New Internationalist

Hunger and the 0.7% aid debate

During her May 9 speech the Queen announced the government will keep its promise to commit 0.7 per cent of the UK’s GDP to international aid. There are, however, no firm plans to legislate for this and many charities and NGOs have spoken out about broken promises to both the electorate and to the world’s poorest.

But the 0.7 per cent target is not the be-all-and-end-all of the international development debate. Aid has ensured great progress has been made to combat poverty, hunger and disease across the globe. But how it is spent is vitally important, sometimes more so than how much. Aid needs to be effectively targeted and, moreover, the structural issues which perpetuate global inequalities need to be addressed.

We live in a world where an astounding number of people don’t have enough to eat. The latest estimate from the FAO (UN Food and Agriculture Organization) is that just under one billion people are hungry. Even more than this suffer from malnutrition as they don’t have access to nutritious food. And these figures don’t take into account acute crises. In the Horn of Africa, more than 13 million people have been affected by food shortages since last year, and now 13 million more are at risk in the Sahel.

It absolutely doesn’t have to be this way. Farmers the world over produce more than enough food for everyone. And yet one in seven go hungry because they either lack resources needed to grow enough food, or because they can’t afford to buy enough food.

Hunger is extremely complex, but it is solvable. Help to farmers is a good place to start, because ironically smallholders make up more than half of the world’s hungry people. With the right support, smallholders can grow more, eat more and better food and even go on to employ others, ensuring their whole communities thrive. Aid targeted towards these hungry farmers has a huge impact – unlike food aid, it addresses hunger sustainably.

The UK has been making progress on aid for sustainable hunger reduction, and the government has so far kept to a pledge made with other G8 leaders to deliver £1.1 billion ($1.8 billion) in aid as part of the L’Aquila Food Security Initiative. But this year, the G8 deal is coming to an end.

A new commitment to tackle world hunger is desperately needed, and with the UK taking up the G8 presidency next year, David Cameron is in a great position to push for this at the G8 on May 19. If you would like to support Concern’s campaign for a new G8 pledge, you can find out more here.

But aid isn’t the only solution. Despite recent hard times, the UK is still a wealthy country, and the activities of its sizeable economy have a huge impact globally. For example, high and fluctuating food prices are one of the fundamental causes of global hunger.

One important driver of global food price rises is increasing food speculation on international markets, much of which is happening in the financial district of the City of London. The World Development Movement is running a great campaign to tackle this. Another thing driving high food prices is the amount of land turned over to grow biofuels, and Actionaid are running a UK-focused petition to try and change UK and EU support for this.

We need to give aid, and to spend it well to make sustainable changes. But aid is not the only answer to global poverty and hunger.

Natasha Adams is the UK Campaigns and Parliamentary Officer for Concern Worldwide.

Photo: A farming family sharing a meal in Gakenke District, Rwanda.(Mike Goldwater/ Concern)

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  1. #1 Tom Ash 15 May 12

    Is specifically targeting support to smallholders as opposed to other (possibly more efficient) ways of providing more food to the world's poor really the best way to feed the hungry? I'd be curious to see evidence...

  2. #2 Natasha Adams 15 May 12

    Hi Tom,

    Thanks for reading my piece and for your interest. I wouldn't say that the best way to end hunger is to support smallholders to grow more unequivocally. It is a very complex problem and lots of other things have an impact - there are structural causes of high and fluctuating food prices like those I've mentioned above, and there are of course many ways to spend aid. In some circumstances, like in emergencies, food aid is the only option, but this should be a last resort.

    Supporting farmers to grow more can help prevent emergencies. For example, Rwanda managed to shield itself from the high food prices that caused such widespread hunger in the Horn of Africa crisis which began last year. Analysts have put this down to their investing 10% of Government budget in agricultural support. Concern's recent research report 'Farming for Impact' explores the positive impact of investing in farmers in Rwanda, looking at roles of Government and NGOs. You can find this and many other relevant research reports here:

  3. #4 Fuad 18 Jul 12

    I think it would be good if folks stopped seeing 'aid' as a social good but as soft power, confusion, NGO bribery and a distraction.

    Those of us residing in countries of negative impact and overempowerment can act to tranform our unfair policies.

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