Wesley Roe and Santa Barbara Permaculture Network lakinroe at silcom.com
Sat Jul 11 09:33:09 EDT 2009



As the rich Group of 8 (G8) nations convene in L'Aquila, Italy this
week, world hunger will once again take center stage. The United
States will likely announce a "significant" increase in funding for
agricultural development aid, along with multi-year commitments from
other G8 countries. This follows the G8's admission of failure in
tackling hunger at its first-ever farm conference in Treviso, Italy in
>April 2009.

G8 Summit: Feed the Hungry or Fuel Hunger?
Anuradha Mittal | July 8, 2009
Editor: John Feffer

Foreign Policy In Focus

As the rich Group of 8 (G8) nations convene in 
L'Aquila, Italy this week, world hunger will once 
again take center stage. The United States will 
likely announce a "significant" increase in 
funding for agricultural development aid, along 
with multi-year commitments from other G8 
countries. This follows the G8's admission of 
failure in tackling hunger at its first-ever farm 
conference in Treviso, Italy in April 2009.
Proposals to challenge hunger have become a 
common feature of international conferences since 
the 2008 food crisis. The 83% increase in food 
prices between 2005 and 2008 led to a massive 
surge in global hunger, as the number of hungry 
in 2008 increased from 854 million to 963 million 
in the space of a year. As warnings of political 
instability and social unrest grew, heads of 
state suddenly began to discuss food security. 
The political intent to combat world hunger, 
however, was short-lived. Perhaps the decline in 
crop prices that started in the middle of 2008 
made the problem appear less severe for 
policymakers, while bank bailouts and automaker 
bankruptcies captured all the attention and 

The hunger crisis, however, is far from over. The 
number of hungry reached a historic high in 2009, 
with 1.02 billion people - one-sixth of humanity 
- going hungry every day. Despite an improved 
global cereal supply situation and a decline in 
international prices of most cereals from their 
highs in the first half of 2008, food prices 
remain high in developing countries (FAO, 2009b). 
Thirty-two countries face acute food crises. The 
economic crisis has worsened the situation by 
further shrinking the purchasing power of the 
urban poor and subsistence farmers in poor 

In the midst of this deeply entrenched epidemic 
of poverty and hunger, the G8 will announce a new 
initiative that seeks a more coordinated approach 
to food aid and development. The G8's performance 
on its past commitments, however, casts a shadow 
on the sincerity of their intentions.

G8's Record
At the height of the 2008 food crisis, G8 leaders 
highlighted food security at their summit in 
Hokkaido, Japan. The summit alone cost over $600 
million - the annual budget of the United 
Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) 
is $400 million. The G8 spent half of this sum on 
a massive security operation involving some 
21,000 police officers, coast guards, and 
soldiers. With much fanfare, the G8 communiqué on 
global food security committed $10 billion for 
food and other resources to increase agricultural 
production in developing countries. Despite the 
media glitz around the announcement, this was not 
new money, but a mere adding up of aid already 
pledged by the G8 countries. The G8 communiqué 
also included a commitment to "reverse the 
overall decline of aid and investment in the 
agricultural sector." The commitment, however, 
failed to list any specific dollar amounts with a 

Despite commitments, pledges, and grandiose 
communiqués by rich donor nations to challenge 
hunger at numerous international summits, world 
hunger persists. The problem lies in the 
fallacious explanations for the food crisis, and 
in the promotion of market and technology-based 
solutions to the problem.

With hunger framed as a crisis of demand and 
supply, the proposed solutions have primarily 
focused on boosting agricultural production 
through technological solutions like genetic 
engineering (GE) and chemical inputs. The G8 has 
also focused on removing supply-side constraints 
to ensure access to food through the 
liberalization of agricultural trade. Yet these 
very proposals contributed over the last several 
decades to undermining food security in the 
developing countries in the first place.

Free Trade = Freedom from Hunger?
While pledging commitment to fight hunger, the 
2008 G8 communiqué reiterated its continued 
support for "the development of open and 
efficient agricultural and food markets." 
Ministers at the G8 Farm Conference in 2009 also 
recommended open markets, urging an "ambitious 
conclusion of the Doha Round" of the World Trade 
Organization (WTO) as the solution to the food 

A recent speech by Pascal Lamy, the director 
general of the World Trade Organization (WTO), 
also reflected this G8 logic that international 
trade will help solve the global food crisis. 
Lamy claimed that increased competition reduces 
prices and thus enhances the purchasing power of 
the consumers. Secondly, he argued, trade helps 
transport food from places where it can be 
produced efficiently to where there is demand.
This assertion that free trade will help solve 
hunger, however, is based on amnesia. 
Liberalization of agricultural markets has yet to 
deliver on the promised or expected gains in 
growth and stability in the developing world. In 
a submission to the Commission of Sustainable 
Development (CSD) in May 2009, the United 
Nations' special rapporteur on the right to food, 
Olivier De Schutter, pointed out that the 
multilateral trading system is "heavily skewed in 
favor of a small group of countries, and in 
urgent need of reform." He was referring to how 
rich countries have used their heavily subsidized 
agriculture to help secure markets by flooding 
developing countries with cheap farm imports, 
making subsistence farming uncompetitive and 
financially unstable.

The dumping of cheap, subsidized food has 
converted developing countries that had once been 
self-sufficient, and even net exporters of 
agricultural products, into net importers. In the 
1960s, developing countries had an overall 
agricultural surplus of $7 billion. By the 1970s, 
with the increase in imports, this surplus had 
shrunk to $1 billion. Most of the 1990s and 2000s 
saw developing countries turn into net food 
importers. In 2001, the deficit grew to $11 

The worst impact of the indiscriminate opening of 
markets has been felt in the rural areas, where 
agriculture is the main occupation for most of 
the poor as well as a source of purchasing power. 
Increased imports have not increased food 
security in these areas. Also, the notion that 
further liberalization of agricultural markets 
increases access to food belies the fact that 
most people in countries classified as having 
"widespread lack of access" are unable to procure 
food because they don't have enough money.

At the national level, the increased dependence 
on food imports has made developing countries 
more vulnerable to high prices. In 2008, for 
instance, many developing countries experienced 
shortages because the markets on which they have 
come to depend underwent changes in national food 
supply policies. The U.S. and European bio-fuel 
policy is a case in point. Corn production 
dedicated to bio-fuels, instead of food, 
increased scarcity in terms of both its market 
availability and food aid availability.

Also, measures previously available to 
governments to soften the effects of price 
volatility - such as controlling import and 
export volumes, managing domestic stocks, using 
price control and price support tools, consumer 
subsidies, and rationing systems - have been 
criticized or discouraged for distorting free 
trade. Free-trade advocates have deemed export 
bans of food, imposed by some 40 countries, 
including India, Egypt, and Vietnam in 2008, 
responsible for increasing prices. But these 
measures sought to protect national populations, 
especially the poor and vulnerable, against the 
global agricultural price shocks by ensuring 
national food availability below world prices 
before allowing exports to other countries

Freedom From Hunger through Technology?

After nearly two decades of declining aid for 
agricultural development, commitments to reverse 
the trend have become common at international 
summits. Olivier De Schutter, in his submission 
to the CSD, cautioned that increased investments 
in agriculture, while necessary, must be thought 
through carefully. The issue isn't one of merely 
increasing budget allocations to agriculture, but 
rather "that of choosing from different models of 
agricultural development which may have different 
impacts and benefit various groups differently," 
he said.

The first element of the food security initiative 
to be announced at the G8 meetings reportedly 
will focus on improving agricultural productivity 
and development. The G8 Farm Summit in April 2009 
also promoted a technological agricultural 
revolution, for instance in genetically modified 
(GM) crops, to increase agricultural productivity 
in response to hunger.
A big player promoting genetic engineering as the 
panacea for global hunger has been the United 
States. During the Summit, U.S. Secretary of 
Agriculture Tom Vilsack warned that failure to 
boost agricultural productivity would cause fresh 
social unrest and urged the G8 to back the use of 
science in agriculture, including genetically 
modified organisms. On his return from Italy, 
much to the delight of biotech companies such as 
Pioneer Hi-Bred and Monsanto, Vilsack pledged to 
bring a "more comprehensive and integrated" 
approach to promoting agricultural biotech 

Similarly, former executive director of the UN 
World Food Program Catherine Bertini and former 
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman, have 
written of the "great promise" of a new Green 
Revolution that includes use of biotechnology. 
They advocate prioritizing food and agriculture 
in U.S. foreign aid. Recognizing that their plans 
might generate resistance, the authors write, 
"Although there is the potential for conflict 
over a hunger initiative on the issue of 
introducing more GM crops, this conflict is more 
likely to be with Europeans than with Africans or 
Asians, both of whom are increasingly inclined to 
accept the technology."

Their thinking that developing countries can be 
arm-twisted into accepting GM crops is reflected 
in a new multi-billion dollar U.S. aid bill. 
Global Food Security Act (SB 384), also known as 
the Lugar-Casey Act, revises the 1961 Federal 
Assistance Act to direct more money toward GM 
research as part of U.S. foreign aid programs. 
The bill passed the Senate Foreign Relations 
Committee in March 2009 on the basis of hastily 
conducted, industry-friendly research funded by 
the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, one of the 
biggest forces behind plans for a new Green 
Revolution in Africa.

But the promises of feeding the world with GM 
crops have so far proven to be empty. A 2009 
report from the Union of Concern Scientists, 
which analyzed nearly two decades worth of 
peer-reviewed research on the yield of GM 
food/feed crops in the United States, 
demonstrates that genetic engineering has failed 
to significantly increase crop yields. Only one 
major GM crop, Bt corn, has achieved a 3-4% yield 
increase over the 13 years that it has been grown 
commercially. Even this growth is much less than 
what has been achieved over that time by other 
methods, including conventional breeding. The 
report contends that it makes little sense to 
support genetic engineering at the expense of 
technologies with better track records of 
increasing yields.

Other studies also demonstrate that organic and 
similar farming methods can more than double crop 
yields. Organic Agriculture and Food Security in 
Africa, a study by the UN Conference on Trade and 
Development (UNCTAD) and the UN Environment 
Program (UNEP), found that organic or 
near-organic agriculture practices in Africa 
outperformed conventional production systems 
based on chemical-intensive farming, provided 
environmental benefits, and are more conducive to 
food security in the region. This analysis of 114 
farming projects in 24 African countries found 
that organic practices resulted in a yield 
increase of more than 100%.
The study confirmed the findings and 
recommendations of the UN's first ever 
evidence-based assessment of global agriculture 
for reducing hunger and poverty, improving rural 
livelihoods, and working toward environmentally, 
socially, and economically sustainable 
development. Known as the International 
Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology 
for Development, it called for a fundamental 
paradigm shift in agricultural development and 
concluded that genetic engineering is no solution 
for soaring food prices and hunger. It instead 
recommended low-input, low-cost agro-ecological 
farming methods that reintegrate natural systems 
into agriculture in order to maximize 
sustainability, ecosystem services, and 

In the face of growing evidence, the G8's 
continued focus on improving agricultural 
productivity through technologies like genetic 
engineering only serves the interests of biotech 
corporations. Monsanto, for instance, is running 
an advertising campaign in national newspapers 
like The New York Times as well as on National 
Public Radio claiming "its improved seeds help 
farmers double yields," which is needed to feed 
the world's growing population.

Building a Resilient Agricultural System
At the World Food Summit in 1996, heads of 
governments made a commitment to reduce the 
number of hungry people - 815 million then - in 
half by 2015. The latest hunger figures reveal a 
crisis spiraling out of control. The need to feed 
the world in ways that are environmentally, 
socially, and economically sustainable is even 
more urgent.

The UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia 
and the Pacific (ESCAP) recently pointed out that 
past reliance on technology jeopardized long-term 
sustainability with the overuse of chemical 
inputs. ESCAP's report highlights evidence from 
hundreds of grassroots development projects that 
increased agricultural productivity through 
agro-ecological practices, while increasing food 
supplies, incomes, food access, and improving the 
livelihoods of the poor. ESCAP thus recommends 
investment in sustainable agriculture that 
prioritizes small-scale food production based on 
ecologically viable systems.

In 2008, 60 governments approved the IAASTD 
report's call for a radical shift in agricultural 
policy and practice in order to address hunger 
and poverty, social inequities, and environmental 
sustainability. Recognizing that the past 
emphasis on increasing yields and productivity 
had negative consequences on environmental 
sustainability, the IAASTD report also promoted 
agriculture that is biodiversity-based, including 
agro-ecology and organic farming, for being 
resilient, productive, beneficial to poor 
farmers, adaptive to climate change.
These recommendations have yet to make it to the 
G8 agenda. If the G8 is indeed serious about its 
commitment to confront hunger, the member 
countries must stop the steady drumbeat of 
proselytizing for free markets and technological 
solutions to hunger. The Obama administration, 
which provided leadership to the food security 
initiative and injected purpose into the G8 
meeting, could lead the way by recognizing the 
need for developing countries to have policy 
space to determine agricultural policies that 
meet the needs of their populations. It should 
encourage a genuine agrarian reform that will 
ensure farmers' rights to land, water, seeds and 
other resources. By making local products 
competitive, such reform would sustain farmers' 
livelihoods and incomes and assure national food 
security. This would require United States to 
cease making GMO crops and free trade a corner 
stone of its development and foreign policy.
In short, instead of promoting their old failed 
"development" formulas in new clothing, the G8 
needs to take responsibility and support efforts 
of governments in developing countries to put in 
place or restore sustainable, equitable, and 
resilient agricultural systems.

Anuradha Mittal is a contributor to Foreign 
Policy In Focus and the executive director of the 
Oakland Institute, an independent policy think 
tank working to increase public participation and 
to promote fair debate on critical social, 
economic, and environmental  issues.

Published by Foreign Policy In Focus (FPIF), a 
project of the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS, 
online at www.ips-dc.org). Copyright © 2009, 
Institute for Policy Studies.
Recommended citation:
Anuradha Mittal, "G8 Summit: Feed the Hungry or 
Fuel Hunger?" (Washington, DC: Foreign Policy In 
Focus, July 8, 2009).
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Author(s): Anuradha Mittal
Editor(s): John Feffer
Production: Jen Doak
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