Happy World Food Sovereignty Day?
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.
The authors' insight is a valuable one that needs to be taken seriously. Importantly, the concerns of small farmers and their access to energy, water and land are paramount. One of the most important directions is the need to secure land rights for small farmers. At the launch, Burton Twisa, assistant country director in Tanzania, talked about the work Concern is doing to formalise the rights that small farmers have over their land. In a country where 90 per cent of people say that they “own” land but only 10 per cent of those people actually own a legal contract that says so, this is imperative. Worryingly, the countries that have a serious or alarming rating in the GHI are the ones that are experiencing the largest external so-called ‘investments’. Providing legal titles to land is one way to help prevent foreign governments or companies sweeping in and claiming large areas for themselves, a practice that has already occurred in many parts of the world.
The index paints a picture of the limiting factors surrounding an increase in food production and contains valuable insights into this complex matter. However, there was a sense that some of the key issues that are being raised by the global South are still being given insufficient attention by the large NGOs and policy organisations. Most significant by its absence is a clear message that there is plenty of food in the world; the issue is who controls it and its resulting distribution.
There also continues to be a lack of a critical approach to the actions of western government and large corporations in relation to the preservation of the status quo of the world food economy. The panel at the launch event seemed to join in with a chorus of back-patting for the current UK government approach: David Cameron was congratulated for his efforts to highlight hunger at the Olympic Games and the current international aid packages were commended.
And in other areas there seems to be a certain naivety about the reasons why some countries have levels of hunger that are extremely alarming. The case of Haiti is one where the narrative still lingers around the idea that the country has suffered a series of disasters and misfortunes that have led to its people suffering. The report has no trouble in recognising the impact of the earthquake that ripped Haiti apart in 2010 but ignores the decades of structural adjustment policies that have allowed a sea of cheap US wheat to decimate the livelihoods of local farmers and force people to depend largely on food imports.
As WDM has highlighted, food price spikes are one of the key causes of hunger, yet so far speculators have got off scot free. And there’s no mention of the vast power that companies like Monsanto, Cargill, Glencore and Chiquita have over communities in the global South. No blame is put onto companies such as Monsanto who, in 2008, when millions of people were being forced into famine, were allowed to make windfall profits from increasing the prices of the inputs they sell to farmers.
Today’s World Food Day has been rebranded as World Food Sovereignty Day by the European food sovereignty movement. It’s a day when the actions of those who currently dominate the world food system should be put into question and the movements of peasants, activists and campaigners across the world should be recognised. The GHI gives us an important and scary looking glass with which to assess world hunger levels. However, it is clear that huge financial and institutional vested interests are still being overlooked when introducing policy recommendations. It is for this reason that Nyeleni Europe is calling for us all to take action to reaffirm the movement to create food system that gives control back to producers and consumers.
Dan Iles has been involved with WDM for two years. He started as an activism and events intern, then went off to the South West to work as a regional mobiliser.