Food Not Fuel

Halima

Yesterday I was invited along to the Action Aid blogger meetup to hear about their work as part of the IF campaign coalition. Having previously done a bit of work for an international development charity working in Africa, I was acutely aware about the issue of hunger. And being a climate change campaigner I have spent a lot of time reading about how climate change will worsen the global food crisis and the poorest people will suffer first, so I went along keen to learn more about the issue.

For those who don’t know already, Enough Food IF is a campaign in the style of ‘Make Poverty History’ and is asking the G8 (the worlds most wealthy countries) to implement a series of measures to help tackle world hunger. This year David Cameron is president of the G8 and therefore has the opportunity to drive real change if he so wishes.

The campaign has set out of big IF’s for world leaders to tackle:

Throughout the evening we heard from a number of speakers including the actress and cook Fay Ripley, Joy an inspirational young Action Aid campaigner from Kenya. And Rachel Beer, who I have known for several years and is a thought leader in charity fundraising and digital.

Fay spoke passionately about the extravagant culture of present giving at children’s parties and how she and her 6 year old decided to ask that parents just donated into a bucket and then with that money through Action Aid they sponsored children and saw what a wonderful difference that money made.

I asked Fay about food waste at the parties and she confirmed that it is terrible and that most parents in her North London circle care very little for it. Being a keen cook Fay assured me that isn’t the case with her parties but it was disheartening to hear that there was such blatant waste of good food. This at time when in the UK food banks are opening at the rate of 3 per week. Further afield the situation is much worse as Joy was about to tell us.

Joy is a 29 year old campaigner from Kenya, she spoke with such raw passion and gave us her first hand account of what it was like growing up when their was literally not enough food to go around. She spoke about how her bigger brothers would eat all of the food and how in her family if someone hesitated with their food another family member would take the food of their plate. She also talked about how people would “bump” round and if your family had food, you would share it with them, I liked that people were willing to share the very little they had with their neighbour.

Joy

She then went on to talk about Biofuels, one of the key focuses of the IF campaign and how this has impacted upon communities in Kenya. But first a little bit of background about biofuels:

  • Around 10 years ago biofuels were being touted as a renewable energy source.
  • Biofuels harvest crops which could be used to feed people, once these lands have been used for biofuels, it can take as long as 25 years to be able to grow food on this land again
  • Big oil companies like BP and Shell have invested heavily in Biofuels and lobbied governments to include biofuels as part of the renewable energy mix.
  • There is now scientific consensus that biofuels don’t reduce carbon emissions, in-fact they actually release higher carbon emissions than the fossil fuels they were created to replace.
  • The EU instated a target of having 5% of transport fuels come from Biofuels by 2010, this has helped drive the industry and land grabs.
  • In 2009, the oil company Shell stopped investing in wind and solar power choosing Biofuels as its “renewable” energy investment because it has the potential to generate profits.
  • BP are another big oil company who have invested heavily in biofuels, they are determined to see it succeed.

So in short biofuels a bit of a problem, big oil have invested in developing it and 10 years of intense lobbying has led to laws supporting its use. However in 2011, 10 of the world’s most powerful organisations, including the Food and Agriculture Organisation, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank all recommended that G20 governments should  scrap biofuel policies.

Back to Joy, she told us about the extent of the hunger crisis in Kenya, currently 11 million people are going hungry everyday, this doesn’t include people who are partially hungry i.e. they may have one meal a day. She told us about biofuels and how recently a french company displaced 20,000 people through a land grab in order to start producing biofuels. If these people are offered jobs at the plants they are lowest possible roles, paying very poor wages.

Biofuels Infographic

The issue of land grabs is a frightening reality for the whole of Africa not just to fuel biofuels production but to feed the populations of the gulf region and China. Large corporations and governments have been buying up vast regions of land. The people in these areas are not consulted, compensated, simply displaced.

You maybe aware that recently we passed 400ppm of carbon in the atmosphere. Putting it very simply this is seriously bad news in the bid to tackle world hunger. Dr James Hansen one of the leading climate scientists said this in 2008: “If humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted … CO2 will need to be reduced … to at most 350ppm.”

The continued use of biofuels will see an increase in the carbon emitted into the atmosphere leading to an increase in extreme weather patterns. Floods, droughts, hurricanes will become more common and in arid regions of the world already struggling with poverty. The tougher climate will make water more scarce and farming in difficult conditions even more challenging. It is predicted in the next 50 years climate change will result in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people and millions of climate refugees.

Last year extreme weather events caused £170 billion in damages, this isn’t taken to into account the emotional trauma and death these ever increasing weather events caused.

Tackling world hunger isn’t easy, even if biofuels are scrapped and the IF campaigns demands are met there will be an unbelievable amount of work to do. But this is a good starting point, and as a country we shouldn’t be supporting an industry which has been found to be bad for the environment, displaces innocent and pulls communities into starvation. With the world population due to expand to 9 billion in by 2050, we need to use land for food no fuel, we need to invest in renewable energy sources and we need to eat less meat to reduce carbon emissions and ensure their is more food to go around.

For too long these corporations, BP, Shell, Exxon Mobil et al, have taken advantage of the people with no voice. They have taken their land, polluted their environment and made huge profits whilst in places like in Kenya 11 million people can will starve everyday. They should feel ashamed. And if the G8 don’t stop the use of biofuels they will be responsible for the continued misery of untold millions.

I will leave you with the words of Joy who I felt was channeling some of the energy of the Suffragette Emily Wilding Davision, 100 years to the day that she stepped in front of the Kings horse to demand votes for women.

Joy was pretty fierce through out and said: “Lets join hands and fight together for the hungry people”.  Well I couldn’t agree more, please share this blog and spread the word about the IF campaign. Or join Action Aid and other NGO’s in Hyde Park this Saturday for an IF campaign rally.

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