“Our governments are locked into the chains of the status quo” so said Jeff Sachs this week at the Rio plus 20 summit, “What we need are pioneers who don’t ask for permission.”
As the Rio+20 Summit comes to a close there is a mixture of sentiments in the air, none of which is excitement. Veteran policy makers at the summit tell me that ‘if everyone leaves the negotiation table unhappy, you have probably done something right.’ At a meeting of this size, the largest UN gathering ever, bold declarative commitments on behalf of our collective future were hard to come by.
The conference is largely about natural capital, how we divvy up resources like fisheries and forests, and negotiating around rights to use those resources. What we really need is a return to old virtues and bold declarative leadership. We have abandoned ourselves to markets and to politicians, and I am struck by a lack of vision.
I am in Rio because I was invited to participate in a high-level event on accelerating progress in the Millennium Development Goals (the agreed upon global platform to end extreme poverty around the World) through Youth Innovation. I was absolutely humbled by the visionaries in the room, many personal heroes: Marina Silva, Jeff Sachs, Ted Turner, Mohammed Yunus, and the Secretary General. What I saw in their stance was that each led first with bold actions in their respective fields- their collective actions will leave an enduring legacy on the world.
“Mohammed Yunus did not take the textbook of microfinance off the shelf, he wrote the textbook! But even before he wrote the textbook he did it so it wasn’t theory, it was practice, it was proved, it was demonstrated.” Sachs continued, “Our politicians are highly refined followers, that is their job in a democracy – they listen closely – they wonder what will get votes… okay that is the way it works, we have to be the one to tell them what gets votes!”
Later that day in response to the conference in general, a group of 200 gathered in protest, handed in their access badges and walked out chanting “the future we want is not found here!” It was the most declarative statement I had heard thus far, but I also realized that these valuable voices had just left the room.
The acute tension at Rio+20 is how do we break the quagmire? Twenty years ago declarations were born that have yet to come to life, and the stakes are high- our collective futures depend on them.
We need the visionaries to inspire the masses because the will of the masses drives the political will upon which these collective agreements are forged.
The future we want is found in leaders rising up. We need the bureaucrats and the protesters, we need the system and the movement; for in the tension between them lies a dynamic possibility. We no longer have a choice, as the future we want is no longer a question but a generational imperative. If we do not declare it with commitment and live boldly into our interdependence, we will face 7 billion people (and growing) all fighting for scraps from the table.
What I take away from Rio is that we need the collective table we all sit down at to listen and discuss, but we also need those willing to take a stand. We need them to shout with their actions and their words because the future we want isn’t just found at the tip of the politicians pen, but rather in the seeds sewn by a generation of global citizens. These citizens are committed to bold vision and innovative action taken on behalf of a collective future because our generation does not have the legacy to wait another 20 years.
My Keys to the future we want:
More transparency and accountability, and a more inclusive process- where the voices in the room are not simply those with access badges
More Social Enterprise- businesses that measure environmental and social impact, along with economic benefits
Political will- this is where the movement and the establishment can meet. If citizens can demonstrate they are informed, engaged and most importantly mobilized, their representatives take note
Global Citizens like you– informed, inspired, and taking action
*Image Above: Ted Turner, Above Left: Michael Trainer, Above Right: Michael Trainer and Mohammed Yunus.
We’ve written recently about the global population ticking over 7 billion this year. Forecast to reach 9 billion by mid-century, our team at the Global Poverty Project are often asked, “How is the world going to cope with having so many people? Won’t having fewer poor people damage the environment?”
Mark Lynas picks up these questions in his challenging new book, The God Species. Starting with the idea that humans have altered our planet so fundamentally so as to create a new geological era – the Anthropocene – Lynas outlines nine planetary boundaries which we must respect if we’re to ensure that humanity can continue to flourish.
At first glance, this is an environmental book, not one about extreme poverty. But at its core, it’s about how humanity, and in particular the poorest and most vulnerable amongst us, will survive and thrive over the next century.
Taking a couple of the boundaries as an example, it’s clear to see how these issues connect back to extreme poverty:
• Climate Change Boundary. We’ve written before about how climate change is already hitting the world’s poorest first and hardest, even though they did the least to cause it. They live in the most vulnerable locations – arid areas increasingly prone to droughts, low-lying areas prone to floods, and the world’s poor often lack the capital and infrastructure to respond as the climate changes.
• Nitrogen Boundary. Nitrogen has fueled the green revolution and the world’s ability to feed itself, and as the world adds 2 billion people (many of whom will be eating more meat) in the next 40 years, managing its use will become increasing important. Lynas takes a swipe at the organic farming movement, and those opposed to GM-foods, citing increased efficiency in industrial farming methods as perhaps the best way to safely feed the world’s population.
• Freshwater Boundary. Balancing the needs of human populations – for drinking, agriculture, industry - and the environment for fresh water is pondered at length. Lynas argues that technological innovation and effectively managed markets hold the answers to overcoming the challenge that is 850 million people currently lacking access to clean drinking water, and the increasing need for food production in coming years.
• Aerosols Boundary. Lynas outlines how emissions from dirty fuels not only contribute to climate change, but damage the health of millions. And, many of these emissions are caused by the cooking habits of the world’s poorest – “Indoor smoke pollution from old-style stoves or open fires burning wood, dung or coal kills 1.6 million people a year due to respiratory infections worsened by smoke inhalation; India alone suffers as many as half a million premature deaths.”
For a book about complex scientific issues, The God Species is highly readable, and unlike many books of its genre, it eschews the temptation to scream that we’re all going to die. Instead, it offers some sober and optimist ideas on what can be done to ensure that all humans, both present and future, can live safely and happily on our planet.
The world food system has changed drastically in the space of a generation. Food production has increased in scale to sheer enormousness, as the video depicts. This enlargement is a response to increased and largely excessive consumer demand from a relatively small segment of the world population. This intensifies the already, highly skewed food distribution.
The United States (US) is home to the largest proportion of obese people in the world, according to world statistics from 2005. In fact, 30.6% of the population are deemed obese in the US. That is more than 5% higher than Mexico - the country with the second highest prevalence of obese people (24.2%).
On the production side, the US is the leading producer of poultry and beef. These livestock, as well as pigs, now tend to be produced in concentrated animal feeding operations that are also known as factory farms (see below).
Taken from http://www.flickr.com/photos/sustainabletable/2950341874
Meat processing accounted for 24% of all food and beverage processing in 2005, the largest industry share. These large-scale operations produce a huge amount of waste and pollution. This is in the form of excrement that pollutes neighbouring farmland and local waterways, producing an array of further problems for aquatic life. Pollution also takes the form of greenhouse gases, with livestock accounting for 18% of global carbon dioxide equivalent emissions
Livestock production requires a great deal of animal feed, which most often takes the form of corn. The US is the largest producer of corn, producing 331 million metric tonnes per year. This accounted for 39% of world production in 2010 and is more than double the second largest corn producer, China. Of this enormous amount, a staggering 39.4% of corn is used for animal feed. Bearing in mind that corn is one of the most water-intensive crops, this makes beef one of the most water-demanding food products in the world. To produce just 1kg of beef requires 15,500 litres of water on average.
In addition, the production of corn for bio-fuels is one way in which prices in the global market are forced up, severely damaging the livelihoods of some of the world’s poor that depend on the crop for food or export.
So, what is the problem with all this?
There are three broad groups of losers in the current global food system. One group is the 14.1% of the world population that are obese and suffer greater risk from are heart disease, diabetes and other related diseases. The other two losing groups include the 925 million people in the world that do not have sufficient nutritious food to eat and the environment. Both of these latter parties are under represented in world debate so it is unto us to make a change.
Most articles and reports addressing this issue argue that companies need to change their ethics and food production needs to be reduced in scale. Whilst these are important, they are not sufficient and the root of the problem lies elsewhere.
If those who eat in excess consciously consumed less exuberantly, then food may be distributed more fairly.
There would also be less need for super-size factory farming, which would reduce harm done to the environment. Smaller farms produce less waste and require less intensive use of fossil fuels, water, chemical inputs, and so on. This requires consumers to refrain from overbuying, no matter how hard the supermarkets try to convince them that they need more.
This post was first published by Julie Cowdroy for Mammamia News here.
What is happening in the Horn of Africa?
The Horn of Africa, which is a region comprising the countries in Africa’s northeast, is experiencing the most severe drought in 60 years. 10 million people in Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Djibouti, Uganda and South Sudan (which has only recently became an independent nation) are now in desperate need of food, water and emergency healthcare. Many people are on the move, especially from war-ravaged Somalia, and the largest refugee camp in the world, Dadaab, in Kenya, is receiving approximately 1300 refugees a day – 800 of which are children.
On Tuesday the UN officially declared famine in the south of Somalia, in lower Shabelle and Bakool that are worst affected by the crisis. According to the World Food Programme (WFP), phase 5 of the 'Food Integration and Humanitarian Phase Classification' , means "more than two people per 10,000 die each day, acute malnutrition rates are above 30 per cent, all livestock is dead, and there is less than 2,100 kcal of food and 4 litres of water available per person per day." Because of this, it is even more important that the DEC provide emergency funds and support for the food, water and helathcare in these areas.
The last official famine was in 1983-4 when approximately one million people In Sudan and Ethiopia died. A famine is where, in a given area, there is absolute inaccessibility to food, which leads to death, and the term is not used as often as you think. The World Food Programme (WFP) has a scale to define the phases of food security/insecurity, ranging from a scale of (1) “Generally food secure” to (5) “Catastrophe/famine.” In the current crisis in East Africa, some areas have been declared to be in phase (4), which is “emergency.”
What is the situation like for individual countries?
It is vital to remember that Africa is not one country, it is a continent of many countries, and the diversity between the stages of development for each is wide-ranging. Images on our televisions should not perpetuate the myth that Africa is a hopeless case. Rather, it is important to consider the situation from country to country.
SOMALIA: Somalia is regarded as the most unstable country in the world. There is ongoing armed conflict, rising food prices and drought which has caused one of the largest refugee flows to Kenya and Ethiopia. According to UNICEF, over 2.8 million Somalis are malnourished – a large percentage of which are children.
KENYA: Conflict across the border in Somalia has put extra pressure on Kenya, most notably the Dadaab camp in the country’s north-east. Dadaab holds more than 380,000 refugees and is receiving approximately 10,000 new arrivals every week. The camp was originally designed to hold 90,000. According to UNICEF, more than 385,000 children and 90,000 pregnant and lactating women in Kenya are suffering from malnutrition.
ETHIOPIA: The number of people in need of emergency food assistance increased from 2.8 million people at the beginning of 2011, to 3.2 million people in April. Rising food costs and drought has resulted in an increase in malnutrition especially in children. According to UNICEF, over 300,000 severely malnourished children will require life-saving treatment this year.
Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd said: “These are dark days for the Horn of Africa. The world cannot stand by and witness a repeat of the mistakes of the 1984 famine, where delays in an international response saw a catastrophic loss of life.”
What is the rest of the world doing?
Many joint funds have been established to get funding to the area as quickly as possible. For example, in the UK, the Disaster Emergency Committee (DEC) has commenced a campaign for the East Africa crisis, which has so far raised £15 million. The DEC is an umbrella organization for fourteen humanitarian aid agencies, and unites their efforts to maximize funds raised and ensure they are spent effectively.
As funds and food start to flow, the World Food Programme’s logistics team work to ‘bridge the gap between the donors and the hungry.’ They use ships, planes, trucks, helicopters – even animals – to transport food to the crisis zones. When the food reaches the distribution sites the WFP partners with governments and NGOs to deliver food. Local community leaders work with the WFP to ensure the rations reaches those who need it most (children, mothers, pregnant women and the elderly).
What are aid and development agencies doing?
Since the 1983-4 famine, many international aid and development agencies have set up projects and programs in the Horn of Africa that focus on education for food production, climate change adaptation, preparedness and disaster risk reduction. Activities like planting drought resistance potatoes mean that in some areas, the situation could have been much worse.
While long-term programs are important, the immediate need is getting food into bellies. Most aid agencies are focusing their efforts on giving milk-rich products, high-calorie oil and flour to women and children. These types of food are designed to help fight malnutrition, particularly in nursing mothers and children under five.
What can I do?
The following organisations really need your support right now. You can use the links below to donate from your country and help provide emergency relief for millions of people:
A question was asked of us on Twitter using the hashtag #askGPP, by RB_Phan:
How serious has the trend for speculators and rich nations buying up agricultural land in Africa and other undeveloped areas become?
In mid-2008, global food prices sky-rocketed. Key foods like wheat, rice, maize doubled or trebled in price, driven by increased consumption in the booming economies of China and India, falling supply after crop failure from natural disasters, and compounded by arable land being shifted to biofuel production and speculation on international markets.
Some countries panicked in response. Russia banned wheat exports. Vietnam banned rice exports. And, a few countries started to purchase large tracts of land in other countries, to secure their own supply of food in the future.
I first read about it in the Economist last year, and was staggered to see the sheer scale of what was happening. Saudi Arabia, China, some of the Emirati city-states and others purchased farms through their sovereign wealth funds, state-owned companies, or directly as the state. Naked in their self-interest, they were out to ensure that their citizens had enough to eat well into the future.
Spanish NGO Grain published a fascinating report on the topic towards the end of 2008, and has more recently setup a website - farmlandgrab.org - dedicated to tracking what’s happening. More recently, John Vidal wrote a great article on the topic in the Observer in March.
Some have argued that it’s a new form of imperialism, the rich stealing from the poor; others have said that it’s simply the market at work.
From my point of view, as someone committed to seeing an end to extreme poverty, it’s something to keep a close eye on. In and of itself, it’s not a problem - people have been buying and selling land in other countries for decades. But, it’s part of broader movement of the securitisation of resources, one that risks positioning global food supplies as a geopolitical issue with security considerations.
Food - along with fresh-water - is not just a commodity. It’s part of the global commons, an assured human right, and a foundation stone of the fight against poverty. Tonight, almost a billion people will go to bed hungry, not because there’s not enough food, but because they can’t afford it.
The global community has an obligation to deal with issues in food supplies as a challenge of the commons, not as 193 competing states. The land grab that we’re witnessing should be seen as an early warning sign that we must work harder on cooperation to deal with these common challenges, because the consequences of failing to act are huge.