Global hunger, the price of greed and lack of foresight

A Somali woman waits in line for
food with her baby. (UN Photo

Speculation on lands and commodities, the boom of biofuels, agricultural and aid policies set up by rich countries and multilateral organizations and the climate change exacerbates the food crisis all over the world, as Social Watch Report 2012 makes apparent. Those conclusions find new prove with two more recent studies, one prepared by Friends of the Earth Europe and other by Save the Children and Oxfam.

At the same time, FAO assistant director-general Hiroyuki Konuma warned that “as increased levels of investments are critically important to reduce the long-prevailing deficit of engagements, they have heightened demands and pressures on land and placed tensions on land tenure systems.”

“In some cases, these investments may have been made at the expense of the land rights of poor men and women,” regretted Konuma, as he opened the Expert Consultation on Agricultural Investments and Access to Land organized by the FAO (Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations) held on Bangkok last week.

In its report, entitled “Farming Money”, Friends of the Earth Europe showed the extent of food speculation and land grabs managed by European financial companies. The study reveals the significant involvement of 29 European banks, pension funds and insurance companies in “these destructive activities”, that “leads to a catastrophic instability in global food prices, forcing millions of people into poverty and hunger,” said Daniel Pentzlin, sustainable finance campaigner for this European organization.

“European banks, insurers and funds […] are gambling with peoples’ lives whilst reaping huge profits. This industry needs strict regulation to protect the poorest in society,” he added

The report explains that, with the global financial turmoil, “agricultural commodity futures have become increasingly attractive to financial investors and speculators. Billions of euros and dollars are flooding in and out of commodity markets, causing sudden price spikes […]. While high food prices hit the most vulnerable the hardest, threatening their right to food, the rapid price swings also affect poor farmers.”

“Increasing demand for agrofuels has been a major factor in the recent agricultural commodity price rises, with agrofuels policies creating a demand shock. Land and crops are being diverted from food production, less food is available and food prices are increasing,” according to the study.

The 2011 crisis was not an isolated case

The report produced by Save the Children and Oxfam, entitled “A Dangerous Delay”, regrets the late response to the food crisis in the Horn of Africa. “This crisis unfolded despite having been predicted. Although brought on by drought, it was human factors which turned the crisis into a deadly emergency,” wrote the authors.

“Tragically, the 2011 crisis is not an isolated case. The response to drought is invariably too little too late, representing a systemic failure of the international system – both ‘humanitarian’ and ‘development’. The result of this failure is that the people affected […] lose their livelihoods and potentially their lives. Women are often worst affected, as they generally eat last and least. And hunger threatens children’s health and development, and thus the well-being of future generations,” they added.

“In the Horn of Africa, there were indications that a crisis was coming from as early as August 2010. In November 2010, these warnings were repeated and they became more strident in early 2011. Some actors did respond, but full scale-up only really happened after the rains had failed for a second successive time. By this time, in some places people were already dying. Many had lost their livelihoods, and many more – particularly women and children – were suffering extreme hardship,” according to the report.

“Raising large sums for humanitarian response currently depends on getting significant media and public attention – which did not happen until the crisis point was reached. But this misses the point. Waiting for a situation to reach crisis point before responding is the wrong way to address chronic vulnerability and recurrent drought in places like the Horn of Africa,” explains “Dangerous Delay”.

“Putting adaptation to climate change and the reduction of disaster risk at the heart of development approaches must be a top priority,” concludes the study.


Global resources are sufficient

Social Watch Report 2012 remarks that the “global resources are sufficient to guarantee for the essential needs of all of the world’s 7 billion inhabitants.” But “too many of these inhabitants suffer from hunger. According to the 2010 FAO report, 850 million people are undernourished in the world, and that number is increasing due to rising food prices,” wrote Roberto Bissio, coordinator of Social Watch, on the overview of the study.

“Financial and commodity speculation has undercut food security and turned millions of hectares of land away from growing food and into unsustainable uses,” explains the Civil Society Reflection Group on Global Development, , comprised of members of Social Watch, Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, terre des hommes, Third World Network, Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation, DAWN and the Global Policy Forum.

In the chapter of the report entitled “Rio+20 and beyond: no future without justice”, the Group warned that “economic policies have on many occasions contradicted the commitments made to rights and sustainability as they and their related national and international institutions occupy the apex of governance domains. They have relied too much on markets to allocate societies’ resources and distribute their wealth, singling out GDP growth as the ultimate measure of well-being. The result has been increased concentration and bigger market share ratios of a few transnational corporations, including in the food and medicine sectors.”

The Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND) went further in its chapter to note that “weakly managed unsustainable energy policies […] have only exacerbated the global threat of climate change, in addition to endangering water and food security through such technologies as first generation bio-fuels that needlessly create a competition between energy and food”.


Agri-businesses displace local communities

Mirjam van Reisen, of Tilburg University, Simon Stocker and Georgina Carr, both of Eurostep, criticized the European Union’s goal of sourcing 20% of the bloc’s energy needs from renewable sources, including biofuels. That policy “led to land grabbing by large agri-businesses, which not only displaces local communities but also contributes to food insecurity since land formerly used for food production is now used to provide energy security for the EU”.

“The EU’s Common Agricultural Policy has also been widely criticized for encouraging vastly unequal business relations between farmers in Europe and in the global South. In particular EU dependence on imported animal feed, especially soy, has contributed to the growing demand for land abroad, leading to deforestation, the displacement of communities and an expansion of genetically modified soy in South America and thus both environmental
and socially detrimental effects,” adds the chapter wrote by Van Reisen, Stocker and Carr.

“In addition EU export subsidies encourage overproduction of certain crops, which leads to the dumping of excess agricultural commodities on the world market – that is, selling at prices below those that would prevail in undistorted markets and in many cases at prices below the cost of production. This has contributed to the general downward trend of world market prices for agricultural commodities over the past several decades, creating little opportunity for equal inclusion of farmers in developing countries in the global agricultural market,” according to the experts.

“The competition for investment in land in Africa and elsewhere, including security in response to financial volatility, is driving production for the European market to developing countries and displacing the livelihoods of small farmers. Recently 300,000 hectares of land were acquired in Ethiopia for intensive agricultural production for export at the same time as humanitarian organizations were raising funds to fight spiraling hunger there due to the loss of livelihoods in rural areas,” they concluded.

These three experts also accused the “self regulation of the private sector”, an “approach pursued and encoureged by the EU in common with other industrialized partners.”

This report is based on data from the following sources:
Social Watch Report 2012:
Farming Money:
A Dangerous Delay: