Hungry for justice: Consequences of the election for global poverty

Hungry for justice: Consequences of the election for global poverty

Date: 20 May 2015

It’s safe to say that the results of the General Election came as a major surprise to virtually everyone, including the victorious Tories. Understandably, this has triggered a considerable amount of soul-searching amongst pollsters, as well as within those parties that performed badly.

The ramifications of this outcome are slowly sinking in. While I like to consider myself politically aware, I am not party political. Nevertheless, if the new government’s broad approach to tackling global poverty is to represent a continuation of what we have seen over the past five years (and this is a reasonable assumption, especially when one considers the Conservative’s manifesto), then there are serious grounds for concern.

Those who lavish congratulations on the Coalition government for meeting the 0.7% target (of national income dedicated to aid) are largely missing the point, as I explained in my last blog. What is required instead is an examination of the previous government’s record on really important global justice issues. John Hilary did just this in a brilliant article published two years into the Conservatives’ marriage to the Liberal Democrats. At the core of Hilary’s piece is a devastating ‘month-by-month catalogue of some of Cameron’s anti-development interventions’ (remarkably this list of misdeeds only covered the preceding five months!).

Unfortunately, things didn’t suddenly get a lot better. In fact, it could be argued that, in some respects, things actually got worse. One of most damaging initiatives backed by the last government has proved to be the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition. Criticisms of the New Alliance are manifold; it is worth reading the September 2014 statement of civil society organisations for a summary of the key issues.

Perhaps the most fundamental problem with the New Alliance is that it adopts a business-as-usual approach to promoting agricultural development and reducing hunger and malnutrition. Yet it is obvious that simply doing more of the same isn’t going to address the enormous power imbalances that lie at the heart of why the global food system fails so many poor consumers and marginalised producers. Some, including Global Justice Now, have suggested that the concept of food sovereignty is useful in challenging these unequal and unfair power relations. Personally, I believe that food sovereignty is a highly contested concept, and thus I would say that I’m sympathetic to certain interpretations of the concept.

The New Alliance has also ignored critical questions about the nature of farming. Again, it’s clear that industrial agriculture is unsustainable. In contrast, agroecology can be very productive while maintaining soil health and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Global Justice Now is far from the only organisation to have recognised this. For example, last summer the influential International Institute for Environment and Development published a report praising agroecology. Moreover, a few months later, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization held a high-profile and forward-looking International Symposium on Agroecology.

It’s one thing to fight back against the New Alliance. It’s another to get the UK and other governments to fully commit to the right to food framework and prioritise support for genuinely sustainable agriculture. It will be difficult but, in solidarity with our allies in the global south, we must try to do both.