A coalition of aid agencies has launched a campaign on food, aid and hunger (the IF campaign) to run in the UK during 2013. The campaign hopes to attract a similar level of public support to that enjoyed by the Make Poverty History coalition in 2005, the last time that the G8 held its annual summit in the UK. War on Want played an active part in Make Poverty History and has joined forces with other groups in many coalitions since then. A number of people have asked us whether War on Want is part of the IF campaign, not least because War on Want Northern Ireland (an organisation which for historical reasons shares our name but is wholly independent of War on Want) has joined it. Along with our trade union allies and several other progressive NGOs, we have decided that we cannot join the IF campaign; here’s why.
War on Want has been actively engaged with food issues for many years, most notably through our longstanding programme of partnerships with peasant farmers’ movements in countries such as Mozambique, Brazil, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Malawi and South Africa. In 2011 we published the comprehensive report Food Sovereignty: Reclaiming the global food system, and we have worked since then to promote the framework of food sovereignty in the British and European contexts. As the central pillar of that framework, War on Want believes that all peoples have the right to define their own agricultural and food policies as a means to securing their right to food, including through agrarian reform in favour of peasant farming communities. This position, designed to challenge a global food system currently dominated by a small handful of multinational companies, is founded on the analysis that has been developed over the past 20 years by the worldwide farmers’ movement La Via Campesina, which represents 200 million farmers in 70 countries across the world.
Rather than helping to build this global movement for transformative change, the interventions proposed by the IF campaign have been developed without the involvement of La Via Campesina or other farmers’ movements. The absence of any reference to food sovereignty, despite this being the established framework developed by the global movement to address the global food crisis, is one reason why the UK Food Group, the body tasked with leading joint action on global food issues within British civil society, has also decided it cannot join the IF campaign. The policy recommendations of the IF campaign – more aid, transparency (including tax transparency) and an end to land grabbing – leave unaddressed the central issues at the heart of the global food system. Confronting those issues should surely be the first task of any campaign on hunger.
War on Want understands hunger, like all forms of poverty, to be the result of political decisions that are taken by national and international elites, and contested through political action. In this context, the IF campaign is promoting a wholly false image of the G8 as committed to resolving the scandal of global hunger, rather than (in reality) being responsible for perpetuating it. The IF campaign’s policy document states: “Acting to end hunger is the responsibility of people everywhere. The G8 group of rich countries, to its credit, shares this ambition and accepts its share of responsibility, having created two hunger initiatives in recent years.” This is a gross misrepresentation, seeing that the governments of the G8 have openly committed themselves to expanding the corporate-dominated food system that condemns hundreds of millions to hunger. Even on its own terms, the IF campaign notes that the G8’s existing initiatives on hunger “fall far short of what is required”.
War on Want is particularly concerned that the IF campaign is promoting a false image of David Cameron and the UK government as leading the fight against global hunger, at a time when nothing could be farther from the truth. A number of the aid agencies at the centre of the IF campaign have already praised the UK prime minister for his “leadership role” in holding a hunger event with Mo Farah and other celebrities at the end of the London 2012 Olympics. Internal documents obtained by War on Want through a Freedom of Information challenge reveal that the government has for two years been planning with the aid agencies to use the IF campaign to promote the prime minister as a leader on the global stage, especially through a further hunger summit to be held prior to the G8 this June.
It is unacceptable for NGOs to suggest that David Cameron’s government is a leading force for social justice at a time when its austerity programme is driving unprecedented numbers to food banks in Britain, and when its overseas actions are fuelling hunger and poverty around the world. War on Want’s report published in December 2012, The Hunger Games: How DFID support for agribusiness is fuelling poverty in Africa, exposed the UK government’s abuse of the aid budget in support of multinational corporations in Africa at the expense of the rural poor. We have publicly criticised the appointment of David Cameron as co-chair of the UN High Level Panel on international development, in view of the highly regressive actions of his government since assuming power in 2010.
War on Want has decided it cannot join the IF campaign coalition, and urges members of the campaign to consider carefully the political impact of their actions over the coming months. Progressive NGOs and trade unions will work to confront the UK government and other G8 countries for causing greater hunger, poverty and distress through their austerity programme and other policies. War on Want will also continue to join forces with all those promoting progressive solutions to the global food crisis, creating analysis and action to deepen people’s understanding of the true causes of hunger and poverty around the world.