World Hunger: Questioning Cameron’s Pledge

During the London Olympics David Cameron proclaimed that negotiations on improving the Global Food Security System would enjoy top priority on the agenda of the G8 Summit in Northern Ireland this June. (Guardian) In line with the UN Millennium Development goals, he promised to introduce measures to reduce the number of malnourished children by 25 million by the start of the next Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. But let’s be honest, what are the chances of this actually happening?

Image courtesy of Filipe Moreira, ©2005, some rights reserved.
Image courtesy of Filipe Moreira, ©2005, some rights reserved.

To approach this question it is vital for us to ask two questions:

(1) Why is there still widespread hunger in the world?

(2) Are the suggested solutions to change this situation addressing the roots of the problem?

These questions might appear simplistic and self-evident, but I will argue that they are deliberately avoided in the current political framework in order to consolidate global neo-liberal economic practices.  Hence, if there is no radical change, the exploitation of developing countries is bound to continue. One might even claim that notions such as “poverty alleviation” and the “protection of Human Rights” are first and foremost a cloak of rhetoric states abuse to conceal the fact that the poor are still poor simply because it is in our financial interest to keep them that way. Nevertheless, I do not doubt that many political leaders genuinely believe in humanitarian progress. However, most of them fail to acknowledge that the socio-economic structure of the current international order acts as a fundamental barrier to global justice.

So here are short answers to the questions above:

(1)   The causes of starvation are deeply rooted in historic, structural and systemic inequality between different populations.

(2)   No. The approaches promoted by the majority of world leaders participating at the G8 Summit are primarily a reflection of their respective domestic economic interests.

Hunger is a human rights violation. However, due to the complexity of globalisation the perpetrator is unfortunately not always immediately evident. Children are most vulnerable. In fact, according to WHO statistics, every five seconds a child dies due to the immediate consequences of malnutrition, but even if starving children do survive, their physical health and intellectual development have already been permanently damaged. The endemic deprivation and poverty is then passed on to the next generation when the children become parents themselves.

Jean Ziegler, former UN Special Rapporteur, argues that the death of millions of children induced by malnutrition through structural violence constitutes murder. According to FAO statistics, we are already able to produce enough food to be able to sustain double the current global population. The food we annually discard in the EU alone could feed the global starving population TWICE. Human Population Expansion is expected to level off by 2050 reaching a maximum of approximately nine billion people. So even then, it will be unlikely that a lack of food availability will be responsible for world hunger. Consequently, the real issue at stake, as Biotech advocates want us to believe, is not producing enough food for a growing population, but structural inequality and unequal distribution. Thus technology to artificially enhance productivity is not needed in the first place. India, for example, one of the countries with the poorest Food Security records in the world, exports thousands of tons of grain every year.

The reasons behind poverty and malnutrition are structural in nature. They are based on prevailing neo-colonialist policies in the under-developed and developing states. The roots of the problem lie in a legacy of slavery and imperialism, carried on today through the unequal distribution of representation and participation rights in international decision-making bodies. Under a different name and in a slightly different form the former exploitative customs are continued: support for corrupt dictators, commodity price speculations, illegal acquisition of land for biofuels, excessive meat consumption, widespread violation of environmental and human rights standards in the production of consumer goods and the cultivation of GM-monocultures just to name a few. Consequently, our perception on how to best tackle world hunger is often distorted. Developed states limit themselves to focusing on solutions based on technology, because this strategy will not interfere with, but, in fact, even benefit their economic interests. With Barack Obama, David Cameron and various others backing investment in transgenic research to “combat world hunger”, it is highly unlikely that fundamental changes in international financial institutions such as the IMF and World Bank will take place. Furthermore, the EU does not see an incentive to end agricultural subsidies which are destroying millions of African livelihoods.

So David Cameron’s commitment to end world hunger encourages non-state actors to lobby for their concerns to be heard. In response to the upcoming G8 Summit a coalition of over 100 humanitarian organisations has launched the Enough Food IF campaign. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Archbishop Desmond Tutu support this effort.  It is based on four concepts: (1)LAND, (2)AID, (3)TAX and (4)TRANSPARENCY. The main aims are to get national developmental aid budgets up to 0.7%, prevent the destructive effects of land grabs, more than half of which are carried out for biofuel acquisition, to prevent corporate tax evasion in developing countries and demand more transparency in legal, political, social and economic interactions with developing countries. An Oxfam September 2012 report states that “If the land used to produce biofuels for the EU in 2008 had been used to produce wheat and maize instead, it could have fed 127 million people for the entire year.“

When it comes to eliminating world hunger international efforts need to be reoriented. To find effective and sustainable solutions, we need to consider the actual structural roots of the problems at hand, instead of implementing superficial solutions that will bring financial benefit to large corporations with irreversible repercussions for the environment and human life. Civil society and non-state actors need to join in demanding accountability from state leaders and multinational co-operations.  If we fail to do so, our methods to combat poverty will remain the same as what caused them in the first place.

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