Leaders have opportunity to help poor

Media Releases, Opinion article written on the 10 Jul 2009

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has said food security will be top of the agenda at the G8 meeting this week (8 – 10 July). It’s good to hear.
Our Prime Minister will be at the G8 as an observer, and then heading to the Major Economies Forum on Thursday, where it is hoped global climate negotiations will be given a boost.
In a world where global spending on ready meals tops $50 billion a year, it defies belief that one billion people – one in six human beings – simply do not have enough to eat. And the problem is getting steadily worse. In the first six months of this year 105 million people became chronically hungry because of rising food prices and global recession impacts.
And then there is climate change to throw into the mix. An Oxfam report, Suffering the Science (6 July), shows how climate change is already making poor people’s daily struggle for survival even harder – and getting enough to eat is no exception.
One of the worrying trends highlighted in the report is that harvests are failing across the developing world as the seasons shrink and change. Farmers, unable to rely on agricultural practices developed over generations, are left playing roulette with dwindling seed supplies – hoping the next crop they plant will not be decimated by a sudden heat wave or heavy rains.
The people behind the statistics are people like Sainam Ganieva from Tajikistan –forced to ration the amount of food she gives her children because of drought, lack of decent farmland and rising food prices.
The G8 brings together the richest and most powerful countries in the world. Their industrial practices and agriculture and trade policies are at the root of the problems keeping people like Sainam awake at night – worrying how they will feed their families. But the G8 countries also have the power to help poor people – and prevent the situation from getting even worse.
G8 leaders must agree to invest more and invest more wisely in developing country agriculture. The G8 must also reform agriculture and trade policies which allow rich country farmers to dump cheap subsidised food on developing country markets – putting local farmers out of business and shutting down a local affordable food supply.
Finally, G8 leaders must also make a personal commitment to attend the UN Climate Conference in Copenhagen in December; agree to an overall rich country emissions reduction target of at least 40 per cent on 1990 levels by 2020 and ensure they mobilise the $187 billion needed per year to fund emissions reductions and climate change adaptation in the developing world. Only this political commitment at the highest level can boost flagging climate negotiations and deliver a global deal which will prevent a catastrophic change in the climate and help poor farmers adapt to the unavoidable.
Prime Minister Berlusconi has said he wants to see concrete results from the Italian G8. He is not alone.
Andrew Hewett
Executive Director
Oxfam Australia

This opinion editorial was first published in The Australian Financial Review on 9 July 2009.