This week sees the launch of ‘If‘, a big new campaign on hunger. It’s going to be one of the big campaigns of the year, as a couple of hundred organisations are involved. It will target the G8 meeting in Britain later this year to try and raise the simple point that there is enough food in the world to feed everybody if we distribute it right.
Here’s the launch video, with more comment below.
The video is nice and punchy, and the idea of four big ‘ifs’ is neat, although you can practically hear the echo of the long committee discussions that settled on them.
– “We need land grabs and biofuels”
– “We agreed that any more than four bullet points was too many.”- “Let’s roll land leasing and biofuels into one category and call it ‘land'”
The agreed four priorities are aid, land leasing (and biofuels), tax and transparency. The choices say a lot about the state of our international politics, and about the current trends in development and relief organisations. What doesn’t make the list is as telling as what gets included.
For instance, climate change is absent from the four main priorities. Changing weather patterns are a major source of crop failure and famine, and it’s going to get worse from here as the climate destabilises. It’s one of the biggest unknowns in whether or not we can feed the world in 2050, but here is only mentioned in the context of finance for adaptation rather than preventing it altogether. Why? Because the climate negotiations are going nowhere, presumably, and the development charities are picking their battles.
The same logic might explain why there’s no mention of subsidies in the list. Cheap imports from the US and the EU destroy local food markets and create dependency on food aid, which in turn justifies the subsidy system. Ending this futile cycle would be a major help in improving food security in the poorest countries. But why bother, when we’ve been banging that drum for 20 years and gone unheard. The Doha round of trade talks are dead in the water and George W Bush’s admirable efforts to reform the food aid rules stalled repeatedly in the House.
What did make it are the current hot topics of the NGO movement, tax evasion and land leasing in particular. The call for aid for agriculture is new and vital, and I hope it doesn’t get lost as a generic demand to increase aid or deliver on promises. Agriculture has been an inexplicably low priority in aid for quite some time, so if we could be a little bit more specific that would be great. After all, calling for more aid in general terms could mean more shipped-in food aid and make things worse.
Also new, or at least promoted to the top rank of demands, is transparency. This is welcome too. It makes all the other interventions more effective, and it’s where the argument for aid is won or lost in the media.
So those are the battle lines for this year’s big development campaign. It’s not the last word on hunger – these are political priorities, not the four biggest things that keep people in hunger. (Remember that even developing countries lose up to half the food they produce) A lot of compromises are made to draw up a list like this that everyone can sign up to. A lot of over-simplification happens in making the viral videos and reducing things to tweetable soundbites. That’s something we have to live with.
My suggestion? Support the campaign, send the tweets and sign the postcards, but don’t do it unthinkingly. And don’t stop making noise about all the other causes that didn’t make the cut.