercise (we turned up at Barclays’ AGM this year to make it clear that...

Guest blogger Mara Budgen compares the battle to regulate food speculation with European action to protect bees by banning neonicotinoid pesticides.

After two inconclusive votes in the European Parliament, the European Commission stepped in to approve a two-year ban (opposed by the UK) on the use of neonicotinoid pesticides. A European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) report, as well as many independent studies, urged such action on account of mounting scientific evidence that the pesticides pose a significant danger to bee populations.

Bees, as well as other pollinators, are an essential part of global food production, as they’re responsible for three quarters of all crop pollination. In fact, the decline in populations of such insects is a matter of concern for the entire agricultural sector (and, consequently, also for us).

Who knew that such a small gesture has a huge impact on the food we eat? Photo: Synapse

The EU’s decision to impose a moratorium on the use of...

If you walk down the high-street you will find them. Even though they are mostly associated with the City of London, they are present in towns and cities across the UK. Banks speculating on food are present from town centres to government corridors – and so we must be, if we want to challenge them.

Food speculation has been identified as a key cause of hunger as it drives up food prices, making food inaccessible to the world’s poorest while making profits for the world’s richest.

Thousands of people have already taken action to help bankers quit their addiction to gambling on food, through our five step programme.


With our campaign we have pushed Barclays, one of the biggest speculators in food, to admit the damaging effects and pull out of some types of speculation. However, the bank still continues to facilitate speculation by pension funds and other financial players. If we want to curb food speculation, we need to campaign where the banks are – from the corridors of power in Brussels to your local high-street. There is an urgent need for tough EU regulation on food speculation, and...

I love food. So I remember being really excited in late 2009 when I heard that WDM was planning a campaign on food. At the time I didn’t work for WDM, but was a member of the South West London group.

Six months or so later, the campaign launched with a bang as our first report, The Great Hunger Lottery, was published the day after the infamous ‘choc finger’ incident, with which a hedge fund pushed cocoa prices to a 33-year high. The company in question, Armajaro, had bought up virtually the entire European cocoa supply via the futures market – vividly illustrating the damaging impacts of profit-hungry speculators.

Since I joined WDM as a full time campaigner at the start of 2011, we’ve come a long way towards achieving our aim of securing European regulation that will adequately curb food speculation and prevent it...

Yesterday was the Barclays AGM in London. Together with two of my colleagues I went inside to ask the board of directors why they continue to help institutional investors to speculate on food, even though they are well aware that this pushes prices up and forces people into hunger.

The AGM is hosted at the grandiose Royal Festival Hall in central London. After passing the initial airport-like security checks and registering our questions we queue up in front of the big hall. The nearest security guard informs us that a protest is taking place outside the venue.

A group of World Development Movement campaigners are outside dressed up as blue Barclays eagles. Both shareholders and journalists will have to pass them to get in here.

We are some of the first people to get into the grand hall where the AGM will take place. We want to make sure that we get an opportunity to ask our questions. While we wait for the ‘show’ to start, I get a text informing us that since yesterday almost 1,500 people have emailed Antony Jenkins, Barclays’ CEO, in the last 24 hours asking him to withdraw completely...

This morning, campaigners from WDM protested outside the Barclays AGM in London, as well asking some questions about Barclays' continued involvement in food speculation inside.

Here are some photos of the protest and a feed of tweets from campaigners inside the meeting.

Photo of the protest outside Barclays AGM

Photo of the protest outside Barclays AGM

Photo of the protest outside Barclays AGM

Find out more about our campaign to stop all banks betting on food - and take action by joining Bankers Anonymous, a five-step programme to help all bankers quit their addiction to gambling on hunger.

Campaigners from the World Development Movement will protest at Barclays’ AGM tomorrow, accusing the bank of contributing to global hunger through gambling on food prices.

Protests at Barclays' 2012 AGM.

Where: Entrance to the Barclays AGM, Royal Festival Hall, South Bank, London SE1 8XX

When: 10.30-11.30am, Thursday 25 April

Two suited, blue masked Barclays ‘eagles’ on Barclays bikes, carrying loaves of bread, will join protestors holding placards reading, ‘Barclays banks on hunger’.

Barclays announced in February that it was partially withdrawing from speculating on food prices, with chief executive Antony Jenkins saying the practice was “not compatible with our purpose”. But the bank continues to make money from enabling other financial players, including pension funds, to speculate on food.

Banks and hedge funds have been pouring millions of pounds of speculative money into agricultural commodity markets, pushing food prices beyond the reach of millions of people. Legislation to tackle speculation is on the table at the EU, but the UK...

Earlier this week, the price of gold dropped 15 per cent in just two days. Gold prices haven’t fallen so sharply since Margaret Thatcher’s first term as prime minister. Some have argued that the decline is due to expectations of greater gold supplies due to Cyprus having to sell off some its gold reserves to pay for its bailout. But Cypriot gold reserves are relatively small, so it’s hard to see how this provides the explanation for such a major nosedive in price.

Gold coins
Photo credit: hto2008

A more convincing explanation relates to the way in which gold is considered to hold its value, meaning that it’s an attractive investment for those looking to avoid their wealth losing value over time. But now it’s been suggested that speculators have been deciding to stop buying up gold (or more accurately, gold contracts – they don't get their hands on the metal itself)...

Tomorrow, 17 April, is international peasant struggle day. This day is for celebrating peasant and small farmer movements across the world, each one fighting for a food system that respects human rights rather than making them subservient to private profit. This day has been heralded by the international food sovereignty movement as a day to take action and raise awareness about the problems with, and alternatives to, a corporate-run and over-industrialised food system.

Currently, however, it is still food security that holds the main stage when it comes to national and international research and policy-making. The food security banner remains as the undertone to the IF campaign , the latest major joint NGO action on food, and has made its place onto most social science syllabuses and the agendas of countless policy centres.  


Harmful chemical fertilisers are key to food security - Photo credit: soil science

At the World Food Summit in 1996, food security was defined as "when all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe...

Today’s Guardian website features an article about “food crime” mentioning thieves who stole five tonnes of Nutella in Germany as a key example. But at the same time, food prices remain at close to record levels as bankers speculate on food, resulting in falling living standards in the UK and in hunger elsewhere. It makes you wonder: What is the real food crime here? Depriving a few people of Nutella or forcing millions into starvation?

Personally, I am in no doubt that global hunger is a more urgent issue than some missing chocolate spread, and that it should therefore be a main priority to solve the problem of bankers’ apparent addiction to gambling on food. Unfortunately the UK government seems to be of a different opinion.

On average, treasury ministers are wined and dined by bankers or financial lobbyists every ten days. And the result? The UK is currently trying to water down new EU regulations restrict food speculation. We need to change that.


Now it is time for you to dine with the Treasury
This week we’ve launched step four of our Bankers Anonymous campaign in the fight to cure bankers of their addition to gambling on food. Of course we ‘common people’ do not have the privilege of inviting treasury ministers for dinner to...

During the last couple of weeks WDM supporters from all over the country have written to their local newspapers as part of the Bankers Anonymous campaign. As a result, readers’ letters about food speculation have been published across the UK sending a strong message that food is for eating, not for bankers’ profit. This is helping to increase the pressure on MPs and MEPs to support new tougher European regulations to help bankers beat their habit of gambling on hunger.

In the Bradford Telegraph and Argus Heather Grinter writes, "High food prices are a serious problem across the world. People on lower incomes in the UK are having to cut back their weekly grocery shopping, while in poorer countries high food prices can be a matter of life and death."

And in the ...


Photo credit: kholkute

The World Bank has just released its latest statistics on global food prices. The message, although determinedly optimistic, is still one that depicts shocking price increases for a large part of the world. While overall it seems that the price of internationally traded food has slightly fallen between October 2012 and February 2013, food prices are still very high and close to their historical peaks, just 9% below the all time high recorded in August 2012.

Though prices have dropped recently, the international prices of grains in February 2013 remained well above those of a year ago: wheat prices in February 2013 were 15% higher than in February 2012. Maize prices stood 8% higher than a year ago, and rice prices 5% higher than in February 2012.

A closer look at the statistics and it becomes clear that many countries in the global south are still experiencing disastrous price rises. Here are a few of the key facts: 

Since October 2012:

  • Wheat prices in Brazil and Bolivia rose by 13% and 11%
  • Wheat prices in some markets in Pakistan increased by 14% and in Mumbai, India, they...

On 10 February, WDM helped organise the first regional food sovereignty meeting in the south west. Food sovereignty advocates that the people who produce, distribute and consume food at the centre of decisions on food systems and policies, rather than the demands of markets and corporations that they believe have come to dominate the global food system. 

This was the first big meeting since the national gathering at OrganicLea on the outskirts of London last July, and it aimed to strengthen regional networks of the food sovereignty movement and make national planning more accessible to people outside of London.

The meeting attracted over 40 people from across the South West, which is testament to the vibrant community food networks alive in the region. There was a lot of energy to coordinate actions, public education materials and events in the South West, including a festival in the summer of 2014 (either in the South West or nationally). There was also an idea to start working on a regional food charter.

It was also agreed to plan an action for 17 April to tie in with the...

Anti-poverty campaigners today launched 'Bankers Anonymous', a five-step programme to help investment banks kick their addiction to gambling on global food prices.

Barclays announced a withdrawal from speculating on food last week following public outcry over its effect on hunger.

The campaign by the World Development Movement asks people to take five steps to help win new rules to prevent banks driving food prices up through financial speculation.

Banks like Goldman Sachs are speculating on food prices, increasing volatility in the markets and fuelling sharp price rises. The World Development Movement is calling for strict controls to limit speculation.

Step one of the Bankers Anonymous programme asks people to write to their MP, urging them to call on George Osborne to back tough rules. Legislation to curb speculation is being discussed at the EU, but the UK government has so far opposed effective controls.

Goldman Sachs...

Barclays, which announced an end to its speculation on food on Tuesday, made up to an estimated £278 million from the trade in 2012. The figure brings the bank’s total revenue from food speculation from 2010 to 2012 to an estimated three quarters of a billion pounds.

The bank has pulled out of speculative deals with hedge funds. Campaigners welcome this move but are disappointed by its decision to continue selling investment products that allow other financial players, like pension funds, to speculate.

The £278 million figure was released today by the World Development Movement, which is calling for regulation to prevent banks betting on food prices and contributing to the global hunger crisis.

Barclays has been the leading UK player in speculating on food. Goldman Sachs is widely recognised as the world leader.

Barclays’ withdrawal follows announcements in 2012 by several German, Austrian and Scandinavian banks that they would reduce or suspend trading in food commodity markets. But German giant Deutsche Bank, one of the banks indicating a withdrawal, has since returned to speculating on food.

Legislation to curb speculation is on the table at the EU, but the UK government has so far...

Along with its annual results yesterday, Barclays revealed its new strategic plan to haul the bank from the pits of public disdain. As part of its new direction, Barclays – the UK’s leading commodities speculator - announced it is pulling out of food speculation. After three years of public campaigning and calling on the bank to stop betting on hunger, this is very exciting news!

Barclays had a massive PR job on its hands to mend its toxic reputation, earned from the Libor rate scam, the PPI mis-selling scandal and the interest-rate swaps rip-off of small businesses. It could have left its agricultural commodities division untouched. But it couldn't afford to ignore commodities.

Why? Well with three years of protests outside its local branches, protests outside and inside its AGM, media stories exposing Barclays’ leading...

Barclays chief Antony Jenkins announced today that the bank would stop speculating on food, saying the practice is “not compatible with our purpose”. It is unclear whether the bank will continue to broker speculative deals for its clients. Campaigners have renewed calls for tough regulation to prevent speculation fuelling price spikes and contributing to the global hunger crisis.

Jenkins announced the move today as part of the bank’s strategic review. He said the end to the bank’s trading in agricultural commodities for speculative purposes was an example of Barclays “putting its words into action”. He told UK MPs last week that he would build a “socially useful” bank and “shred situations where we're short-termist, too aggressive and too self-centred.” But Jenkins made no commitment to change the bank’s speculation on other commodities, such as oil, which has a knock-on impact on food prices.

World Development Movement campaigners protesting outside Barclays' 2012 AGM

Until now, Barclays has been the leading UK bank involved in speculation on food including staples like wheat, maize and soy. The bank...

A new campaign If… on hunger and food security has launched, run by a group of development organisations. WDM has decided not to join this campaign.

WDM campaigns to tackle the root causes of poverty and injustice. Our current campaign on food goes to the heart of one of the problems with our food system: the power of the financial sector and the role of commodity speculation in causing food price spikes. We are also actively engaging with and contributing to a long term vision and solution – food sovereignty – guided by our allies in the global south.

As a small organisation, we do not have any additional campaign capacity to contribute to a food campaign with a different focus. The If... campaign is concerned with food security - ensuring people have enough to eat. However it will not be challenging the power and impact of the financial system on food prices, nor is it grounded in the principles of food sovereignty. WDM believes that these principles, which are about power, control and rights, must underpin future changes to our food systems.

We welcome many of the campaign demands in the If......

Goldman Sachs made up to an estimated £251 million (US$400 million) in 2012 from speculating on food including wheat, maize and soy, prompting campaigners to accuse the bank of contributing to a growing global food crisis.

Goldman Sachs is recognised as the leading global player in financial speculation on food and other commodities, and created the first commodity index funds which allow huge amounts of money to be gambled on prices.

Anti-poverty campaign group the World Development Movement released the estimate today following the publication of Goldman Sachs’ 2012 results. The group is calling for tough rules to curb financial speculation on food, to prevent banks and hedge funds driving up prices.

The US has passed legislation to limit speculation, but the controls have not been implemented due to a legal challenge from Wall Street spearheaded by the International Swaps and Derivatives Association, of which Goldman Sachs is a leading member. Similar legislation is on the table at the EU, but the UK government has so far opposed effective controls. Goldman Sachs has lobbied against controls in both the US and the EU.

Christine Haigh, campaigner at the World Development Movement, said today:...

The UK government is yet again undermining grassroots poverty alleviation by channelling UK aid towards huge agribusiness. The Hunger Games, a report recently published by War on Want, criticises the Department for International Development (DfID) for working with the ‘who’s who’ of agrochemical and GM seed companies including Monsanto, Unilever and Syngenta.

In coalition with these companies, DfID is funding dodgy agricultural initiatives such as the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). This initiative in particular seeks to “trigger a uniquely African green revolution” by promoting networks of GM seed and agrochemical providers to small farmers.

The companies working beneath this banner, posing under a guise of African development, are seeking to extend their reach over emerging markets in countries like Malawi. Monsanto, a company that originally made its money from making chemical weapons but has now switched to agrochemicals, has openly declared its intention to control all of Malawi’s 30,000 tonne seed market. This transition, if it was allowed to happen, would decimate traditional seed markets, and lock local farmers further into a dependency on foreign inputs....

If you overdid it a bit on sweet treats over the festive period, you might have decided to go easy on them for a while. But campaigners in Cambodia are calling for more decisive action as land grabbing for industrial sugarcane plantations has been robbing communities of their land, homes and livelihoods.

Two million hectares - 12 per cent of the country’s landmass – have now been granted to private companies for industrial agriculture, with sugarcane one of the leading crops. At least 75,000 hectares of land have granted to private companies for industrial sugarcane production, with over 12,000 people estimated to have been affected by human rights abuses and environmental damage caused by the companies involved.

When the companies involved have arrived, local people’s homes and harvests have been burned down. The majority of people affected have land-based livelihoods, so the loss of land has pushed families into poverty, leaving them unable to afford school costs or hospital births for their children. The land that has...

Dan Iles takes a look at the latest World Bank food price figures.

The recent World Bank’s quarterly Food Price Watch, released this November, yet again paints a concerning picture in terms of continued high food prices across the world. Worryingly, the World Bank recognises a new norm of high and volatile food prices but still refuses to mention any reference to food speculation and the actions of financial institutions. 

Key points:

  • International food prices remain close to all-time highs. Food prices in October are still 7% higher than a year ago, and the prices of grains remain particularly high. Prices of grains are 12% above their levels 12 months ago and very close to the all-time high observed in 2008
  • The national price of wheat increased by 27% in Tajikstan between July and September
  • Countries reliant of US exports of maize are still very vulnerable to price fluctuations. The price of maize in Haiti and Honduras went up by 28% and 19% respectively between July and September 
  • The World Bank...

Yesterday, Rich Ricci, the appropriately-named chief executive of Barclays' corporate and investment arm, told the parliamentary commission on banking standards that the bank was thinking of pulling out of agricultural commodities trading.

With Barclays being the biggest UK player in food speculation, and among the top handful globally, we’ve certainly been making sure that that they feel the heat for their role in contributing to the food price spikes that spell hunger and poverty for the world’s poorest people.

In January, following our nomination, Barclays won the global Public Eye award for the world’s worst company as a result of their role on food speculation. In April, shareholders at their AGM were greeted by WDM campaigners dressed as eagles, and in September the bank hit the headlines when the Independent published figures based...

Barclays Bank has hinted it is considering pulling out of food speculation due to ‘reputational risk’. The World Development Movement is calling on the bank to commit to ending its involvement in commodity markets, and is urging George Osborne to back tough rules to curb speculation at a European level.

Rich Ricci, chief executive of Barclays’ corporate and investment arm, told the UK's Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards yesterday, “If I decided to stop trading soft agricultural products it is not driven by regulation. It is because it doesn’t sit socially well with the large constituent of our customers”, according to the FT newspaper.

Barclays is the biggest UK player in food commodity markets, making up to an estimated £500 million from speculating on food prices in 2010 and 2011.

The World Development Movement’s director Deborah Doane said today:

Barclays appears to be relying on the police force of public opinion to tell it that speculating on food prices is wrong, rather than acknowledging its own moral responsibility. This is precisely why it is essential that strong regulation is introduced. Food speculation has devastating consequences, and George Osborne and...

Global food prices are soaring, pushing many more of the world's poorest people into hunger.

Financial speculators are rushing to cash-in on rising prices. Experts predict that betting on the cost of food will push prices through the roof, as it did in 2008 and 2011.

This is just plain wrong. We’ve teamed up with 'Don't Panic' to spoof the UK’s leading food speculator, Barclays, to show just how scandalous this is.

The banks can be stopped. Right now there is a real opportunity to prevent speculation contributing to future food crises. In the coming months, Europe’s finance ministers will vote on new rules to stop speculators pushing up prices. 

But the UK government is firmly opposed to regulation and could scupper the vote. We need mass public pressure to change Chancellor George Osborne's mind.

Please help us show George Osborne that the UK...

The World Development Movement has launched a new film today parodying Barclays’ role in speculating on food prices. Actors Jolyon Rubinstein and Heydon Prowse pose as Barclays bankers attempting to sell spoof investment products to unsuspecting passers-by, with "profit margins so ridiculous, it’s almost criminal".

The 'bankers' reveal to their potential customers that their investments will force people to go hungry, but reassure them, "Those people are in a place you’re never going to go to."

Barclays Speculate’ also features Josie Long, Joseph Dives and Leila Farzad.

The film shows Jolyon Rubinstein being escorted out of a Barclays branch by armed police after delivering a bag of maize. Jolyon said:

The police seemed sympathetic as to why we felt it necessary to highlight just how much money Barclays is making through food speculation by pouring corn all over the bank’s floor.

Barclays is estimated to have made up to £500 million from speculating on food prices in 2010 and 2011.

On Friday I was privileged to join five well-informed WDM supporters from the Tunbridge Wells constituency for an important meeting. The group were going to see their MP, Greg Clark, who also happens to be financial secretary to the treasury - the minister with responsibility for regulating food speculation.

Some of Greg Clark's constituents before the meeting

With just two weeks to go until finance ministers from the 27 EU member states discuss their position on new regulation to curb financial speculation on food and other commodities, they were intent on making sure he heard that the public is angry about the way banks are allowed to gamble on food prices, and want to see the UK back tough rules to limit their involvement in the markets.

The constituents were given a fair if short hearing, and had chance to hand over a copy of our photo petition, containing messages from hundreds of people who want to see the UK government support action on food speculation.

But we ended the meeting with work still to do. Not only did he leave us with...

MEPs have now voted on food speculation. Read our verdict on the outcome here.

In total 14666 emails were sent to MEPs in the UK - thanks very much for supporting the campaign.

A vote in the European parliament today failed to remove loopholes in new regulation to prevent banks driving up food prices through financial speculation.

MEPs voted in favour of limits to speculation, but allowed loopholes to remain which risk rendering the new rules ineffective.

Campaigners in the UK sent more than 14,000 messages to their MEPs this week, asking them to stop food speculation by banks and hedge funds pushing food prices beyond the reach of millions of the world’s poorest people.

World Development Movement campaigner Christine Haigh said:

Watertight regulation is essential if we are to stop excessive speculation fuelling devastating food price spikes. If it remains in its current form, the controls will be too weak to properly tackle speculation. Now it’s down to George Osborne and his fellow finance ministers to back strict rules.

George Osborne and other European finance ministers are due to vote on the proposed regulation on 13 November.

More detail

If the amendments to remove the loopholes had been passed, they would have:

  • Ensured that the limits apply to all commodity contracts, for their full duration,...

At last! A meeting last Friday with an MEP, an influential one, about the European parliament's moves to tighten their grip on food speculation (as well as other commodities trading).

Thanks to a robust exchange of letters in the Guardian recently, WDM gained this window for us to put what we consider must be non-negotiable expectations of the process to Sharon Bowles, Lib Dem MEP and chair of the Economic and Monetary Affairs (ECON) committee.

WDM local group members were joined on Friday by WDM’s director Deborah Doane for meeting with Liberal Democrat MEP Sharon Bowles

It was very short notice but four local group members were able to make it, along with WDM’s director Deborah Doane and campaigner Christine Haigh. Ms Bowles gave us an hour of her time, did a lot of explaining but also agreed to hold out on certain key issues. One can never be sure until the votes are in, but my impression was that she wants to curb the unethical activities in the markets and...

This week, ahead of World Food Day, the International Food Policy Research Institute and Concern Worldwide launched the 2012 Global Hunger Index (GHI). The index is there to categorise countries in relation to the number of undernourished people that live within them in an attempt to make their governments more accountable, guide international agencies to the key areas of the world and to track the trends of world hunger over time.

The countries that trail at the bottom of this report are Burundi, Eritrea and Haiti, whilst another 45 have a situation which is either serious or alarming. The index highlights the scale of what is still to be done in terms of world hunger as well as underlining Concern’s key policy directions that the developing world need to consider to work towards what they call ‘sustainable food security’. The report largely blames the prevalence of severe and extreme hunger on a mixture of poor policies, food price volatility, energy and water availability, land grabbing, biofuel production, increased urbanisation and a changing climate. 

Indian farmer with grain

The...

On 3 October, 60,000 people from India’s poor and tribal communities embarked on Jan Satyagraha (“March for Justice”), a 350 km month-long march from Gwalior in the north of the country to the national capital Dehli to press their demands for their rights to land, forest, water and natural resources for food supply. Last week, on 11 October, in response to the protest the government decided to introduce significant land reform policy change and in light of this victory the march was called off.

Jan Satyagraha participants listen attentively to the announcement of the expected agreement. Agra, Oct. 10th, 2012. (photo : Barbara Schnetzler)

Ekta Parishad, a Ghandi-inspired land reform movement, organised the march, which was one of the largest peaceful demonstrations in the country, aiming to highlight the struggles of millions of poor and landless farmers. According to Ekta Parishad approximately 400 million people could be lifted out of poverty if they had access to land and resources. This organisation has two principle demands: firstly the enactment of a Land Reform Act enshrining the right to shelter and secondly a new land reform policy.

...

Last week, the Guardian newspaper published a letter from the World Development Movement’s director Deborah Doane which raised concerns about the suitability of Sharon Bowles MEP, candidate for the new governor of the Bank of England, because of what we see as her support for ‘light touch’ regulation of the financial sector. 

Sharon Bowles replied via the Guardian noting that a member of her staff has met with a World Development Movement (WDM) staff member, and that she doesn’t have sufficient time in her diary to entertain all meetings that are requested of her. 

While she is correct that a member of her staff has met with a WDM staff member in Brussels, we would like to stress why we felt this was inadequate. First, we are a movement-based democratic organisation, with 16,000 members and supporters, alongside a network of over 50 local groups. Members of 11 of our local groups* in the south east of England, where Ms Bowles has her constituency, have contacted her a number of times in the past year about food speculation. This is an issue on which Ms Bowles...

The World Development Movement’s director Deborah Doane has responded to predictions that poor harvests in the UK will lead to rising food prices, warning that financial speculation could send prices soaring even higher. 

Deborah Doane said today: "Food prices are rising steeply due to poor harvests, and if the 2008 food price crisis is anything to go by, we may see financial speculation driving prices up even further in the coming months.

"In the absence of effective regulation of the finance sector, banks and hedge funds are effectively gambling on food prices.

"Here in the UK, the poorest people are already cutting down on fresh fruit and vegetables because they can’t afford them. In developing countries, where people spend up to 90 per cent of their incomes on food, price spikes force millions of people to go hungry.

"Banks like Barclays, which made an estimated £500 million on food prices in 2010 and 2011, are taking advantage of changing prices for their own gain. Unless we stop this by regulating the finance markets, speculation will turn the current price rises into an even greater crisis for people both in the UK and worldwide."

A costumed Lady Luck and a croupier in black tie, with a roulette wheel and giant playing cards, protested in front of the Tory party conference in Birmingham this morning, calling on George Osborne to stop bankers driving up food prices through financial speculation.

Ahead of the Chancellor’s keynote speech, campaigners asked him to back European regulation to curb financial speculation in commodity markets. Speculation is fuelling price volatility and pushing food prices beyond the reach of millions of people in developing countries.


 
George Osborne is due to meet his European counterparts on Tuesday 13 November to agree on the new legislation. The UK government has attempted to block effective controls on speculation.
 
World Development Movement campaigner Christine Haigh said: “We brought Lady Luck to the Conservative party conference to highlight the fact that banks and hedge funds are essentially gambling on food prices. Steep price spikes fuelled by speculation make the weekly shop more expensive for families in the UK, and for the poorest people in developing countries...

If there’s such a thing as time travel, can you also experience class and culture travel?  If so I think I experienced it today…

This morning I travelled to the Conservative Party Conference with activists from the World Development Movement.  We were taking part in a protest calling on George Osborne to support regulation to stop bankers betting on food prices. Food speculation has contributed to food price spikes in recent years.

I left home (Croydon) at 5.am. Initially the dark streets were deserted, occasionally punctuated by the fluorescent strips of the street cleaners. Gradually the bus stops became more populated with people in normal clothes, many (I’m assuming) cleaners, going to clean the office blocks before the arrival of the suited city folk that I saw towards the end of my journey to Euston.  The delegates that WDM was leafleting as they entered the Conservative Party Conference completed the spectrum of the different social groups that wittingly or unwittingly, perform their roles in the theatrical production which is our global economic structure. 

...

Last night we projected images from our supporters onto the Tory party conference, calling for bankers to stop betting on food.

For the past month we've been collecting as many photos as possible from members of the UK public holding up messages to George Osborne to regulate food speculation. We've had a great response with hundreds of photos and last night we projected those messages onto the Tory party conference:

The Tory party conference starts today and so we know that George Osborne is in town. By projecting messages on the conference venue and on surrounding buildings we are hoping that he feels the mounting public pressure for him to support new EU proposals to clamp down on excessive speculation.

We started off at the NIA, opposite the Tory conference venue:

...

Yesterday the European Parliament’s Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs (ECON) adopted its report on the review of the Markets in Financial Instruments Directive (MiFID). This piece of legislation is critical to achieve stronger regulation of commodity derivative markets and limit harmful financial speculation on food

NGOs welcomed the introduction of mandatory limits on speculation but warn that a number of loopholes must be fixed to make the proposed rules effective. 

Marc Olivier Herman, Oxfam’s EU policy advisor, said: 

Betting on food prices is unacceptable in a world where nearly 1 billion people are going hungry. The vote shows that there is a majority in the European Parliament in favour of limiting harmful financial speculation. However, the text adopted yesterday falls short of what is needed to tackle food speculation.” 

Christine Haigh, the World Development Movement’s policy officer, said: 

The text adopted yesterday by the Economic Affairs Committee contains dangerous loopholes: an overly narrow definition of the limits to be imposed on speculation and generous exemption clauses excusing some companies from...

Campaigners from WDM were joined today by Friends of the Earth Europe, Campact and SOS Faim to spell out ‘Stop food speculation’ using hundreds of pots and pans in front of the European parliament building.

The 925 pots and pans used represented the 925 million people facing hunger worldwide. The protest comes on the day of a key vote by MEPs on proposals to prevent banks and financial investors driving up food prices through financial speculation.

Photo of food speculation stunt in Brussels, with pots and pans spelling out Stop Food Speculation

MEPs are voting today on a raft of proposed financial reforms known as MiFID (the Markets in Financial Instruments Directive). WDM is calling for strict rules to stop speculation driving food price increases and price volatility. 

Campaigners handed over a petition with over 100,000 signatures from across Europe on Wednesday to the lead MEP for the legislation, German Markus Ferber, and lead MEPs from the other main political groups.

The World Development Movement’s director Deborah Doane said: “We are experiencing the third food price spike in five years, and each one forces millions of people into poverty and hunger....

Yesterday I joined farmers, food producers, beekeepers, foodies and campaigners from right across Europe, along with a couple of fellow WDM group members, on the final day of the Good Food March in Brussels. It was a cold sunny day as hundreds of people, some of whom had been part of delegations traveling to Brussels on bikes and tractors from different corners or Europe over the preceding weeks, gathered in the city centre. We then headed off, a tractor leading the way, to deliver a photo petition to representatives from the European Commission, the Committee of the Regions and the European Parliament.

GFM UK delegation with banner

A tour of these venerable (though dull-sounding) European institutions on a Wednesday morning may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but the vibrant mix of people passionate about good food and farming made up for that. The purpose of the march was to highlight our demands for a more sustainable food and farming system that could be delivered through the current...



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