activism food poverty

Enough food for everyone, if…

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.


  1. I couldn’t agree more. Representatives from one organisation involved came to speak to my ministers a few weeks before Christmas about the campaign and wanting our church to be involved (which I’m sure it will be). This in itself surprised me. But I was also like you surprised at the present nature of the campaign rather than future challenges such as climate, oil and water. One of my ministers said he thought the campaign was too complicated and maybe they went away to think about this and radically simplified it. A global food crisis is coming that will affect us all. I have put a couple of short blog pieces up supportive but maybe I should have a bit more courage like you and point out some of its shortcomings.

  2. “It is only when wealth begins to concentrate in the hands of a relative few at the expense of billions of others who are denied even a small share of finite wealth that trouble starts and physical, human suffering begins. It does not have to be this way. Massive greed and consequent massive human misery and suffering do not have to be accepted as a givens, unavoidable, intractable, irresolvable. Just changing the way business is done, if only by a few companies, can change the flow of wealth, ease and eliminate poverty, and leave us all with something better to worry about. Basic human needs such as food and shelter are fundamental human rights; there are more than enough resources available to go around–if we can just figure out how to share. It cannot be “Me first, mine first”; rather, “Me, too” is more the order of the day.”

    From the paper describing a business model for social purpose or people-centered economic development.

  3. But it does include climate! It mentions that climate change is one of the causes of hunger, and asks the government to work for a shipping levy as a new source of income additional to the aid budget to help poor countries adapt and find clean ways to develop. This is part of the collective promise of $100 billion a year of climate finance that rich countries made to developing ones in the UNFCCC, but have mostly done little to achieve.

    I guess if you haven’t noticed it, climate needs to be higher in the campaign’s mix.

    1. You’re right and I’ve gone back and clarified the post – it was the absence of a call for action on climate change that struck me, but it does get a mention in the aid section and carbon targets are also mentioned under the biofuels section. I realise I’d written that it wasn’t there at all, which is incorrect.

      I can see the reasons why climate change hasn’t been included as a top line demand. You have to move with the political momentum, and I’d hope the campaign can get some concrete agreements on things like tax and transparency this time round.

  4. There is no shortage of food. There are starving people because of price, storage and distribution problems. In many countries food rots before it can be got to markets or because there is no refrigerated or vermin proof storage. in developed countries food may not encounter the same problems, but farmers will only grow food if they can sell it at a price that will allow them to cover costs and give a profit. In my own Australian district which grows fruit and vegetables, much produce is graded and discarded to meet the demands of the buying public. Sadly, due to poor prices many farms in this district carry ‘for sale’ signs. More than half the former farm land is now lying fallow as grassland or has been divided into small acreage for people who commute to work in the towns. There is no shortage of food in Australia, nor land to grow food. There are good transport and storage facilities, but farmers and are selling out and taking their experience with them because they can’t get a reasonable return on their investment.

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