MADRE Articles

A Women's Declaration to the G8: Support Real Solutions to the Global Food Crisis

Posted on: Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Keywords: Economic Justice, Environmental Justice, Global Food Crisis, Food Sovereignty

To:

    Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda (Japan)
    Prime Minister Stephen Harper (Canada)
    President Nicolas Sarkozy (France)
    Chancellor Angela Merkel (Germany)
    Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi (Italy)
    President Dmitry Medvedev (Russia)
    Prime Minister Gordon Brown (United Kingdom)
    President George Bush (United States)

Re: A Women's Declaration to the G8: Support Real Solutions to the Global Food Crisis

This year, the world's eight richest governments (the G8) meet against the backdrop of a global food crisis. With prices for all major food commodities at a 50-year-high, world leaders are discussing pervasive "food shortages" that threaten to destabilize dozens of countries. But worsening hunger is the result of cost inflation, not any absolute food shortage. In fact, the world produces more food than the global population can consume.

The root cause of the food crisis is not scarcity, but the failed economic policies long championed by the G8, namely, trade liberalization and industrial agriculture. These policies, which treat food as a commodity rather than a human right, have induced chaotic climate change, oil dependency, and the depletion of the Earth's land and water resources as well as today's food crisis.

Yet, in the search for solutions, the G8 is considering expanded support for the very measures that caused this web of problems. Calls for more tariff reductions, biofuel plantations, genetically modified crops, and wider use of petroleum-based fertilizers and chemical pesticides are at the forefront of discussions in Japan.

These measures cannot resolve the global food crisis. They may, however, further boost this year's record profits for agricultural corporations. There are viable solutions to the food crisis, but they will not emerge from a narrow pursuit of the financial interests of multinational corporations.

For nearly 30 years, the G8 has insisted that corporations replace governments in shaping and implementing national agriculture policies in the world's poorest countries. This demand has not maximized efficiency or reduced poverty, as promised. In fact, it has ushered in a sharp rise in hunger and malnutrition. As the World Bank itself acknowledged in its 2008 World Development Report, the private sector has failed as a substitute for government when it comes to agriculture.

In fact, corporations have no legal duty to reduce poverty or fight world hunger. Governments, including the G8—and not the private sector—are the ones mandated to resolve the global food crisis. The international human rights framework, which governments are obligated to uphold, is the starting point for a global New Deal on agriculture. In particular, the human rights of small farmers—the majority of whom are women—and rural and Indigenous Peoples must be protected in order to meet the twin challenges of feeding people and protecting the planet.

As women's human rights advocates working with communities on the front-lines of the global food crisis, we call on the G8 to promote a worldwide shift from industrial to sustainable agriculture and to enact the economic policies needed to support this transition.

The Imperative of Sustainable Agriculture

In April 2008, the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology (IAASTD) released an independent, four-year study conducted by over 400 experts. The study was co-sponsored by the World Bank and multiple agencies of the United Nations and endorsed by over 60 governments. It confirms that large-scale, chemical-intensive agriculture is a major contributor to pollution, climate change, deforestation, social inequity, and the destruction of diversity, both biological and cultural. The study urges a fundamental overhaul of agricultural policy towards sustainable farming, including small-scale and organic agriculture.

The IAASTD report follows numerous other credible studies demonstrating that small-holder organic farms can produce enough food for the global population and avoid the environmental destruction associated with industrial agriculture.

We emphasize that support for small farmers must include a focus on women, who produce most of the world's food. Indeed, in much of Africa, where the food crisis is at its worst, women grow and process 80 percent of all food.

However, the capacity of these farmers is badly undermined by laws and customs that discriminate against women. In many countries, women who grow the food that sustains the majority of the population are not even recognized as farmers. They are denied the right to own land and excluded from government programs that facilitate access to credit, seeds, tools, and training.

We call on the G8 to:

  • Recognize gender discrimination as a threat to global food security;
  • Uphold the rights of agricultural workers under the International Labor Organization's Conventions;
  • Support national policies that provide small-scale farmers with access to land, seeds, water, credit and other inputs and that uphold the rights of farmers to make informed decisions about land use and food production.

The Imperative of Sustainable Economic Policies

A global New Deal on agriculture requires not only different modes of farming, but a new policy environment for food production and agricultural trade. National policies, including investment, funding, and research, as well as international trade rules, must be redirected in support of small farmers and sustainable agriculture. Towards that end, the G8 should:

1. End Food Dependency

The G8, through the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, has required developing countries to reduce support to small farmers, cut investment in food production, slash tariffs that protected domestic agriculture, dismantle the marketing boards that once stabilized food prices, and shift land use from food production to export agriculture.

Developing countries were forced to accept these demands as conditions for loans needed to repay their debts to the financial institutions, development banks, and governments of the North. Yet, it is the G8 itself which is largely responsible for the debt crisis, brought on by massive lending to illegitimate regimes and decades of costly, ill-conceived development projects.

The economic policies demanded by the G8 have destroyed the livelihoods of small farmers in the Global South, leaving millions of people at the mercy of international commodity markets to be able to buy food. The shift from food to cash crops has meant that women, who are responsible for growing food, have lost access to valuable farm land. As a result, rural families have lost a main source of food and nutrition.

Economic policies driven by the G8 eventually transformed food-producing countries in the Global South into net food importers. In the 1960's, developing countries enjoyed an agricultural trade surplus of US $7 billion a year. Today, almost three out of four developing countries are net food importers, although they have the capacity to feed themselves.

We call on the G8 to:

  • Move beyond the partial commitment it made to debt cancellation at the 2005 G8 summit in Scotland and enact immediate and unconditional debt cancellation for all developing countries;
  • Allow governments to determine their own agricultural policies in consultation with citizens;
  • Institute international mechanisms for market stabilization that protect the livelihoods of farmers and guarantee affordable food for all people;
  • Endorse the call of Jacques Diouf, Secretary General of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, for developing countries to be enabled to achieve food self-sufficiency.

2. Change Trade Rules

Trade rules demanded by the G8 and administered by the World Trade Organization have bankrupted millions of farmers in poor countries, undermined the role of women in agriculture, and contributed to the current food crisis.

The World Trade Organization’s Agreement on Agriculture forbids governments in the Global South from providing farmers with subsidies or low-cost seeds and other inputs. These farmers have been turned into a “market” for international agribusiness companies selling seeds, pesticides and fertilizers.

Women, who are traditionally responsible for conserving, exchanging, and breeding agricultural seeds, are threatened by the WTO's Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights agreement. By granting patents to corporations, the WTO transfers ownership of seeds—the basis of all agriculture—from women farmers to multinational corporations.

The WTO has allowed wealthy countries to subsidize corporate farming by $1 billion a day. The subsidies enable companies based in the Global North to sell food internationally at a price below the cost of production. Recently, British International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander estimated that subsidies to Northern agribusiness cost farmers in the Global South $100 billion a year in lost income because small farmers cannot compete with the subsidized cost of imported food.

We call on the G8 to:

  • Recognize that food is first and foremost a human right and only secondarily a tradable commodity;
  • Support a process for an international Convention to replace the WTO's Agreement on Agriculture. Such a Convention must uphold the full range of human rights standards and should implement the concept of food sovereignty, whereby communities control their own food systems;
  • Respect the rights of small farmers to save and exchange seeds between communities and internationally;
  • Initiate a conversion of national agricultural subsidies from support for agribusiness to incentives for sustainable farming, including small-scale and organic farms.

These demands reflect the rights and priorities of the world's food producers, in particular, rural women, who are directly responsible for feeding most of the world's people.

Central to our policy proposals is the understanding that global challenges regarding food, climate change and natural resource depletion are interrelated and must be resolved together. Policies that seek to solve one aspect of the problem by deepening another will only worsen the crisis as a whole. We see this dynamic in the US and European Union decision to subsidize the conversion of food crops into biofuels: the move to address energy demands at the expense of food needs has greatly exacerbated the current food crisis.

We urge the G8 to ground integrated solutions to the food crisis in the framework of human rights. That framework, rather than further pursuit of corporate profits, has the strongest potential to yield policies that can resolve the global food crisis in tandem with the other urgent issues of climate change and development being addressed by the G8.

Sincerely,

    Vivian Stromberg
    MADRE
    USA

    Fatima Ahmed
    Zenab for Women in Development
    Sudan

    Rose Cunningham
    Wangki Tangni Women's Center
    Nicaragua

    Adriana Gonzalez
    LIMPAL
    Colombia

    Sandra Gonzalez Maldonado
    Comité de Trabajadoras de la Maquila Bárcenas; Women Workers' Committee
    Guatemala

    Anne Sosin
    KOFAVIV – Komisyon Fanm Viktim pou Viktim; The Commission of Women Victims for Victims
    Haiti


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