Climate Change and Sustainable Development

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:30 pm on 5th December 2002.

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Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Chair, International Development Committee 2:30 pm, 5th December 2002

I do not disagree with any of that. I think that there tends to be broad agreement on the Select Committee. I do not believe for a moment that the World Food Programme is the repository of all knowledge. In quoting the World Food Programme, I am concerned that there be a wider understanding of the scale of what is happening. Whether we visited Malawi or Ethiopia, we are all concerned about the failure of the FAO to provide help to encourage agriculture. There is a hole there. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that, notwithstanding the terrible problem of HIV/AIDS, unless people in Malawi can grow more food, the situation there will become increasingly difficult.

I shall briefly return to the problems of Ethiopia. Its main export is coffee, but coffee prices are at their lowest in 16 years. Ironically, Ethiopia's poverty may be of benefit to the country: because it is so poor, fertilisers or pesticides are not used, so Ethiopian coffee is genuinely organic. One way forward would be to brand its produce as Ethiopian coffee and promote it as a niche organic product.

I appreciate that DFID has been very much involved with a supermarkets initiative, but the labyrinthine procedures of the European Commission make it difficult to get coffee certified as organic. I hope that officials from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in Brussels can offer some help, particularly by ensuring that the Commission and others do not make wholly unrealistic demands of Ethiopian farmers to prove that they have never used pesticides or fertilisers; otherwise, Ethiopia will be dependent for any improvement in incomes on greater access to other markets, whether regional—such as Saudi Arabia and the middle east—or European.

The position is even more difficult in Malawi. The country may have a democratic Government, but I doubt whether it has the political leadership: even building a Bailey bridge on an ordinary road never seems to happen. We all recognise that countries such as Ethiopia and Malawi face HIV/AIDS as well as drought. Sadly, Africa is poor because it is sick and sick because it is poor.

The scale and perspective of famines have changed. Poverty and climate change have exacerbated them and sustainable development in Africa is now a far bigger challenge. Earlier this week, the Select Committee took evidence from its special adviser, Dr. Stephen Devereux. Members who heard his evidence—he is an expert on famine and has written extensively about it—will know that he views current developments as of a different order from those of the past, requiring new thinking. We have too often considered how past famines were dealt with by early warning systems and other mechanisms without realising that those mechanisms are inadequate to deal with Stephen Devereux's new "seismic factor".

Finally, because the scale of famine has changed, the amount of food aid that the World Food Programme needs to obtain gets greater each year. However, the World Food Programme never knows when it will receive the money from donors, so it has to go cap in hand to secure pledges, which have to be turned into commitments, which have to be turned into money, which sometimes arrives too late. We need a new system to avoid one humanitarian crisis giving way to another. UN donor countries and aid recipients now need a continually supported emergency budget to be distributed as humanitarian crises—sadly, likely to be frequent—happen. Many Governments of developed countries are sometimes reluctant to give aid to developing countries. As the hon. Member for Richmond Park said, all too often it takes all too long for requests to be honoured.

In the long term, more needs to be done to deal with the following famine equation: drought plus HIV/AIDS minus fair trade equals famine. Otherwise, Africa will have 30 million people dependent on food aid, and for Africa alone, the 2015 targets will become the 2030 millennium goals as Africa continues to starve silently.