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By Eithne McNulty, Director of Trócaire in Northern Ireland, 24 January 2013
There are 870 million people who are chronically undernourished in the world. Men, women and children who go hungry every day. This is a scandal. Hunger is one of the world’s most critical problems yet the planet produces enough food for everyone.
Hunger should not be an issue. It is unfair, unjust and entirely preventable. It is not an inevitable fact of life. Hunger is the logical consequence of a series of failures and injustices linked to policies and access to resources. A new campaign was launched this week which hopes to raise awareness of this scandal and finally do something about it. The ‘IF’ campaign marks the biggest coming-together of the UK and Ireland’s major development agencies and faith groups since ‘Make Poverty History’ in 2005.
The campaign calls on Prime Minister David Cameron to use the UK’s G8 presidency in 2013 to take action on the root causes of the hunger crisis in the world’s poorest countries. One of the arguments of the campaign is that there is enough food for everyone IF we stop poor farmers being forced off their land, and use the available agricultural land to grow food for people, not to grow biofuels for cars.
Seventy per cent of the world’s poor live in rural areas and depend upon agriculture for survival. It is logical, therefore, that the issue of land – who owns it, who has access to it, and who benefits from it – is fundamental in the battle against hunger.
Over the past ten years we have witnessed an increasing politicisation of land and water, as politics and power dictate who has access to these vital resources.
A large proportion of land bought up by foreign investors in poor countries is being used to grow biofuels. Biofuels were once thought to be the answer to our energy problems but we now know that using food to fuel our cars rather than feed people pushes food prices up. When this happens it is the poor that are most affected.
Large scale multi-nationals and political elites engaging in agri-business, biofuels, export orientated food production and mineral extraction are putting increased pressure on land and water. The growing competition for natural resources is forcing poor communities further into the margins. Africa, in particular, has seen an increased momentum for large scale ‘land grabs’, with private investors and capital rich but resource poor countries buying or leasing enormous tracts of fertile land. A report by the US-based Oakland Institute in 2011 analysed a series of land deals in countries across Africa and found that the purchases of land, often by large institutional investors, were mostly unregulated, produced few of the promised benefits to local people, and created serious food insecurity by forcing thousands of farming communities off their land.
The report highlighted just how easy it is for foreign multinationals to acquire land in Africa, often benefiting from extremely generous tax holidays, zero per cent duty on imports, and low or non-existent rent on large tracts of land.
We want the UK government to put this land issue on the agenda of the G8 and seek action to improve governance, transparency and accountability in land agreements. The UK should also push for implementation of all relevant aspects of the Voluntary Guidelines on land tenure and should ensure that the renegotiation of the principles on responsible agricultural investment reflect the fact that good investment must work for poor communities.
We are also calling for the UK government to scrap its target to have five percent renewable energy in transport fuel (in practice biofuel), as this target is providing an incentive for foreign run companies to buy up fertile land in developing countries, leaving local people will less and less land on which to grow crops to feed their families.
Successive commitments have been made on tackling hunger since the early 1970s. Yet, over the last forty years the number of people going hungry has doubled. It is time for all of us to make a stand and say enough is enough.
Trócaire is a member of the ‘Enough Food For Everyone IF’ campaign coalition. This article was first published in The Irish News on January 24th, 2012