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Fat chance for action on World Food Day

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Fat chance for action on World Food Day
‘Hunger down 50 per cent this year’, ‘Malnutrition eradicated in Africa’. Alas, dream headlines not gracing any newspapers this World Food Day. But if we hope to read them one day, governments, industry – and yes, individuals – need to stop thinking of their own interests first.

16 October 2009. 10am. Sit down to write about World Food Day. Didn’t I already write this article a year ago?

World Food Day has taken place every year since 1979, aiming to bring awareness to the problem of world hunger and stimulate action from those in a position to help.

The main messages emanating from the FAO today are not much different from those in previous years: Invest in agriculture and infrastructure so farmers can meet their markets; spur development of crops and techniques to counter the ravages of climate change.

And please, finally finish up those Doha trade talks that would bring global trade advantages to developing countries.

It seems we know what to do.

And yet… the headcount of the hungry has risen sharply in the last decade. An estimated 1.02 billion people do not have enough to eat this year.

Like seeds sown on a thin and dusty scrap of land in a poor village in East Africa, these good intentions have not been watered and tended as they should be. The fruits of this year’s efforts are meagre, and not enough to feed all those who need to eat.

Why ever not?

10.45am. Feel a bit peckish. Eat the yoghurt I brought to work.

It is true the past year has left the Western economy disoriented from the plunge from prosperity to recession. Governments and industry are tempted to focus on their own backyard – not a backyard in a country far away where, if they are lucky, one scrawny chicken pecks despondently at the dust.

But we in the West whinge that supermarket prices have gone up a few pence or cents in the last 18 months. We forget that the food crisis of 2008 is still affecting access to basic staples for many communities in the developing world. We have not only wheat, corn and rice – but all manner of goodies unimaginable to many.

In a report released to mark World Food Day, ActionAid shows that some of the richest countries are making the least effort and progress in fighting world hunger, as they are promoting crops for biofuel over food. The United States comes second to last in the rankings of developed countries; it was kept off the bottom spot by New Zealand, which has slashed funds for agriculture. Luxemburg came out top.

And some developing countries, like China and Brazil, are praised for doing their bit – supporting smallholders, community kitchens and land reform.

US Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton has put up her hand on behalf of her country for going about it the wrong way. “The truth is, we have spent too many years and too much money on development projects that have not yielded lasting results,” ​she said this week.

But she reckons lessons have been learned. The most effective strategies come from close by the ara in need, not thousands of miles away; and development works best when seen as investment not aid.

11.37am. Make tea. Chat with colleagues while waiting for water to boil about getting together for dinner one night next week.

Crucially, though, making a real difference is not going to come from one person or entity acting alone. Governments can adopt policies that help, but input from other stakeholders is needed too – and at local, national and multinational levels.

The food industry is in a particularly strong position to help turn around food fortunes in developing countries, promoting traceability and investing in sustainable development, health and education in the communities from which it sources.

Big food firms carry political weight too. When the will moves them, they will exercise lobbying power for policies that will make a difference.

12.30pm. Right, sandwich or pizza for lunch?

Today is the day for renewed vigour, promises, and sowing the seeds of action that will help people have access to food – in the short and long term.

It’s a day for ending hypocrisy, too. This lunchtime, I will have enough to eat. But I will also be chewing over what I, as an individual and a journalist, can do in the next year to help make next year’s headlines a little rosier.

After all, it is World Food Day. Not Ground Hog Day.

Jess Halliday is editor of award-winning website FoodNavigator.com. Over the past 12 years she has worked in print, broadcast and online media in both Europe and the United States.

If you would like to comment on this article, please email jess.halliday'at'decisionnews.com

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