Food Security – Tearfund's Policy Blog

November 21, 2013 by jokhinmaung

The cruelty of fighting to the death continues with more games; the victors of the first games, Katniss and Peeta, are warned by their mentor Haymitch: ‘From now on, your job is to be a distraction so that people forget what the real problems are.’ The Games and its victors-cum-celebrities are used as ‘entertainment’ to distract from the real problems of impoverished and starving people in the Districts outside the Capitol of Panem. Just as Roman emperors placated the masses with ‘bread (panem) and circuses’ or gladiators.

We might kid ourselves that this is just a film, set in a horrific future world, that doesn’t reflect our lives today. But, at some point, I’m sure that we’ve all chosen to watch some light-hearted entertainment on TV like I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here where we’re encouraged to laugh at other people’s uncomfortable experiences.

I already see signs of us living in a world of inequality, not far off The Hunger Games trilogy, and the ways in which we distract ourselves from the real problems, like the citizens of the Capitol do. We go shopping for clothes or stuff that we don’t really need and ignore a homeless person on the street. We buy more food than we need and throw away £60 worth every month, whilst more and more people rely on food banks to feed their families each week.

Foodbanks shouldn’t have to exist, but they are a last resort. A man in West Sussex, who received a food parcel while he was on probation until his benefits were sorted, was so grateful his local Foodbank in Chichester existed: ‘I had a difficult decision to make, do I pay the deposit on a flat and starve or eat and remain homeless? The foodbank has allowed me to pay my deposit and not go hungry.’

This kind of disparity is highlighted in Catching Fire as we see a flash of graffiti: ‘The odds are never in our favour’ as Katniss and Peeta go on a victory tour through the Districts. The citizens of the Capitol gorge themselves and wear ridiculously extravagant costumes, pursuing their own happiness. While those in the Districts starve and are oppressed; any sign of protest or discontent is beaten out of them.

This makes me ask myself, do we ensure that the odds are never in the favour of others? Could we be perpetuating the terrible living conditions of others and increasing the gap between the haves and have-nots by the way that we live and distracting ourselves from what’s really going on?

If the heroine in Catching Fire is Katniss, who becomes a beacon of hope and justice, inspiring rebellious uprisings in the Districts, then my hero in the real world of inequality is Claudio Oliver, an inspiring urban farmer, married to Katia, in Brazil, where the divide between the rich and poor is rising.

Claudio shared his vision with me: ‘I want to stop people from thinking of consumerism and poverty just in material terms and to start to understand a person living in poverty as someone who doesn’t have a friend, as someone who is lonely.’

‘And the best way to make friends is to start doing something communal.  A great way to start is in our own homes, our gardens, by starting to work the soil and sharing its fruits with our neighbours we can rebuild communities.

‘The practice of living in community with one another and being in touch with creation is being lost, as many people become increasingly busy, pressurised and isolated. People need meals, families, communities and laughing.  There is nothing like meals being at the centre of our life. Not a career. But the centre of the household.’

Claudio promotes community living, values relationships and an alternative way of life based on responsible consumption and recycling waste in Brazil.

I’m inspired by his approach to tackle the real problems of inequality head on so that we can prevent the extreme situation of ‘the odds are never in our favour’ in the film Catching Fire.

Why not respond to this article by doing this Rhythms’ action of connection?
Time for a sandwich: spend some time talking with a homeless person and while you’re at it, offer to buy them a sandwich. For more action ideas sign up to Rhythms today.

June 13, 2013 by jokhinmaung

As the British Prime Minister hosts a pre-G8 Summit on Saturday, Open for Growth, and G8 leaders meet in Northern Ireland next Monday, they should shine a light on land deals to give people in developing countries more control over their land and protect poor small-scale farmers from land grabs.

In the run up to the events, the UK has recognised that lack of transparency around land deals can both create a barrier to responsible investment, and weaken livelihoods and ignore rights of local communities.

Meanwhile, Tearfund’s local partner in Peru, Paz y Esperanza (Peace and Hope), has been working on issues related to land tenure and use, and their latest research shows why urgent action is needed globally (summary report in Spanish).

Their report shows that environmental damage, social conflicts and loss of food security are security are some of the worrying consequences of the way that land deals or concessions are happening. However, the main concern is that indigenous groups lose control over their land, as they often play no part in negotiations about concessions and have little access to usable information.

Concentration of land in the hands of large companies is proceeding at a rapid pace, as shown in the full report. For example, in some departments in Peru, mining concessions cover nearly two thirds of the land, as shown in this graph.

This has contributed to a number of worrying impacts in Peru:

  • Reduced food security as land is turned over to agricultural exports. This can be seen in the increasing amount of food being imported into the country, the value of which rose from US$ 510 million in 1991 to US$ 2,429 million in 2008.
  • Social conflicts:  230 social conflicts were reported in Peru as of the end of 2012. Conflicts related to environmental issues, including loss of access to water for small-scale agriculture, as it was diverted to large scale agriculture and mining activities, was a particular issue that accounted for nearly two-thirds (150) of all cases.
  • Environmental damage.  The pressure placed on land, by the extractive industry and large scale agricultural activities, often creates environmental liabilities, as well as effects on the health of the population. The mono-cropping of vast areas of the Amazon for pine nut or sugar cane for biofuel has also led to similar damage.
  • Loss of control over indigenous peoples’ territories.  Despite the existence of many so-called “dialogue” processes that take place between the mining companies and communities, the report shows that these have often ended up being unfair because the indigenous people’s leaders have little or no technical or legal information on which to base their negotiations. Related to this is the lack of official information on the actual amount of land that has been granted in concessions.

One case that illustrates this is of a Korean company ECOAMERICA, which was sold 72,000 hectares of supposedly uninhabited land for agricultural development for less than 50 pence a hectare.  The communities found out about the deal months later, took legal action and won the first court case, which was then overturned by a higher court. Last year, the Constitutional Court finally ruled in favour of the communities, although they claim that activities are still continuing on their lands.

Tearfund’s partner, Peace and Hope, strongly recommends the following, based on their report:

  1. Consultation – for any process in which communities may be affected by natural resource exploration or development activities, ensuring that the consultations are conducted in good faith and in the language of the population, with legal and technical assistance and true and fair intercultural dialogue.
  2. Indigenous land titles – the state must prioritise the titling of land for native and rural communities. This requires coordinated efforts between the Ministry of Agriculture and the regional governments, and must include contributions from civil society.
  3. Transparency – of commercial transactions affecting indigenous people e.g. the websites of state bodies, such as the ministries, should provide up-to-date information.

Tearfund is part of the Enough Food for Everyone IF campaign, which is calling for G8 leaders to establish a global platform called a Land Transparency Initiative, which would help improve land rights in poorer countries and support the UN’s Voluntary Guidelines on Land Tenure. This initiative should also require land investors to share details of both their investments (which can be responsible) and engagement with affected communities. The G8 must also get its own house in order by regulating all G8-based companies investing in land so the details of all deals are shared and affected communities are involved and heard in the negotiations.

May 30, 2013 by jokhinmaung

“…Imagine no possessions

I wonder if you can.

No need for greed or hunger.

A brotherhood of man

Imagine all the people sharing all the world.

You, you may say

I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.

I hope, some day, you’ll join us,

And the world will live as one…”

These lyrics from John Lennon come to mind as I dream of a future world. Can you imagine a world without hunger? Imagine IF…

I’m passionate about seeing a world in 2050 where future generations won’t have any recollection of people being hungry.  Children of future generations will be able to enjoy and experience this kind of world

So is Maxwell, a 41 year old chief of his village in Malawi, near Blantyre.

“I would like to see every person be able to feed their family,” he says.

This is my dream.  Throughout a world of 9bn people, everyone has enough food to eat.  They eat healthy meals together, as families and communities.  Children go to school on a full stomach.  Some grow their own on farms, allotments or urban rooftops.

Food is produced and consumed sustainably and efficiently.  People and economies all over the world are resilient to rare food price spikes.  Farmers, agribusinesses, cooperatives, governments, unions and civil society have established standards for sustainability and they are accountable for them.

Babies all over the world have nutritious food and children have a varied diet, rich in micro-nutrients, so that their brains and bodies develop fully.

Government leaders all over the world prioritise food security high on their agenda and in their national budgets.

Consumers eat more sustainably as they are more connected to people who produce the food and understand the impact on people’s livelihoods and resources. People buy more fair trade products.  They buy food that reflects the true cost of producing it, including the impact on the environment.

Many economies have diversified out of agriculture, but farmers across Africa, Asia and Latin America earn enough to feed their families and get a good price for their own produce.  They withstand droughts and floods.  Another 1bn people in rural areas buy all of their food.  Most food that is produced, stored and processed reaches the consumer. Many use organic methods and limited chemical fertilisers to ensure that nutrients stay in the soil.

Women, who rely on small-scale farming, rearing livestock and fishing, have their own seeds, livestock, land, tools and technical advice to feed their families, and produce more nutritious food.  Good roads mean that they can earn money on open, fair and well-functioning markets.

Young people, farmers’ organizations and indigenous people are empowered with more rights.  Land, fisheries and forests are governed more responsibly and transparently.  Plans are in place, which mean that most people, governments and businesses use energy, land and water efficiently and sustainably.  Investments in agriculture and value chains are responsible and are held accountable.

We can achieve this world in 2050, but only collectively.  

Tearfund’s local partner organisation in Malawi, called Eagles, helps farmers to learn about conservation farming, which produces high yields of drought-resistant crops, and pass on the learning to others.

Conservation farming techniques, together with projects to help people diversify their incomes like savings and loans clubs, help Maxwell and his neighbours to face the future.

And with a chief like Maxwell, who is proud of his village and wants to lead his neighbours away from dependency to lives of self-sufficiency, there is hope

‘My hope for this village is that I want to see that every household member has enough food for his household,’ he says.

So how do we get there?

Here’s one we prepared earlier, at Tearfund!  This smart video animation shows how the G8 can help put hunger in a Museum.  A family finds out how hunger was eradicated.  Starting with a meeting of G8 world leaders in June 2013, it spells out some of the actions required and significant turning points from 2013 to see a world free of hunger now in 2050.

On Saturday 8 June, thousands of supporters will gather at a Big IF rally in Hyde Park to call on the British Prime Minister to lead the G8 to act now on ending global hunger. After repeated calls from the IF campaign, the Prime Minister will hold a “Hunger Summit” on the same day to address this silent scandal.

April 16, 2013 by laurataylor

Hunger is one of the most visible signs of poverty.  A child’s bloated belly or a grandfather’s withered arm are images which we too often see on the TV in a time of crisis and which stay with us for years to come.  Tackling hunger is very much part of Tearfund’s business. We were set up in 1968 by UK churches who wanted to respond to the severe famine  West Africa, and have provided emergency food supplies in countless crises since then.  We also work alongside many churches around the world as they mobilise communities to find their own, more long term solutions to improve their food security and health, from sustainable farming to hygiene promotion, to speaking out against land grabs.

But, in a world where there is enough food for everyone, it is outrageous that one in eight people go to bed hungry every night. It is vital that the root causes of hunger are tackled which is why the IF campaign, which Tearfund is part of, is so important. Ahead of the G8 we are calling on leaders to fight land grabs, tax dodging and corruption and to ensure that promises of aid and climate finance are delivered and spent well. Thousands of our supporters have been joining this call for real change.

But it hasn’t escaped my notice that, as well as being the year where leaders can make decisions which will help to end extreme hunger around the world, 2013 may also be a year remembered for alarming increases in hunger in the UK.  Reports of children returning to school malnourished due to the lack of free lunches over the holidays have really shocked us. As steady work becomes more difficult to find and delays and cuts in the provision of emergency assistance in our own country increase, the press have noticed that many churches have been stepping into the breach here as well as overseas.

Tearfund hosted a meeting in Parliament today and were joined by the Trussell Trust, the Christian charity who are behind many of the food banks which have been springing up across the country. Their aim is to step into the breach if  a family hits a crisis and to provide a limited supply of food, provided by local people and businesses free of charge, until appropriate state or alternative provision can be arranged. As times get tougher, the numbers needing this kind of help are steadily increasing and their volunteers are doing amazing work.

Of course, as we know from our experience overseas, emergency aid like this is a vital sticking plaster, but inadequate on its own. Foodbanks are a crucial last port of call but can’t provide a sustainable solution for families or act as a replacement for the state. What is clear is that, in the UK as well as overseas, the church needs to go beyond emergency relief to build longer term resilience and to tackle the root causes of hunger – and in many cases it is.

Other organisations, like Christians Against Poverty (who I’m proud to say Tearfund helped to birth), provide debt counselling, and the Lighthouse Group, who Tearfund also partners with, are mentoring and counselling kids at risk of being excluded from school.  These kind of initiatives help to people to take control of their own situation before crisis point is reached, to manage their resources and to develop skills which should equip them well for the long term and ensure that meals are not missed.

And churches and NGOs in the UK are also engaging with policy makers – from local authorities to the Prime Minister – to hold leaders to account for the way that they deal with those in most need. In Parliament today, Chris Mould, the Executive Chairman of Trussell Trust, quoted the prophet Jeremiah to remind the MPs and Lords there that their responsibility should be to defend the cause of the poor and the needy. He explained that many of the people who arrive in food banks are there because the wages they are earning are too low to support the whole family, or because they have fallen through a bureaucratic gap.  There are policy changes that they could work for which could improve this situation.

The church and many others in society are doing great work, but let’s not rest on our laurels. While people are hungry we need to continue to meet their immediate needs, empower them to feed themselves and to work with them to tackle the injustices which keep them hungry. Let’s make 2013 a year to remember for the right reasons.

February 7, 2013 by Craig Philbrick

I’m standing in the Gobi Desert, Mongolia, and I’m crying. We’ve been travelling now for about five and a half weeks, through 26 countries and it’s over. We’ve dodged corrupt police in Bulgaria, heard Turkmenistan state officials tapping into our calls home; and survived drunk, angry policemen demanding a bribe (it’s a common occurrence in Uzbekistan). But now it’s over and our 1.0 litre Corsa has finally given up the ghost.

As our dreams of winning the rally crumble like the sand beneath our feet, a group of locals drive past and offer us a tow back to their community, where Matt (my co-conspirator) and I can call for a mechanic. We say goodbye to our other teammates and head back through the mountains. An hour or so later we arrive at a collection of yurts and are welcomed into the house of our rescuers. They feed us “buuz”, a traditional meal of dumplings filled with meat which are cooked in steam, give us a space to rest, and once their mechanic has come to confirm our worst fears, they arrange onward travel.

Mongolia is a beautiful empty place – that’s why it’s called The Land of Blue Sky. Yet most of its people face a hard daily struggle to survive with enough food. Our hosts didn’t have much, but the little food and warmth they did, they were more than happy to share with us as their guests. By sharing a meal together, we shared friendships, joy and peace.

Photo with our host’s children.

Since coming to work at Tearfund, I’ve realised that this problem is sadly not exclusive to Mongolia, it is a global problem. In fact, everyday 1 in 8 people go hungry worldwide. But it shouldn’t have to be this way. Did you know that there is enough food in the world for everyone? Hunger is not an inevitability, it is an injustice that we can fight. We can do something.

We are called to love God with all our hearts, all our souls, all our strength and all our mind – and to love our neighbours as ourselves (Luke 10:27).  Love is a verb, a doing word, therefore we must act as we honour God by loving the hungry. I want to do for other people what a family in Mongolia did for me.

And that’s why Tearfund are joining the ENOUGH FOOD FOR EVERYONE IF campaign. Together we will focus on some of the root causes of hunger, recognising that aid is only one vital first step in tackling global poverty, and that we must go beyond this to address the deeper causes of poverty and hunger, like climate change and tax dodging in developing countries. Together, we can end the daily reality of hunger for countless people and make the world a fairer, better place that we share together.

The time to act is now. If you want to be part of the campaign, sign up using the link below. Thank you.

January 31, 2013 by laurataylor

UK Parliament – home of the International Development Select Committee

Contrary to today’s Daily Mail headline, the International Development Select Committee did not actually call for the target of spending 0.7% of aid to be scrapped.  In their response to DFID’s annual report, the Select Committee did argue that the quality of aid spending is more important than the overall quantity. And of course this is true. The last thing that anyone in the development community wants is for a spending target to result in aid being wasted.

But we also know that the 0.7% commitment isn’t just an arbitrary target, but is a promise that has been made to poor communities around the world for many years and which cannot be dismissed lightly. We have a moral responsibility to act which should not be lost in technocratic arguments.

As Tearfund’s CEO wrote in the Huffington Post, we shouldn’t allow the Daily Mail and others to force us into a debate around whether or not to cut the aid target.  We have the privilege of seeing everyday the huge and transformational impact that aid – from both governments and NGOs – has all around the world.  DFID’s own report says that in the last 2 years they have paid for 12 million children to be vaccinated and provided 6 million people with emergency food aid. The International Development Committee don’t question these facts and personally, I can’t think of many better things to spend less than 0.7% of our country’s income on.

But we also can’t just be aid apologists. We know that aid – like all areas of public spending – isn’t always used as effectively as it could be. It is right that we have grown up conversations how best to spend the money, what we’re learning and how to have the biggest impact possible. But to always tie these conversations to the issue of whether to spend the money traps us in a “groundhog day” style debate.

The report criticises the significant increase in DFID money going through multilaterals as they “have high cost and sometimes limited effectiveness” and stresses that DFID bureaucracy shouldn’t prevent them from working with effective local NGOs. At Tearfund, we’re passionate about the brilliant projects that our local partners are doing – from supporting sustainable farming in Malawi and Zimbabwe to holding local government officials to account in India and, it’s great when additional resources from DFID increase their impact.

But we shouldn’t just write off multilateral aid as a legitimate way of spending money as it’s often easier for a developing country government to deal with one multilateral donor than several uncoordinated national donors, and costs accrued there may actually save costs (DFID head count, government staff time in developing countries etc). This kind of debate about the right balance of organisations that aid goes to is the kind I’d describe as helpful.

The report also raises good points about the clarity DFID needs to provide as to which countries it is and isn’t working on, and the need for enough DFID staff to manage the money well. Again, good points. But these points cannot be excuses for not meeting the 0.7% target.  The promise was initially made 40 years ago and was recommitted to by the UK Government in 2005 and 2010 so there is absolutely no excuse for not having planned for it properly.  As part of the IF campaign we will be doing all that we can to make sure that the Chancellor sticks to the 0.7% target when he makes his budget statement in March because this is the least we owe to the 1 in 8 people around the world who go to bed hungry every night.  While legitimate debates about how we use this money will and should continue, this promise is just too important to delay any longer.

January 10, 2013 by jokhinmaung

This blog was published on Reuters Alertnet first here

Half of all the food produced globally is wasted and never makes it onto the plate.

Half of the food bought in Europe and the US is thrown away.

That’s like throwing cash in the bin. The latest report from the Institute of Mechanical Engineers Global Food: Waste not, Want not addresses one of today’s biggest challenges: how to produce more food and eat sustainably in world of finite resources.

I buy peaches in my local shop in the UK fully intending to eat them, but then discover them a week later all rotten.

So why do I do it?  Do I really need to buy a whole punnet of peaches, when I have other food to eat?

It doesn’t always cross my mind that I’m throwing away a harvest which farmers in developing countries worked hard to produce.  But that’s what it means for farmers like Haringa Ram in India who are often limited to growing one crop a year, cut down meals, and have to take loans to feed their family and to buy animal fodder for his cattle.  It’s scandalous that we throw away food, while one person in eight – the equivalent of the combined populations of Europe, Canada, Australia and the US – goes hungry every night.

Largely, we waste food because we get used to buying more than we need and we have the choice.  But farmers like Haringa Ram don’t have that choice.  And they struggle with poor storage facilities, roads, transport and markets.  China, for example, loses 45% of all rice produced.

Women farming in India. Pic: Layton Thompson/Tearfund

On my travels with Tearfund, farmers have woefully described food rotting in poor storage facilities in India, rats eating harvests in Myanmar, locusts in the Sahel (West Africa) and elephants trampling all over crops in Chad.

It’s not just the food that is wasted, but also all the resources used to produce food: land, energy, water and fertilizers.  That’s an unnecessary waste of valuable resources that are gone forever, once used.

This is crazy, as we face an increasing pressure on resources needed to produce food – water, land and energy – for a growing population.

Meat eating will almost double by 2050, according to the report. Already a third of all cereal produced globally is fed to animals. Beef requires 50 times more water than vegetables in the processing stage.

It worries me when my friend in Nigeria tells me that he sees a trend in people wanting the ‘good life’ that they see in the West, and modelling their lifestyle in a similar way.  Clearly, that is not sustainable all over the world.

We have lost our connection with food producers. We cannot continue with unsustainable eating patterns that mean there is less food available globally, especially for people in developing countries, and that degrade land, soil, and water.  We must change our attitudes and behaviour: farmers, food producers, supermarkets and consumers alike.

The UK’s Prime Minister has promised to tackle hunger at the G8 summit this year, which could be a key step forward in ending hunger.  He must stick to his promises to increase both aid and funding for farmers to adapt to changes in the climate through the UN Green Climate Fund. Farmers and herders, especially women, need seeds, livestock, land, tools and technologies that can equip them to feed their families, to produce more nutritious food, store it, get it to market, earn money and stop their children being hungry.

We must tackle the deep inequalities in the global food system which allow a few to make billions while leaving hardworking smallscale farmers and ordinary people to struggle to eat enough.

Consumers in developed countries could change the world by shopping more simply. Everyone has different eating habits, but we can buy little and often, not more than we need, plan meals before shopping, be creative with leftovers, buy fair-trade, shop locally and buy food in season. We all have a key role to play, from farm to plate.

January 3, 2013 by Sarah Hulme – Food Security Policy Advisor

Happy New Year!  Enough time off – now back to work.  To mark the start of 2013 we’ve made some changes to Just Policy, so that it’s easier for you to follow the items you’re interested in.

If you’d like to receive all blog posts, then please follow us by email (sign up in the box to the right).

If you’d only like to receive blog posts only on a particular topic(s), then please sign up to the relevant RSS feed on the right.  [See here for a brilliant explanation of what RSS is, and why it’s useful – h/t Owen Barder.]  Our current topics are as follows:

  • Aid
  • Beyond 2015
  • Conflict and Security
  • Environment and Disasters
  • Faith Based Organisations
  • Food Security
  • Governance and Corruption
  • Water and Sanitation
  • Uncategorised

For the most part, our regular authors are also on twitter.  If you’re interested in following us, our twitter handles are as follows:

1LauraTaylor,  (cross-cutting)

RichardJWeaver, (environment)

sueyardley, (water and sanitation)

GrahamGordon4, (governance and corruption)

TFSamB, (politics)

JKfoodie, (food security)

steffygill, (water and sanitation)

Climatemouse, (environment)

MelissaLawson3, (governance and corruption)

RosanneWhite23 (politics)

And myself, at 1SarahHulme (food security)

You’ll also find mini profiles of each author to the right (click on the photo squares), which will tell you a bit more about who we are.  At the top of each blog post you will find who posted that blog, and what their speciality is.

We’re trialling this, so please do comment below with any bugs/kinks you find – and of course any other suggestions you’ve got!

October 19, 2012 by Sarah Hulme – Food Security Policy Advisor

If only all UN Summits were this exciting…

You may have realised that I’ve been at an annual Food Summit, known as the UN Committee on World Food Security (CFS), in Rome [previous post here].  It’s been a rollercoaster of a week – reaching the highs has taken some definite lows along the way – but overall it’s been great.

No one expected us to come up with a solution to world hunger in a week.  But we have made progress with agreements on several important and often controversial issues.  Over 100 governments, UN agencies, business and civil society, that make up the CFS (get used to the acronym!) have come together on these issues.  There has been a lot of talking, and talking can only ever be the first stage – it must be followed by action, and the CFS must implement what it has agreed.

A really wide range of civil society attendees have been here, from Latin America to Japan and they’ve brought sobering, moving stories of exactly why we’re here – of the impact these issues have on the lives of those living in poverty.  For example I heard a representative of indigenous peoples speak movingly about his friends in Colombia who died to protect their land, whilst land Voluntary Guidelines (see below) were written.

Investing in agriculture responsibly 

We have agreed a way forward to develop principles for responsible investment in agriculture by sovereign countries, investor funds and individuals.  These are not to be confused with World Bank principles of a very similar name, but of a much more damaging nature…  There was a lot of fear amongst civil society that the World Bank principles would be taken as a starting point to develop the principles for the CFS.  However, the intense negotiations before this annual meeting meant that everyone agreed on a consultation to develop separate principles over the next 2 years.  We’re really hopeful that these principles will truly help to guide responsible agricultural investment; investment which represents wild meadow opportunities.

Land tenure for farmers and herders 

Another piece of good news.  Earlier this year, the CFS finally agreed on Voluntary Guidelines on Land Tenure.  Civil society hopes that this will give smallholder farmers and herders more rights and prevent land grabbing.  They are only voluntary, so I was encouraged to hear that UN member states have committed funding to help national governments implement the guidelines, and practical guides will show exactly what this might look like.

For me, the real icing on the cake was at a side event, hearing a minister from Sierra Leone talk about how his government used the guidelines when signing contracts for land with foreign investors.  This meant really practical steps forward, like the contracts stating that the investors must pay for the water they use to irrigate crops, and that the government needed to monitor water table levels, which the local communities depend upon.  This is a very exciting first step – and reassures me that the Summit is more than a talking shop.  It’s resulting in change on the ground.  More of this please!

Climate change 

Now one final outstanding issue – the impact of climate change on smallholder farmers.  This has been one of the most embittered battles, with negotiations running until 1am some nights.  Civil society has had to give some ground, giving up support for organic and sustainable farming practices (agro-ecology) to avoid climate-smart agriculture being included.  Large agri-businesses have taken a hard stance on the issue of intellectual property rights of seeds and were supported in this by other countries.  No agreement has yet been reached on this – I’ll post an update next week.

As I head home there will be much to think about, and much for civil society to take forwards.  I really was encouraged by the comments from the Sierra Leone Minister.  His remarks gave me confidence (and joy!) that something agreed by the CFS – and only in May this year – can actually be put into practice, and have an impact on food security on the ground.  Provided the principles for responsible agriculture investment go the same way, then I think the CFS will prove beyond doubt it’s not a talking shop and we are well on our way to step up our efforts to reduce hunger together!

October 15, 2012 by Sarah Hulme – Food Security Policy Advisor

At the age of 17, I met a woman who was to become one of my best friends.  A Kenyan, from Western Province, she was running an educational NGO in the slums surrounding Nairobi.  Her name is Catherine, and she’s still running this educational NGO over a decade later, though it’s now based in Western Province.  Why am I telling you this?  I’ve found myself thinking of Catherine as I attend a UN food summit in Rome this week [in the photo I’m the out of focus white woman in black!].  When Catherine left Western Province 15 years ago her family – like many others – grew food for the household on their small plot of land.

FAO/Alessandra Benedetti

When Catherine returned to Western Province in 2008 she planned to grow food once more.  But as we chatted she said “Hey!  You know the rains are really not working anymore.  They’re not enough, or they’re at the wrong time – we can’t grow anything!”.  Poor harvests meant that later that year, Catherine and many of the children supported by the NGO found themselves eating only one meal a day, primarily of ‘porridge’.  That was the point when the reality of climate change hit me like a brick in the face.

Here in Rome, governments, businesses and civil society, speaking up for people like Catherine, will discuss the links between climate change and people’s ability to eat, amongst other topics.  We heard last week that 1 in 8 people in the world go hungry.  It’s not something we like to think about in the UK, but the reality is that my friends in Kenya – and many others around the world – are finding it harder and harder to grow enough food and climate change is to blame.

My Kenyan friends are currently adapting.  They’re trying out new crops, they’re trying different ways of using the soil and rearing a variety of animals.  But all of this costs money – for Catherine, and for everyone else who needs help to adapt to a changing climate.  In Britain, we dislike talking about money perhaps more than we dislike thinking about climate change!  But we’re not asking for extra money from governments, or individuals.  We think the money to help farmers adapt to climate change could come from shipping.

Lost?  Bear with me.  Every time you fly on a plane, your ticket price includes a small climate change ‘levy’ in recognition of the carbon emissions it produces.  Ships also produce carbon emissions.  So wouldn’t it make sense for them to pay a levy too? We could raise at least $10 billion if they did.  $10 billion which could then be used to help Catherine, and others like her, adapt to a changing climate.

We’ve got a video animation that explains this idea a lot better than I can here:

And if you’re really keen, you can read my colleague’s briefing paper ‘Hope on the horizon’