As I walked into the festival atmosphere of the Big IF rally on Saturday 6 June I overheard a woman saying, ‘We don’t want to protest against the government, we want to encourage them to help us.’ Her comment neatly summed up some of the back-room tensions behind the ‘Enough food for everyone IF…’ campaign.
An estimated 45,000 people had turned out in London’s sunny Hyde Park. Tweets were sent to David Cameron, people wore colourful, branded t-shirts, live bands played and some people dressed as items of food.
Celebrities including Bill Gates and Danny Boyle, took to the stage to call on governments to ‘take action on hunger’ by following the IF campaign demands. There was also a handful of speakers from the majority world, including the compelling Mwajuma Tulsidas, a youth ambassador from Tanzania.
Chloe, 22, and Naomi, 26, had travelled from Worthing. ‘I came out of a sense of justice,’ says Naomi. ‘Where people are born determines whether they can afford to eat.’
‘Just because hunger is not a new problem, it doesn’t get onto the agenda,’ added Chloe.
Backed by over 200 organizations including Save the Children, Christian Aid, Oxfam and Unicef, the IF campaign is built around the UK’s hosting of the G8 meeting in Northern Ireland from 17 to 18 June.
The basis of IF is effective and simple: there’s enough food in the world for everyone – if corporate interests were not displacing smallholder families, if tax dodging was eliminated, if land was used to grow food not fuel and if governments and companies were more honest about what they were up to.
Consolata, originally from Zimbabwe but now living in Coventry, told me: ‘People are going without food in my country as we speak.
‘I want the G8 to do something. Even if it is just a drop in the ocean it’s worth it. We all have to do more to get them to listen,’ she added emphatically, anger in her eyes.
But is the IF campaign really the right vehicle to tackle hunger with lasting results? It has been deeply criticised by NGOs such as War on Want and the World Development Movement who decided not to join the coalition because of its failure to support food sovereignty and challenge some of the deep structural flaws which mean that hunger is still a devastating issue.
On the morning of 6 June, they took their concerns to the doors of David Cameron’s hunger summit, setting up a protest outside, several miles away from the gathering in Hyde Park. These activists see the campaign as cosying up to Cameron and the rest of the G8 whose actions have perpetuated global hunger. They made a pop-up community garden and called for solidarity with Africa and a commitment to food security as well as to demand that the G8 ‘stop fuelling hunger’.
There is also the thorny issue of aid, another pillar of the IF campaign. Just before the hunger summit, campaigners in the UK called on Cameron to withdraw £395 million ($613 million) and stand with the wishes of African farmers and civil society.
The hunger summit took place at Unilever House. The company are not just gracious hosts but, along with Monsanto and others, set to benefit from the private partnerships of the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition promoted by the government. African civil society released a statement likening this scheme and the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) to a new wave of colonialism.
The IF campaign, and the summit, had been developed without fully consulting the international farmers’ movement and avoiding the concept of food sovereignty which recognizes the right for people to have power over the production of their own food and agriculture, instead of putting it in the hands of private interests.
While IF welcomed the $4.15 billion that world leaders committed to tackling malnutrition at the hunger summit, others fear that the agreements made could actually make hunger worse and put livelihoods at risk in the Majority World.
I was left wondering, what could have happened if 45,000 people had taken their demands to the doors of the hunger summit?