Food crises - Is aid the answer?
It is difficult to watch Africa in the midst of yet another food crisis and hear the plea from aid agencies desperately searching for more funds. Organisations such as Action Against Hunger and World Vision, have estimated that a further $200 million is needed to fight the growing food crisis and more than 15 million people are now said to be at risk, including many from some of the poorest countries in the world: Chad, Mali, Niger, Mauritania and Burkina Faso .
As the crisis deepens there have been developments surrounding the concept of aid and what its main purpose should be. Serious concerns have been raised about the UK's stance on aid, with the government seemingly moving more towards seeing aid as an investment from which it expects a return, rather than as a way to help the poor. WDM has been at the forefront of this debate (see our director, Deborah Doane's blog post) and will continue to challenge the government to ensure that aid is used for the benefit of poor people, not for corporate profit.
A new strain of Monsanto-patented broccoli in a UK supermarket (© Dott/Greenpeace)
It is not just the UK government that is changing the way it views aid; leaders from the wealthy G8 countries have announced that they will be emphasising the role of the private sector in development with £1 billion of corporate 'aid' already pledged. Companies looking to participate in the initiative include agribusiness giant Monsanto, the world’s largest seed supplier. The growing interest of agricultural corporations in 'aid' initiatives is worrying to say the least. Handing over responsibility of spending to businesses reduces accountability and risks projects being skewed in the interests of profit rather than local communities.
Whilst corporations are looking to invest more in development projects, others are feeling financially stretched by what is quickly turning into a double-dip recession. Despite this, the generosity in public response to food crises is still overwhelming. Last year DEC (Disaster Emergency Committee) which is made up of 14 charities including Oxfam and Save the Children was able to raise £75 million from their east Africa crisis appeal. This money is important in the short term, providing much needed emergency food supplies. But that these crises continue to happen suggests we need a radical overhaul of our current food system.
When it comes to food crises it can feel like we are fighting a losing battle. Low rainfall and poor harvests make it difficult to achieve stable supplies, yet they are not the only factors that perpetuate problems. High food prices and conflict over land rights make the situation worse and a history of IMF and World Bank 'structural adjustment' programmes have left countries' economies exposed to the volatility of the free market, with little protection or prioritisation of national food security. As the private sector looks set to move into spaces where aid is not longer being directed, people in the global south will become increasingly disenfranchised, lacking the ability to influence what the response to these crises should be.
But there are promising alternatives emerging from the global south which would allow for the prioritisation of domestic need over that of distant export markets. Food sovereignty is a concept that originated in the developing world and looks at food as a basic human right, rather than as a commodity. It rejects corporate control aided by institutions such as the World Bank and IMF and gives farmers control over their land, free of discrimination based on gender, ethnicity, religion, class or ideology. It promotes genuine land reform and sustainable use and care of natural resources. The end result is the production of food that is culturally and environmentally appropriate.
Members of La Via Campesina, the international small-scale farmers movement, campaigning for food sovereignty
The principles of food sovereignty were agreed in February 2007 at the Nyeleni conference which took place in Mali. Over 500 people from 80 different nations participated in the event and represented various grassroots movements, communities and organisations. There have been further Nyeleni talks in Austria which the World Development Movement has been at the heart of. We're also helping organise the Transforming Our Food System event which is taking place in London in early July.
It can sometimes be easy to fall into a trap of defeatism, feeling that there is little we can do to ensure the world’s growing population is fed. However, I would argue that we all have something to learn from the conclusions of the Nyeleni conference, and this alternative framework for a new global food system is certainly something we will continue to fight for.
Kathryn is fundraising and communications assistant at WDM and helps raise money from individuals and ethical companies.