Friday, November 03, 2006
Canada abandons the fight to halve global hunger
Canadian aid officials ‘couldn’t make it’ to the major UN meeting this week at the half way point in the 20 year campaign to halve global hunger. They left it to two mid-level Agriculture and Agri-food Canada staff to fill the chairs for the usually large Canadian delegation. Ten years ago, at the start of this campaign linked the World Food Summit, hundreds of Canadians were recruited by the government to contribute to Canada’s preparation, participation and follow up from the Summit. At that Summit the Canadian delegation included two cabinet ministers, several other politicians and a small crowd of bureaucrats. Now the Canadians attending from farm organizations and development non-organizational organizations are ashamed to see Canada’s passionate words of commitment in 1996 diminished to an often-single lonely official at this important conference. To be fair, several other rich countries have also sent small delegations. But they didn’t take Canada’s high profile role at the start.

How have we have come to this point. From the brave plans of a decade ago, the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization reported this week that the number of hungry people will not be halved by the target date of 2015 – that might happen by 2050. It’s easy to see why. Canada, like others, has continued to largely ignore the economy of rural areas in developing countries. This is a vital engine for reducing hunger and its fuel tank is almost empty. Nor has our trade policy at the WTO done enough to ensure that rural economies in the poorer developing countries thrive – in fact our strong ‘right to export’ approach threatens to undermine these economies.

While the well-fed have largely chosen to avoid the inconvenient truth of their failures, the hungry are here. The direct representatives of the hungry in developing countries – small farmers, farm worker unions, indigenous peoples groups, artisanal fishers – are, for the first time, are being allowed to take the floor. They are explaining, to anyone listening, the straight forward steps that will help them feed themselves. In comment after comment they call for development assistance for the activities that they identify, help plan and implement and for international policies that don’t keep taking away the supports that are essential for their survival. Over the past decade they have formed organizations to give them a voice. They are here … but will anyone hear? Canadian decision makers won’t because they ‘can’t make it’.

Stuart Clark
posted by End Hunger at 11:06 AM | Permalink | 1 comments
Wednesday, November 01, 2006
What kind of agriculture?

The street outside the FAO was transformed into a farmers market today. It is not the usual site for a market, but was set up as a simple message to those attending the sessions on World Food Security. The message has two parts: the first is that farmers must be at the center of discussions about food security; the second is that food should first and foremost be produced for local markets and only then focus on international exports.

As I walked through the stalls of the market I felt like I might be back in Winnipeg. I found myself looking for local specialties and walked out with some incredible parmesan cheese and a bottle of olive oil. Both were purchased directly from the farmer. Since starting work on Food Justice at the Foodgrains Bank three years, I have found that connecting to those who grow my food is a really good way of understanding my own place in the increasingly complex global food system. I must admit that I am too often disoriented by the choice between the average 40 thousand items found in our supermarkets, and the policy conversations like those that are happening in Rome this week – it is so complex… I find that simply connecting to a farmer at the local market is a way of grounding the other, more disorienting, experiences that I have with food.

I tell you all this because I spent the day working with a group of NGOs and farmers organizations who are trying to get “more” international support for small-scale farmers and rural livelihoods in the South. Aid for agriculture, in the context of the total amounts of Official Development Assistance (ODA), was around 20% until the 1980s. Currently, it is somewhere less than 10%. With upwards of 70% of the population in developing countries living in rural areas, the importance of a focus on farmers and agriculture – those who grow food - cannot be overstated. Funding for projects that help to enhance their soils, provide spaces for them to gather and learn from one another, create local markets, and sustainably manage their land are crucial. There is an emerging sense that increasing the amount of aid for agriculture is now being talked about by many organizations at the national and international level, so perhaps the first goal of the More and Better campaign is at hand. We won’t be celebrating just yet.

Most participants in today’s session said that regardless of the amount of aid that is coming, there is an urgent need to focus on what “better” aid for agriculture looks like. What kind of agriculture are we talking about? The farmers that are gathered here in Rome are clear that they want to make this choice. As projects are proposed to development organizations like the Foodgrains Bank, how ought we to assess the kinds of agricultural work we undertake with partners in the South? To help organizations answer all of these questions, participants of the More and Better campaign agreed to the following list of principles for “better” agriculture.

Better aid for agriculture should:

  1. Support the programs and policies developed by the recipient communities and countries
  2. Work with local communities and social organizations
  3. Build on local culture and knowledge
  4. Promote diversity
  5. Embody a culture of participation
  6. Recognize that gender is a central issue
  7. Support social, economic and ecological sustainability

If it surprises you that these principles do not form the basis for all agricultural development projects around the world, I invite you to take a look at a paper where I have been exploring the questions of aid for agriculture in the context of soil fertility in sub-Saharan Africa.

posted by End Hunger at 6:05 PM | Permalink | 1 comments
Tuesday, October 31, 2006
World Council of Churches Statement
Following a workshop on international support for agriculture and hunger this morning, there was again opportunity for participants to address the entire assembly. The farmers had the last word in the sessions on Monday; today it was the World Council of Churches. Below is their statement:

The World Council of Churches is the international representation of more than 300 non-catholic Churches from all continents. Even if Church-related development agencies in all parts of the world are part of our ecumenical movement, and many of these agencies run emergency aid programmes, development as such is not our focus. We strive for justice, peace, liberation, humanity of the poor and the integrity of creation.

I apologise if the point I want to make is somewhat outside the restricted agenda of aid and investment. But coming from a church organisation, you might allow me to make a more ethical intervention.

God loves all people and all of creation. God is on the side of the poor and the suffering. Thus we are called to also love the victims of hunger and poverty and to act as their advocates.

In the FAO documents, which we appreciate in their professional standards, we miss however this spirit of love and trust in the people. Who exactly are the hungry we talk about? Do we really know enough about their fates and life? Do we really care about their suffering, or is combating hunger just a matter of improving statistics?

The Hunger Task Force has discovered that the hungry are especially those people who live close to nature: the peasants, the livestock keepers, the nomads, the fishermen, the indigenous. Their livelihoods are more and more threatened, because their means of survival have constantly been eroded by the powerful of the world.

We have to face one fact - there cannot be poverty elimination without getting into conflict with vested interests. The struggle for survival of the poor in many instances goes against the powerful forces: the investors, the market forces, globalisation, inhumane technologies, racist policies, robbery of their resources, ecological destruction of their means of production and the dumping of overproduction from rich countries.

We appeal to the distinguished delegates not to neglect the conflict potential of combating hunger. In most cases there is no win-win-situation. If you really mean it, hunger reduction, you have to know whose side you are on in case of conflict.

We find it one-sided to put investment on top, if you forget to mention what poor producers really need. We cannot agree to put a new green revolution high on the agenda, and then neglect participation by the poor in determining the course and nature of that ‘revolution’. If you talk about pro-poor development, pro-poor biotech, pro-poor trade, pro-poor financial systems, but you have not gained a deeper insight into the system of livelihoods of the poor, it risks being a masquerade for the interests of the rich and powerful.

The logic and perspective of the poor peasants differ from the ideas of the rich. It is not their concern to increase the growth of GNP, to base their lives on the statements of economists in their efficient calculations. They have to follow their own rationality, which is the rationality of risk minimization. They try to achieve this by diversification. That is distinct from the rationality of profit maximisation, which follows the pursuit of the economics of scale by specialisation.

We are convinced that real progress for poverty reduction cannot achieved without the intensive participation of the poor. The laboratories will not bring freedom from hunger, but only the self-determination of the victims themselves over what they need and what not. We expect FAO to be on the side of the poor producers, not on the side of the technocratic answers.

For us participation poor people in their own development is the key. By participation we understand something distinct from what you call stakeholder dialogue, targeting aid or finding acceptability for pre-set solutions.

The poor producers have to be put in the driver’s seat to drive the programmes; researchers, investors, governmental officials and international experts need to learn how to be co-pilots.

Mr. Chairman, we did not find the term “participation” in the FAO-Documents. It is missing. We ask you, “Is this coincidence, or is it a sign of lack of trust in the poor?”

We want to alert you that there will be no success of any pro-poor strategy, independent of the sincerity of your good intentions, if it remains a simple top-down approach.

For us food sovereignty does encompass the participatory approach, we are critical of trusting the remote forces of globalisation driven by a corporate agenda.

Rudolf Buntzel
Representative of the World Council of Churches to the Special Session of the FAO Committee on Food Security, Oct. 31st, 2006
posted by End Hunger at 6:59 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Monday, October 30, 2006
Extending the Table

“I am not optimistic about the prospects of reducing hunger in the world until you bring the farmers into the conversation.”

With these words Jack Wilkinson, a farmer from northern Ontario and president of the International Federation of Agriculture, brought the first full day session to a close. The massive plenary hall erupted in applause.

I am forever amazed at the way in which we, as a world community, come together to talk. In a time where violence continues to be used as a mechanism to resolve “problems” our ability to sit down around a table together should not be taken for granted. At the United Nations, this dialogue is almost always between, and among country delegations. In the case of the meetings this week, these delegations are largely made up of civil servants. Our Canadian delegation is made up of officials from the federal departments of Agriculture, Foreign Affairs and the Canadian International Development Agency. Not a single elected world leader was in attendance.

However, despite the absence of the elected officials, some very positive changes in process emerged at the meetings today. For the first time the table was broadened, and some chairs were brought around to allow international non-governmental organizations, indigenous peoples, farmers’ organizations and social movements from around the world to fully participate in the sessions. This is interesting because these are the people with dirt under their fingernails and who are closest to the real work of ending hunger. They are the small-scale farmers who are growing the food and whose livelihoods are directly linked to the discussions. They are also the people involved in creating spaces for farmers to learn from one another, as well as the citizens who are challenging their governments to create policies that support sustainable food systems that ensure all people can realize their human right to food. In their statement from the floor, Switzerland used a part of their 5 minutes at the microphone to commend the organizers for including civil society in the conversation.

Like an extended dinner table, the conversation is more vibrant and interesting when there is a diversity of voices. Despite a chairperson who struggled to include all of the voices, and the resulting brief walkout of a frustrated group of small-scale farmers representing La Via Campesina, the roots of a real conversation are growing. It will take great care to ensure it continues.

After a long wait Henry Saragalin, and Indonesian farmer and member of Via Campesina addresses the assembly

It is a fascinating dynamic that is unfolding. When faced with the rising number of hungry people, elected leaders seem to have pulled back from the task at hand, and civil society has stepped forward to engage in the dialogue about solutions on an equal footing. The emerging common ground from all who are gathered here today is that people and governments need to engage more seriously in the work of creating policies around food and agriculture that will allow everyone to have enough to eat. Strangely, governments have not shown a great interest, or capacity to engage their citizens in this kind of dialogue. While I am excited to see a broader range of voices participating in these meetings, I am left troubled by the disappearing voice of elected governments. It appears that there is space opening for organizations like the Canadian Foodgrains Bank to engage Canadians in challenging our government to take a more active role. In fact, we have already started.

Check the Food Justice page for more information on how you can participate in ending hunger.

Kenton Lobe

posted by End Hunger at 7:06 PM | Permalink | 2 comments
Sunday, October 29, 2006
Imagine a tsunami like the one that devastated south Asia in 2004 happening every 10 days, every month, every year...

This is the reality of hunger in our world right now. Every day, 30,000 people die from not having enough to eat or from the diseases that result from a lack of food. Just over half of them – 16,000 is the estimate – are children. Imagine that there is enough food to go around, and that we have known, and named this problem for the last 35 years. Imagine that all it would take to address this injustice is political will - people telling their governments that hunger is simply not acceptable. This is the reality. We have traveled to Rome to tell the 190 government delegations gathered here that, in no uncertain terms, they must do better. We must do better…

How is it that we allow this to go on day after day? It's a simple question and it is the right one. This morning, we gathered with close to 150 other representatives of “civil society” representing farmers’ organizations, relief and development organizations, social movements and human rights groups to plan our strategy for the week ahead. In the midst of the many statements of outrage that our governments and the UN have allowed hunger to grow, Thomas Kocherry, a Catholic priest and representative for fisherfolk in India, challenged us all to move beyond radical statements of outrage towards a radical self-criticism. What is it that we have not done. It is a stinging challenge, and one that I will take very much to heart as I prepare to engage here this week. What is my place in all of this?

As we get ready for the opening ceremonies tomorrow and the many grand statements that we are sure to hear, this challenge to radical transformation and a genuine engagement of citizens around the globe in an effort to end hunger must give us hope. As Eduardo Galleano, a wise Latin American historian once said: We must postpone our pessimism for better times. This is our call to action.

Imagine ending hunger...

Kenton Lobe
posted by End Hunger at 6:46 PM | Permalink | 3 comments
An Uncomfortable Truth – especially for those who are hungry!

Go back almost half a century – in 1961 the member governments of the United Nations talked of there being no child going to bed hungry within 10 years. Ten years ago, at the World Food Summit, the talk was of ‘halving the number’ of hungry people in 20 years – one in two hungry children would have to stay that way in 2015. The UN has now announced that based on the current trend, we will be lucky if one hungry child in four will go to bed no longer hungry. The longer we wait, the more distant the goal becomes.

It does not have be this way!! It could have been different with a little effort – keeping promises made for development aid, setting trade rules that really help poor people to feed themselves, providing debt relief for governments to reduce poverty in their own countries, encouraging developing countries to adopt policies to promote agriculture and rural development. Canada promised 0.7% of our national income for relief and development aid, reached 0.5% in 1990 and has now backtracked to 0.3%. Our government has betrayed Canadians’ interest to help those hungry children.

Our government will work hard to avoid the shame of this failure. They are sending only a low level delegation to this 10th anniversary of the World Food Summit. Perhaps the calculation of Canadian politics considers that ‘no one will notice’. For those of you who want speak out, this is a time to be heard. This miserable result is a shame for all countries but we must start with our own.

Some actions you can take:

  1. Letter to Your Newspaper – write a letter to the editor your local newspaper speaking of our government’s broken promise. We have included some key facts that you can use in the box above. Delivery it either Wednesday or Thursday and you are more likely to make it into the Saturday paper when people have more time to read.
  2. Call your Member of Parliament – ask your MP to raise the question in Parliament as to why the Canadian government has walked away from its promises to the hungry of the world. You can find their contact details here.

Some quick messages that you may want to include:

  • Canada joined 190 other countries in promising to reduce the number of hungry people by half by 2015. The Canadian government developed an Action Plan to achieve Canada’s part but the plan was never implemented.
  • Canadian Aid for agricultural and rural development, a vital part of reducing hunger, was reduced drastically during the 1990s and has only begun to increase over the past two years. Further increases will make a difference but they will take time to take effect and that time is running out and will need to be support the small farmers that often make up 65-75 % of developing country populations.
  • Canadian food aid, the first response to acute hunger crises, has been cut back steadily over the past decade from 400,000 tonnes in 1996 to 200,000 tonnes in 2004.
  • Canada has worked at the World Trade Organization to whittle down any developing country proposals to trade rules that favour their small farmers and the critical role they play in building local food security.

Stuart Clark

posted by End Hunger at 6:20 PM | Permalink | 2 comments
Monday, October 23, 2006
Preparing to Depart...
In 1996 world leaders gathered in Rome at the World Food Summit to ask why so many continue to go hungry in the world today. The first entries on the blog will be from Stu Clark and Kenton Lobe as we attend the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization meetings on World Food Security in Rome from October 28 to November 4. Ten years later, delegates will once again be gathering to ask if we are any closer to ending hunger?

There is a mad frenzy of preparation that precedes any international travel. Reports must be written, agendas finalized, and it seems that the pressure builds to a crescendo as the departure date draws ever closer. As I prepare, I want to share two websites with those of you who will be joining in for this virtual ride.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization will be hosting the Special Forum on Food Security - a follow up meeting to the World Food Summit in 1996 where world leaders agreed that a "business as usual" approach to ending hunger was not working. Check their website for details on the sessions and for a host of other information on food and agriculture.

The More and Better campaign was launched in 2003 to bring together organizations working to end poverty and hunger. It advocates for increases to both the quantity and the quality of aid for agriculture as an important part of this task. We will be participating in the annual meetings of this campaign while in Rome.

Posts will begin on Sunday, October 29. We look forward to your comments and questions...

Kenton Lobe
posted by End Hunger at 2:49 PM | Permalink | 0 comments