By Geoffrey York, Globe and Mail, May 18, 2012 With many G8 governments failing to keep their promises on fighting hunger in the developing world, U.S. President Barack Obama has turned to big multinational corporations to fill the financial gap.
Mr. Obama’s new scheme, touting $3-billion in food projects by 45 companies such as Pepsi and DuPont, is an attempt to harness the private sector to find innovative solutions to the hunger crisis in Africa and elsewhere
The coalition of companies, dubbed the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, will work on everything from seed technology and irrigation projects to farm financing and infrastructure. It aims to lift 50 million people out of poverty over the next decade.
But critics say it is a meagre sum of money for a massive problem, and the wrong approach to fixing African agriculture. And because of its long-term nature – with some projects spread over 10 years – the corporate money is unlikely to be helpful for immediate crises such as the devastating droughts in the Sahel region of West Africa, where 14 million people are suffering food shortages, and in the Horn of Africa, where nine million people need food.
Mr. Obama’s announcement was the kickoff of a weekend of international summitry, including the G8 summit at the Camp David presidential retreat near Washington. Food security will be high on the G8 agenda.
“When tens of thousands of children die from the agony of starvation, as in Somalia, that sends us a message we’ve still got a lot of work to do,” Mr. Obama said in a speech on Friday to a symposium on global food security in Washington.
“It’s unacceptable,” he said. “It’s an outrage. It’s an affront to who we are.”
Senior U.S. officials were defensive about the corporate involvement, insisting that it wasn’t an attempt to offload the hunger crisis onto the private sector. But the head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, Rajiv Shah, acknowledged there will be fears of “a multinational takeover of African agriculture.”
Mr. Obama denied he was dumping the problem into the laps of business. “I know some have asked, in a time of austerity, whether this New Alliance is just a way for governments to shift the burden onto somebody else,” he said. “I want to be clear: The answer is no.”
But the most recent G8 pledge on fighting hunger, announced at a summit in 2009, is still far from fulfilled. About $22-billion was pledged for food and agriculture, yet only about 58 per cent of that amount has been spent so far, according to U.S. estimates. Moreover, some of the spending was on traditional food handouts, rather than the long-term projects that were promised.
Robert Fox, executive director of Oxfam Canada, said the $3-billion corporate plan is a small amount of money for a world where nearly a billion people are chronically hungry.
“We don’t see a lot new in this,” he said. “We’re quite concerned that it’s a shrinking response to a growing problem.”
Mr. Obama’s emphasis on multinational corporations is the wrong focus, since most of Africa’s food is produced by small farmers, especially women, Mr. Fox noted.
“If you want to make progress where the needs are greatest, it’s not in industrial agriculture or high-tech solutions.”
Every little effort to confront the billion people who are hungry helps.
However, the fact that the G8 countries have not met their commitments made in 2009 is unacceptable.
Money is, has been, and will be available to fight wars, yet it is not available to reduce starvation.
That simple statement is its own indictment of the people of the developed world, and their political leaders.
It is not rocket science to note that, given the scale of the problem, and its potential political impact..(people will eventually fight and kill for survival) the world abandons the starving at its peril.
Whether this $3 billion initiative will help to develop new seeds and new technologies and new training for the people to whom it is targeted is unknown.
Yet everyone knows that those who are hungry and have not been given the opportunity for an education are much more likely to become entrapped in gangs, in terrorism and in criminal behaviour. Where there is no food, and no legal system and no effective governance and no education, we have a warm petrie dish for growing the cancer of terror. And the cancer will spread impacting the military budgets and the national security budgets of "rich" countries, no matter the religious underpinnings of those conflicts.
On Sunday, we were privileged to listen to the new "czar" of Italy, Mario Monti, on GPS with Fareed Zakaria, who asked Mr. Monti if democracy can cope with the multitude of national debt/deficit problems. His answer, delivered in perfect, even eloquent, English, focused on the tendency for political leaders everywhere to address short-term problems, failing in the process to address their long-term implications.
Hunger, climate change and global warming, arms sales from rogue nations like Iran, and short-term pandering to the voters, for the purpose of being re-elected...these are endemic problems that, when combined result in eunuch governments, especially when viewed in retrospect, for the implications of their denial.
Democracy may be evolving into the triumph of the wealthy individuals, much as it did historically, in the "gilded age" of the1920's, and leaving those "outside" the boardrooms of power in effect disenfranchised, even if they have the right to vote. Oligarchy, after so many wars and political upheavals to replace it with something more akin to representative government, may once again have to be overthrown.
And whether that removal comes in the form of a gradual evolution, or a more climactic eruption, or as we are seening in the Middle East, a series of "minor" eruptions under the cloud of three or four major potential military-political crises is still unclear.
While corporations will always be available to drop a few shekels of "aid" into the huge cauldron of need, given the tax benefits of such beneficence, governments declare their impotence and their indifference by reverting to corporate hand-outs. Governments, also, in so doing, declare their increasing dependence on those corporations, and hence help to erode their assumption of what has been until now, their legitimate responsibility.
When governments fail to meet basic needs of the people, both at home and around the world, in a shrinking planet, they erode the confidence of the people in the capacity of those governments to serve the needs that confront their own people and the people of the undeveloped countries, whose fates are so inextricably tied as to be one...given a common need for food, for clean water and air, for health care and education, honourable work and shelter.
Those needs are common irrespective of the "ideology" of the governments in every country. And the voices that speak for those needs must never be side-lined at the table where military and economic policy makers shout their proposals for "action" or for reprisals.
A single decade goal of lifting 50 milllion out of povery is worthy. However, in relative terms, with nearly a billion people chronically hungry, the proposal does not go very far.
And all our hands are covered with the guilt, and the shame and the potential for conflict that our collective failures of our governments to meet legitimate obligations to the hungry. And only full compliance with minimal goals, already committed, will assuage that guilt, shame and collective political entropy.