Today is my birthday. It is also National Boss Day, a coincidence not lost on my close friends and colleagues or my mother who used to call me Bossy Boodle. It is also World Food Day, the day the United Nations’ (UN) Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) was founded in 1945. The theme this year is Achieving Food Security in Times of Crisis.
I am working on the final chapter of my new book on the politics of food and have been mired in facts and figures on world hunger and how far we are from achieving the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) set out by the UN; one of which is cutting hunger in half by 2015. In fact, the opposite has happened; 105 million more people will go hungry this year, pushing the number of malnourished over the one billion mark.
The FAO web site reminds us that it is not just office and factory workers who are suffering during this global economic downturn, it is the small-scale farmers and villagers too; in fact 70% of the world’s hungry live and work in rural areas.
So what are the causes of hunger? There are many. Some of them you might guess. Poverty takes the cake. Widespread health problems and epidemic diseases like AIDs in Africa wipe out the income earners. Then there’s war and civil unrest; natural disasters like tsunamis, floods and droughts; global warming is wreaking havoc with climates which of course affect crops and what can actually grow when and where.
Then maybe the not-so-obvious causes, and perhaps the most devastating to digest. Lack of government support for small-scale agriculture for one, in fact it almost looks like a plot to decimate the small farmer. And a big part of the blame goes to trade liberalization. Even Jacques Diouf, the Director-General – ¨of the FAO points the finger at developed countries and the reigning transnationals. In 2001, he said, ” – ¦economic policies, trade rules and corporate market power that sharply deepen the inequality between rich and poor are at the root of hunger.”
The chapter I am working on deals with international aid, a system also tainted by foreign policy and trade interests. The aid “machine” was not really designed to feed people, instead it was a way for rich countries to dump surplus products and open up new markets for themselves. Check out OXFAMs excellent World Food Day kit (Challenging the rules: Global Hunger and the Politics of Food) and the Oakland Institute for a wealth of information on the global food crisis; the latter has an entire section devoted to the dire situation in Africa.
And speaking of Africa, Ethiopia is on the verge of another famine. Did we learn nothing from the last one in the early 1990’s? Seems we have to wait until we see the emaciated children on our television screens before we act. And yet we continue to implicate the victims. Some have even hauled out the “overpopulation” argument: if they’d just stop breeding, they’d (translation: we’d) be fine. Never mind that the less populated “north” uses up more resources and has a larger ecological footprint than the “south”. No one disputes that a growing population is problematic, but it is a symptom, not a cause in the poverty and hunger issue. And as everyone immersed in food security work also knows, education and well thought out, sustainable development programs can and do have an immediate affect on the population rates.
As Frances Moore LappÃ© (Diet for a Small Planet) said at the height of the recent food crisis, “There is still enough food in the world to make every single person chubby.”
Even during famines, the people with money can find plenty of food. We have a distribution problem, not a production problem. It was true when her book was published nearly 40 years ago, it is sadly still true today.
The FAO web site says: “Crisis or no crisis, we have the know-how to do something about hunger. We also have the ability to find money to solve problems when we consider them important.”
At the 1996 World Food Summit in Rome, 186 countries took the pledge to cut hunger in half. The FAO is pushing for a World Summit on Food Security for November of this year. Let’s see if any of the “bosses” think starving people are important enough this time around.
As for me, I will celebrate my birthday at Sustenance, a local food, art and cultural event. And in honour of World Food Day, I will try to curb my own bossiness.