We’ve all seen the pictures. Young, pleading eyes staring back at us through our television screens: children’s bellies swollen with starvation. Yet, in international affairs, the issue of global hunger is often overlooked and rarely tops the political agenda. Won’t there always be poor people? Don’t world leaders have more pressing issues to worry about than a few hungry people in Africa? The recent launch of the ‘Enough Food If’ campaign highlights how detrimental this view can be and endeavors to finally fix what may well be the most urgent problem of our time.
Over 100 charities and organisations, from Oxfam to a wide range of faith groups, have come together to unleash the largest poverty relief campaign since 2005’s Make Poverty History, in the hope that a slick campaign, mass internet activism, and effective government lobbying can help rid the world of the scourge of hunger. Their message is simple: the world produces enough food for everyone, so why does one in eight of the entire world’s population starve? Primarily aimed at lobbying the British government, who currently holds the presidency of the G8, the campaign hopes to influence decisions made on an international level that will have profound effects on the ability of communities to feed themselves. For perhaps the first time in history, we produce enough food for everyone and have the capacity to distribute it equitably. However, it is clear that the West’s insatiable appetite for cheap worldwide produce, and the move towards biofuels, have left the poor and hungry at the mercy of the rich’s wants, not their own needs.
Given the somewhat unsuccessful efforts of traditional trade and aid approaches to tackling poverty and hunger, what makes the ‘Enough Food If’ campaign different? Recognising the need for more than just mere charity, the campaign stresses how coordinated governmental action can make all the difference, especially in four key areas: aid, land, tax and transparency. For aid to successfully and sustainably tackle hunger, the campaign believes the G8 and other wealthy nations must not simply send food surpluses overseas, but also invest in sustainable small-scale agriculture and nutrition. This would ensure that developing countries do not continue their dependency on the generosity and guilt of wealthy Western colonial nations. The campaign also seeks to challenge the corporate community’s illegitimate practice of ‘land grabs’, where land is taken without prior warning from local farmers for corporate use, often for the purpose of growing crops for biofuels and not food. These acquisitions destroy livelihoods and contribute to the unaccountable and opaque political climate in developing countries, yet Britain and the G8 have to date not prioritised this issue. The campaign urges the G8 to improve this situation in the upcoming re-negotiations on the European Union’s legislation on biofuels by demanding that land be used for food where possible. To ensure developing countries can improve their food security, it is imperative that tax avoidance be tackled worldwide, so governments of developing countries can raise the funds they desperately need to invest in a stable and adequate universal food system. Finally, the campaign aims to improve political transparency in terms of land acquisitions and financial and governmental decision-making, in order to hold governments and companies accountable for actions that have serious effects on food production, distribution and security. In short, according to the campaign, there will be ‘enough food for everyone if’ the G8 takes the lead on engaging with all of these issues to create a fairer food system, one that leaves no one behind.
Inequitable food distribution has been exacerbated in recent years due to the turbulence and risks associated with increasingly interconnected global markets, climate change, and the turn to biofuels. Food prices have become notoriously high as a result of financial speculation, little investment in agriculture in developing countries, lack of crop diversification and climate change, with 2012 seeing the third food price spike in five years.
Rising food prices have resulted in food producers in developing countries facing greater competition from producers worldwide, and consumers are forced to set aside more and more of their income simply to survive. Market orientated capitalism has transformed humanitarian concerns of food security into another frontier ripe with profit making opportunities. The commodification of local food resources on global markets skews trade from focusing on areas with need to areas bidding the highest price. Spiraling food prices affect the poor and starving badly far more than help those who fuel and benefit from such price wars. In 2008, the World Bank reported worldwide average food prices rising by 83% since 2005, setting back the fight against poverty 7 years, and this trend looks likely to continue, with the 2011 annual food price index up by 24% from 2010. Advocates of biofuels have been silent about carbon emissions caused by the biofuels industry, ignoring the cumulative effects of climate change on food production. The developed world seems to constantly drag its feet in attempting to curb these effects, instead reaping the benefits of globalising capitalist markets.
Faced with the immense problem of tackling global hunger, what success can the ‘Enough Food If’ campaign expect to have in lobbying the G8? The UK seems somewhat willing to take the lead on at least some of these crucial issues. At the World Economic Forum, David Cameron outlined his priorities of trade, tax, and transparency, stating, “We can be the generation that eradicates absolute poverty in our world, but we’ll only achieve that if we break the vicious cycle and treat the causes of poverty and not just its symptoms.” However, it remains to be seen how far beyond a purely economic strategy the UK will promote at the summit. The European members may be reluctant to fully commit to solving a crisis that may be seen as a distant problem that doesn’t concern a region caught up in its own crises of debt and austerity measures.
Given that the members of the G8 are some of the world’s largest economies, and Western economies at that, the decisions will be shaped considerably by major economies. The strongest economies set the rules of the game within global markets, but hunger is such a pervasive problem that it would surely benefit from the inclusion of the perspectives of developing countries and a less trade focused approach, instead of the campaign’s energies being entirely focused on the G8. Having said this, the campaign’s long list of non-governmental supporters may give it the grassroots perspective it needs. While the launch certainly generated an online buzz on social media sites, the challenge will be to convert this enthusiasm to a concrete, lasting change that targets the underlying causes of starvation, not just the symptoms.