‘Our future is in our own hands. The powers-that-be have got it horribly wrong and we cannot afford to leave our affairs and our children’s lives in their hands.’ Colin Tudge
It may be that like the editorial writer in the Guardian you require an Olympian suspension of disbelief to take at face value David Cameron’s Downing Street hunger summit just hours before the Games’ closing ceremony (1), but there is no doubting the horrifying and cruel nature of hunger and malnutrition.
World Hunger Facts
1.02 billion people in the world are hungry. UN Food and Agriculture Organization
1 billion people in the world live on less than $1 a day. ”World Development Indicators 2007.” The World Bank.
27 percent of children under 5 are moderately to severely underweight in the developing world. ”State of the World’s Children 2007.”UNICEF.
Nearly one in three people die prematurely or have disabilities due to poor nutrition and calorie deficiencies. ”Malnutrition.” World Health Organization (WHO)
One in nearly seven people do not get enough food to be healthy, making hunger and malnutrition the number one risk to health worldwide. UN World Food Programme (2)
Duncan Green certainly questions whether the summit will just be ‘Mouthwash’… ‘the nutritional equivalent of greenwash, an approach to ending hunger that is more about fragrant PR than finding long-term solutions to feeding the planet without destroying it.’(3)
It seems likely that the summit will echo the Obama administration’s reliance on private sector solutions. However, the only realistic solution is ‘to put smallholders centre stage, to focus on inequality and to end the escalating land grabs that reduce the rural poor to labourers. In Africa alone, an area larger than Germany and France together has been sold for agribusiness while untold thousands of farmers have been evicted with scant compensation’ (1).
There need to be concrete commitments:
‘putting a stop to the spate of land “grabs” in poor countries by large international companies lured by high commodity prices and the prospect of future scarcity;
tackling the perverse impact of biofuels, which in the name of rich-world energy security are ousting hundreds of thousands of small farmers from their land, deepening poverty and hunger;
greater investment in the 500m small farms that 2 billion of the world’s more vulnerable people rely on for their sustenance,
and reforming an international tax system that allows western tax havens to actively encourage capital flight and tax evasion, sucking billions of dollars out of poor countries’ economies.’ (3)
I would add that there also has to be an end to food speculation.
US Investment bank Goldman Sachs convinced government officials in the early 1990s to allow it to start gambling on the price of food.
… Investors accustomed to scarcely interrupted stock-market gains needed something that could restore a semblance of balance to their financial lives. Low interest rates made parking money in a bank account unattractive. Real estate that was supposed to rise forever, didn’t. But everyone needs to eat. Investors wanted a safe haven from a stock-market boom gone bust. (4)
Colin Tudge, biologist and writer, encapsulates the political realities of food production in a piece that he wrote on his blog about his book ‘Feeding people is easy.’ An abridged version is reblogged with my emphases.
I am struck…. by the contrast between what could be in this world, and what is. In particular, everyone who is ever liable to be born could be well fed, forever, not simply on basic provender but to the highest standards of nutrition and gastronomy. That is not all that matters of course but if we get the food right then everything else that we need and want in life—good health, fine landscapes, the company of other species, peace, amity, personal fulfillment—can start to fall into place. The title of my new book—Feeding People Is Easy—is a slight exaggeration, but only slight. The necessary techniques and wisdom, and the good will, are all out there. So why aren’t we doing the things that are so obvious? Why is the world in such a mess and getting worse? And what must we do to put things right?
Most obviously, if we, humanity, seriously want to feed ourselves well, then we need to farm expressly for that purpose—create what I portentously call “Enlightened Agriculture”. The bedrock is sound biology and common sense. Focus first on the staple crops—cereals, pulses, nuts, tubers—that provide the bulk of our energy and protein. Devote the best land to horticulture—fruit and vegetables. But then—for we don’t need to be vegan, and crops grow better if there are animals around—fit in the livestock as and when. Cattle and sheep should graze and—especially in the tropics —browse on the leaves of trees, up on the hills and in the damp meadows and woods where cereal is hard to grow, and pigs and poultry should be fed as they always used to be on surpluses and leftovers. In general, farms should be mixed and must therefore be labour intensive—because well-balanced farms are complex and need very high standards of husbandry….
But the food chain we have now is not designed to feed people. In line with the modern cure-all—the allegedly free global market—it is designed to produce the maximum amount of cash in the shortest time…. The simplistic business rules that may (or may not) apply to other enterprises are fatal to Enlightened Agriculture and so, since we depend on agriculture absolutely, they are proving fatal for us.
When cash rules, sound biology goes to the wall and common sense and humanity are for wimps. The goal must be to maximize whatever is most expensive—which means livestock. So now we feed well over half the staples that could be feeding us, to cattle, pigs, and poultry…. By 2050, on present trends, the world’s livestock will consume enough to feed four billion people—equal to the total population of the early 1970s, when the United Nations held its first international conference to discuss the world’s food crisis….
Cash-based farming is not mixed, because that is complicated and labour must be cut and cut again to save costs. So we have cereals from horizon to horizon, cocooned in pesticide, while piggeries in the United States (and soon in Europe, with American backing and European taxpayers’ cash) sometimes harbour a million beasts apiece—unbelievably foul and each producing in passing as much ordure as Manchester. Such farming is dangerous. To save money, corners must be cut. Britain’s epidemics of foot and mouth disease and BSE were not acts of God. They were brought about by cut-price husbandry. The same government that lectures us on health and safety came close, with BSE, to killing us all off.
Worst of all, though—at least in the immediate term—cut-price monocultural farming puts people out of work. That is what it is designed to do. Countries with the fewest farmers are deemed to be the most “advanced”. Britain and the US are the world’s brand leaders, with about one per cent of their workforce full time on the land. Both eke out their rural workforce with immigrant labour of conveniently dubious legal status who can be seriously underpaid—but we don’t talk about that, and in any case that’s the market, and the market must rule….
In the Third World, 60 per cent of people live on the land. If poor countries industrialize their farming as Britain and the US have done, and as they are increasingly pressured to do, then this would put two billion out of work. Unemployment is the royal road to destitution: what a dreadful joke the “war on poverty” really is….
In reality, then, our food problems are of two kinds. The first is to grow food well, get it to people, and then cook it properly. That should be fairly straightforward. Far, far harder is to circumvent the corporates and their attendant governments…. The aim is not to grow good food, but to maximize cash…. In short, the greatest threat to humanity comes from our own leaders.
Certainly the answer to poverty does not lie with an economy that is designed to make the rich richer. (5)
As to David Cameron’s Hunger Summit being a cynical ‘mouthwash’ or not, it is worth remembering that he did not think it important to attend the failed Rio+20 Earth summit at the end of June 2012 where many of the aspects involved in tackling world poverty and hunger were at the top of the UNEP agenda.
‘United Nations Environment Programme, or UNEP argues that the investment of 1 percent of the world’s gross domestic product — approximately US$750 billion — in five key sectors would be enough to fund the Global Green New Deal and refocus the global economy to increase the supply of jobs and at the same time step up efforts against climate change and environmental degradation and in favor of poverty reduction. Energy-efficient buildings, renewable energy, sustainable transport, agriculture and freshwater are the key areas for structuring the green economy, according to UNEP.’ (6)