In these precarious times, there is enough for all

This wednesday the NCCR Trade Regulation and the Centre for Development and Environment had a joint event at the Kino Kunst Museum, the screening of the film Hunger in a world of plenty, followed by a podium discussion. Last month there was a discussion on the same topic on Swiss TV (in German).

I found it worthwhile to watch the film. It is important to realize that what is wrong in terms of food security is not the lack of food on a global scale, rather the fact that we do not manage to distribute it to those in need. Still the problem is not just distribution, it is also one of capacity building and the development of sustainable agricultural practices. It is indeed mind boggling that these days there are children on our planet dying of starvation. Beyond my comprehension is the fact that every five seconds a child dies from hunger-related diseases and elsewhere on the same planet overweight and obesity are killing more people than underweight. The access to food, in part, just reflects wealth, however that is not the whole story. 

The film is a bit skewed as it presents wrong facts without correction. It is a documentary, but if falls short in that it does not present a balanced perspective of the issues. I found it troublesome that obvious misinformation in the form of statements made by dignitaries is not corrected. One can understand why. One a fisheries ministry blames the WTO for his own country’s practice of allowing over-fishing in its territorial waters, the good man is washing his hands of all responsibility and placing the blame on the front door of Pascal Lamy. This is wrong, plain wrong. The WTO agreements do not give anybody a free pass to go fish on the waters of another nation. Those interested in what the WTO regulates in terms of fisheries should at least know that besides tariffs, it regulates sanitary measures and technical standards. Unfortunately the film does not comment on this fact, and the viewer unfamiliar with WTO agreements can easily be mislead. What this points to is one part of the problem where the political leadership in least developing countries is more often than not interested in filling their pockets (say by granting fishing rights to foreign enterprises) than to actually take policy actions that will develop the social and economic well being of their constituency. 

However, let’s not blame only the political leaders of the starving south for catering to their own personal egocentric agendas. Finally the wisdom is painfully sinking in that food aid is just not very helpful. The film does demonstrate this point rather well. This is the point at which I am back into being a child and never quite understanding what colonization and the missions in Africa were all about, and I have to fast forward my own understanding of the situation rather quickly. There are times, like in the case of natural disasters or industrial accidents when a population is left without the means to feed itself, and then food aid is needed, and it is needed fast. But we are not talking here about disaster relief, we are talking here about the need for those with the least means to be able to get a minimum of sustenance without having to rely on food donations from industrialized that, among other ills, make sure that all aid money stays within the same industrialized nations that donate it. If development aid does not invest into capacity building and sustainable (agricultural) development, all it does is create a clientele system within industrialized donor nations that ensures that the only sustainable part of the system has to do with capital flow within those same rich donor nations while the starting south receives consumables. 

There is more than enough food for all, why can we not make it that all have adequate access to it?