Thursday

23rd Mar 2017

Opinion

Calling on Europe to end the outrage of hunger

  • We live our lives as if all is fine with the international food system (Photo: IITA)

In the Western world, we take it for granted that there will always be food on our plates. We live our lives as if all is fine with the international food system. But in fact we are all ignorant bystanders in an unprecedented global food emergency.

Almost 1 billion people are undernourished. Every five seconds a child under the age of 10 dies directly or indirectly of hunger. In a world overflowing with riches and where there is more than enough food to feed everyone, these are hideous crimes.

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The global food system of this rich but unjust world is broken. It is controlled by multinational corporations, powerful elites and financial speculators who are profiting from commodity markets that remain less regulated in the European Union than in the United States to bet big on food staples.

As a consequence, food prices are returning to the unprecedented highs of the 2008 crisis. In fact, the price of staple foods such as maize, already at an all time high, are projected to more than double in the next 20 years, according to new research published by development agency Oxfam.

Half a century of slow progress in the fight against hunger is being reversed because of this broken global food system and environmental crises.

Despite mounting evidence of its disastrous impacts on food prices, land availability and the livelihoods of millions of poor farmers worldwide, Europe continues to push on with its criminal biofuel policy. Enormous tracts of land are being taken away from poor farmers to generate massive returns to international investors betting on the biofuels boom.

At the same time, the EU's meagre offer of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent by 2020, together with lack of action elsewhere, will translate into at least 3 to 4 degrees of warming. This will lead to 10-20 percent more people at risk of hunger by 2050: almost all will be living in developing countries and the majority of them will be women and children.

Ahead of a new round of key G20 meetings, starting with agriculture ministers later this month, our leaders have the chance to get serious about tackling world hunger and managing the global financial markets. But whatever comes out of the G20, the EU must act now. It has already recognised the right to food of every human being and that prioritising agriculture in development policy is the way forward, but it remains a weak partner in the fight for global food justice.

The EU can take action without waiting for others: regulate opaque speculative markets, review the deadly biofuel targets, lead on climate change and pay the EU's fair share of climate impacts in developing countries. EU aid should prioritise poor farmers – they face the biggest impacts but can also provide real solutions in fighting world hunger. Leaving them to benefit from 'trickle down' growth is an illusion, as has been shown in decades of failed development policy.

A powerful few, including politicians and business elites, argue that the answer is more of the same; more of the same false solutions that leave the perverted food system intact. But more of the same is no longer good enough. In this moment of unprecedented crisis, there is also an opportunity and space for radical new solutions. Europe must lead the way into this new world.

The writer is Member of the Advisory Committee of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and former UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food

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