G8 Agriculture meeting: “One more nail in the coffin of goal to reduce world hunger?"

“Currently there is no way of holding governments to account for their failure to prevent people dying from hunger in a world in which we have the means to eradicate it.”
Chris Leather
Oxfam Food Policy Expert
Published: 19 April 2009

The G8 Agriculture meeting in Italy is heading for a profound failure with ministers dithering about the bold action needed to tackle the global food crisis, says international agency Oxfam today.

Oxfam food policy expert Chris Leather said that the Italian Agriculture Minister Luca Zaia’s opening promise of “three days that will make history" is sounding very hollow. “Right now it looks like the only way this summit will make history is as another nail in the coffin of the goal to reduce world hunger," said Leather.

Leather said it was not enough for Ministers to finish this meeting by declaring that it was almost possible to halve the number of hungry people by 2015 – instead, they must do something about it. However, according to information acquired by Oxfam, the final Declaration is highly unlikely to come up with the concrete actions that rich country leaders demanded of their Agriculture Ministers before the G8 Summit in La Maddalena in July.

Ministers have until midday Monday to begin stopping the dumping of subsidized food in developing countries, removing rich country trade barriers, boosting aid to smallholder food producers, and allowing poorer countries more policy space to ensure adequate food availability in times of crisis.

Even without additional money, international efforts against hunger can be drastically improved if rich countries redirect a relatively small proportion of the direct subsidies they give to their farmers in order to boost food production in developing countries. In 2008, rich countries gave $125 billion directly to their farmers in comparison to the $5.9 billion they gave to agriculture in poor countries.

Oxfam welcomed signs that the new US administration is willing to reform its food aid program. However, the US still sources 99% of the food aid they provide to poor countries from US producers. “This assistance could greatly promote food security in the South if it was purchased locally,” Leather said, “but the USA still maintains a wasteful system that favors domestic interests over the fight against hunger.”

Oxfam says that a radically new approach is needed to reverse the trend, as the G8 Ministers’ readily admit, of hunger spiraling out of control and threatening international security. An extra 150 million people have become chronically hungry in the last year as a consequence of high food prices, making the world total near to 1 billion people. Without urgent action the number will increase rapidly due to the global economic crisis and in the face of climate change.

“Currently there is no way of holding governments to account for their failure to prevent people dying from hunger in a world in which we have the means to eradicate it,” Leather said. The G8 must seriously consider a legally binding international convention that aims to eradicate hunger by 2025 that would raise the accountability of all governments, rich or poor.