Just under a billion people in the world are malnourished. But the great irony is that there’s more than enough food to go around. At this month’s G8 summit, world leaders discussed the issue of food security. We take a look at the all-important G8 response to the global hunger crisis.
Factory farming and the hunger crisis
There can be little doubt about the link between world hunger and factory farming. Industrial-farming methods are often wheeled out as a solution to the problem of feeding the world – they are presented by many as efficient, profitable and even progressive. But the reality isn’t so progressive – in fact, the industrialisation of livestock farming exacerbates, rather than alleviates, hunger (find out why here).
We joined IF because of the close connection between factory farming and global hunger – you can’t eradicate poverty without championing small-scale farming and tackling the problem’s root causes, such as factory farming.
So what happened at the G8?
Firmly on the G8 agenda was the need for people in poorer countries to have more control over their land. There were calls for more transparency over land deals, many of which take the form of large-scale "land grabs". The practice of multinational companies seizing land from poor farmers in the developing world has severe implications: not only are farmers’ livelihoods brutally displaced, often leaving them unable to feed their families, but much of this land is used to grow crops for animal feed and fuel, rather than food, which only adds to the world hunger crisis.
Leaders proposed partnerships between G8 nations and several developing countries that "will...support national development plans with the objective of improving land governance and in particular transparency in land transactions by 2015" (1).
It sounds good on paper, but Sally Copley, spokesperson for IF, said that while "the partnerships agreed show that progress is possible to prevent land grabs...far more is needed, and the G8 needs to show it will really get to grips with the problem by regulating G8-based companies involved in land deals, and leading more ambitious global efforts to tackle land grabs" (2).
An alliance for the better?
The summit also saw the G8 nations reaffirm their commitment to the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, which was launched by Barack Obama last year. Its goal is to "lift 50 million people out of poverty by 2022" (3) by pouring funds into African agriculture through partnerships between African states, the G8 nations and private-sector companies, including Monsanto, Syngenta, Cargill and Unilever.
Understandably, the alliance divides opinion. Critics have described it as "a new wave of colonialism" (4), arguing that it will give even more power to the corporate food giants, securing them huge profits and allowing them access to Africa’s abundant natural resources. In other words, some believe that it flies in the face of the need for "food sovereignty"* in nations across the world.
But those in favour – including Joyce Banda, President of Malawi, among many other African leaders – say that critics are missing the point. These supporters refute the view of the alliance as a Western, corporate takeover of African agriculture, insisting that several of the large investors are African, and that not all investors are "big business".
According to Bono’s ONE Campaign, which supports the New Alliance, the initiative "is comprised of a diverse group of companies – including many small businesses – which are trying to expand economic opportunities for farmers and their families" (5).
In our view
While it was good to see some sensible suggestions about tackling land grabs come out of the G8, we share the IF campaign’s concerns that more needs to be done to regulate land deals. In fact, we’d go one step further than this and say that the G8 needed to focus more on reforming our over-industrialised food system, which squanders vast amounts of grain and soya on intensively farmed animals. This is a major driver of land grabs.
We also believe it’s vital that the New Alliance doesn’t push developing countries down the route of industrial agriculture. History has shown that throwing money at livestock farming can lead to intensification – a model that squanders resources, disempowers farmers and communities, and ultimately drives hunger.
In the world of agriculture, bigger is not necessarily better. As the United Nations Food and Agriculture Association (UNFAO) states, traditional livestock systems "…are the major source of livelihood for 200 million rural families, and provide food and income for some 70% of the world's rural poor" (6). With this in mind, it was disappointing that the G8 leaders failed to identify the most effective way to support smallholders, which is to put an end to intensive livestock farming.
Quite simply, then, factory farming is the route to even greater hunger, not less. And the sooner policy makers realise this, the better.