by Ian Scoones, Future Agricultures
weekend the leaders of the G8 gather in Northern Ireland for their
annual summit. This year it's hosted by the UK, and Prime Minister
David Cameron has been highlighting hunger and malnutrition as a major
priority, together with the Enough Food for Everyone If…
campaign. Top issues are transparency around tax and land deals, and
tackling undernutrition in the developing world. A pre-summit summit and
rally in Hyde Park were held in London last weekend to discuss the
Africa and agriculture were at the centre of the debate, and the themes touched on many central to the work of the Future Agricultures Consortium
research programme. But questions are being raised about the approaches
being taken. Have the wider questions of policy and politics been
taken into account? Will the silver bullets of agricultural and
nutrition interventions really work in practice? Are the solutions to
the scandal of continued hunger and child malnutrition technical, or
actually more social and political?
Tim Lang of City University in London was quoted in the UK Sunday newspaper the Observer
as commenting: "We've had many summits talking about hunger..., but not
enough has happened to change the food system. My worry is that this
one is shifting policy focus away from the complex picture of how food
connects land, health, power and ecological damage. Technical fixes like
food supplements may appear sensible, but they do little to address the
systemic problems.... What I want to see is political leaders accepting
that their task is to recalibrate the food system entirely. We have to
recivilise food capitalism and recalibrate markets."
In other words, we need to tackle unequal policy processes around
food systems, North and South. This theme was central to our work on the political economy of seed systems,
highlighting that solutions lay less in new technologies, but in
institutional and political issues around ensuring access to seed
technologies. Equally, Future Agricultures research on land deals
shows how large areas of land are being acquired, with little
accountability. Making land deals more transparent is definitely a good
idea, but exactly what this will mean in practice is unclear, as Anna
Locke and Andy Norton describe in a recent blog post for Future Agricultures and ODI.
Equally, vitamin enriched sweet potato - a product launched again this
past weekend - will help tackle deficiencies, but, as Sally Brooks has
shown, biofortification - the breeding of nutrient-enriched crops - may not be the easiest, cheapest or most appropriate solution to undernutrition.
The G8 summit is expected to give more impetus to the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition,
launched at last year's summit by the US. This is an alliance of
governments, private sector players and others, committed to delivering
new technical and market based agricultural and nutrition interventions,
in a number of focus countries. But, as I wrote just over a year ago,
there are concerns about the role of large, western agribusiness
concerns in the New Alliance, and how these big players may exclude
others, including local private sector players, as well as Africa-led
policy initiatives, such as the African Union's Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP). This concern is being raised again by NGOs, activists and others.
Of course the G8 is an exclusive club that does not involve the new
emerging powers, all increasingly influential in Africa. Looking at China and Brazil’s role in African agriculture, it is clear that they need to be at the table too.
As the summit nears, a greater emphasis on the politics of policy
at global, regional and national levels is needed. This requires
attention to the complex, often slow and difficult process of effecting
change. Unfortunately, quick fixes and silver bullets never work.
Picture: Waking up to health by Gatesfoundation on Flickr (creative commons)
This article was first posted on the Future Agricultures blog.