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Latest News

The dramatic surge in food prices has plunged millions of poor people and many net food importing poor countries into a food crisis. Consequently, it has also put at risk their chances of achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015. Whilst the focus has been on the impact on the MDG1 of reducing poverty and hunger, given the close inter-connectedness between all the 8 MDGs, the impact on these sections of the poor on health, education and livelihoods more broadly, cannot be underestimated.

Paradoxically, addressing the MDGs in a comprehensive manner, as agreed by 189 world leaders at the Millennium Summit in September 2000, could have led to much greater food security for the poor. Even now, to find a lasting solution, apart from meeting the immediate humanitarian needs of vulnerable people and countries, what is needed is essentially a much more serious and intensive effort to meet the MDGs by 2015, with a strong focus on poor and excluded groups.

Building on a bottom-up analysis with strong national ownership amongst poor countries is the key to addressing the short and long-term causes of this crisis. A long-term MDG-based plan establishing clear cross-sectoral linkages backed up with adequate budgetary allocations, which poor country Governments have promised in 2000 and recommitted in 2005, has to be the starting point. The prolonged neglect of investing in sectors that employ large sections of the poor and excluded such as agriculture and off-farm livelihoods has to be reversed.

While pursuing better technology for high yielding agricultural inputs can be a part of the armoury to improve agricultural productivity, there is no substitute for land, soil and water management approaches that are sustainable and respect the rights and aspirations of poor and indigenous communities, particularly women. For the revolution to remain “green”, we cannot forget that the causes of food insecurity are as much institutional and environmental as they are technical. Addressing MDG1 without studying its impacts on MDG7 and vice versa will simply mean transferring Asian models to Africa without really learning any lessons.

The current crisis has also once again underlined the need for a much more disaggregated analysis of winners and losers and a greatly nuanced search for solutions by region, by country and by social groups – all of which are central chants in the MDG hymn sheet. After all it is the impact of the “one size fits all” dismantling of all forms of agricultural support and social protection that is now coming to haunt the poor. The clock has turned a full circle and even the strongest opponents of state subsidies are now promoting the idea of targeted support and conditional cash transfers. Going to scale in agriculture makes eminent sense, but a looming question is whether we are ready to go to small-scale where appropriate. The contribution of agri-businesses have to be measured in terms of their impact on food security of the poor and not any other metrics.

An incredibly powerful aspect of this crisis has been the spontaneous public protests in countries across the world including in some countries which have no space for citizens voices to be heard. This is certainly a wake-up call to leaders that denying basic rights and MDG commitments have political consequences. Translating these outbursts into long-term citizens efforts to monitor state accountability is a big challenge. But the fact remains that the lack of transparency in managing public affairs and food stocks, unethical hoarding by greedy traders operating in the black market, often hand in glove with politicians, are all starting to become less and less acceptable to citizens at large. A growing and attentive media will not allow unaccountable governance and corruption to persist.

Finally, we have been once again rudely reminded that the primary responsibility of poor countries in achieving the MDGs, and the importance of the nation-state as the ultimate unit of both decision-making and accountability, only holds true if rich countries (the so-called “international community”) also keep their side of the grand global partnership deal. They have to deliver on MDG8 commitments of both meeting aid volume commitments and aid quality promises made in the Paris Declaration and they are slipping on both. They have to conclude the Doha Trade Round in a manner that helps poor countries achieve the MDGs; sadly, not much light is seen at the end of this tunnel. Unregulated global market forces require an international architecture that works to shield the poor from shocks that are not of their own making and completely beyond their ability to absorb. The long-term distortionary impacts of subsidizing agriculture in rich countries which then leads to dumping of agricultural produce on poor countries has eroded the agricultural base in so many poor countries. Now subsidies and incentives for bio-fuels is causing a new kind of distortion leading to serious questioning of unbridled support to first generation bio-fuels that are pushing up corn prices.

As we begin the second half of the countdown to 2015, the combined and interlinked increase of food and oil prices is really testing the global political resolve to stay the course on the MDGs. The High Level Event called by the UN Secretary General at the UN on 25 September and the MDG Call to Action that has already got the support of over 30 countries across the world will help in keeping our eyes firmly set on the destination that we have set sail towards, even as we go through choppy waters. The 43 million people who Stood Up for the MDGs (StandAgainstPoverty.org) on 17 Oct 2007, and the hundreds of millions of people living in extreme poverty will expect nothing less.


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