As the world observes World Food Day on Thursday, the UN estimates 925 million people go hungry to bed everyday. German politician Thilo Hoppe told DW rich nations need to rethink their development policies.
Poor nations need to increasingly grow food for local markets, Hoppe said
A member of the German parliament for the Greens party and head of the Bundestag's Committee for Economic Cooperation, Thilo Hoppe has called for the restructuring of development aid and additional support for small family farm owners.
Deutsche Welle: Despite the focus on the Millennium Development Goals to reduce poverty around the world, the number of people suffering from hunger has increased rather than decreased. What's going wrong? How can something like this happen?
Local mismanagement isn't the only reason people go hungry, Hoppe said
Thilo Hoppe: What's going wrong? There's an entire list of answers to that question. The first flawed development is that agriculture is being criminally neglected in the countries that currently have a high number of people suffering from hunger. When we say "neglected," we usually point at the guilty governments of these countries, whose polices often focus on the urban elite rather than their countries' vulnerable groups. But that's the wrong place to put all the blame. Agriculture in developing countries is also weakened, damaged and destroyed by industrial nations that flood the countries with low-priced products.
In Ghana or Cameroon, for example, successful development projects have been supported by development policies in the European Union that support tomato and vegetable farmers. But then tomato paste and tomato puree from European Union countries like Spain and Italy, where tomato products receive subsidies, are dumped in the same countries at rock-bottom prices. That in turn bankrupts tomato and vegetable-farmers' entire family-run business and cooperatives.
While one hand is building something, the other is tearing it down. We can't accuse the nations of neglecting their agricultural development when the European Union's agriculture and trade policies play roles in driving these sectors into the ground.
The entire world has again started talking about much of what you've just mentioned and working to push the promotion of small family farms into the spotlight. Does that mean the subject has been dealt with or is it hype based on a modern trend?
Hundreds of millions don't have enough to eat the FAO said in a report
I would say, unfortunately, it's the latter. It's similar to the finance crisis. Everyone is talking about the state having to regulate more and have more of an influence on markets and everyone wants to say they've always been in favor of it and not be reminded of what they said a few months ago. It's similar in the food crisis. I have personally seen in debates in the German parliament how some people see small farm owners in developing countries as more of a barrier to development since they get in the way of big plantations being able to plant cash crops intended for export. Now people have realized that food production for a developing country's own population has been criminally neglected. These national economies are, of course, very vulnerable when prices for food that has to be imported shoot up.
Luckily, now, a focus is being put back on, among other things, supporting small family farm owners to realize their role in contributing to food security. But these words need to be followed by action.
What do you think these actions need to be? Is providing money to the small farm sector enough?
Small farm owners need extra support, Hoppe said
No, we need more money and better ideas. In an age of climate change, it's also important to promote a type of agriculture that is helpful to small farms as well as to larger units that preserve natural resources and require less capital. Many development policies aim to support large plantations' export business as a way of generating foreign exchange proceeds. Now the focus needs to be put, not alone but much, much stronger, on the cultivation of staple foods intended not for foreign markets but the local and regional markets in countries where hunger prevails.
Who do you think can implement such plans?
There has been a suggestion from the new United Nations Hunger Task Force which the Greens parliamentary group supports. At least 10 percent of a development budget should be used to aid the agriculture sector in countries with populations suffering from hunger. In return, the governments in these countries in Africa, Latin America and Asia should also spend at least 10 percent of their budgets on support for the agriculture sector and the advancement of small family farms.
Finally, how much of an impact do you think the current financial crisis is going to have on hunger around the world?
It's been established that speculation played a part in rising food costs with experts' opinions ranging from 10 percent to 40 percent. Steps have to be taken to keep investors, investment funds and real estate hedge funds from getting involved by buying up land or investing in raw agricultural products and artificially pushing up prices. In a different context, we're now putting together massive rescue packages to support the banking and financial sectors, including 480 billion euros ($653 billion) in Germany alone. That shows what is possible when the political will is there.