Hunger is the priority – June 2013
When eight of the world’s most powerful industrial nations meet in Northern Ireland this month, campaigners will highlight the price of unjust economic policies paid by the poor.
Human rights are violated not only by terrorism, repression and murder, but also by the existence of extreme poverty and unjust economic conditions. These words of Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, should call into question many of the standards by which world leaders decide on their priorities for collective action.
The world today produces enough food for everyone. Yet despite much progress in alleviating global poverty in recent years, one in eight of the world’s population still goes hungry every day. A child will die every 15 seconds, simply because they do not have access to enough nutritious food.
So the priority for world leaders gathering at the G8 Summit in Northern Ireland on 17th & 18th June must be to tackle the scandal of world hunger. That’s why over 180 organisations across the UK have come together to form the Enough Food For Everyone IF campaign, mobilising public support behind a call to address the failures of global governance and economics, and make 2013 the beginning of the end of world hunger.
Earlier this year, the UK became the first G8 country to commit 0.7% of its national income to fund international development aid. The campaign is calling on the UK to build on this act of leadership by working for progress in three other key areas at the G8 summit: an end to land grabs which prevent small-scale farmers grow enough food; a clamp down on tax havens which rob developing countries of much needed revenue; and – connected to these – better transparency in the relationships between governments and businesses around the world.
Agricultural investment in developing countries is vital and can play a positive role in reducing hunger. However, if investment is not well regulated and conducted transparently, it can have the opposite effect. The last few years have seen a massive rise in land purchases in developing countries.
Between 2001 and 2010, 203 million hectares of land around the world have been under consideration or negotiation in large-scale land acquisitions. Around one fifth of farmland in Senegal and Sierra Leone, more than 30 per cent in Liberia and over half in Cambodia have been acquired by companies. Two-thirds of land deals by foreign investors are in countries with a serious hunger problem. Yet, precious little of this land is being used to feed people in those countries or going into local markets. Instead, around two-thirds of foreign land investors in developing countries intend to export everything they produce on the land.
The international community has failed to act on this wave of land grabs. This conflicts strongly with the spirit of intergovernmental commitments made in the G8’s L’Aquila Food Security Initiative and the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme, which support the role of small-scale women and men producers in tackling hunger.
The UK Government has said very little about the dangers posed by land grabs, though it has started to acknowledge the need to address the issue. As a matter of urgency the UK should use its financial and political influence, including in the G8 and G20, to improve governance of large-scale land acquisitions in developing countries, including ensuring local people participate in decision-making that affects them. Amongst a range of actions that need to be taken, the UK should push for the World Bank to review the impact its funding of land acquisitions has on poor communities, put land grabbing on the agenda of the G8 and promote action to improve governance, transparency and accountability in land agreements, and end its support for damaging biofuels policies.
Since the global financial crisis, there has been much greater scrutiny of tax havens and the tax affairs of transnational companies. This is welcome, as over half of world trade is now conducted through tax havens, half of all banking assets are held in offshore accounts and one third of foreign direct investment is channelled through these accounts.
This secret world allows vast amounts of money to be hidden from public scrutiny, facilitating tax dodging and massively reducing revenues that could promote development. The Organisation for Economic Co- operation and Development (OECD) estimates that developing countries lose three times more to tax havens than they receive in aid each year. Research by the Tax Justice Network estimates that US$21-32 trillion in financial wealth is being hidden by rich individuals in tax havens.
Governments and tax havens which seek the economic benefits of global trade should be required to exchange full information about tax affairs, to enable states to generate greater revenues for development. The UK should use its G8 chair in Northern Ireland to give new impetus to action tax havens at international level, through a new Convention on Tax Transparency which would provide a framework for all countries to co- operate in tackling tax haven secrecy.
A call to action
When the G8 last met in the UK in 2005, over a quarter of a million people marched through the streets of Edinburgh in support of action to Make Poverty History. Poverty isn’t yet history, but the campaign provided momentum which led to the cancellation of many international debts, and paved the way for the achievement of the 0.7% aid target in the UK this year.
So we know that campaigning works
– leaders listen when people speak loudly and clearly. And the moral obligation is clear too. It is not only those living with hunger whose rights are violated by extreme poverty. All of us are in some way diminished by living in a society where our sisters and brothers are allowed to go without even the most basic necessities of life.
Members of the public can show their support by signing up to the IF campaign at www.enoughfoodif.org. A specific action calling on Members of the Scottish Parliament to play their part can be found at www.sciaf.org.uk/campaigns, which also has information about the public mobilisation in Belfast on 15th June, three days before the G8 summit begins.
During his inaugural homily, Pope Francis called on us to be ‘protectors’, not only of the earth, but of each other and particularly the poorest in society. We have a responsibility to take action.
Patrick Grady is advocacy manager at SCIAF, the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund.