G20 showed 'dereliction of duty' to world's poorest
by Barbara Stocking
The summit of world leaders in Mexico focused only on the eurozone crisis, ignoring the poverty and hunger in places like Africa – writes the Oxfam chief executive
Food security was supposed to be a priority concern for G20 leaders meeting in Mexico this week. Their failure to agree meaningful collective action on this issue, despite a looming food crisis in West Africa that threatens more than a 18 million people with the direst consequences, is a dereliction of their duty of care - to almost a billion hungry people around the world.
We knew, of course, that the G20 discussions would focus primarily on saving the eurozone from collapse. Oxfam predicts that the demise of the euro could cost poor countries $30bn in lost trade and foreign investment – almost a quarter of the global aid budget - so we share the concern to find a solution to this most thorny of problems. But we have also been lobbying for the G20 to look more broadly at a range of other pressing global problems, including global poverty and hunger, which stubbornly remain at unacceptable levels.
Disappointingly, G20 leaders chose to sideline development and food security issues in Los Cabos. And at the same time, they failed to agree a clear decisive course of action on the Eurozone; leaving the world's poorest people still bearing the brunt of an economic crisis that they did not create. The B20 gathering of global business leaders met the day before to give recommendations to the G20 on a variety of issues. As the only non-government organisation voice on the B20 task force on food security, I saw first-hand how some in the private sector are ahead of our political leaders in planning their approach to development.
The B20 taskforce provided concrete recommendations to tackle flaws in the global food production and distribution system that leaves one in seven people going hungry every day despite there being enough for everyone to eat. Business delegates identified the importance of improving land rights so that women especially - who comprise the majority of farmers in some parts of the world - have the means to grow food to eat and sell.
They also grasped the importance of implementing voluntary guidelines to protect poor people from land grabbing, as well as the removal of subsidies for first generation biofuels - which have accelerated the rush for land and helped drive food price volatility and global food insecurity. But these messages were clearly not communicated to the G20, and the report could have been stronger in the call to action in other areas such as trade.
If G20 leaders did pick up these messages clearly, they chose not to act. There was also no reference in the summit's final communiqué to small holder agriculture, despite the crucial role that half a billion small holder farmers play in feeding almost two billion people worldwide. These farmers and producers offer the greatest potential to feed our growing population yet have suffered decades of under-investment.
There was also no collective progress on the issue of introducing a global tax on financial transactions to help fund development. The recommendations presented to the G20 by Bill Gates last year appear to have landed on deaf ears. It is hard to understand why such innovative ways of raising new funding are being disregarded by countries like the United States and the United Kingdom at a time when austerity is forcing cuts in public spending the world over.
As always, there are glimmers of hope. In their final communiqué, G20 leaders encouraged all countries to adopt a multilateral convention that will require them to share fiscal information. This could plug the leak of hundreds of billions of dollars that escape to tax havens every year from rich and poor countries alike. The question now is whether countries implement this plan.
Meanwhile, the British Prime Minister David Cameron has committed to prioritising food security at the G8 next year and has also announced a hunger summit to take place during the Olympics in London this summer. We and other organisations will make sure that food remains on the agenda whenever and wherever world leaders gather to talk, so that we address the scandalous levels of hunger that simply should not exist in the 21st century.
Three years ago, the G20 committed itself to achieving "strong, sustainable and balanced growth" for the world economy. However, after a lacklustre performance in Mexico, world leaders are yet to demonstrate meaningful progress towards this goal. While we wait for a decisive plan of action to emerge, it is again the poorest that are set to suffer most.
Dame Barbara Stocking is chief executive of Oxfam