Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
May 18, 2009
Canada urged to act to avert food crisis
Citizens advised to grow food, donate to food banks, ask MPs to make food a legal right
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
EDMONTON — As food prices climbed last year, millions around the world were pushed deeper into poverty and hunger. People in several dozen countries, including Haiti, Pakistan, Egypt and the Philippines, rioted, protesting soaring prices for rice and other essentials.
That may happen again, perhaps even next year, warns Paul Hagerman, policy advisor for the Winnipeg-based Canadian FoodGrains Bank.
“The next food crisis, in a sense, is right around the corner and we have to ask what can we do to prevent it.”
Doing nothing is not an option. He is calling for a better recognition of the Right to Food, which was approved by the United Nations and signed by Canada.
Speaking at the 2009 Social Justice Institute May 9, Hagerman said the price of food matters for the poor of the world.
While Canadians spend about only one-tenth of their income on food, the bottom billion of the world’s poor, who live on a dollar a day or less, spend more than half of their money on food. So when prices climb, they can’t even afford the basics.
Prices of nearly all food commodities skyrocketed last year, including wheat, which went up more than 130 per cent.
Last year’s food crisis was caused by various factors, including neglect of agriculture in some countries, greater demand, use of grains and land for biofuels, speculation and to a certain extent, climate change.
FOOD CRISIS PREDICTED
“With all of those factors, we could easily have another food crisis in another six months to two years,” Hagerman said.
The Social Justice Institute is an annual ecumenical event organized by several Christian churches and Church organizations. More than 200 people attended the May 7-9 institute at King’s University College, including 110 high school students.
Other speakers at the event included the Rev. Cathy Campbell of the Anglican Diocese of St. Rupert’s Land in Winnipeg and John Mangenge, executive director of Pwani Christian Community Services in Kenya.
The institute also offered 11 workshops on everything from inner city hunger to liturgy and food.
In his presentation, Hagerman gave several international perspectives on the food crisis, including one from a United Nations’ task force that in the height of last year’s crisis urged countries to get food to hungry people immediately by whatever means. Countries rallied around this and dispatched aid.
The UN task force also proposed some long-term solutions, including support for farmers, the improvement of trade and tax policies and the building of long-term resilience in agriculture.
Recently the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier de Schutter, urged countries to emphasize the needs of those who are food insecure. To Hagerman, this sounded almost like “a preferential option for the poor.”
“When we talk about the right to food, we are saying everybody has a place at the table,” he said. But for right-to-food legislation to be approved, “we have to restructure our society, our laws, our rules and our international systems.”
Four years ago, a group of scientists and producers from 61 countries got together to debate what kind of agriculture we need for the future; that is, an agriculture that feeds everyone and respects the environment.
They said agriculture has basically three bottom lines, which must be respected: economic, environmental and social. At the time of signing the documents, three countries — Australia, the United States and Canada — refused to sign because they see the current form of agriculture as working well.
The type of agriculture Canada pursues, which is input intensive and uses lots of equipment, has to change, Hagerman insisted. While it has worked well for those who are well off and it has delivered dollars, it has also led to environmental and social concerns.
“Our rural areas have been emptied out, plus it has led to soil degradation.”
“We need something else,” Hagerman said. Small-scale sustainable agriculture, as proposed by the UN and other international organizations, may be the answer.
“They (the UN and others) say we need to do more to support farmers,” Hagerman noted. “That’s one of the key things, but what kind of farmers and what kind of farming? Well, farming that’s resilient to climate change. The simple thing may be soil that has more organic matter.”
We also need farming that is resistant to market volatility and we need farming that’s based on farmers’ knowledge and innovation. “Instead of saying, ‘This seed made in a high tech lab is going to solve all the problems across the country,’ we need seeds that farmers create in their own farms,” Hagerman said.
“We need diversity in genetics, which is the seeds and diversity in approaches. There is no one-size-fits-all.”
What should the Canadian government do?
It should, among other things, make agriculture and rural development a priority for the Canadian International Development Agency, target resilient farming, strengthen the role of women who make up more than half of the farmers in developing countries, and reform organizations that deal with food and food production.
Canada should also promote international trade rules and loan conditions that allow developing countries to support sustainable local food production and protect smallholder producers and consumers from price volatility and unfair trade, Hagerman said.
“We are saying Canada should support fair trade and maintain food aid.”
Hagerman spoke of the Better Aid Bill, which was passed with support from all the opposition parties in the House of Commons. The bill says Canada’s international aid has to be consistent with international human rights, has to focus on poverty and has to involve consultation with the stakeholders.
“If we can get that implemented in a serious way, it would make a huge difference,” Hagerman said.
FOOD LINKED TO MILITARY
“What the Conservatives are trying to do is make Canada aid dollars address Canada’s foreign affairs agenda, things like military security. Basically they want to spend the money where they think it’ll come back and benefit us, rather than spending it where people are most in need.”
What else should Canada do? “We should be focusing on agriculture. Canada spends much less on agriculture today than it did even 20 years ago.”
The right to food is a legal right ratified by many countries, including Canada. The problem is the legislation “has no teeth,” Hagerman lamented. As a result, trade actions and investment protection actions always prevail in international tribunals.
“We need more teeth in that legislation at the national and international levels.”
During the food crisis last year, Canada did nothing until there was a food riot in Haiti and there was an attack on the Canadian embassy, Hagerman said.
The reason for that is Canada and other Western countries see food insecurity as a security issue, “which says that if we don’t feed people maybe they are going to hurt us or start a war.”
But Hagerman said food insecurity is also an issue of justice. “God wants us to take a justice approach,” he told his audience. “God wants us to recognize people’s right to food.”
How can Canadians get involved? By praying, writing to their members of Parliament and participating in growing operations and then donating the produce to the FoodGrains Bank, he said.
The Food and Agriculture Organization at the UN defines hunger as those who consume less than 1,800 calories a day. Hagerman said a person needs 2,200 calories a day for healthy living. The adult Canadian consumes 2,900 calories a day.
“I urge you to think about your own consumption and then think if there is something you can fast from that may contribute to a positive change. It may be fasting from food, it may be fasting from driving, it may be fasting from electronics.”