Saturday, 9 October 2010

New Analysis of the Undernourished

The news on food and agriculture from the International Business Times on 7 October 2010 was that an extreme food crisis exists in 22 countries because of protracted crises. The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Food Program (WFP.org, part of the B’org?) hunger report called State of Food Insecurity in the World 2010 was just published on 6 October 2010, and members of the newly reformed Committee on World Food Security (CFS) will be discussing the hunger report from 11-16 October 2010 in Rome.

The new way of reasoning the fact that millions of people are still undernourished (or starving as it used to be called?) in certain countries, despite numerous efforts by all the well fed countries since 1996 and before, is called ‘protracted crises’, which stem from natural disasters, conflict, and weak institutions. The FAO list the 22 countries in protracted crisis, which are mostly in Africa. Interestingly, the undernourished people in these 22 countries represent only 20% of the total number of undernourished people in the world.

Emergency humanitarian food assistance flows into these 22 countries. Food assistance includes tied, in-kind food aid and also cash or vouchers and support for local purchase of agricultural produce. In Chapter 5, “Corporate Interests in US food Aid Policy” in Corporate Power in global Agrifood Governance, Jennifer Clapp discusses tied in-kind food aid.  She tells us that it is the type of food aid preferred by the US and that it has been historically used by them to dispose of surplus food. She continues by saying that besides being highly inefficient, the US in-kind food aid programs are distorting trade, especially in the countries where the food is delivered. In addition, she says there are environmental concerns of the recipients, especially with GM food aid. Clapp also mentions that there are general environmental issues involved because the US uses industrial farming to produce the food and insists on using its own ships to transport it half way around the world in the form of mostly grains. In addition, by the time the food aid arrives, the crisis may already have passed.

Besides being ineffective, in-kind food aid does not blend together and enhance the other forms of assistance mentioned above. And although sustainable agriculture and natural resource management are mentioned in the hunger report as longer term considerations to promote livelihoods, little to no information is given about their development - because eco-farming is not market based.  Eco-farming has little or nothing to do with economics.

In addition, although the number of undernourished is presumably down 98 million this year primarily because of improved food prices, according to the hunger report, “hunger remains higher than before the crises, making it ever more difficult to achieve the hunger-reduction targets of the World Food Summit and Millennium Development Goal 1.” With less than 5 years left, it seems very unlikely that the target will be met unless some radical changes are put in place. Unfortunately, I have not seen signs of the needed changes in the news recently.

Last October, it was reported that Bill Gates shifted focus to fighting hunger and as I discussed in my letter to him, I don’t think his focus is in the right direction. Although, he claims to support an environmental approach to agriculture, which I gather means a more natural approach , he clearly favours a technological approach. This is evidenced from the recent investment of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in Monsanto (see the video here on my blog for more information about the B’org Monsanto). In May of this year, Haitian Farmers were reported to Burn Donated Monsanto Seeds on the basis that they are “a very strong attack on small agriculture, on farmers, on biodiversity, on Creole seeds…” Haiti is one of the 22 countries in protracted crises.

When I think of Africa, for one thing, I think of all the natural resources that come from that continent such as oil, diamonds, gold, iron, cobalt, uranium, copper, bauxite, silver, petroleum, and also woods and tropical fruits. So I will conclude this article with a quote with food for thought from Satish Kumar in Spiritual Compass (pp 83-84):
The net flow of wealth is constantly flowing from the poor to the rich countries.  So the urgent challenge facing the world is not to give more to the poor, but to take less from the poor; to get off their backs and get out of their way so that they can look after themselves.

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