With the Eurozone still plagued by its crisis and the US in the midst of its fiscal challenge, it was not surprising that the world’s economy was the primary item discussed on this year’s Davos forum agenda.
Slightly more surprising, however were UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s tactical efforts to shift the dialogue to one on poverty alleviation that is beyond international aid. As a response to qualms from lobbying NGOs on food security, poverty and the destructive nature of neo-colonial land grabs, Britain, as this year’s rotating G8 president, used this chance to enforce public acknowledgement of the “Enough Food for Everyone If” campaign in preparation for the June G8 summit.
The campaign—created by one hundred charities and organizations including Oxfam, Save the Children, One, Christian Aid and Tearfund—is intended to recreate the momentum of the Make Poverty History campaign in 2005, the last time that Britain had presidency over the G8.
Reiterating the campaign’s main points, Cameron called for an end to impunity on tax-evading corporations, transparency about who owns what in order to prevent secretive land grabbing, and a stop to forcing farmers off their lands: "Corrupt government officials in some countries and some corporations run rings around the letter and spirit of the law to rip off hard-working people and plunder their natural resources” said the Prime Minister in his speech at the forum.
Land grabbing—the investment of a government or transnational corporation in a developing country’s arable land that leaves large devastating impacts on the environment and local communities—was, until now, a common practice, as attendees of the Davos forum mused not long ago that ’peasantry’ and smallholder farming were a ’romanticized’ and instinct form of agriculture.
Not only do these large-scale land annexations force local farmers off their lands, causing them to lose their homes, but it also snatches famers’ only sources of nourishment and about one third of crops are exported by investors or used for biofuel. It is estimated that about half of production is sold for biofuels rather than for local consumption. Many of the lands are sold in secrecy, hiding the scale to which the lands are being bought and used. These sorts of practices leave farmers powerless as they lack the formal land rights and political power. This is why organizations such as UK NGO Oxfam are hopeful that the “If” campaign will bring enough public awareness to make governments and corporations accountable for their actions.
New approaches that are not so new?
When the “Make Poverty History” campaign was developed eight years ago, it garnered a lot of media attention. It managed to mobilize millions of people who marched, signed petitions and called for trade justice and more aid. Celebrity attention from U2 to Madonna secured its place in the 2005 G8 agenda. The campaign was able to achieve results. The G8 members committed to cancelling debts to eighteen of the most indebted countries, and pledged to spend 0.7 percent of their Gross National Income (GNI) on aid—although none have yet to achieve this figure.
The “If” campaign is hoping to achieve a similar base of support and this time organizers are searching for more radical change. Though it is also hoping to fight poverty and malnutrition, unlike its predecessor it is more focused and is targeting the underlying causes of hunger such as land grabs. Many events such as demonstrations and marches are expected to take place before the June G8 summit and organizers are hoping to mobilize twenty million people in the UK. Though "Make Poverty History" received a lot of attention, its true effectiveness remains questionable to many, as problems of sustainability and the environment remain on the rise and the economic climate remains uncertain.
The “If” campaign claims to be different, because its fundamental aim is not directed toward money or aid, but toward policy change. However this policy change remains questionable.
A week before the forum, following this trend and responding to concerns regarding large-scale land appropriations, organizers of Davos issued the “New Vision for Agriculture.” This new plan recognizes that “over 870 million people, many of them small famers, remain chronically hungry and undernourished” (Achieving the New Vision for Agriculture: New Models for Action) as they call smallholders “change agents” having declared them dead only two years ago. This plan, backed by Cameron is to be presented at the G8. The main plan advocated by the document is for a “partnership” between smallholders and private sector investors and governments based on “market-based solutions.”
This practice, to some, does not seem so new as it is difficult to imagine smallholders having a voice when faced against the bargaining power of large companies like Coca-Cola or Monsanto. Especially when many of these companies have sullied track records with small-scale farmers, many are sceptical about any real change, as market volatility will force many farmers back to phase one. If “If” is truly seeking ‘radical’ policy change, it is not likely to happen so long as it continues to do so within the confines of an unchanging political and economic structure.