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Banks’ rescue package points the way for food crisis remedies

20-Oct-2008

Question: When is a crisis not a crisis? Answer: When it’s a food crisis. Compare the two responses to failures in the food system and financial markets.

Global response to the banking crisis has been swift and productive – at least in terms finding public cash to prop up financial markets and to bail out troubled banks. About $700bn has been raised in record time, according to Suzanne Mubarak, Egypt’s first lady who spoke at an event to mark World Food Day last week.

 

Contrast that with the apparently empty promises made earlier this year to improve global food security. Just 10 per cent of the money pledged in food aid has been delivered, says Jacques Diouf, director general Food and Agriculture Organisation. Of that money – most takes the form of emergency food aid.

 

Here is both a need and an opportunity. The need is western societies to respond to the food crisis with the same speed and resolution which they are applying to the financial crisis. Mubarak phrased it well: “I believe the scale of the food crisis is of such magnitude that it warrants swift and decisive measures to curb its lethal progression.” Government money earmarked for development should be ring fenced to assure its availability. Also it’s delivery to those who desperately need it should be stepped up.

 

The opportunity is for global food companies to breathe new life into the idea of corporate social responsibility (CSR). It’s an opportunity to prove that CSR has depth and meaning beyond mere window dressing for a company’s annual report. Who better to help fight food poverty than multi-national food companies? This could be more about transferring not cash but management talent to help tackle some of the complex problems bedeviling the food sector in developing countries.

 

Recent rear guard action to support global finance markets worked, if not with military precision, then at least a degree of resolution and co-ordination seldom seen since the Second World War and the US Marshall Plan for European reconstruction, that followed it. Couldn’t the CSR programmes of large food companies provide the expertise to help resolve the food problems of developing countries?

 

Here’s a statistic that reveals something of the values of some western corporations and the societies in which they operate. Staff at the failed Lehmans bank’s New York office were offered a $2.5bn bonus by Barclay’s Capital which acquired the company’s American operation. Yet only $2.2bn has been delivered to alleviate global poverty, says Diouf.

 

It’s a mismatch of financial resources that turns the mind; if not the stomach. While stock values ebb and flow, more people live with the reality of poverty and hunger. Nearly 3bn people live on less than $2 a day, according to the United Nations. And more than 900m people face starvation because of soaring food prices, warns aid agency Oxfam.

 

A crisis is always a crisis – whether it occurs in the food or financial sector.

 

Mike Stones is the managing editor of Decision News Media. He has more than 20 years’ experience of writing about food, farming and development topics. If you would like to comment on this article, please email Michael.stones”at”decisionnews.com.

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