George Monbiot’s piece on the fragility of the global food system and the hunger crisis was powerful and timely (The banks collapsed in 2008 – and our food system is about to do the same, 19 May). The world is in the midst of awful humanitarian and climate crises, and the international community will need to act with great urgency, morality and foresight to address them and to prevent future suffering.
One means of strengthening the resilience of the global food system, and resolving some of the challenges that Monbiot describes, would be to elevate this issue systematically to the level of heads of state – in other words, to do for the food system what the Financial Stability Board does for global macroeconomic stability. The FSB was established in 2009, in the wake of the financial crisis, and gives impartial advice to national governments on how to ensure the stability and resilience of the financial system. Its recommendations are heeded by ministers of finance.
The UN’s Committee on World Food Security, established in 1974, enjoys the respect and support of governments and should be the bedrock of such an effort. But the UN secretary general may, as part of his response to the Ukraine crisis, wish to explore with G20 governments and others whether there is a further means of acting on the global food crisis with the pace and impact that is required.
Policy and international engagement director, Food and Land Use Coalition
George Monbiot is right to stress the uncontrollable power of big business and big money over food. But the numbers of people who have been chronically short of food in the world for decades are much higher than those stated in his article, because those are global averages based on unreliable data. Probably about 40% of the world’s inhabitants are food insecure.
Globalisation of the food trade is the single most important reason for the growing hunger and poverty across the world. It removes agency from local people and places it in the hands of the giant food commodity and chemical seed companies, and the caprice of aid donors. Those who wish to remedy the situation need to address it from the other end.
Amartya Sen put it succinctly three decades ago: the key reason for starvation is lack of access to food. That can be overcome only once we have moved away from the globalisation of food to food sovereignty, particularly in the poorer parts of the world.
Food sovereignty should be the aim of all official and private aid donors. Food is not an industrial commodity that can be traded across the world. It is the most vital ingredient for survival.
Director, Grassroots Malawi
The monoculture in crops and the dominance of a small number of companies in the food industry is very dangerous, as George Monbiot points out. Just as dangerous is the monoculture in thinking. Business is seen as the solution to everything, but its short-term drive for results stops investment in people and things. The lessons from Joseph in Egypt are forgotten; there is no stockpile anywhere for seven years of scarcity – not in the food supply, not in gas storage, not in care bed provision or in stockpiles of PPE, and certainly not in people’s savings.
To have resilience, a system needs lots of small players, and lots of spare capacity. EF Schumacher got it right: small is beautiful.