Silence around the food summit

Food Security22 Nov 2009Thea Hilhorst

This week was the food summit in Rome. It has passed in almost complete silence. Even though the number of people that goes to bed hungry reaches one billion! The soaring of food prices two years ago was a wake up call to the world. After 25 years of neglect, last summer the rich countries of the G8 have pledged 20 Billion Dollar for agriculture in Africa. But the attention seems to slip away already. The food summit is generally seen as a failure. The final declaration is full of hollow phrases on the importance of small agriculture but no concrete steps to enhance this.

As in many countries, the Netherlands were represented by the Ministry of Agriculture. This conveys the image that we are dealing with an agro-technical problem. But hunger is the result of political choices. It has everything to do with the protection of markets in Europe and the US, the lack of legal protection of small farmers and the enforced structural adjustments that have made it impossible for developing countries to maintain a pro-active food policy. The worldwide malnourishment also underlines the need to reform humanitarian aid. The bulk of aid continues to be made up by food aid, even where alternatives are available that would enhance local production and local markets. Humanitarian programmes distribute seeds purchased from multinational corporations even though locally adapted seeds are available.

The demand for food will grow 70% in the next 40 years. The agricultural acreage is reaching its limits, water is increasingly scarce and the net effects of climate change are negative for agricultural production. The problems are not getting smaller and it becomes all the more tempting to perceive of them as a crisis that requires a package of emergency measures. All the more reason to ensure that food and hunger stay on the politica agenda!