‘In tight markets, the stark reality is that it is easier to find money to feed pigs and internal combustion engines than people,’ writes Suzy Serneels from Broederlijk Delen on the occasion of World Food Day. ‘Hunger is also the result of historical, political and economic choices. Elections for which we, citizens and politicians in Belgium and Europe, bear a certain responsibility.’
As fully laden grain ships appear in traffic jams on the Black Sea, reports of impending famine in Somalia and the Horn of Africa mount. The question is whether those grain ships will set course for Africa. In July, everyone rejoiced at the resumption of grain exports by ship across the Black Sea, a ‘beacon of hope’ according to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. Two months after the famous grain agreement between Russia and Ukraine, only 4% of Ukraine’s exports have ended up in countries on the brink of famine.
The European Union, on the other hand, accounted for 47%, mainly intended for animal feed. The economic logic dominates: The highest bidder gets the grain. What a shame in a world where hunger and malnutrition have risen relentlessly for seven years running. This increase accelerated due to the economic impact of the Covid pandemic and has exploded since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, contributing to an unprecedented rise in food and commodity prices on global markets. Yet there is no scarcity and we produce more than enough food to feed the soon to be 8 billion people who will populate our planet.
One in ten people are now starving, and the outlook for this profound injustice is bleak. At the same time, it is abstract figures that move us too little. We do not see the families who have fallen into extreme poverty due to conflict, climate change, disease, falling incomes or rising costs. They are people who had to sell their last possessions to keep their heads above water, and who cannot handle another shock.
Hungry is the Somali mother who, her herd decimated by the ongoing drought, had to leave her village and watch her son die on the way to a refugee camp. Hunger, it’s the Burkinabe family who couldn’t harvest their fields because an armed group took over their village. Hungry, that’s the street vendor in Peru who was left without income when Covid measures crippled his business. Hunger is the Bangladeshi, Egyptian or Brazilian family unable to buy enough food due to rising food prices, caused by distant conflicts and speculative games by equally distant financial investors.
In recent weeks, the deterioration of the right to food in Belgium has also been highlighted. More and more people are no longer able to eat well and pay the bills. Here, as elsewhere in the world, it is the most vulnerable who are first affected by the silent malnutrition epidemic.
Hunger is also the result of historical, political and economic choices. Elections for which we, citizens and politicians in Belgium and Europe, bear a certain responsibility. Choices that are not irreversible. Just think of our agricultural and trade policy, which leads to the dumping of our subsidized agricultural products in the countries of the global south, and which strengthens the role of many countries as exporters of some raw materials at the expense of their food sovereignty. Think of climate change that, as happened this year in the Horn of Africa or in Pakistan, destroys the incomes of farmers and ranchers, while these people have negligible responsibility in the problem that hits them so hard. In particular, think of all the agricultural goods and land needed to produce our meat and biofuels: our greedy consumption and transportation patterns consume precious resources that prevent people elsewhere from simply eating.
And while the aftermath of the war in Ukraine drew attention to this food crisis, the lack of solidarity in Europe is appalling. Faced with rising prices, Europe supports the purchase of grain to feed our chickens and pigs, and we continue to dump grain-based biofuels in our gas tanks, while other countries lack the resources to finance the purchase of the same grains to support their populations. To feed.
The right of the highest bidder should never come before the right of every human being to live free from hunger. In tight markets, the stark reality is that we have an easier time finding money to feed pigs and internal combustion engines than people. In Belgium, public funds for the fight against hunger are falling relentlessly year after year. We don’t have to accept this reality, we can change it if we want to. This requires political will to reform unequal and fragile food systems and rewrite the rules of global trade. And financial resources to support the necessary short- and long-term responses needed in the fight against hunger.
Suzy Serneels (Broederlijk Delen), François Grenade (Iles de Paix), Benoit De Waegeneer (SOSFaim) and Amaury Ghijselings (CNCD-111111) for the coalition against hunger.