Thursday, 8 October 2015

A recipe for starvation

a Kenya farmer - Wikipedia
The cash-strapped UN World Food Programme has just dropped one-third of Syrian refugees from its food voucher program. In Sep 2015 over 360,000 Syrian refugees in countries neighbouring on Syria stopped receiving food. Earlier in 2015 the WFP had already cut recipients from 2.1 million to around 1.4 million, as well as the value of the vouchers. 

The WFP crisis is a direct result of deliberate underfunding by rich countries. The agency needed $236m to keep even the reduced program funded through November 2015. Only a few donors (Saudi and Qatar) have come forward, though the US just earmarked $85m for similar starvation crises in South Sudan.

Donors' squabbling has deadlocked food aid for 25 years. The rich countries have steadily cut money donations: total international agricultural aid fell from $1.9 billion in 1981 to less than $1 billion by 2001. The rich want to use “in kind” aka “tied aid” so they can dump their agricultural surpluses, which destroy the livelihood of local farmers. By 2008 there were only a few weeks' supply on hand.

The worldwide food crisis of 2008 plunged 100 million into extreme poverty. In Haiti and elsewhere the starving ate mud. "There has been a very deep institutional failure over how we deal with food problems," said C. Peter Timmer, a Harvard emeritus professor who studies food security. "Everybody understands that 80 percent of the world's poor are in rural areas. But the World Bank for 30 years has basically said market signals don't support agriculture, so we can't support agriculture."

Meanwhile, backed by USAID and AGRA, giant corporations push “climate smart agriculture” and a second “green revolution”: with GMOs, chemical fertilizers, fossil-fueled machinery, and marketing systems. This will deepen the climate crisis, the poverty of small farmers and hungry, vulnerable populations.

The NGO food justice movement (led by Via Campesina, IATP and Food First, etc.) urge food sovereignty, sustainable agroecology, and supporting women in agriculture. QUNO calls for UN recognition of the right to food and protection of genetic resources. In the US itself, the plight of black farmers and imported contract labor is ignored. None of these goals are recognized by the WFP and its funders.

PS: Michael Ignatieff in NYRB 18 Nov 2015 puts this in geopolitical perspective, urging  a new and better version of R2P. Basically he argues that the USA should accept half of the Syrian refugees (65,000 as UNHCR requests --  it would take 250,000 for the US to be as generous as Canada), and pressure other powers to feed the starving in the camps. These policies are morally and politically essential to support US allies, defeat ISIS propaganda, and rescue a Middle East generation from despair that will certainly create more jihadis. The stateless "will never forget" if they are turned away and starved. He urges creation of a new Nansen passport with biometric ID for all migrants. And he states correctly that the world refugee/migrant flow guided by iphones and Facebook is unstoppable by conventional "border security". If the US and European racist right wins by forcing this false solution, they (and we all) will lose. Sadly, this would be to repeat US history. Remember the St Louis.

Update: see QUNO's Food policy interactive trade tool (Dec 2015) by Susan Bragdon


No comments: