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Being hungry is a lot more complicated than people suppose

2013 April 6
by Paul Vallely

I have to confess I was rather mystified, and a little sceptical, when I heard about the If campaign. The If in question is short for “Enough Food for Everyone If…” and it has been launched by a coalition of 100 development charities and faith groups to lobby the Government in the run-up to the next British presidency of the G8 group of top world leaders.

Last time the UK held the presidency it met in Gleneagles and a similar coalition, Make Poverty History, conducted such an effective campaign that a $1bn a year of debt was dropped and the rich world pledged more aid; it has given extra $11bn a year – less than was promised but a substantial increase. Make Poverty History had no real success in securing fairer trade practices for poor countries but the debt cancellation and extra aid have save 1,700 children’s lives every day, got 21 million more kids into African schools, halved malaria deaths in many countries and provided life-saving drugs to six million people with HIV or Aids.

This time the G8 will meet at Lough Erne near Enniskillen in Northern Ireland in June.  In the interim, though massive strides have been made in reducing poverty, this is still a world in which one in eight people go to bed hungry every night. Each year 2.3 million children die from malnutrition and many more are physically and mentally stunted from lack of good food. The new campaign focuses on hunger.

At first glance its four main planks sound an odd collection of issues. The first If suggests that hunger could be alleviated if there were more aid for nutrition programmes and small-scale farming. That sounds obvious enough. But the other three Ifs concern themselves with tax, land and transparency – a trio which seem to lack the coherence of the Gleneagles aid, trade and debt strategy.

Last week, however, I chaired an interesting discussion at the Frontline Club with the title “Can we fix a broken food system?”. It revealed that the issues which constitute the underlying causes of hunger can appear unconnected – as do the trunk, legs and tail of the elephant to the six blind men in the Indian proverb – but are actually inter-related.

It is admirable that in the Budget the Chancellor George Osborne stuck to Britain’s promise, made in response to Make Poverty History, to reach the target of spending 0.7% of our annual income on aid. But is not enough so long as the rich world indulges in practices which hinder the development of the poorest.

Unfair trade does that. But so do land deals which increasingly take soil, which should grow food for the hungry, to grow biofuels to feed Western energy consumption. And tax dodging by transnational companies cheats developing countries of three times more tax than they receive in aid each year. The If campaign wants Western governments to close loopholes that allow companies to do that.

But it is the fourth If which can make that effective. If there were greater transparency, forcing governments and investors to be more open about their activities in poor countries, change would come more swiftly. Mr Osborne missed a trick in the Budget in not requiring UK multinationals to reveal the tax avoidance schemes they use overseas. But it is not too late to do that.

The powerful players in the global food system should be required to make disclosure to public registries. And governments in the developing world should do the same by opening up budget processes so that citizens can see how their resources are being used and hold governments to account.

That is not all. There are issues like waste to be addressed. The European Commission estimates that up to 50 per cent of edible food is wasted across the EU. Stewardship and justice are interwoven. There will be no shortage of material for the next campaign.

from the Church Times

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