Last weekend, the G8 held a ‘Nutrition for Growth’ summit in London, prior to their main, annual summit in Northern Ireland next week. Here we ask whether they are doing enough to combat global hunger and highlight differences between the G8’s approach and that of ChildFund.
Why the fuss over hunger?
Hunger is number one on the list of the world’s top 10 health risks. It kills more people every year than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined (WFP). Last week, the medical journal Lancet published shocking new figures on child malnutrition, showing that it was responsible for 3.1 million child deaths annually – almost half of all deaths before the age of five.
Meanwhile, the IF campaign notes that there is enough food in the world to feed everyone, if only it was distributed more equitably. The campaign calls for greater investment in aid for basic nutrition, which in 2011 came to $418 million – just 0.4% of total official development assistance (Guardian). Against this backdrop, the G8’s new focus on hunger seems well-founded, if overdue.
So are they doing enough?
As the most powerful group of nations on the planet, the G8 is a prime target for dissent. But Andrew Norton of ODI notes that despite this ‘cynical environment’, “there is little question that the combined effect of G8 summits has been to generate resources for development that have saved lives, expanded opportunity and supported economic growth.” This week’s hunger summit continued this trend, resulting in donor pledges of $900 million per year until 2020 to target malnutrition. The ‘Global Nutrition for Growth Compact’ seeks to save at least 1.7m children’s lives by reducing stunting, increasing breastfeeding, and treating acute malnutrition (Guardian).
However, serious reservations are being expressed around the world about the nature of this assistance. The focus of criticism is the ‘New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition in Africa’, which creates a public-private partnership in order to mobilise greater investment in African agriculture. Concerns revolve around the fact that in order to access cash under the initiative, African governments have to make major changes to their land, seed and farming policies, prompting talk of a ‘new wave of colonialism’ (ACBIO).
Requiring countries to use the ‘improved’ seeds of multinationals such as Monsanto may drive up prices for farmers in Africa and reduce precious genetic diversity, while land ‘reforms’ could accelerate the rate of ‘land-grabbing’ by corporations – who have already asked for 500,000 hectares in Ivory Coast under this scheme (Guardian). All this looks set to exacerbate an existing problem with the West’s relationship with Africa – while money is poured in through aid, far more wealth leaves the continent via multinational companies. Critics say this is yet more evidence that the G8 is excessively influenced, through lobbying, donations and the ‘revolving door’ of personnel, by the interests of big business at the expense of developing countries (Heinrich Böll Foundation).
What’s the alternative?
Smallholder farmers make up about 60% of the workforce in Africa (All Africa). Thus even if multinationals produce more food, if smallholders are put out of business, the results will be disastrous. Moreover, smallholder farms are often very efficient in terms of production per hectare – they already feed around 70% of the world’s population – and they have tremendous potential for growth. Supporting smallholders is how Vietnam went from being a food-deficit country to the second largest rice exporter in the world (IFAD).
This is the method that ChildFund takes. We provide inputs such as irrigation systems and fertilisers, and training for farmers on topics such as soil management and crop planning, to help them produce more for themselves and their communities. But food security isn’t just about production. Our approach is a holistic one, encompassing the World Health Organisation’s three pillars of:
While availability is increased through our work with smallholders, access is improved through the provision of livestock such as goats and chickens to families, so they can ensure their children have diets rich in calcium and protein. We engage communities in income-generating projects to enable them to purchase more food, whilst our Early Childhood Development programmes have mobilised networks of community health workers to monitor child health and educate families on the value and means to a balanced diet. In addition, we are directing services to expectant and lactating mothers to ensure healthy nutrition from the first moments of life.
We believe firmly in empowering local people, rather than corporations, as the solution to hunger, malnutrition and food security. If you feel as we do, you can help us reach more farmers, communities and children with our localised approach by making a donation.
From a tiny seed, a great trunk may grow…