G20 must act to tackle hunger

Tuesday, June 21, 2011 - 13:09

Hunger is a man-made problem. Over the past three decades, governments in low-income countries and donors alike have ignored the valuable role of women farmers, relying instead on large scale agri-businesses to feed their people. But this isn’t working.

Decades of perverse policies that put all hope in the free-market, prioritising fuel over food and ignoring the role of smallholder farmers, has left close to a billion people chronically malnourished.

Soil degradation, climate change and loss of biodiversity has made the job of farmers tougher than ever, with climate change alone predicted to reduce yields in Africa by up to 50%.

Women farmers’ rights and food security

Smallholder farmers in low-income countries – most of whom are women – produce almost half the world's food, but their rights have been systematically ignored.

As a result, close to three quarters of those going hungry in the world are actually smallholder farmers and rural landless people.

But research shows that investment in agriculture has doubled the impact on reducing poverty as well as growth in other sectors.

Fulfilment of women’s rights should happen regardless. But if the G20 needs an extra reason to invest in women smallholder farmers, this same research shows that African women with equal access to land and extension services, such as finance and fertilizer, produce 20% more food than their male counterparts.

In fact, countries that have invested in smallholder farmers have witnessed amazing results. When Malawi bucked the trend and started to invest in its agricultural sector, it managed to cut the number of its people requiring food aid from 4.5 million in 2004 to less than 150,000 by 2009.

Yet despite the existence of International Women rights treaties and this growing body of evidence, aid programmes continue to ignore the needs and rights of women smallholder farmers.

The global tide is turning, but not fast enough

Faced with increasing rates of hunger, governments in low-income countries and aid donors alike are beginning to recognise the failures of the current model and are starting to re-invest in agriculture.

However, investment by governments and aid donors has still not reached the levels needed to tackle hunger, and often overlooks smallholder farmers and the needs and rights of women farmers.

Just this month, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation said that the cost of a typical food basket has risen by 48% in real terms globally, over the last year.

At the same time, the World Bank says that an additional 44 million people have already been pushed into poverty by rising food prices and another 34 million are at risk if food prices continue to climb.

The G20 has a role to play

The world must change the way it deals with food crisis. We must move away from an ‘emergency appeal’ based system, where people have to wait until they are starving before receiving food aid, and invest instead in preventive measures such as regional food reserves that will save lives before communities reach tipping point.

These reserves should be sourced and stored at the local level to ensure local women farmers benefit the most, not agri-business.

G20 nations must take co-ordinated action to avoid another global food crisis. These are the countries that have most of the world’s food reserves and play host to the world’s largest commodity exchanges. Their decisions play a huge role in setting global food prices, and their policies must take this into account.

With the EU massively increasing its biofuels demand under new targets and leading economies such as the US and Brazil following suit, the era of food surpluses is over.

The price of food staples like maize and wheat has doubled in the past year so increasing our consumption of biofuels is robbing people of their food security.

The world can’t let people starve so that others can fuel their cars. The G20 need to act!