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09.02.2015 | Guest Commentary

Ten Things the G7 Needs to Hear on Hunger

This summer the G7 will meet in Germany to talk about a whole set of pressing global issues, and the civil society has something pretty strong to say to them.

Women in Bangladesh sitting on the floor of a market
Market women in Bangladesh. G7, we need to give smallholders power over policies that are make or break on their rights to food like food, trade and agriculture. © Jens Grossmann
Laura Sullivan Guest Author

Although hunger is regrettably not particularly high on Merkel’s agenda, it has just about made the final cut. And with one in nine still affected by hunger globally in a year that international community goes to set new sustainable development goals, civil society has something pretty strong to say to the G7.

In preparation for the June G7 jamboree, our partner, a German NGO called Welthungerhilfe, brought together more than 200 people in Berlin to present an interesting piece of work. Over the last year they supported an exercise consulting people in countries from Ethiopia to India to Bolivia about the challenges and opportunities to turn the page on hunger. You can read the results of that here (to Berlin Memorandum).

In the presence of the German G7 ‘sherpa’, a colourful gang of civil society including people who participated in those country level consultations talked about why the world hasn’t quite cracked the code on hunger yet. And how it can. I went to the event to represent Concord, the Confederation of European Relief and Development NGOs. Ultimately we are all saying the same thing and we have been saying it for a long time. There is no need to change the record. But it is time for words to translate to action:

Ten things the G7 needs to hear on Hunger

  1. Hunger is not about scarcity or productivity. It is about injustice and inequality. For a long time the industrial model of production has been focused on growth and has failed to feed people. The way we manage the food system needs to change so that it works for people, and in the name of tackling hunger and inequality.
  2. If we haven’t yet advanced on hunger and poverty, it is because we haven’t addressed power. Smallholder farmers, especially women, produce the overwhelming majority of food in developing countries, yet they have very little to no power or say over policies that are make or break on their rights to food like food, trade and agriculture. In spite of very positive moves to seek more investment in farmers – think Africa’s CAADP – smallholder farmers are still far removed from the driving seat. The New Alliance on Food Security and Nutrition shows how this situation is actually getting worse. We need to put smallholders back at the centre of the equation, genuinely this time.
  3. Revitalising rural communities is not an agenda to keep smallholders small or poor, it is about ensuring they have a choice. There is an idea out there that NGOs want to keep smallholder farmers small, poor and trapped in rural areas. Efforts to support smallholders and regenerate rural communities are about ensuring that people have a genuine choice. If your land is grabbed, or decimated by the effects of climate change or a family member has developed an illness related to the pesticides that surround your home, the chances are you have little choice but to leave. Around the world, this flight from rural areas gives rise to one of the most horrific forms of poverty that exists, that of abandoned communities living on the edges of cities, without the skills to integrate into urban work markets, with no way out. One obvious response is prevention: revitalising rural communities by ensuring services are there, stopping land grabs, helping farmers to develop climate resilient sustainable agriculture methods, reinvesting so that they have a choice.
  4. Private sector yes, but it is the kind of private sector that matters. ActionAid and Concord support the role of the private sector in development but we would be very naïve not to ask the questions ‘which kind of private sector’ and ‘who benefits from this’? If the ‘private sector turn’ in donors’ aid policy could be turned towards the real private sector, smallholder farmers, we would go a long way towards tackling hunger and creating jobs, on a broader and more equal basis.
  5. The idea of win-win is nice, but unfortunately one of the wins has gone out the window: the New Alliance on Food Security and Nutrition is an example of where win-win does not work. The initiative, born of the G8, basically seeks to increase agri-business investment opportunities in Africa, whilst simultaneously lifting 50 million people out of poverty by 2022. But there is no framework to show how the latter will happen. We have to assume that it will. The progress reports of the New Alliance talks of millions of smallholders being ‘reached’ through the New Alliance initiative. But those figures come from the companies benefitting, and there is no definition of what ‘reached’ actually means. To round it all off, the New Alliance puts in place a highly questionable framework whereby national legislation on the likes of seeds and land can be changed in the name of creating an enabling environment for investment.
  6. ‘Policy coherence for development’ sounds tedious and technical but it is crucial. It is about fairness. What it boils down to is this: Europe cannot continue to give aid with one hand, whilst taking it away with the other via policies like trade (think EPAs), energy (think biofuels) or tax (policies that allow tax dodging). Luckily, via the Lisbon Treaty, we have a binding commitment as the EU to ensure that all of our policies are coherent with and supportive of our development objectives and commitments to poor countries. The problem is politicians have consistently dodged responsibility for it.
  7. Walk the talk on smallholder farmers. The German Minister for Development reiterated Germany’s commitment to smallholder farmers at the Welthungerhilfe event in Berlin this week. That is hugely welcome. But it has to translate into more than just a couple of well-intentioned programmes. It means a comprehensive and coherent framework that supports farmers through investments and by putting an end to policies and programmes that undermine the good of those investments.
  8. Stay the course on the good initiatives you are supporting especially framework’s that have been designed and supported by poor countries themselves, with strong inputs from civil society. One of those is the Global Agriculture and Food Security Programme (GAFSP), which is about public financing for agriculture. It is largely underfunded and in need of a serious boost. Could the G7 provide it? Another is support for countries’ efforts to adopt the Global Committee on Food Security’s Tenure Guidelines, which hold the potential to reinforce the land rights of people, which is one of the major keys to food security.
  9. Start engaging in an honest conversation with us on the New Alliance. Right now, it’s impossible to even evaluate the New Alliance because the agreements are not available, and the Annual progress reports, as described above, are not real exercises. We need to have an honest discussion about this. It needs to be acknowledged that any framework which allows companies to negotiate directly with countries on changing their laws to create an enabling environment for investment is just not credible or acceptable.
  10. Join the dots: the G7 has made commitments on hunger and it needs to live up to them. But in 2015, G7 leaders need to join up the dots and carry through their commitments to food security and hunger throughout the year, from the Finance for Development Conference in Addis, to the UN SDGs Conference in New York, to the COP 21 in Paris.

This agenda is all linked up. So let’s start joining the dots.
February 2015, Laura Sullivan, Representative of ActionAid International at EU level and Regional Director for Europe and the Americas at ActionAid.

Vice President of CONCORD, the European confederation of Relief and Development NGOs. We are made up of member organisations:  28 national associations, 18 international networks and 2 associate members that represent over 2,400 NGOs, supported by millions of citizens across Europe.


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