Nick Dearden: The market doesn’t know best when it comes to hunger

Partnerships with food giants such as Monsanto and Unilever will not eradicate hunger – and they might well make it worse

Food sovereignty campaigners protest outside the Hunger Summit

Davd Cameron’s attempt to detoxify the Conservative party has rested on a set of policies that include supporting gay marriage, encouraging women into public office and increasing international aid.

In many ways the last of these has been most successful – and the government has drawn few attacks from the opposition for its development policy, as it has increased the aid budget even while making harsh cuts elsewhere.

This week Cameron attempts to gild his image on the global stage when he chairs the G8 summit. He has long waited for his “Blair moment”, at which some of the razzmatazz of the last British G8 – in 2005 at Gleneagles – is recreated, if somewhat toned down to suit a time of austerity.

A centrepiece of Cameron’s G8 was the “hunger summit“, at the weekend, at which politicians from around the world came to plan the “eradication of hunger”. Nobody can deny the ambition of that goal. But that does not mean we should applaud any policies that claim to be able to reach it.

The policies that the hunger summit endorsed will not eradicate hunger – and they might well make it worse. They are based on the same principle that guides all of the government’s development thinking – namely the idea that “the market knows best”. That’s why African farmers’ movements rejected a major component of the hunger summit – the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition. This alliance was launched at the last G8 and promises to increase investment in agriculture through “partnerships” with food giants such as Monsanto, Syngenta, Cargill and Unilever.

On Saturday, as the New Alliance added three African countries to the current six, anti-poverty groups including Jubilee Debt Campaign,Friends of the Earth and War on Want, demanded that the British government withhold the £395m of aid that it has pledged. Africa’s farmers labelled it a “new wave of colonialism” because countries taking part in new alliance pilots are told, for instance, to make it easier for foreign corporations to buy up agricultural land and end trade protection.

This route to eradicating global hunger was tried and failed many times in the heyday of the British empire. It cost millions of lives on the Indian subcontinent in the 19th and 20th centuries, as support and protection for ordinary farmers was ended and food distribution was dictated by the market. Food was exported and stockpiled to attain higher prices, even while local populations starved to death.

Hunger is no more a result of food shortage today than it was then. The “market knows best” policies have not delivered food to the hungry. Real solutions are out there. A UN process (through the committee on world food security) is working to develop a set of principles to challenge the control of food systems. Massive grassroots networks, such as La Via Campesina, are working for “food sovereignty”: the right to have not just access to food, but control of the food system. It calls for land redistribution, a focus on domestic production, collective and organic farming and public support for farmers.

The concentration of power in the hands of corporations, especially financial business, is at the core of global injustices such as the deprivation of food. Yet across the board, the British government sees these behemoths as the solution to injustice.

Large numbers of the British public have marched and campaigned for a fairer distribution of power and wealth in the world. It is an insult if the very tools that they have defended – such as the development department and its budget – are used in a way that makes the world less fair.

G8 summits have traditionally seen campaigners get on the streets to question who holds the reins of global power. Why is it that eight countries have such a say over the lives of 7 billion people? Rather than giving Cameron a “golden moment”, we must use the G8 to reclaim the development agenda as a broad-based call for social justice.

This article first appeared in The Guardian.



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