What Will the G8 Summit Accomplish: Feed the Hungry or Fuel Hunger?

As the rich G8 nations convene for their next extravaganza in
L'Aquila, Italy from July 8-10, 2009, world hunger will once again
take center stage. It is expected that the U.S. will announce
"significant" increase in funding for agricultural development aid
along with multi-year commitments from other G8 countries. This
follows G8's admission of failure in tackling hunger at its first ever
farm conference in Treviso, Italy in April 2009.

Proposals to challenge hunger have become a common feature of
international conferences since the 2008 food crisis. An increase of
83 percent in food prices between 2005-2008 led to a massive surge in
global hunger -- the number of hungry in 2008 increased to 963 million
from 854 million a year before (FAO, 2008) -- compelling heads of
states to discuss food security as warnings of political instability
and social unrest grew. The political intent to combat world hunger,
however, was short spanned. Perhaps the decline in crop prices that
started in the middle of 2008 made the problem appear less severe for
policy makers, while the bailouts of failing banks and bankruptcies of
automakers, came to capture all attention and resources.

The hunger crisis is however far from over. The number of hungry has
reached a historic high in 2009 with 1.02 billion people -- one sixth of
humanity -- going hungry every day. (FAO, 2009a) Despite an improved
global cereal supply situation and decline in international prices of
most cereals from their highs in the first-half of 2008, food prices
remain high in developing countries. (FAO, 2009b) 32 countries face
acute food crisis. Economic crisis has worsened the situation by
further shrinking the purchasing power of the urban poor and food
deficit farmers in poor countries. (TWN, 2009b)

It is in the midst of this deeply entrenched epidemic of poverty and
hunger that the G8 will announce their new initiative that seeks a
more coordinated approach to food aid and development. G8's
performance on its past commitments however casts a shadow on the
sincerity of their intentions.

At the height of the 2008 food crisis, G8 leaders had highlighted food
security at their summit in Hokkaido, Japan which cost over $600
million compared to $400 million annual budget of the United Nation's
Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) -- half of it was spent on a
massive security operation involving some 21,000 police officers,
coast guards and soldiers. With much fanfare the G8 communique on
global food security had committed $10 billion for food and
agricultural aid to increase agricultural production in developing
countries. Despite the media glitz around it, this was not any new
money, but a mere adding up of aid already pledged by the G8
countries. The G8 communique also included a commitment to "reverse
the overall decline of aid and investment in the agricultural
sector..." The commitment however failed to list any specific dollar
amounts with a timeline.

More important, despite commitments, pledges, grandiose communiques by
the rich donor nations to challenge hunger at numerous international
summits, world hunger persists. The problem is inherent in the fallacy
of explanations offered to explain the hunger crisis and in the
promotion of market and technology-based solutions.

With hunger framed as a crisis of demand and supply, the proposed
solutions have come to primarily focus on boosting agricultural
production through technological solutions like genetic engineering
(GE) and chemical inputs or/and on removing supply-side constraints to
ensure access to food through liberalization of agricultural trade.
This framework was used, for instance, to explain the 2008 food crisis
and has permeated international efforts geared towards challenging
hunger without questioning the policies promoted by the same donor
countries and the multilateral institutions they control, over the
last three-four decades that undermined food security in the
developing countries in the first place. Their faulty analysis yields
an incomplete understanding of the causes of world hunger and hence,
broken solutions.

Free Trade = Freedom from Hunger?

While pledging commitment to fight hunger, the 2008 G8 communique
reiterated its continued support for "the development of open and
efficient agricultural and food markets." Ministers at the G8 Farm
Conference in 2009 also recommended open markets, urging an "ambitious
conclusion of the Doha Round" of the World Trade Organization (WTO) as
the solution to the food crisis.

The logic of the G8 that international trade will help solve the
global food crisis was well reflected in a speech by Pascal Lamy,
Director General of the World Trade Organization (WTO) at the
International Food and Agricultural Trade Policy Council conference in
May 2009. Lamy claimed that increased competition reduces prices and
thus enhances the purchasing power of the consumers. Secondly, he
argued, trade helps transport food from places where it can be
produced efficiently to where there is demand. (Reuters, 2009a)

Assertion that free trade will help solve hunger is however based on
amnesia. Liberalization of agricultural markets has yet to deliver on
the promised or expected gains in growth and stability in the
developing world. In a submission to the Commission of Sustainable
Development (CSD) in May 2009, the United Nations Special Rapporteur
on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter, pointed to the multilateral
trading system as being "heavily skewed in favor of a small group of
countries, and in urgent need of reform." (TWN, 2009) He was referring
to the heavily subsidized agriculture in the rich countries which has
helped them secure markets by flooding developing countries with cheap
farm imports, making subsistence farming uncompetitive and financially

Dumping of cheap subsidized food has converted developing countries
that had been once self-sufficient, and even net exporters of
agricultural products, into net importers. In the 1960s, developing
countries had an overall agricultural surplus of U.S. $7 billion. With
the increase in imports by the 1970s, it had shrunk to U.S. $1
billion. Most of the 1990s and 2000s saw developing countries turn
into net food importers with the deficit in 2001 being U.S. $11
billion" (Action Aid International, 2008).

The worst impact of indiscriminate opening of markets has been felt in
the rural areas, where agriculture is the main occupation for most of
the poor as well as a source of purchasing power. Increased imports
have thus not increased food security. (South Center, 2008) Also, the
suggestion that further liberalization of agricultural markets
increases access to food overlooks the fact that the majority of the
population in countries classified as having "widespread lack of
access" is unable to procure food due to their low incomes. (FAO,

At the national level, increased dependence on food imports has made
developing countries more vulnerable to high prices. For instance in
2008 many developing countries experienced shortages because the
markets upon which they have come to depend underwent changes in
national food supply policies. The U.S. and European bio-fuel policy
is a case in point: corn production dedicated to bio-fuels, instead of
food, increased scarcity in terms of both its market availability and
food aid availability.

Also measures previously available to governments to soften the
effects of price volatility (such as controlling import and export
volumes, managing domestic stocks, using price control and price
support tools, consumer subsidies, rationing systems, etc.) have been
criticized or discouraged for being distorting free trade. Export bans
of food in 2008, imposed by some 40 countries including India, Egypt,
and Vietnam, were seen as a threat to free trade and held responsible
for increasing prices. But these measures had sought to protect
national populations, especially the poor and vulnerable, against the
global agricultural price shocks by ensuring national food
availability below world prices before allowing exports to other

A Technological Agricultural Revolution= Freedom From Hunger?

After nearly two decades of decline in aid for agricultural
development, commitments to reverse the trend have become common in
international summits. Olivier De Schutter, in his submission to the
CSD, cautioned that increased investments in agriculture, while
necessary, must be thought out seriously. The issue is not one of
merely increasing budget allocations to agriculture but rather, "that
of choosing from different models of agricultural development which
may have different impacts and benefit various groups differently," he
said. (TWN, 2009a)

The first element of the food security initiative to be announced at
the G8 meetings reportedly will focus on improving agricultural
productivity and development. (Reuters, 2009b) This comes on the heel
of the G8 Farm Summit in April 2009 which too promoted a technological
agricultural revolution, for instance the genetically engineered
crops, to increase agricultural productivity in response to hunger.

A big player promoting genetic engineering as the panacea to global
hunger was the United States. During the Summit, U.S. Secretary of
Agriculture Tom Vilsack warned that failure to boost agricultural
productivity would cause fresh social unrest and urged the G8 to back
the use of science in agriculture, including genetically modified
organisms. (Financial Times, 2009) On his return from Italy, much to
the delight of biotech companies such as Pioneer Hi-Bred and Monsanto,
he pledged to bring a "more comprehensive and integrated" approach to
promoting agricultural biotech overseas. (Des Moines Register, 2009).

Similarly, former Executive Director of the UN World Food Program,
Catherine Bertini, and former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Dan
Glickman, in an essay hailed plans for a new Green Revolution that
includes use of biotechnology, as holding "great promise." They
advocated prioritizing food and agriculture in the U.S. foreign aid.
Recognizing that their plans might generate resistance, the authors
wrote, "Although there is the potential for conflict over a hunger
initiative on the issue of introducing more GM crops, this conflict is
more likely to be with Europeans than with Africans or Asians, both of
whom are increasingly inclined to accept the technology." (Bertini &
Glickman, 2009)

Their thinking that developing countries can be arm twisted into
accepting GE crops is reflected in a new multi-billion dollar U.S. aid
bill as well. Global Food Security Act (SB 384), also known as the
Lugar-Casey Act, revises the 1961 Federal Assistance Act to direct
more money towards GE research as part of U.S. foreign aid programs.
(PANNA, 2009) The bill awaits its future in the Senate after passing
the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in March 2009 on the basis of
hastily conducted, industry-friendly research that was funded by the
Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, one of the biggest forces behind
plans for a new Green Revolution in Africa.

These efforts to challenge hunger however ignore the fact that the
promises of feeding the world with GE crops have proven to be empty. A
2009 report from the Union of Concern Scientists which analyzed nearly
two decades worth of peer-reviewed research on the yield of GE
food/feed crops in the U.S., demonstrates that genetic engineering has
failed to significantly increase crop yields. While only one major GE
crop, Bt corn, has achieved 3-4 percent yield increase over the 13
years that it has been grown commercially, this growth is much less
than what has been achieved over that time by other methods, including
conventional breeding. The report contends that it makes little sense
to support genetic engineering at the expense of technologies that
have proven to be more successful at increasing yields. (UCSUSA, 2009)

Other studies also demonstrate that organic and similar farming
methods can more than double crop yields. Organic Agriculture and Food
Security in Africa, a study by the U.N. Conference on Trade and
Development (UNCTAD) and the U.N. Environment Program (UNEP), found
that organic or near-organic agriculture practices in Africa
outperformed conventional production systems based on
chemical-intensive farming, provided environmental benefits, and are
more conducive to food security in Africa. Analysis of 114 farming
projects in 24 African countries found that organic practices resulted
in a yield increase of more than 100 per cent. (UNCTAD, 2008)

The study confirmed the findings and recommendations of the United
Nations' first ever evidence-based assessment of global agriculture
for reducing hunger and poverty, improving rural livelihoods, and
working towards environmentally, socially, and economically
sustainable development. Known as the International Assessment of
Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD, 2008), it
called for a fundamental paradigm shift in agriculture development and
concluded that genetic engineering is no solution for soaring food
prices and hunger. It instead recommended low-input, low-cost
agroecological farming methods.

In the face of growing evidence, continued focus by the G8 on
improving agricultural productivity through technologies like genetic
engineering, only serves attempts of biotech corporations like
Monsanto which is running an advertising campaign in national
newspapers like the New York Times as well as the National Public
Radio claiming "its improved seeds help farmers double yields," needed
to feed the world's growing population. (Monsanto, 2009)

Building a Resilient Agricultural System

At the World Food Summit in 1996, heads of governments made a
commitment to reduce the number of hungry people -- 815 million then -- by
half by 2015. The latest hunger figures reveal a crisis spiraling out
of control, making the need to feed the world in ways that are
environmentally, socially and economically sustainable even more

UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP)
recently pointed out that past reliance on technology jeopardized
long-term sustainability with the overuse of chemical inputs. ESCAP's
report highlights evidence from hundreds of grassroots development
projects that increased agricultural productivity through
agroecological practices, while increasing food supplies, incomes,
food access, and improving the livelihoods of the poor. ESCAP thus
recommends investment in sustainable agriculture that would prioritize
small-scale food production based on ecologically viable systems.
(UNESCAP, 2009)

In 2008, 60 governments approved the IAASTD report's call for a
radical shift in agricultural policy and practice, in order to address
hunger and poverty, social inequities and environmental
sustainability. Recognizing that the past emphasis on increasing
yields and productivity had negative consequences on environmental
sustainability, the IAASTD report also promoted agriculture that is
biodiversity-based, including agroecology and organic farming, for
being resilient, productive, beneficial to poor farmers, and one that
will allow adaptation to climate change. (IAASTD, 2008)

However these recommendations have yet to make it to the G8 agenda. If
the G8 is indeed serious about its commitment to confront hunger, it
is key that they stop the steady drumbeat proselytizing free markets
and technological solutions to hunger. This will require that they
recognize the need for developing countries to have policy space to
determine agricultural policies that meet the needs of their
populations, ensure that the local products are competitive, farmers'
livelihoods and incomes are sustained, and national food security
assured. In short, instead of deriving new wording for their old
failed formulas the rich nations need to start being responsible and
support governments in developing countries to put in place or restore
sustainable and resilient agricultural systems.

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