Thursday, 15 September 2011

Sandys: How Famine in Africa Impacts Constituents at Home

Today in a debate in Parliament, Laura Sandys MP highlighted the need for DFID to show the UK public why investing and supporting agriculture, research and preventing the use of bio-fuels abroad can benefit us all at home.
I am extremely pleased that this debate has been chosen by the Backbench Committee to be debated today. 
The situation in East Africa is a tragic human disaster, but it is also an illustration of a global system that is at breaking point and which will impact us domestically.
It is really important that we start to address both the suffering in East Africa and also one of the most important underlying global issues that is playing out so badly for families in Somalia – that of global food insecurity.
There are many who will develop the important issues relating specifically to Africa – much better than I could. 
And so I do not apologise for using this debate to examine both the wider global issues.
It is vital we ensure that we give a clear message – that this is a domestic problem as much as an international issue. 
Food insecurity is a global problem and none of us will be immune from developments in Africa. 
And unlike so many other international development issues it is not exclusively about “overseas” or about “foreign parts” or the “developing world” - it is about us here and those who sent us here in their constituencies. 
In food, more than any other sector, we are as one.
As one with the soya growers of Brazil as we are with the challenges facing the failed crops for families in Somalia. 
There is no more globally traded product group than food. It is a patchwork and so the crisis in East Africa is our crisis. 
So anyone who does not believe that we need to act to address the long term underlying problems facing food production, demand and supply in the developing world in support of our domestic constituents – is not living in the real world.
Let me outline some of the domestic realities that we face and illustrate why any crop failure, any food shortage, any famine anywhere in the world impacts your and my supermarket shoppers.
This country imports 50% of its food – maybe too much. 
Food inflation domestically has been running at about 6% and will not dramatically come down.
Staples – grain, sugar - in particular having been rising in price significantly not helped by the rush for bio-fuels. 
And there is no drop in food prices on the horizon – they are actually going up.
But we are facing the following global realities:
·         Increased consumption in food stuffs per head of population in developing countries is rising even faster than population growth itself – this means that there is less to export;
·         Population growth and increased consumption globally is putting extreme pressure on marginal land;
·         Global populations are moving from countryside to towns depleting food production labour;
·         Inflation is rampant – in Zambia, Botswana, Swaziland and Malawi producers are selling at better prices locally than for export;
·         Protectionism – probably the most dangerous development for our domestic consumers here in the UK is becoming much more prevalent – Tanzania have recently imposed an export ban and other countries might follow suit. Climatic shocks such as the crop failure in Somalia are increasingly becoming the norm.
All of this is contributing to a new paradigm for our domestic consumers – food is becoming much more expensive, the trade in food is reducing due to greater producer country domestic demand, availability of commodities at cheap prices is becoming rare and the markets that we have depended on for so many years that have delivered cheap food on our supermarket shelves is seriously challenged.
There are then the anomalies surrounding the issue of food production globally.  Many experts state clearly that there is enough food produced to feed the global population – that there is no exact food scarcity – but that there are some fundamental flaws within the supply chain that need to be addressed:
      An alarming quantity food in the developing world is ruined before it can get to market – storage is not available; productivity has not increased significantly in decades; crops get ruined due to disease; mis-management due to lack of agricultural education takes place; distribution is not effective enough to get produce to market. 
      There is a lot of work to be done to get the food produced from the farm to the fridge and we are losing a lot on the way! Unnecessarily in my view! 
So every time an African farmer doesn't get his food to market or has a crop failure, this makes it more likely that there is a price rise in our domestic supermarkets.
Every time we fail to support agricultural development and food education in Africa we are making our constituents more vulnerable to food inflation.
This is where DFID really can link its agenda into the UK voters’ agenda. And I would say also the Treasury’s agenda. With food inflation as it stands, it is going to have a big impact on growth and disposable income. 
So globally there are some important initiatives that we need to address. The G20 is taking it seriously and I hope that they take the FAO IFPRI report seriously.
The WTO must be a priority for the FCO with food trade as the most important issue.
Bio-fuel policy must be reversed. It is crazy that we have people starving when food is being produced for energy. This has to stop at both EU level and in the US.
Our National Security Council needs to place a stronger focus on food security nationally and globally. Potentially buffer stocks need to be created.
A report a few years ago published by Lord Cameron of Dillington stated that the UK was 9 meals from crisis. 
So please let us not forget that food and famine is everyone’s problem. 
And finally, returning to East Africa. And on this I have to declare an interest my - husband was head of humanitarian relief in Somalia in the 1990s.
But how can anyone say that this total human disaster is a shock.
Famine and this one in particular is not a tsunami or an earthquake.
It hasn't just erupted over night with no ability to predict or prepare.
Like Niger two years ago, everyone who knew about Somalia knew what was likely to happen. Three - yes three - crop failures  over an 18 month period. It was slowest moving tsunami that I have ever experienced.
I know that DFID have been warning about this - but where has the rest of the world been? It has taken tens of thousands of deaths, hundreds of thousands of refugees, repopulation of areas of Somalia and potential destabilisation of northern Kenya. And then we act.
It is not good enough for the Somalis or for the Kenyans.
And it is not good enough for the British people who have put their hands in their diminishing pockets to pick up the pieces.  And while I very much appreciate the unique difficulties of Somalia, this could and should have been addressed following the first crop failure not the third.
We need to take food security seriously. Both internationally - to stop disasters, and for humanitarian reasons, but also for our domestic audiences.
If presented effectively food security could be the one issue that allows for DFID to make its connection to even the most sceptical of British audiences. 
By focusing more on food security and production, DFID can truly ensure that the British public see that the rest of the world and the UK are truly in this together.

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