Southern Africa Food Crisis

– in Westminster Hall at 12:00 am on 6th February 2003.

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[Relevant documents: Minutes of Evidence taken before the International Development Committee on 29th October 2002, HC 1271-i, 25th November 2002, HC 116-i, 3rd December 2002, HC 116-ii, 14th January 2003, HC 116-iii, 23rd January 2003, HC 116-iv, together with memoranda received by the Committee.]

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—[Derek Twigg.]

Photo of Sally Keeble Sally Keeble Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for International Development 2:30 pm, 6th February 2003

I welcome a debate on the southern Africa humanitarian crisis, which has gripped public consciousness, combining as it does some of the worst natural disasters with some of the most chronic human disasters. I want to set out some of the latest developments and explain how Britain's assistance has helped those most in need. The world is of course very concerned about the immediate humanitarian disaster, but underlying it is a long-term problem of food security in southern Africa, which we need to address urgently.

I shall set out some of the history of the crisis, which has been the subject of considerable debate in the House and among the wider public. Seven countries in southern Africa—Angola, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe—are facing food shortages. The crisis began with poor rains throughout the region in the 2001–02 growing season. Reporting from non-governmental organisations that started in August 2001 stated that many families in Malawi and Zimbabwe would face major food insecurity during the following year. In Zimbabwe, that view was corroborated by evidence of disruption to agriculture and of late planting. However, the Government of Zimbabwe continued until early 2002 to predict high levels of maize production. In Malawi, the Government and donors agreed in August 2001 that action needed to be taken, but the Government decided not to ask for outside help. An emergency was finally declared in February 2002.

The World Food Programme launched an appeal in July 2002 for $507 million to cover nearly 1 million tonnes of food for six of the seven countries of southern Africa. Angola was handled separately because of its particular requirements linked to the end of the civil war. WFP planning assumed that additional food aid imports of 200,000 tonnes would flow through channels other than the World Food Programme, and that Governments and commercial suppliers would import further supplies. In many cases, it was assumed that governmental and commercial supplies would be much greater than the level of food aid.

When the WFP appeal was launched, it was widely recognised that the crisis was not only about food supplies. Health and other issues were affected too, including disease, water and sanitation services and, perhaps more significantly, HIV/AIDS. The appeal for food aid was part of a wider United Nations appeal to cover those other needs as well.

There has been considerable debate about the scale of the crisis. By any standards, it is large. Assessments made by international teams in September 2002 show that more than 10 million people throughout six countries were in immediate need of food aid. They also agreed that that number would rise to more than 14 million by March 2003. Subsequent assessments have found an even higher number in need when taking into account some urban populations, particularly in Zimbabwe. In addition to the sheer number of people involved, the complexity of the crisis is unique.

The countries involved face different problems. Malawi has chronic food security problems, but, traditionally, Zimbabwe has food surpluses. Mozambique has had both chronic food shortages in the south of the country and surpluses in the north. On the whole, the region was less used to and prepared for a major crisis than other regions, such as the horn of Africa. I am referring to some of the least developed countries in the world as well as to one of Africa's few middle-income countries. The crisis has covered countries in which there have been significant problems of poor governance. In terms of the range of problems that the international community has had to deal with, the number of countries involved and the relative lack of preparedness, the crisis was, by any measure, severe.

The causes of the crisis were also complex. Poor rainfall was a central factor, but that alone should not have caused the scale of suffering that we have seen. Two factors have played a crucial and aggravating role. The first is poor governance, most notably in Zimbabwe, as all hon. Members know. Of a total population of about 11.5 million people, more than 7 million Zimbabweans are now receiving food aid. Sadly, that number could become even higher over the next 12 months if economic conditions do not improve. The Government's handling of the economy has been truly appalling: gross domestic product has shrunk by 25 per cent. in the past three years; inflation is 150 per cent. and rising; the official exchange rate is wildly out of line with reality and has resulted in a foreign exchange crisis; all prices are controlled; fuel is almost unavailable; and even people who have money cannot buy food.

Most worryingly, there has been poor co-operation from the Zimbabwe Government with the international aid agencies—those trying to help most have been hindered most. Import permits for food have been delayed, charities trying to distribute food at community level have been obstructed, and access to some of the most vulnerable groups, particularly displaced farm workers, has been blocked. Although the United Nations has ensured that international food aid is distributed in strict accordance with humanitarian principles, the distribution of food through the Government-owned grain marketing board has been distorted for political reasons and the Government have so far refused to allow independent monitoring of their work.

The second aggravating factor has been the highest HIV/AIDS infection rates in the world: 34 per cent. in Zimbabwe, 33.4 per cent. in Swaziland, 24 per cent. in Lesotho, 20 per cent. in Zambia and 16.4 per cent. in Malawi. We are still trying to understand the full impact of that, but some things have already been made clear. HIV/AIDS strikes at the heart of the coping mechanisms that people have developed. Those whose contributions are most needed are those least able to contribute. Millions of households throughout the region have lost one or both working-age adults and many of the adults who are alive are too ill to work in the field, scavenge for food or seek work elsewhere. Children and the elderly are bearing the burden of providing for those households in such difficult times.

I draw attention to the prospects for those with HIV. Good nutrition is essential for prolonging life and delaying the onset of AIDS, and that is obviously impossible when food is scarce. Information is still poor, but there are signs that mortality rates from HIV/AIDS in Zimbabwe have increased from between 1,500 and 2,000 a week to between 2,000 and 2,500 a week over the past 18 months or so. There is a vicious two-way circle: food shortages impact by weakening the resistance of those with HIV and tipping them into full-blown AIDS, while illness and early deaths from AIDS of many adults make it harder for communities to cope with food shortages. That is a key area for all of us who are committed to development.

The international response to the crisis has been effective, if perhaps limited in scale. As of this month, $396 million has been provided in response to the UN consolidated appeal—65 per cent. of the total requested. The UN has distributed more than 200,000 tonnes of food aid to 5.5 million people in the six countries covered. The number of deaths directly attributable to food shortages has thankfully been relatively small, and that is the best testament to the success of the relief operation that we could have hoped for. We believe that there are now adequate supplies to cover the needs in the region throughout March and therefore up to the next harvest.

The UK has provided very substantial help to the UN, both in funding and staffing, and the effectiveness of Department for International Development humanitarian operations is widely respected in the international community, as hon. Members of all parties recognise. We have played a strong and leading role in responding to the crisis. In funding, only the United States and the European Community have provided more. Of the EC response, 20 per cent. is provided by our Department. Since September 2001, we have contributed about £130 million. In addition, our contribution has been entirely in the form of cash and not food commodities, which is far more useful to the agencies and allows for a much more flexible response.

We have also been the most active donor in pushing for improved co-ordination, providing practical help and trying to address the underlying issues affecting the crisis. The response from the rest of the international community has been patchy, and we have urged others to increase their contributions. The Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for International Development wrote to colleagues in other countries to press for contributions. The British public have been typically generous in their response to appeals for funds by organisations working in the regions. The organisations have also received funding from the Government and play an essential role in the delivery of help to communities in the regions. So far, we are the single biggest funder in Zimbabwe and we feed about 1.3 million children a day.

The severity of the crisis has rung warning bells in many parts of the international community. Normally, the region has coped with poor rainfall; several places are not used to dealing with such food shortages. However, the region is becoming less able to cope. A combination of poor governance, high HIV/AIDS prevalence rates and less predictable weather patterns could send the region into a downwards spiral from which it would be difficult to recover. That would damage all our development efforts, and especially those of people in the countries concerned. We therefore need to work with others, including Governments and communities, to find solutions to a range of problems. We need to improve agricultural techniques, to encourage better management and to ensure that markets work properly so that food can be bought and sold.

It is crucial that we scale up our work to tackle HIV/AIDS, and local leadership is essential for that. The reversal of the infection rate in Uganda—it is now down to 5 per cent.—shows what can be achieved by strong commitment throughout the system. However, all the development achievements in the region will be undermined if that does not happen.

The crisis has been a major test for the international community and the families whose lives have been scarred by the famine. At least we have been able to prevent the crisis from becoming a complete disaster, and Britain has played an important part in that effort. We need to continue to work with international agencies and the countries in the region in order to deal with the underlying issues that the crisis has exposed and to prevent the vicious circle that I described.

There are key issues that must be addressed. First, we must improve the food security of people in southern Africa. Variation in rainfall is a fact of life and we must get better at coping with that. Higher incomes and functioning markets will enable communities to cope with poor harvests. Secondly, we must ensure that we find regional solutions, with leadership from within the region. The Southern Africa Development Community is examining a regional strategy for improving food security and we hope to support that, including through funding if that would help. Thirdly, we need to recognise the dimension that HIV/AIDS has added to the food crisis.

The agenda is large and represents a major challenge for us and the rest of the international donor community. I hope that all hon. Members will agree that the issue is vital for the poor people in southern Africa and Africa as a whole.

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key Conservative, Salisbury 2:43 pm, 6th February 2003

We are all glad that the Government have called this debate on a real, massive and terrible crisis that is being overshadowed by two other humanitarian crises nearer home—in Palestine and, of course, in Iraq.

In southern Africa today, 14.4 million people are at risk from starvation. They face a food deficit of 1 million tonnes until March 2003. There is indeed a crisis and, as the Minister said, it has been taken to a new level by the impact of HIV/AIDS. One in three adults in southern Africa is infected. The crisis needs immediate and long-term commitments. We recognise the achievements of the Secretary of State, her Minister and her Department, but many challenges are still not met and many questions remain unanswered.

As the Minister suggested, the grim spectre of AIDS is ever present and intertwined with so many of southern Africa's problems. Sustainable food production requires strong and healthy people to till the soil and to nurture the next generation. However, 60 per cent. of the population in the region are aged under 18. Those countries have the highest HIV infection rates in the world—it is over 40 per cent. according to Save the Children. The infection rate of young women from the age of 15 is usually four to five times higher than that of young men of the same age, which highlights gender and economic inequalities. More children become heads of households, but they lose family rights to property and land, they have less access to social services and they become more marginalised. If they migrate to find food or work, they are more open to health hazards and they have less education, which reduces the human capital producing food. It is our duty and it is in our interest to help these countries break their downward spiral.

When talking water, we British must snap out of our obsession with having too much of it. We are so lucky. Somewhere, a child dies every 15 seconds from waterborne diseases. The World Health Organisation and UNICEF say that worldwide 1 billion people lack access to safe drinking water and 2.4 billion people are lacking basic sanitation facilities. That means that in Africa one third of the population lack water or sanitation facilities. Dirty water and poor sanitation compound the effects of the lack of food and of AIDS. Weakened HIV/AIDS victims are more likely to die from infections, such as cholera or malaria. In southern Africa, the short-term health of 14.4 million people depends not only on food, but on the supply of clean water and the provision of sanitation; currently, they have neither.

In March 2000, the Secretary of State announced that the Department for International Development's financial assistance for water and sanitation would be doubled. That undertaking has barely been met. The current expenditure plan suggests that water and sanitation budgets, particularly in Africa, will continue to fall from their peak in 1999–2000. In this, the international year of fresh water, DFID's water expenditure is significantly less than that of some other donors, such as Germany and Japan and there are, according to the National Audit Office report published last Friday, few substantive country water programmes. That NAO report highlighted the need for DFID to focus the investment of official development assistance on sustainable solutions. WaterAid argues that if investments in water and sanitation are to have a lasting and sustainable impact on the lives of poor people, a significant share of DFID funding should be spent on training local people to administer, deliver and maintain water and drainage systems and on training the trainers. The lack of human capital in such countries is one of their greatest handicaps. Does the Minister agree with WaterAid's analysis?

We cannot avoid coherent discussions on genetically modified food aid, nationally and internationally, nor should we wish to. The United States of America supplies more than 50 per cent. of all food aid and DFID, in its memorandum to the Select Committee of 7 October 2002, said that that US food aid contains genetically modified material, and with drought predicted in America that major source of supply may literally dry up and other sources will have to be found. Non-governmental organisations, such as Christian Aid, suggest that the US should replace its food aid with cash, which they could use to try to buy GM-free food.

We respect the fact that the decision whether to accept GM food lies with individual Governments, but we must have a clear and informed debate. In terms of feeding people in a crisis such as the one that we face in southern Africa and being challenged by long-term population growth, GM technology provides a wealth of opportunities. Dr. Ray Mathias, at a Scientific Alliance conference last month, said that GM crops could be resistant to pests, disease and environmental stress, including drought, and that they produce higher yields more safely without the need for agrochemicals; he added that they could also lead to novel, easy-to-administer medicines, such as vaccines. For example, 80 hectares of greenhouse could provide enough hepatitis B vaccine for the whole of south-east Asia every year.

For those who will not accept GM, there are problems. Over the years, GM food aid has not just been eaten; it has also been planted. It is now estimated that a significant proportion of food sourced in Africa contains GM—as much as 80 per cent. in South Africa, according to the World Food Programme. Where do we get enough GM-free food from? If countries refuse GM food, do they surrender the "right to food"? When they refuse GM food, what provisions are in place to ensure its swift re-allocation? In Zambia, World Food Programme food aid was shipped in but the Government refused it and would not let it out again without export licences, which took a long time to get.

Genetic modification affects everyone in the food pipeline. It is not the only answer to the problem of feeding the world, but it is a very important one. No nation should reject GM food solely on the grounds of ignorance or prejudice; no nation can afford to do that. If we could focus our energies on determining our vision for the environment, agriculture and food supply across the world, we could get both sides of the GM debate together and find a viable solution. I hope that the Minister and the British Government share my view on that.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour/Co-operative, Stroud

I apologise for arriving late and missing the Minister's introductory remarks.

Countries reject GM food for two reasons. They might have a principled objection to it. They might also have a strategic view: if GM crops are planted or if GM gets into the environment by mistake, they will be blacklisted if and when they want to supply food to other parts of the world that have a GM-free policy. That is why Africa is in a double bind.

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key Conservative, Salisbury

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. His comments highlight one part of the hypocrisy of those who are arguing against GM; they argue as though it was not there, but it is—and that is the problem that we have to manage.

Photo of Mr Tony Colman Mr Tony Colman Labour, Putney

Zambia was offered GM-milled maize, which would have had no impact because it cannot germinate. Therefore, it could not have affected future Zambian exports.

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key Conservative, Salisbury

The hon. Gentleman is right, but I am also fairly sure that I am right in saying that Zambia refused oil or soya or anything else that may have come from GM crops. As the hon. Gentleman said, that is totally illogical. That is why we must have a proper debate about this all around the world, which leads me to my next question: what are the Minister and the Government doing to promote the GM debate in developing countries? Even in our country we are strapped for cash with regard to trying to have a GM debate: our Government are allowing £250,000—although that figure has now gone up to nearer £500,000—but the New Zealand Government spent over £2 million on a GM debate. I hope that the Minister will consider that one of her responsibilities is to promote the GM debate in developing countries.

The large-scale provision of free food aid in southern Africa is imperative to address the immediate crisis. What plans have been set up—not only in individual countries, but across the entire region—to manage the effect on prices that this free food will have come harvest time? There has already been a threefold increase in the price of food in some southern African countries, but elsewhere large quantities of imported grain lead to prices in local markets dropping through the floor—or, which is worse, grain is left to rot because there is no need to buy it.

People might also get used to food aid if it is offered to them year after year, with the attendant risk that a dependency culture develops. If food aid is abandoned in favour of cash aid, imports bought from grain-surplus countries such as Tanzania or South Africa cause prices to rise sharply back home, with consequences for the population of the exporting country; that is the case even if the imports are from genetically modified plants.

If we are to work towards long-term solutions, we must provide sustained and strategic support for rural livelihoods, rather than exacerbate the problem by undermining local farmers and their markets: nor can we afford a repeat of the Malawi grain stores fiasco, when the International Monetary Fund advised the Malawi Government to sell most of their grain reserves when the country was facing major harvest failures. The IMF has never been held to account for that. I know that the Secretary of State has said that the Malawi Government accepted the advice and took the decision, but we should question the quality of that advice, and recognise the enormous pressure on African Governments to do what they are told by the IMF.

Photo of Mr Tony Worthington Mr Tony Worthington Labour, Clydebank and Milngavie

The International Development Committee went to Malawi and asked that question. The International Monetary Fund firmly denies ever giving such advice. In fact, all the evidence that we received suggests that the decision was taken by people who administer the grain store and was not the responsibility of the IMF.

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key Conservative, Salisbury

I am relieved to hear that, but how did the story get about in the first place, given that an awful lot of people believe it? I hope that this debate will provide an opportunity for people to take a more rational approach and refer back to the evidence put by the hon. Gentleman. That is the benefit of these debates. There is much merit, as the Minister suggested, in a food programme with food stores owned by the Southern African Development Community. Christian Aid says that that would cost less to run and be less prone to corruption.

When poverty reduction strategy programmes were introduced, we all had high hopes for them. Sadly, opinion seems to be growing that they are falling well short of expectations. The world development movement, Christian Aid, Jubilee Research and WaterAid have all been critical of them. There is a consensus that food security and rural livelihood should get greater emphasis in PRSPs.

Following the IMF involvement, it has now been alleged—I look to Tony Worthington to correct me—that the IMF is withholding debt relief to Zambia, where nearly 3 million people are at risk of starvation, until its Government privatise their national commercial bank. Is that true? Once again, many people believe that it is. It would be a strange way for the international community to address the food crisis in southern Africa, much as I would like the bank to be privatised.

In Zimbabwe, 7.2 million people are at risk from starvation. Half of all the people in southern Africa who may die of famine have the misfortune to exist—I can hardly say live—under the regime of President Mugabe. The country that was once the bread-basket of the region is now facing disaster. Political instability, the terror associated with land reform policies, economic incompetence, corruption and indifference to the problem of HIV/AIDS can all be laid at the door of Mugabe's Government.

In Zimbabwe alone, there are about 3,000 AIDS-related deaths a week and a horrendous 35 per cent. of adults there have AIDS. Prostitution is increasing as food security is decreasing, thus exacerbating the AIDS epidemic. Food is being distributed via schools, and thank goodness for DFID's aid programme for the children of Zimbabwe. When children are removed from education as their families struggle with AIDS and famine, how do we ensure free and fair food distribution? We cannot.

In answers to written questions, the Secretary of State has told us that the Department has not had discussions with representatives of the Government of South Africa or the Opposition parties in Zimbabwe about the serious effects of the political situation in Zimbabwe on the national and regional food crisis. Perhaps the Secretary of State will rely on President Chirac of France to have a word in President Mugabe's ear at the Franco-African summit in Paris the week after next. Yes, he will be there. Yesterday, EU Ministers were unable to agree on renewing the sanctions against Zimbabwe, which is disgraceful and shameful.

As the Zimbabwe Opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, said on 23 January:

"Any avenue granted to Mugabe to attend international meetings at which he is treated as a statesman and an equal is an affront to the people of Zimbabwe. It amounts to a recognition and support of Mugabe's gruesome record at home."

To be fair to the Secretary of State, she told the International Development Committee on the same day that she found it "unimaginable" that the French could consider inviting Mugabe to Paris. She said:

"I can only think that in Paris they are not following what's going on. People have got it into their heads that this is just Britain and Mugabe in conflict over white farmers. They are not attending to the reality and the suffering of the people."

We agree, but once again, the Secretary of State has lost the argument and the Government have lost the argument in Europe.

Today, we have focused on southern Africa, but we do not forget the crises, problems and challenges of the rest of the continent. The Sudan peace agreement signed earlier this week gives real hope. The Bishop of Salisbury is in southern Sudan this week, reinforcing the solidarity of our diocese with the Christian communities there. Ethiopia is teetering on the edge of famine. There is dangerous instability in the Maghreb. West and central Africa continue to give cause for real concern.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour/Co-operative, Stroud

The hon. Gentleman mentioned Sudan, but I should like to talk about Ethiopia. I went on an Inter-Parliamentary Union trip to Ethiopia before Christmas, and one of the sad things was that because of the crisis in southern Africa's food security, donor countries had been reducing food supplies to Ethiopia, which seems scandalous. However, that is the nature of the way that donor countries work. They sometimes deal with what they think of as the most immediate problem, and forget that they cause other problems as a consequence. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that that is unacceptable.

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key Conservative, Salisbury

That is precisely why I put that in my speech—so that we do not forget those countries. Of course, the hon. Gentleman is right about Ethiopia. One of the great ironies about that country is that although it is suffering from famine, the Nile flows through it. The problem is more a question of failure to manage water. In Sudan, too, food has been a problem from time to time.

In spite of all the distractions, great and small, that grab our attention in Britain, Africa is never far from our hearts and minds, and we are engaged. In most countries in southern Africa, there is not only hope, but real progress. I have seen it myself in Mozambique and in Zambia. Only in Zimbabwe have I seen a sharp decline. We are willing the people of Africa to win, and we must continue to will them the means to win.

Photo of Mr Tony Worthington Mr Tony Worthington Labour, Clydebank and Milngavie 3:01 pm, 6th February 2003

I am pleased to follow Mr. Key. I remember the two visits that I made many years ago to Sudan, and the tribute that was paid there to his diocese for the work that it did in that country over many years. I do not think that anyone appreciates the loneliness of Christians in some parts of Sudan.

In my contribution to this debate, I shall draw heavily on the visit that the International Development Committee made to Malawi, and I shall quote the example of that country more often than any other, although there are lessons to be learned from across the region. It is time that we got frank about the problems. The tendency in such debates is to concentrate on the particulars of a crisis—which deliveries were made, what the climate was like, and so on—but such problems arise so often that we should concentrate on what is endemic. A great deal can be done, and most food crises are down to human inadequacy in one way or another. I shall start with the issue of governance.

The quality of governance in many southern African countries needs drastic improvement. There are more formal democracies than there used to be, but they have not yet delivered the better governance necessary to avoid famine. Democracy is a necessary condition for progress, but it is not sufficient in southern Africa. I should like to suggest some of the things that the New Partnership for Africa's Development should do if a genuine partnership between north and south is to develop, and if we are to avoid such crises.

The system of political parties in southern Africa and Africa generally is woefully weak. Parties are united not by an ideology but by a determination to win the spoils of the state. I used to get hauled off to give lectures on Her Majesty's loyal Opposition—I am not called to do so any more; no doubt the hon. Member for Salisbury is instead—but there is no culture of opposition in southern Africa. Parties fight an election to win. No one knows what to do if they lose, so they join the governing party. Parties are cobbled together by rich men as a result of obligation or for a pay-off. We must seriously tackle why people in Africa go into politics in order to get rich, why it is difficult for anyone other than a rich person to gain a seat, and why politicians need to have money beyond their salaries to fulfil their duties as an MP.

We will not avoid crises until the quality of government in African countries and elsewhere is improved. The hopes that we had for the Government in Malawi a few years ago have declined. They have been obsessed with gaining a third term, contrary to the constitution. Roughly translated, that means maintaining the food chain—not for the people, but for the politicians at the trough. With perhaps just a few exceptions, the motivation for a third term is not the fulfilment of public policy.

We can tackle the problem with traditional methods such as establishing an independent judiciary, a free press, a thriving civil society, an anti-corruption bureau that has teeth, and ensuring that civil servants are paid enough to live on—but new measures are also necessary. Complete transparency over the payments passing from western firms to African Governments is necessary, more in some countries—Angola or Nigeria, for example—than others. With greater transparency, we could have cracked corruption a long time ago. When are we going to wake up to the fact that African elites take far more out of the continent than western investors put in? We must tackle that problem.

The hon. Member for Salisbury helpfully mentioned the grain store. Corruption associated with Malawi's grain store perfectly illustrates my point. The grain store should have been the means by which the state helped the poor, but it became instead a nice little earner for those with access to the grain. It was no doubt sold off at low prices. No one can show where the grain went. It disappeared, doubtless to reappear and be sold back to the Malawians at a higher price. How could the man in charge of the parastatal ADMARC, who presided over this fiasco, resurface as a Finance Minister? How could the director of the anti-corruption bureau be removed from his job and placed in another unspecified one, just when the Finance Minister and other Ministers were being interviewed about the grain store?

Photo of Mr Tony Colman Mr Tony Colman Labour, Putney

Does my hon. Friend agree that corruption among African elites is often matched by the collusion of elites in Britain, particularly the Corporation of London? I applaud the Government's work to stop up several avenues down which money moves out of Africa, but more needs to be done to prevent such collusion.

Photo of Mr Tony Worthington Mr Tony Worthington Labour, Clydebank and Milngavie

I look forward to hearing my hon. Friend's speech, as he knows much more about corruption in the City of London than I do.

How do we explain the fact that the chair of the Malawi agriculture select committee, which was examining corruption, was harassed, detained and imprisoned by the state? Because he was investigating the fiasco, his very status as an MP was questioned.

The situation in Malawi is, in fact, modest, in comparison with what we tolerated for years in Angola, where the Government were financed by oil and the Opposition were financed by diamonds, providing the basis on which the rival armies were maintained. The country might formally have been referred to as a democracy. Action in the UK on the declaration of resources going into the country could have helped to tackle the problem. That could be done with Nigeria today, but we do not do it. Nigeria discovers oil and, with the active connivance of oil companies in the developed world, hurtles towards being one of the poorest countries on the planet. What the ogre Mugabe is inflicting on his people is even worse.

We must examine the political parties in Africa and find ways of structuring democracy so that it is no longer primarily a means of getting rich. We never appreciate just how unbelievably lucky we are in this country, in that the vast majority of us go into politics not in order to make money but because of our political beliefs or out of some idea about public service. That is not true in Africa.

It is striking just how little Governments and Parliaments have done in the past few years to put in place the building blocks for democracy. For example, Malawi, where people are overwhelmingly dependent on agriculture, has never recovered from Banda's repressive regime, with the consequence that there is not a thriving national civil society in Malawi. In such a civil society, people would be linked to professional groups, human rights lobbies or gender groups, but there is no counterbalance in Malawi to malfunctioning politics.

A land registration scheme, which enables title to be proved, is fundamental to agricultural policy and the production of food. The absence of such a scheme is another illustration of the lack of progress. That is especially important now that there are so many male deaths from AIDS and women are unable to retain their land because there is no legal system.

Malawi is a good example of a tiny country that has a rapidly rising population, a huge percentage of which are dependent on peasant farming. It has virtually no industry to employ surplus labour, no land system and virtually no discernable agricultural policy. The country is landlocked and has virtually no air services outside Africa, so production for wealthy overseas countries cannot be achieved. Each year, the population soars, so that the same amount of land has to support even more people.

How can it be—this intrigued us—that Malawi, one of the poorest countries in the world, nearly became a net contributor to the World Bank this year? Why is it difficult to see what strategy there is in the country, 20 per cent. of which is Lake Malawi, for better irrigation? Why is it that the only World Bank programme that we discovered was an untargeted maize-distribution scheme to be administered by a parastatal body in election year? "Vote for me, and I'll feed you", that is what we objected to. How will Malawi solve its problems when it has no substantial indigenous source of fertiliser and the land is already seriously depleted because of overuse and crop rotation? My colleagues and I could find no answers to those basic questions.

The fact that those questions had not been faced meant that the country was vulnerable to the food crisis that hit it. It is difficult to see where a strategy for agriculture will come from. The Food and Agriculture Organisation does not seem to do that sort of work, although its title would seem to imply that it should. There is definitely an impression that agricultural policy by the donor community is being put on the back burner while resources are, rightly, put into education and health. I am pleased that DFID is now producing new policy papers on agriculture and land policy, on which I hope we can build.

We always go on about tariff barriers, but many non-tariff barriers should also be tackled. I do not want to take up too much time, although this is a favourite subject of mine, but I want to consider how Malawi's problems have been worsened by poor reproductive health services and the impact of HIV/AIDS. Malawi has to feed more people every year. According to the United Nations Development Programme, Malawi's population stood at 11 million in 1999 and will rise to 15.7 million by 2015—an increase of 42 per cent. in 16 years. The food production per capita in Africa, never mind in Malawi, is falling and is lower than it was 10 years ago. As the hon. Member for Salisbury said, Malawi already has one of the worst records in Africa for access to safe water. About 50 per cent. of the population do not have access to safe water and 97 per cent. are without access to safe sanitation.

Africa is the least safe place on earth to be born. Africans are five times more likely to die before reaching the age of five than any other people in the world. It is abundantly clear that the intensely rural country of Malawi does not have access to decent reproductive health services such as mother and baby clinics. If it had, mothers would be given the choice over how many children to have. The likelihood is that they would make the same choice as women throughout the world. It will take many years before their birth rates fall to the same level as those in countries such as Italy and Spain, to cite two at random, where the population is diminishing because of the choices that people have made. The people of Malawi should have that choice. There is no chance of their meeting many of the millennium development goals, such as a decline in maternal mortality or infant mortality, all children going to school or a decline in poverty—unless southern Africa gets much better access to maternal health services.

Into that already appalling set of circumstances, we have to factor in HIV/AIDS. Southern Africa is already the most afflicted part of the world. HIV/AIDS affects more than 30 per cent. of the adult population, who are often the wealth creators and who leave behind a population dominated by orphans and old people. I have deliberately brought up AIDS directly after dealing with reproductive health because one of our biggest mistakes in dealing with AIDS has been to separate in our minds its treatment and the provision of reproductive health services.

Developing world family planning associations were very uncomfortable about dealing with AIDS because their traditional clients are mothers and small children, not adult males behaving irresponsibly. Even vasectomies are not suggested because they are seen as threatening in a male-dominated society. It is always more difficult to deal with the powerful.

In the developed world, we put all our resources into managing the disease. Gruesomely, repeat prescriptions of extraordinarily expensive drugs are far more profitable for the pharmaceutical companies than finding a vaccine that cures or a barrier method that prevents the transmission of the disease that is under the control of women. All the private money went into drugs such as anti-retrovirals. Very little private money went into vaccines and next to nothing into microbicides to prevent women from being infected by their husbands. I am delighted that DFID has put money into microbicides. There is something severely wrong with the pharmaceutical industry and our values when we put so little into prevention rather than into management.

I should like to spend a little time on President Bush's extraordinary but welcome statement that he is going to ask Congress to commit $15 billion over the next five years, including $10 billion of new money, in order to turn the tide against AIDS in the most afflicted nations of Africa and the Caribbean. He terms that:

"a work of mercy beyond all current international efforts to help the people of Africa."

It is an extraordinary sum, especially given that a few months ago he was trying to cut funds in AIDS legislation going through Congress. The fact that Senator Bill Frist, who was promoting the Bill, had just become Republican leader in the Senate might have helped.

I have some apprehension, however. Only $1 billion is to go into the global health fund; the rest will be distributed bilaterally by the United States. Why does Bush have so much difficulty with being a team player? He was involved in setting up the global health fund. It makes an enormous amount of sense to have a unified policy and to cut down on the bureaucracy associated with multiple donors.

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key Conservative, Salisbury

Is not the answer to the hon. Gentleman's question that the President would avoid, if possible, financing the United Nations Population Fund, Marie Stopes International and other bodies which do enormous good around the world by tackling the problem? For political reasons, he simply cannot provide the funding. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that is a terrible shame?

Photo of Mr Tony Worthington Mr Tony Worthington Labour, Clydebank and Milngavie

The hon. Gentleman will not be surprised to learn that I am going to deal with that.

President Bush introduced the theme into his state of the union speech when he referred to the welcome and incredible fall in the price of anti-retroviral drugs from $12,000 a year to less than $300 a year. He said that he would treat at least 2 million people with life-extending drugs, and that is welcome. However, it is also very ambitious, and I hope that he realises that it is not just a question of dishing out the drugs—a lot of support work has to go on as well.

We rejoice at the fact that the cost of drugs has fallen to less than $300 a year, but that must be seen in context. Total health expenditure per person in Tanzania is between $3 and $4 a year, so we are back to the need for investment in reproductive health. I am afraid that the President's action must be seen in the context of Doha, where the United States recently vetoed a deal, on which all the other participants had agreed, to bring cheaper drugs to the poorest in the world.

I come now to the point that I hope will interest the hon. Member for Salisbury. President Bush claims that the comprehensive plan will prevent 7 million new AIDS infections, but what kind of prevention will it be? It is quite an extraordinary claim. The President is saying, "We are going to prevent 7 million people in Africa and the Caribbean from being infected with AIDS." However, we must see the initiative in the context of his policy on reproductive health. He has stopped contributions to the UNFPA worldwide and has therefore withdrawn money for reproductive health. He has done that because of false allegations that the organisation supports abortions in China as part of the one-child policy.

As the Minister knows, Bush's representatives are attempting to unpick the epoch-making Cairo conference on reproductive health. At the recent Asian and Pacific regional conference on population and development, in Bangkok, which I think the Minister attended, the United States delegation objected to attempts to prevent AIDS by promoting the use of condoms among adolescents on the basis that that would encourage under-age sex. Abstinence is the goal, say the Administration. Mercifully, the wise Asian and Pacific delegates saw off the American proposals by votes of 32 to one and 31 to one. However, hon. Members can see why I am apprehensive when the Americans talk about preventive methods.

We also need clarification in another respect. I was relieved that Mr. Steven Mosher, the president of the Population Research Institute—the other side, as it were—expressed concern about what would happen under Bush's $15 billion AIDS relief plan for Africa. He said:

"the condom-promoting aspect of this campaign is troublesome as well. The massive distribution of condoms in Africa has not only not stopped the spread of AIDS, it has put millions more at risk of infection in the name of prevention."

That is the view of the Population Research Institute—the biggest of the pressure groups that persuaded Bush not to support the UNFPA. Here, however, is what Mosher said in an article about Bush's $15 billion for AIDS:

"Only groups that are solely dedicated to abstinence—and therefore have no hidden agenda—should be tasked with implementing this program."

It will be very interesting to see the battle that takes place in the United States over AIDS.

The proposed $15 billion is a huge sum, which puts enormous pressure on Europe to reciprocate. When Bush talks about prevention, however, what will it be? In other policies, he has withdrawn condoms—one of the only mechanisms that we have—from Africa. Is AIDS to be controlled simply by abstinence or are methods such as using condoms to be allowed? There is no doubt that when we discuss famine or food crises in Africa, AIDS and our policy on AIDS must be at the centre of our thinking. I hope that the Minister will take that into account in her reply.

Photo of John Barrett John Barrett Liberal Democrat, Edinburgh West 3:25 pm, 6th February 2003

It is a pleasure to follow the Minister's opening remarks and two thoughtful and well-informed speeches. I will not spend too much time on the subject of AIDS or of genetically modified crops, as both have been covered in the debate.

I want to pick up something that Mr. Key said: although the debate is about southern Africa, the food crisis is not limited to that area, but affects other parts of Africa. I agree wholeheartedly with what was said about groups and organisations having to tackle the reluctance to promote condoms, as they are a major factor in preventing the spread of AIDS.

As much of the world's attention is focused on the possible war in Iraq, it is important not to take our eye off the ball in the continuing food crisis in Africa. Reports from Ethiopia and Eritrea say that half the population have been affected by drought and it is estimated that approximately 500,000 tonnes of food aid will be required there this year. In Mauritania, 56 per cent. of children are suffering from malnutrition, and in Madagascar significant levels of malnutrition have been reported. There may be crises in other areas that have not yet hit the headlines.

Often, what keeps a news story on the boil is the presence of television cameras and journalists on the ground. The fact that we are debating the issue today will no doubt be overshadowed by the Defence Secretary's announcement that more aircraft are being sent to the Gulf ready for military action. Continuing the debate in Parliament is important, as it is our duty to keep the subject on the agenda when it is not a hot news story.

The current military build-up shows that where there is political determination resources can be found. Whenever possible, we must continue to highlight the importance of the issue which, sadly, will continue long after a war in Iraq is over. This country has a small but important role that is part of a much wider effort, as the Secretary of State for International Development said. Unlike the situation in Afghanistan, there is much talk of a commitment to keep the peace and to rebuild Iraq after military action. Development budgets are always stretched and there are many questions about where to draw the line between finding resources for military and for humanitarian expenditure, but they are closely linked.

The blurring of budgets was an issue when questions were asked about whether the money spent on humanitarian aid in Afghanistan should rather have been spent on reconstruction. The Secretary of State gave detailed answers on the issue at Select Committee sittings. The budget headings may be fine for accountants, but for the hungry they are of little importance as long as the problem is being tackled. Funding and education projects, for example, which then provide the money to allow someone to buy food to feed the family are one example of the blurring of budgets, and there are countless others.

Just to say that there is a food crisis in southern Africa is a problem in itself, because that might imply that if enough food was delivered the problem would be solved. Many other factors contribute to the current crisis. Problems of drought, erratic rainfall and changes in the global climate all add to the issue's complexity. The problems related to HIV/AIDS and other health issues make the crisis deeper and more difficult to cope with.

There are problems with governance, as has been said, although that is so in many countries worldwide. That would be a major problem in its own right, but it is magnified in developing countries. The availability of support systems is made much more difficult, especially in areas without a good infrastructure, and the magnitude of the problems takes on a different scale. In this country, we are able to cope better with an emergency because we have a good road network, a transport system, a regular power supply and a telecommunications system, as well as the democratic structures and financial might to cope. Sadly, the systems in many of the countries in southern Africa, and many of those most in need of support, have great difficulty in maximising the effect of outside aid. One example is the problem of transporting food aid to remote areas, which can be cut off during the rainy season. The need to repair bridges and roads may not look like a top priority during the dry season, but if food aid cannot be distributed on the ground because of a poor road system and lack of bridge repairs, the hungry will starve.

When the Select Committee visited Malawi last year, we were able to see what life is like in villages and what people are up against. We saw a compound of Red Cross trucks, ready to be used to distribute aid, but we were told that they were the heaviest and most expensive trucks to run. They were designed to be used in areas of conflict and could withstand heavy use, but locally available smaller vehicles were more suitable and cheaper to run.

We met NGOs and spoke to Department for International Development staff about what they were doing. We also met Government officials, MPs, the President and representatives from other countries—many people with a lot of local expertise. I must mention the high regard that we found for the Department's work, and I add my own appreciation for the work of the Secretary of State, whose staff had a level of expertise and commitment that could not be faulted. Naturally, we want more resources to be made available to improve the situation, but it would be hypocritical of me not to give credit where credit is due.

Often the situation was described as a crisis within a crisis, the other crisis being the effect of HIV/AIDS. The huge number of orphans and households with either a child or grandparent at the head was there for us all to see. We saw the inability to prepare the land, even if the seed and fertiliser were available, and the effect of AIDS on the health service, not only on demand, but on the doctors and nurses who suffered themselves, resulting in an already overstretched system losing key workers. The children's malnutrition ward that we visited looked busy enough, as most of the beds were full, but we were told that during the busy season there would be two or three children in each bed. We also saw the effects of tuberculosis at a TB clinic when we visited Lilongwe.

The food and AIDS crises have become interlinked in many southern African countries. Nowhere is the link highlighted more than in discussions about the use and availability of anti-retroviral drugs. To be able to cope with the medication available, people need a good diet and to be relatively strong. For many who are too weak, the use of some medication is out of the question, even if it is available.

Questions about the governance of Malawi have already been asked, and they remain unanswered or only partially answered. I was never convinced that the answers that we received about the sale of the strategic grain reserve were truthful, and I am convinced that some individuals have done very well out of the suffering of others. People's bank accounts have swollen as the stomachs of others have. Whether they are business men, truckers or politicians, there is no excuse for using the food crisis as a method of getting rich.

The prize for the worst example of exploiting the food crisis must go to Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe. What started as a doubtful election result has now grown into a full-scale humanitarian crisis, with half the population—an estimated 7 million people—suffering from food shortages. As we hear about deaths, adults collapsing and children fainting in schools, there are repeated reports of political bias in the distribution of food aid. In a country that has the capacity to produce food, the expertise to employ people on the land and the possibility of exporting food to neighbouring countries, what is happening in Zimbabwe is a crime against humanity. If ever there was a case for a United Nations resolution, this is it. Robert Mugabe is definitely a weapon of mass destruction.

There is no time today to explore the issue of GM crops, which has already been covered, and the issue of milled grain and the problems that Zambia faces were also mentioned by the hon. Member for Salisbury. The debate has not been helped by some people in the United Kingdom who are opposed to GM research under any circumstances. If drought-resistant crops can be developed and the process of speeding them up can be delivered by science, scientists should be able to do what they can to help with the problem.

We also have the problem of understanding the situation from the point of view of those suffering in Africa. It is impossible for many of us in this country to appreciate what it means not to have a regular supply of nutritious food instantly accessible and available every day of the week.

In an attempt to raise the profile of the food crisis in southern Africa, I agreed to live on a Red Cross food parcel for one week at the start of the year. I agree that that does not equate to living on food parcels alone in the long term, but I can report that it made me think about food all the time—what I was eating, what I could drink, and how to make bread. I never want to see another white bean in my life. Not drinking tea, coffee, fruit juice and alcohol and surviving on the two basics had another effect: it made me realise how significant the lack of nutritional food is. When we talk about keeping people alive by supplying maize or other basics, that is a long way short of a healthy diet, but it is often the basis for living a relatively normal life. Without a decent diet, infections can easily take over, and people are often too weak to do a day's physical work.

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

On resuming—

Photo of John Barrett John Barrett Liberal Democrat, Edinburgh West

We often hear about how much difference a treadle pump can make, contributing to the production of an extra crop a year in some areas. In countries such as Malawi, the ability to run small irrigation schemes can make an impact. However, I have tried to work a treadle pump and found that to do so one has to be fairly fit to start with. For those who have not seen a treadle pump, it is similar to the type of treadle machine often seen at a gymnasium, which drains the life from one's legs and the stamina from one's lungs in minutes.

The difference between surviving and developing a sustainable existence in many southern African countries is the difference between continuing to supply them with food aid and helping in the reconstruction of individual countries, as happened in Europe after the second world war. It was recognised at that time that rebuilding Europe would provide a market for US goods, and that a successful European economy would also help the USA grow.

Africa has many of the problems associated with war-torn countries, and many regions of Africa have been ravaged by war for decades. If Africa is to grow out of its current crisis, it cannot do so on its own. The rest of the world must play its part. One way of starting that process is to examine the ways in which we trade with African countries, how that trade develops, what barriers we have put in place, and how we are reducing the opportunities for those countries.

We should examine how we in Europe and the USA support farmers, how we dispose of surpluses, the effects of dumping, and how surpluses and subsidies could be better used. Non-tariff barriers and technical standards may also place restrictions on developing countries. If market access was improved, that could be a major step forward.

Some of my hard-pressed constituents might ask why we should continue to help those abroad, when we have enough problems of our own on our doorstep. I argue that we have enough resources to do both, and that it is in all our interests to do so, and not only for humanitarian purposes, although that on its own should be enough—if someone is starving and we have enough food, we should share it.

Even in my constituency, one does not have to look far to see an abundance of wealth. Yesterday, an analysis was published of where millionaires live in the United Kingdom, and second on the list of their neighbourhoods was Blackhall in my constituency. Five minutes away from there are some of the most deprived areas of Edinburgh—Pilton and Muirhouse.

Inequality is worldwide, and it is sad to say that it is sometimes seen at its worst in Africa, with individuals amassing vast sums while others go hungry. We must keep the spotlight on southern Africa and hope that the determination shown to deal with problems in other regions does not, once again, leave Africa out in the cold.

Photo of Mr Iain Luke Mr Iain Luke Labour, Dundee East 3:54 pm, 6th February 2003

I am glad to be able to contribute to this important debate on the famine conditions in southern Africa. I have taken part in debates in my constituency, and was invited by NGOs in Scotland to participate in a televised debate on the issues that have been raised in the debate today. I have also had the chance to catch the Speaker's eye and ask the Secretary of State for International Development several questions in the House on the matter.

I have a great interest in this issue and I am glad to have had a chance to read through the evidence that the International Development Committee took over the Christmas period and before, in November and December, which highlighted many of the issues that were raised in the excellent speeches of the Minister, Mr. Key, my hon. Friend Tony Worthington and John Barrett. They all made relevant points. Just to see the depth of analysis has been worth while. We must now move on from all that investigatory work to find a solution, not only to the short-term famine that people are facing in southern Africa, but to the long-term risk of famine throughout that continent.

Many hon. Members could emulate to good effect my friend the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West, who undertook to restrict his diet to the food in a Red Cross parcel for a period of time. Maybe he and I could get together and table an early-day motion along those lines to encourage other hon. Members to follow suit. I do not hold out great hopes of that, but it would be another way of drawing attention to the fact that people throughout the world have to live on significantly lower levels of calories than we do in this rich country.

I was brought up in a Church that put great faith in missionary work. I was enthralled as a child to hear the stories of the lives of the great Scottish missionaries of that Church, such as David Livingstone, who virtually single-handedly opened up vast tracts of the interior of Africa. Mary Slessor, Aberdeen born but Dundee bred, was known as the great white mother of what is now modern-day Nigeria. They and others like them were spurred on by the belief that it was their role to bring the benefits of western civilisation and the teachings of Jesus Christ and the Gospels to the natives who came under their care. Africa as a continent has therefore always had a special interest for me. I welcome the recent setting up of an all-party group on Africa to allow for a focus on the many issues and troubles that beset that continent.

The Africa of the 19th century is to me a vast and exciting place, as described in such stories—a continent of lush, green vegetation and unlimited and bountiful savannah teeming with millions of wild animals. Although it was often described as "dark", it had a romance and exotic appeal that captured my imagination, and excited the thoughts and senses of many like me. Only recently, a well attended play staged at Dundee repertory theatre called "Mill Lavies" featured a poem by a local songwriter, Mike Marra. The play was about the escapism and thoughts of the jute workers in Dundee. The poem was called "If Dundee was Africa", and read:

"If Dundee was Africa . . .

I'd wheel my wheelbarrow up Kilimanjaro.

What a bra sight there would be.

Aw they icebergs in Taiport when it's bilin in Dundee."

"Bilin" is the word for boiling hot. The hope of escaping from the cold confines of a jute mill to the warm, teeming lands of Africa was certainly at the forefront of some of my fellow citizens' minds, probably during winter times.

Modern Africa has a different image from that of the glamorous 19th-century Africa. Its image is a montage of conflict, poverty, mass suffering from AIDS and dictators, brutal tribal conflicts and genocide, natural disasters, and a myriad of human tragedies, often without hope and frequently with minimal western interest and assistance. As has been said, only when the television cameras capture the problems do such things receive any interest in this country.

By contemplating the swathe of problems encountered there, it should be obvious to all that we in the UK are lucky—indeed, privileged—to have been born in an advanced, affluent, industrial, western-style society, where the basic needs and wants of even the least fortunate are provided through a modern and comprehensive welfare state, without recourse to the Red Cross parcels mentioned earlier. The famines and the disastrous impacts are for us just a distant flicker on our collective consciousness—a phenomenon that has been dispatched, luckily enough, to the pages of our nation's history books.

However, for many of our fellow inhabitants of this beautiful and bountiful planet, famine is an ever-present threat and an everyday backdrop to their lives and their families' well-being. Nowhere is the curse of famine such an ever-present reality than the continent of Africa. Its teeming masses still contend with the basic, daily mechanistic function of grubbing around, begging and struggling for the food necessary to keep body and soul together and to continue to cling to life, however simple and basic that may be.

I recommend to anyone who wants to taste the atmosphere of such an existence Ben Okri's Booker prize-wining novel "The Famished Road". It is a moving human testimony to life in Africa today. My hon. Friend the Member for Clydebank and Milngavie referred to the nature of politics in Africa, and that book gives a real taste of the corruption, the wheeling and dealing and the issues that affect politics locally in rural and urban situations in African countries. It is well worth reading to find out at first hand, through the genius of the author, the problems and the blights that have scarred modern-day Africa in the post-colonial era of African history.

No blight has been so fearful and so collectively borne than famine, which has flared and flickered throughout the continent. It is brought about by a mixture of climatic features; the poor feudal, indeed, prehistoric husbandry and agricultural systems; agricultural mismanagement; and gross governmental inefficiency and corruption. Famine is a movable infamy that has migrated progressively southwards over the past three decades. However, the hon. Member for Salisbury made the point well that we should not be distracted from the fact that, although we are currently focusing on the famine in southern Africa, it could flare up anywhere on the continent. We must keep our minds focused throughout the continent, rather than on specific regions.

Britain, as the pre-eminent imperial power, played such a significant role in the opening of the continent. Our jingoist forebears boasted that they could travel from Cairo in the north to Cape Town in the south without ever leaving the protective shadow cast by the folds of the Union flag. It is therefore right, in the post-colonial era, to discuss an issue that affects many ex-British colonies. I hope that out of the debate will come an agenda whereby we do all that we can to remove from Africa the continuing prospect of famine and to ensure that the aid flowing from this country and our G8 and United Nations partners continues to provide sustenance—the means needed for survival by millions who struggle daily with famine.

It is also right to ask questions. As was asked earlier, why have countries such as Zimbabwe and Malawi, in an area that was once described as a bread-basket and which was self-sufficient in the food required to support its indigenous populations, descended into such perilous conditions? I am talking about a situation in which the spectre of Thomas Malthus and his 18th century theories of population control still hold good and stalk the African landscape.

The journalist Jeremy Laurance, in his article in The Independent on 8 July 2002, reviewed the famine in Malawi, one of the countries in the area that is suffering the most. It is worth posing again the question that he asked: Malawi should be a land of plenty, so why do 3 million people of the 20 million estimated—at that time—to be at risk continue to face the threat of starvation? The truth, as with much of the rest of the area, is that it is a puzzle—a complex mixture of drought, pestilence, war, corruption and mismanagement.

The only relief in the debate, as I found in reading up for it, is the fact that last year's estimates have been revised. At one stage, we were talking about more than 20 million people under threat. The article that I mentioned referred to the 20 million people identified by the non-governmental organisations as under threat. It is therefore good that we are now talking about 14 million people. That is still an enormous figure, but at least it shows that some of the efforts that have been made since the alarm went off have made a difference—they have moved some of those who were under threat out from under it.

The reasons why Zimbabwe and Malawi are in such a situation have been well recited. However, it is an inescapable fact—I must congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Clydebank and Milngavie on raising the HIV/AIDS crisis—that were it not for the AIDS crisis, the food crisis would not be as great. Many of the NGOs with which I have been working and whose reports I have read readily identify HIV/AIDS as the root cause of the food crisis affecting southern Africa. That point was made in the reports of the International Development Committee. Indeed, in a press release in December 2002, Oxfam said:

"only a concerted, long-term response will break the vicious cycle of disease and hunger . . . HIV/AIDS is killing the very generation that should be working in the fields to produce food—and the health workers and civil servants who should be responding to the crisis."

There was reference to the need for better and bigger health education programmes, yet the people who should be delivering those programmes are as much under threat as those who are trying to produce food. It will take a greater effort by western countries. I was delighted to hear from my hon. Friend that the American contribution was $15 billion. I was however saddened to hear that the Secretary of State answered a question on Thursday 23 January by saying that the United Nations co-ordinator of funds to counter AIDS did not believe that that sum was enough to tackle the crisis. Unless that crisis is dealt with, unless we can prevent the vast number of deaths that have left so many grandparents and orphans struggling to cope on their own, there will be no progress.

Oxfam estimated in its press release that in Zimbabwe, Malawi and Zambia—the countries suffering most—3 million AIDS orphans have been left to fend for themselves, to be cared for by extended families or to be fed by charitable organisations. It is also significant that of the 13 million or 14 million people facing starvation, 6 million of them, according to Oxfam's figures, are in Zimbabwe. Food shortages have been caused by price controls, a hugely chaotic fast-track land reform that has reduced the number of farms able to contribute to food production by two thirds, and the ruinous economic mismanagement imposed on Zimbabwe by Mugabe and his regime. A country that should be producing food surpluses has been brought low by the hare-brained destructive policies of a President whose grasp on reality is rapidly receding.

It is a real shame that the last vestiges of what was seen as a model of democratic government is being given a last-gasp shot of credibility by the staging of the world cricket competition. It is time for the England cricket team and its managers to take a positive decision not to participate in such an event, no matter what the cost. It is for us politicians to reconsider what more we can do to ensure a radical change of policy by Mr. Mugabe and his regime or to discuss with our allies to see how best we can encourage a peaceful and democratic change in the Government of Zimbabwe. We must work with the French to ensure that they know how ludicrous their policies towards Mugabe's regime are—policies that can only lead to more deaths.

We must also ensure that our polices on aid and on democratic change are geared towards banishing famine from southern Africa—indeed, from the whole of Africa—for ever. That is why the positive involvement in and endorsement of the NEPAD initiative by the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for International Development is welcome. We have heard about Governments not being able to pull strategies together. For the first time we are seeing the formulation of a positive agenda for Africa. At the heart of that agenda we should rightly seek the resolution of conflict and the encouragement whenever and wherever possible of good or at least better governance.

The key to ensuring the success of such an agenda is to allow the responsible African countries a greater and more influential say in how the destinies of the continent are shaped. One of the most important and innovative aspects of the NEPAD initiative is the creation of mechanisms that allow for peer review, the measuring and monitoring of progress and the encouragement of better standards of political and economic governance. Hopefully, those frameworks of partnership and mutual accountability will remove the regional policy constraints between different countries that have inhibited Africa's growth and development.

As part of the efforts to reconstruct and create partnerships, the UK's policy on debt should not go unheralded. It is a positive contribution to the whole situation. There was criticism earlier from Opposition Members, but it is generally seen as positive. The Government's decision to increase bilateral aid to £1 billion by 2006 is to be applauded. Hopefully, that long-term commitment and the commitment to work through NEPAD will in turn remove the requirement regularly to rush emergency aid and assistance to areas of crisis. It is worth noting that DFID has played a major role, and that the UK's contribution to aid relief in that area of £137 million is, after that of the United States, the largest amount of assistance on offer.

I want to stress the objectives that lie at the heart of this activity and assistance, which are eloquently set out in "Food Security and the WTO" by Sophia Murphy, which was published by the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund in September 2001. It states that the overriding objective—whether in Africa in general or throughout the rest of the developing world—should be to ensure that countries at risk are able to produce enough food to nourish their own populations. Paul Chitnis, the chief executive of SCIAF, says in his introduction to the report:

"Few things unite human beings as our common need for food. At the same time, nothing so divides our world. 826 million people in the developing world are under-nourished and the UN estimates that the equivalent of 30,000 children under the age of five die every day from preventable causes, one of which is poor nutrition."

That is a grotesque death toll in a world that can feed itself.

In last year's report "Forgotten Farmers" by Kevan Bundell, Christian Aid points out that the populations of the world's poorest countries have grown so rapidly that the demand for food has far outstripped the ability of farmers in those countries to provide the food required. The leading countries and organisations have not created mechanisms that can allow for the easy transfer of agricultural resources from the developed to the undeveloped world at a cost that can be afforded by the undeveloped world. In the face of global protectionism and western self-interest, Christian Aid has been at the forefront of encouraging farmers in the developing world to adopt an approach that is more appropriate to their needs and circumstances. That policy offers a positive way forward to achieving secure, locally accessed, indigenous food supplies that help to sustain life and livelihoods in the developing world.

It should be stressed that DFID has done a great deal in countries such as Malawi to achieve the self-sufficiency goals set by the campaign. It has ensured the widespread distribution of starter packs of seeds and fertiliser to every farmer. I was glad that the Committee had a chance to see what was going on in Malawi last year. I hope that I will get the same chance at some stage.

Despite the initial success of the programmes implemented by DFID and the growth of a sizeable reserve, economic incompetence and endemic political corruption have allowed those reserves to be sold. In turn, that has contributed to the famine in Malawi, where 25 per cent. of under fives in rural areas are severely malnourished. That example of mismanagement—or worse, corruption—emphasises the need for good governance, which forms the major part of our commitment to NEPAD and the new planning structures for Africa.

The Government have done a great deal in the region to cope with the famine conditions flagged up by NGOs that have a presence there. As a result, there has been a reduction in the number of people whom NGOs feared might be affected by famine. The figure has dropped from 20 million to about 14 million—a drop of 6 million, which is a significant number. However, the number of people still under threat is enormous, and the figures clearly indicate the amount of work still to be undertaken. It is right that we should be trying to bring short-term relief by rushing relief programmes to those suffering from the current blight, but the Government, the UN, the G8 and, most importantly, the Governments of responsible African states should be seeking to find a long-term solution to the recurrent scourge and to ensure that the African continent can, just as we have, dispatch the pestilence of famine to the dustbin of history.

I am heartened by the Government's commitments over the past year to give more aid and do more for Africa. In drawing to a close, however, it is right to pay tribute to the work of the many UK charities and Church organisations, such as SCIAF, its English equivalent CAFOD, Christian Aid and Oxfam, to name just a few, which do so much good work in the region to tackle famine conditions and promote the vital health and education policies needed to counter the twin killers of AIDS and starvation.

I started my speech by referring to the work of the eminent 19th century Scottish missionaries, Livingstone and Slessor, and it is fitting that I should end by praising the work done by their counterparts in the 21st century: those organisations that I have just mentioned, which have the same zeal, Christian beliefs and vision to pursue our common aims. Hopefully, the end result will be the banishment of famine from the whole of Africa, not only from its southern regions.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Chair, International Development Committee, Chair, International Development Committee 4:17 pm, 6th February 2003

My mother is a Scot whose family originally came from Aberdeenshire, so I am conscious of the contribution that Scottish Presbyterianism made to the founding of the empire and of the commitment of many of its members to propagating the Gospel. One of the sadder sights that one sees in Malawi is a mission hospital, funded largely by NGOs such as Christian Aid, which is about an hour's drive from Lilongwe. It is a very effective hospital, but behind it is a graveyard full of the graves of early Scots, their babies and young children, who went to that part of the world and were cut down in a year because they did not appreciate the problem of malaria. It is good to see that many NGOs working in Malawi and throughout the world are still supported by churches in Scotland.

I have already apologised to the Minister and I apologise to other hon. Members for the fact that I will not be staying for the winding-up speeches. The burden that used to fall on Tony Worthington has today fallen on me, because a long time ago, I undertook to give a talk to the foreign services programme at Oxford university which trains young diplomats from overseas in the role of the Opposition. I must give a talk, which I hope the hon. Gentleman or his colleagues will be invited to give sooner rather than later, so I hope that hon. Members will excuse me if I cannot stay for the winding-up speeches.

It is good to speak in a debate in which at least three colleagues from the International Development Committee are taking part. I agree with John Barrett that one should give credit where it is due. It is fair to say that wherever we have been in Africa this year, Governments, non-governmental organisations and others have given credit for the work of the Department for International Development. DFID officials have often been able to respond speedily to immediate concerns. A good example is the way in which the Department galvanised the World Food Programme and other agencies by rehabilitating the rail link in Malawi and so improving logistics.

The debate is also welcome because, all too often, media and political attention moves from subject to subject. A couple of months ago, it was southern Africa, then it was Afghanistan and now Iraq is obscuring everything else. However, the issue that we are debating this afternoon is enormously important. The Select Committee, of which I am fortunate to be Chairman, will shortly publish a report on our findings drawn from our work on the food crisis in southern Africa. The papers and the evidence that we took are tagged to today's debate. I hope that hon. Members will have a chance to read some of those documents.

I sometimes think that the figures are so enormous that they are difficult for us to grasp. I shall share with hon. Members three quick glimpses of experiences that I had in Africa this year which, in their different ways, sum up something of the tragedy and the difficulties that we confront. On an afternoon in September, I went for a walk in the Simian mountains in Ethiopia and found myself on a hill looking down on a farmer who was trying to make a living. He had two oxen and a yoke, and he was ploughing a field under a blazing sun on a hill with a 45-degree incline which was strewn with the hardest of boulders. That was the only way in which he could earn a living, as other land in the village had become so depleted that, without access to fertilisers and nutrients, the villagers were constantly being forced out to the edge of the village.

There is an underlying issue that we will all have to address: in Ethiopia and, I suspect, in other countries, the number of food-insecure people increases even in years when there is no drought, because when there is a drought, people sell off their assets—cattle and any other possessions—so that they are almost unable to recover in years with no drought. We are faced with the dilemma of not wanting to over-dramatise what is happening but not wanting to be complacent about it either.

I was struck by the informal evidence that James Morris of the World Food Programme gave to the Select Committee. He shared with us his concern that the numbers of food-insecure people in the horn and in southern Africa were reaching such a level that he was no longer confident that he could raise the money to buy the necessary food for them, and even if he could raise that money, he was no longer confident that the food pipeline could manage to distribute it. I noted with interest the Secretary of State's candid remarks in her evidence on this topic to the Select Committee last week. She told us:

"I am really worried that we are getting to a point where the capacity of the international system to deal with the crises that we have got in the world is being stretched to the level where I do not know whether it will carry on functioning."

We must all share that concern.

My second experience was at a feeding station in Malawi, run by a non-governmental organisation supported by Christian Aid. It was about four times the size of the Chamber. Mothers with young babes in arms were patiently waiting to receive food supplements. A young child, who could only have been 14, came to the head of the queue with her two younger siblings, aged six and five, and they wanted something to eat. She was the head of her household. Her parents had died and she was one of the many orphans in Malawi, a country with a population of 11 million, of whom more than 1 million are orphans.

Later that day, I went to a village. There are now ad hoc orphanages growing up all over the country. The person running the one that I visited invited me to speak to the orphans, who ranged in age from about 18 down to three. I did not know what to say, and I found myself telling them the story of the three little pigs—Malawi has many brick houses. I could think of no other way in which to engage them. I was struck by a 16-year-old girl who asked, "Who will now provide for my education? Without any money for education I shall get into a cycle in which the only way for me to have protection is to marry, to have children and not to advance."

I wondered who on earth would look after those huge numbers of orphans. There did not seem to be any policy of registration. In many villages, grandmothers are looking after the children, but many of them will die before the children become teenagers. We have to face that issue. I agree with the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie that the scope of governance in Malawi is pitifully small. Outside Lilongwe, there was no sense of the Government's having any reach, and within Lilongwe the only thing that people were concerned about was whether the Government had a third term.

The likelihood of people looking after large numbers of orphans seemed small. We have heard a lot about the link between HIV/AIDS and food shortages, which interplay with each other, and we have to address both catastrophes simultaneously. It is important to recognise the scale of the underlying problem. Without wishing to dramatise the issue, there is now a general recognition that, as the Secretary of State candidly acknowledged to the Select Committee, we are going to the limits of what organisations such as the World Food Programme can do.

We must think about how we enable countries such as Malawi and Ethiopia better to feed themselves. Part of the problem is poor governance, but it varies from country to country. Prime Minister Meles, who will give evidence to the Select Committee shortly, has done an enormous amount in Ethiopia, which has made great progress in governance. Other countries, such as Zimbabwe, have suffered. As has been said, President Mugabe has done a lot that has been extremely damaging. I was interested in the comments that President Mbeki made immediately after his press conference with the Prime Minister.

Last week, I was fortunate to be in Sierra Leone and I met President Kabbah, who happens to have trained here in law. He is a barrister who, at one stage, was a member of my chambers. I was interested to hear that he said candidly that the problem is seen in Africa as a legacy of colonialism. We see it as land being confiscated from farmers who have worked it up over a number of years. It was striking that somebody as reasonable and as moderate as President Kabbah should signal that for many African leaders it is seen as a key issue of land. There is still—it may seem unreasonable from our perspective—lingering support for what they see as a concern about sorting out a post-colonial issue. We must be sensitive to that. Shouting at South Africa for not doing enough will not necessarily solve the problem, although South Africans sometimes get confused between support for Zimbabwe and support for Mugabe, which are not necessarily the same thing.

Of course we must address the issues of governance and of HIV/AIDS, but we must accept that there are no simple answers. One of the problems of media attention suddenly focusing on an issue such as this is the belief that if only we did more of X or Y, everything would resolve itself.

I commend to hon. Members the evidence given to the Select Committee by academics from Wye college and agricultural experts from Oxfam. The witnesses made three points, the first of which was the complexity of risk in Africa. Farmers there take a much greater risk than those elsewhere. The second was the role of the state and liberalisation, which is a much more complicated matter.

My hon. Friend Mr. Key and I are natural one-nation Conservatives and we would always take the view that the state should do only what it absolutely has to. However, it seems from the objective evidence that we heard that such issues are much more complex in countries where the liberalisation of organisations such as state marketing departments has been of a kind, and at a pace, that has left many poor farmers bereft of support. The debate about seeds and fertilisers in Malawi, and about who encourages farmers, is extremely complex. It is not simply that DFID should have done more to provide seed packs, fertilisers and so on; we must look at the role of the state and of the organisations supporting individuals.

The witnesses' third point concerned the question why this issue is so difficult in Africa when parts of Asia have seen the best of the green revolution, and China and other countries are becoming much more self-sufficient in foodstuffs. Dr. Dorward of Wye college said that issues other than governance are involved; for example, climate, access to irrigation, population density, health problems and access to markets and to the sea. There are many interlocking issues.

It is crucial to continue to press the Government on these matters. There are no easy answers, and the UN agencies, the UK Government and the NGOs are doing their best to deal with a serious humanitarian crisis, which, in Zimbabwe and in the wider region, has not been helped by the Government of Zimbabwe. We still have to get to grips with the nature and scale of the crucial underlying problems. For example, how do we enable more farmers in Africa to grow and buy food for themselves so that they can be self-sufficient and not dependent on food aid? What can we do to tackle not just the immediate impact of HIV/AIDS but its longer-term consequences, when the families of people who are suffering from the disease are unable to look after them?

We must be sensitive about addressing some of the complex issues relating to agriculture in Africa. No one would suggest that there are simple answers, and that if we tick the right boxes or follow the right theorem all will be well; these issues will take a long time to resolve. However, I hope that the House will continue to take the closest possible interest in these matters, notwithstanding what is happening elsewhere in the world, because from a humanitarian point of view, if we are not advocates for the needs of people and their children in Africa, who will be?

Photo of Mr Tony Colman Mr Tony Colman Labour, Putney 4:34 pm, 6th February 2003

It is a privilege to follow so many of my colleagues who have spoken with such authority. I do not intend to repeat what they said, but I agree with Mr. Key about the need to deal with the GM foods debate, with my hon. Friend Tony Worthington about the need to develop good governance, and with John Barrett that the New Partnership for Africa's Development is the way in which that could be achieved. I also agree with my hon. Friend Mr. Luke that agricultural mismanagement is the source of many of Africa's problems. Other areas were, of course, mentioned by hon. Members, but I wish to associate myself with those issues in particular.

I am pleased that Tony Baldry, the Chairman of the International Development Committee, on which I am proud to serve, has passed on to us the view of President Kabbah about land reform being an issue that is left over from the colonial era. I am proud of the work that I did in Kenya from 1964 to 1966, and it is amazing that the issue of land reform has been left to fester for so long since then. That does not excuse what is currently being done in Zimbabwe, but the world should have addressed the issue long ago.

I was unable to take part in the International Development Committee's visit to Malawi because of constituency duties, but in August, on my way to the world summit for sustainable development, to which I was a delegate from the Committee and the House, I was able to visit Zambia. My hosts were Dr. Guy Scott and his wife. I pay tribute to them for enabling me to meet a number of NGOs and representatives of the World Food Programme. I also pay tribute to the work done by the British high commissioner and the representatives of the Department for International Development to ensure that I understood fully the range of problems affecting that country. I had long discussions with the Minister of Agriculture there, who was concerned that we should not give up on Zambia. I assured him that we would not do so.

I made a second visit to Zambia in October with World Vision—the visit is noted in the Register of Members' Interests—to examine the issue of HIV/AIDS. I spent a memorable three days with the deputy Health Minister at the Chirundu stop—the lorry stop between Zambia and Zimbabwe. It is a hell-hole of about 1,000 vehicles waiting to cross the border. The stop is served by increasingly younger sex workers who are seeking cash to provide a living for their families.

I pay tribute to the work that World Vision is doing there and elsewhere in Africa to deal with the way in which truck drivers contribute to the spread of HIV/AIDS across southern Africa. The trucks and their drivers are needed, but it is crucial that the health aspects and the impact that they can have on the food crisis in southern Africa are addressed.

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

On resuming—

Photo of Mr Tony Colman Mr Tony Colman Labour, Putney

Travelling to Zambia on the excellent Kenya Airways, I flew in and out of Malawi and over the vast sheet of water that, as other hon. Members have said, covers some 20 per cent. of Malawi and could provide fresh water for irrigation. Flying in and out of Zimbabwe on the way to Zambia, I saw the dammed areas that are full of water and the potential that exists for irrigation. Issues of agricultural mismanagement come to mind in both those countries, but I have four points to make. They come from the Zambian visit, as I was unable to visit Malawi.

First, I believe that southern Africa, and Africa in general, could become the bread basket of the world and feed itself in the coming years. As my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East said, it is a puzzle, but there are ways forward. We need to return to the situation that I left in the 1960s, when I worked for the United Africa Company. There was a massive investment in agricultural extension workers and many of the subsistence farmers, and there was increased working with the various agricultural and veterinary colleges. Farming was seen as a premier industry that should be backed and have first call on the budgets of many of the countries of southern Africa. That starting point from the 1960s needs to be carried through to the 2000s. Some may say that those were colonial days, but Africanisation and empowerment ensured in Kenya that there was a transfer from ownership by European farmers to, in that case, Kikuyu farmers. An impressive productivity gain of about a hundredfold was recorded, and it is important to see how change can come. It is not impossible for Africa to become the bread basket of the world.

To kick-start that process, there needs to be strong support for commercial farming and farming for a surplus. The key role of DFID is in sustainable livelihoods and dealing with the poorest people in the poorest countries, and I do not want to change that, but benefiting commercial farmers will also benefit the poorest. Other hon. Members have talked about the need to build roads, and when the International Development Committee visited Ghana, we saw the tremendous advantages that were emerging for surplus farmers—those supplying local markets—through the 58 bridges that DFID had financed. I notice that, in opening the debate, the Minister focused on the need for functioning local markets, which is a starting point in developing food security. Local farmers must feel that it is worth planting a bit more because they can sell it along the road in the nearest market or large town, rather than feeling that they need produce only for their immediate family.

Another aspect of commercial farming is the external focus, and I was pleased that when I asked whether the UK supermarket chains should continue to purchase food from southern African countries that are in food crisis, all the NGOs that gave evidence to us said yes. I added the caveat in my question that it should be done within the ethical trading initiative, to ensure that benefit is felt by all parts of the supply chain from the village to our local supermarket shelf. Countries such as Zambia and Zimbabwe should feel the benefits of having the skills of agricultural input and training that are needed to supply Tesco or Sainsbury's—to choose two UK supermarkets at random.

I checked carefully to see that none of the green beans coming from Zimbabwe came from farms that had been seized illegally by the Mugabe regime. None did, and although the supply came from one such farm for one week, the contract was terminated. It is important that people know that a close watch is kept down the supply chain and the fact that the NGOs on the spot are pleased with how the ethical trading initiative, backed by the major supermarkets in this country, is working in the supply of vegetables and horticulture to the UK, the rest of Europe and the world. It is providing the tremendous fillip that is needed to put agriculture on a sound basis.

I pay tribute to the work that has been done by the Southern African Development Community and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa, the trade organisation that works for Africa from Egypt down to, but not including, South Africa. COMESA has done a great deal to ensure that vegetables, flowers and many other products get to Europe and north America, and it has been negotiating with the Agriculture Secretary in Washington DC over the past two months to get access to north America for agricultural produce from southern Africa.

Thirdly, it is important that if there is a food crisis, the relief food that is purchased by, say, the WFP is bought locally in-country or in-region, if at all possible, and the Minister mentioned that. Certainly, James Morris, whom we interviewed, and Judith Lewis of the WFP—I pay tribute to both of them—would prefer to buy locally, but they do not have the cash, because not enough of their means is in money. The residuum is in food, and largely comes from north America.

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

On resuming—

Photo of Mr Tony Colman Mr Tony Colman Labour, Putney

As I was saying, the key thing is that, if there is a food crisis, relief food should be bought locally. It was interesting to listen to members of the delegation from the Inter-Parliamentary Union branch here, which visited Ethiopia recently. Before hitting the drought areas, they drove through places with good crops and significant harvests. It would be much more advantageous for Ethiopia if the WFP purchased from areas of Ethiopia that have crops. Apparently, there was an excellent yield in Ethiopia the year before last, but hardly anyone harvested it—James Morris himself confirmed that. The problem arose because Ethiopia received the same amount of food aid that it would have received during a food crisis. It is important to work out a way forward. I visited Burkina Faso two years ago with directors of the World Food Programme for Burkina Faso. I said that there was no food crisis there, and they agreed, but they had contracts to deliver food aid there.

One of the good outcomes of the price in Zambia of genetically modified food was the search for food locally, in Tanzania—the hon. Member for Salisbury referred to that—and from elsewhere in southern Africa to supply Zambia. I understand that that was how Zimbabwe survived until recent weeks, when it had to call on significant WFP supplies. We must ensure that when there is a food crisis, food comes from other parts of the affected countries or from near countries.

My last point is perhaps the most important: there is a need for accurate data. We have all seen the recent correspondence in The Times. The original article by Michael Dynes appeared on 22 January and there was a response by Judith Lewis. A letter was published on Monday from Guy Scott, Zambia's Minister of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries between 1991 and 1993, and the host of my first visit there. I e-mailed him after reading his letter, and I have received, in the past 24 hours, a full report on food insecurity, HIV/AIDS and children, which he submitted with Charlotte Harland, his wife, to Family Health International on 21 January 2003. With his permission, I shall pass the report to the Secretary of State, the Minister, the WFP and the Food and Agriculture Organisation, because it is important that we learn the lessons of the situation in Zambia.

The e-mail says:

"We are complaining of hype, of exaggeration, of sensationalism by the UN agencies. Specifically we are complaining of the way a moderate food shortage"— that refers to Zambia, and nowhere else—

"has been hyped into a famine of (one might easily be led to believe) biblical proportions . . . While we have a profoundly serious HIV/Aids problem in this country, and while we have been in the forefront of demands for practical action against it, we object to the way the virus is being hyped by some UN people as the basic cause of the alleged 'famine'. There are many problems with Zambian agriculture but a shortage of available labour resulting from Aids is not one of them (not yet anyway)."

The e-mail continues to address the link between the famine and AIDS by saying:

"Yes, there is a new theory about Southern Africa which goes by the name of 'New Variant Famine'. It holds that Aids is putting so much pressure, directly and indirectly, on the rural labour supply that famines arise more easily and recovery from them is difficult. We do not know what the situation is elsewhere in the region, but we doubt that Aids is a factor in our intermittent food shortages. The rate of HIV infection in Zambia's truly rural areas is not sufficiently high for 'New Variant' to occur. Yes, there are orphans coming in from the urban areas and there are adults coming home from town to die . . . and this places demands on rural households, in terms of cash and labour. But the idea that there is virtually no labour available—" in Zambia, that is—

"for crop production is patently untrue. The surest evidence of this is the fact that the area planted to cotton, a very labour consuming crop, has been climbing by between 10 and 15 per cent. every year since 1992 and is continuing to climb."

Guy Scott goes on to criticise the World Bank, which apparently is not listening locally and has published an advertisement inviting tenders for the distribution of food security packs containing seed and fertiliser. The date of the advertisement was 4 January and the closing date for tender was 15 January. He says:

"Perhaps they are assuming that this season's weather will be imperfect, and that people will need early delivery of food security packs for planting next November! And don't forget, dear readers, that this money is a loan to Zambia. This crazy stuff increases our national debt."

His last point is that he believes that there is a tendency to overplay humanitarian crises and that is misguided:

"We appreciate that it is not always easy to excite the concern, and activate the pocketbooks, of Western governments or of old ladies in Cheltenham, but hype carries severe dangers. The greatest, obviously, is that people will come to recognise it as hype and will never believe you again, even about a true calamity. You should not cry wolf, as we say in Zambia."

He is a forthright man, and one needs to hear his words in those terms.

That is a voice from the south saying that we should make our enumeration and our checking better next time round. Guy Scott was one of those who sat under the tree with me for hour after hour when we met last August, worried about the millions he thought would die in Zambia. His view is important. The whole text is much longer, and I have passed it to the Minister.

On 4 February, I was reading the Morning Star and I saw:

"Zambia will offer thousands of hectares of free farmland in a bid to end persistent food shortages and encourage agricultural exports . . . Only 2.7 million hectares of Zambia's 18.2 million hectares of arable land is utilised. With five rivers and a high water table, Zambia is a prime target for irrigation farming."

I do not say that anything that has been said by anybody else is wrong, but it is interesting that a voice from the south wants us to think again. The fact that he wanted me to make those points in the debate makes it important to listen to them.

Where do we go from here? I was honoured to attend the world food summit last June, and it is interesting that ours is the one embassy that reports to its country's international development Ministry. All the others report to agriculture. The Food and Agriculture Organisation's ambassador reports to DFID for pay and rations, but all the others do not—they go to agricultural ministries. Ours was the one country pushing the concept not just of food security, but of developing agriculture. We must remember that we have two White Papers on the go at the same time. They are different but interlinked, so if we go for food security, we should not forget about developing agriculture.

We have a global compact with the United Nations, which seems to deal with manufactured goods. Can we please have a global compact with the UN for food importers? It would be easy to run, and I can see the Secretary of State hosting it within the next month or so. We really could create a situation that allowed the matter to go right to the top of the agenda.

Finally, my father was a member of the National Union of Agricultural Workers. It is an honourable role for people in developing countries as well as developed ones to be agricultural workers in a commercial establishment, so long as they receive a good cash wage—my father did not, but we now have the minimum wage under a Labour Government. It is important to recognise that commercial farming can take families out of poverty in developing countries, rather than leaving them scratching a living on land that might be unusable for sustainable agriculture.

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key Conservative, Salisbury 5:19 pm, 6th February 2003

With the leave of the House, may I say that I have featured only twice in the Morning Star and I cannot claim to be a regular reader of it? On the first occasion, I was shown in a photograph at the head of an anti-racism march in Camden, in about 1978, when I was fighting Mr. Dobson for his seat, which he held. On the second occasion, I had penetrated the old headquarters of the African National Congress in Lusaka at the invitation of its representatives. I went through the steel doors at the end of a somewhat intimidating concrete-walled lane, the gates were flung open and a photographer popped out from behind a pillar and said that he was from the Morning Star. However, I digress—

Photo of Edward O'Hara Edward O'Hara Labour, Knowsley South

Order. I was beginning to wonder when we would be getting to the point.

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key Conservative, Salisbury

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. This has been an excellent debate, which has illustrated that Members of Parliament in Britain are engaged with the issues; it is important that people know that. Tony Worthington made an impassioned plea for better government and talked about the contribution made to the problem by human inadequacy.

Only a few weeks ago, I thought of the somewhat absurd situation in my constituency. If we measured the amount of assistance for development that is available in our constituencies against what is available in southern Africa, we would blush. My constituency is fortunate because it has the second lowest unemployment rate in the country, 0.3 per cent. One person unemployed is too many, but approximately 400 people are unemployed in my constituency out of a total of 103,000. In spite of that, and our hugely diverse and prosperous economy, it turns out that, in my county alone, there are about 249 economic specialists and advisers in seven organisations, ranging from the county council to Business Link, which advises businesses on how to become even more prosperous.

By contrast, I understand that, in Angola, one official is seconded from, I think, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, to negotiate 17 international treaties on behalf of that nation. That puts things into perspective, and I agree with what the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie said not only about that but about reproductive health issues. I would only add that I wonder how long it will be before the European Union aid programme is subverted by MEPs who oppose the inclusion of reproductive health care components in the EU budget.

Certain groups are very active on that issue; they are largely from the United States, which is opposed to those components of public spending. As the hon. Gentleman well knows, a delegation from our all-party group went to China. One of the members of the delegation was my hon. Friend Mr. Leigh. He was deeply sceptical before he went, but when he got back, he said that there was absolutely no evidence of the United Nations Family Planning Association engaging in any coercive action in China with regard to abortion or anything else. We must acknowledge that there are some unhelpful forces at work out there.

I very much enjoyed the speech of John Barrett. He was right to concentrate on issues such as the dumping of surpluses, market access and questions of trade. To inject a note of optimism, I point out that one thing that we could offer, but which we have not developed as fully as we might, is distance learning and use of the internet. I shall not mention my website, which Mr. Colman always teases me about. Not only are there educational benefits to be gained from the worldwide application of the internet; there are secondary benefits, because the internet promotes political stability and is a weapon against corrupt government. It improves transparency and is a weapon against despotism and tyranny because it enables people to know the truth. They do not have to huddle around a crystal set or a portable wireless; they can have the world at their fingertips if they are allowed access to the internet.

I was also very impressed by the speech of Mr. Luke, whose sense of history, mission and commitment shone through. That is very important. In the rough and tumble of this place we forget that there is massive commitment by communities in our constituencies the length and breadth of the country. It is often based on a Christian tradition but other faiths also have the tradition of duty to the rest of the world. I salute the hon. Gentleman.

My hon. Friend Tony Baldry also talked about the importance of education. Two Fridays ago I was in Shrewton, a little village on the edge of Salisbury plain. I visited, as I regularly do, the Church of England primary school where on Friday mornings they have an enrichment class for the senior children. The enlightened teacher who looks after them, Hilary Storer, had been a global teacher and done an exchange with a primary school in South Africa.

The school is building on that; it hopes to receive exchange teachers, and the children are engaged with those in the South African school. We had a very sophisticated discussion for an hour and 20 minutes about issues such as water, poverty, food, and government and democracy, all of which they are covering in their key stages now. That is a huge hope for the future. When I say that our country is engaged on the issue, I mean that it is engaged in the long term as well.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Putney on his stamina in sustaining the quality of his argument through our many Divisions. He rounded things up very nicely by ending with a reference to a real person, with a real point of view from southern Africa, who wants us to listen. This debate has been not just about lecturing, but about listening. I hope that the Minister will respond in the positive spirit in which we have contributed to the debate.

Photo of Sally Keeble Sally Keeble Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for International Development 5:29 pm, 6th February 2003

With the leave of the House, I shall respond to this informed and thoughtful debate. As I said in my opening remarks, I welcome the chance to set out the current position. I also said that I wanted to consider some strategic issues. I particularly welcome the fact that Members did not simply focus on the short term, but looked at the longer-term issues and made thoughtful, well argued points. I shall pick on three points that were highlighted and respond to them—before there is a vote in the House, I hope.

First, obviously the conditions for the poor people in southern Africa have been quite desperate over the past 12 months. A number of hon. Members talked movingly about that. Tony Baldry described what he saw and the people he spoke to in Ethiopia. There have obviously been widespread food shortages, increased disease and a great deal of uncertainty for many people about their very survival.

I take the point that my hon. Friend Mr. Colman made about HIV/AIDS. Clearly, poor nutrition has contributed to the rise in mortality rates for AIDS and other diseases. There is a complex syndrome there. Many people have had to take desperate measures to survive. Indeed, as many hon. Members have highlighted, the position has been made worse for many because of the poor governance and the politically motivated distortion of food distribution.

Secondly, the international community, with the UK playing a leading part, has responded effectively to the complex crisis, and we have learned profound lessons in the process. The UN has established a regional team, bringing all the relevant agencies together to provide the leadership that we look for in such crises.

The UK has made an important funding contribution to that and has also supported the co-ordination machinery. The British public can take real pride in the work that has been done on their behalf, although we must be careful not to become complacent as there are still serious, long-term challenges that those involved in development must face. One of them is Zimbabwe, where the situation is very bad and likely to get worse. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has frequently outlined her genuine concerns about what is happening there. The numbers in need of assistance are increasing, and its problems are caused not by climate, but by politics and by appalling economic mismanagement.

Thirdly, Members highlighted the fact that the crisis has not occurred in isolation. There have been droughts in the past and there will, sadly, be droughts in the future, but there is something different about this crisis, because southern Africa should be able to cope with variations in rainfall. That has not happened this time, and there are signs that food insecurity is a growing problem. HIV/AIDS is an important factor, as it is a cause of much of the hardship and the reason that the suffering is so severe.

Falling income adds to the problems of the region. Many Members mentioned the lack of alternatives to subsistence agriculture and the real difficulties in agriculture. Another worrying factor, which was raised by Mr. Key in particular, is that although food aid is necessary in the short term, it has long-term repercussions as it damages local markets and removes the incentives for local farmers.

The hon. Gentleman raised several other issues, among them water. The Department has played a substantial role in providing developing countries with a safe, clean water supply. He highlighted investment, and it is true that the sector-specific spending on water does not appear massive—£82 million to £91 million to £87 million now—but that does not include the budget support for water, which will be substantial. It is, however, difficult to disaggregate it from the support that we give to the budgets of such countries.

Much of our spending goes precisely into what the hon. Gentleman supports—education and water management, not infrastructure development, which is often done by other agencies. I have seen some work that our grant to WaterAid has enabled it to do in Bangladesh. An important part of that work was to establish an education programme to help people to manage their new water supply and to discuss water-related and health-related issues.

However, I take issue with the hon. Gentleman on one matter: deaths from water-borne diseases are not necessarily associated with water shortages. What happens to the water supply determines what happens to children's health. He also pointed out that many of the illnesses are preventable and that there is a real need to tackle that.

The hon. Gentleman also raised the issue of genetically modified food, which was a complicating factor in Zambia. We have been through the issues quite a few times. The international community was absolutely right to say that the decision had to be for the national Government, but the repercussions have been huge and it is extremely regrettable that some countries were not prepared to accept the milled food, as that would have dealt with the issues raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Putney.

One of the issues that has not been discussed before is that there was a problem in the Zambian scientists' report, which did not distinguish properly between the wider concerns posed by GM technology and the immediate question whether it would damage people if it were introduced to meet the food shortages. It seems that there was never a proper analysis and discussion of the different kinds of risk, and that they talked about environmental rather than health risks. I understand that it has been possible to source some food from non-GM products, but that has been a major problem.

The hon. Member for Salisbury also talked about what happens to the prices of food as a result of food aid. As I mentioned previously, we would certainly agree that that is a problem. It appears that there is now more awareness and concern in the international community about that unintended consequence of food aid and about the need to resolve it.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the International Monetary Fund and the price of wheat—there is no truth in the suggestion that has been made, and he and his hon. Friends have heard a rebuttal from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on several occasions. It is extremely damaging that that rumour has got about, because it has misled people about the nature of the wider debate, what is happening in Malawi and the role of the IMF. He then talked about debt relief and Zambia—

Photo of Sally Keeble Sally Keeble Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for International Development

I thought that the hon. Gentleman talked about debt. It is not true that the IMF is denying debt relief. The heavily indebted poor countries agreement for Zambia includes conditions on economic reform that the Zambian Government have yet to meet, but we hope that they will do so soon. As he knows, terms are attached to the conditions of aid or relief in relation to a number of measures, and the current situation relates to those.

The hon. Gentleman also mentioned Zimbabwe and asked what pressure is being put on Robert Mugabe. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that we have not had direct discussions about food aid, but when the executive director of the World Food Programme met Mugabe in Harare recently during a regional tour, he stressed the seriousness of the humanitarian crisis and the need for the Government to ensure that the food distribution is not biased. The WFP has put the case clearly.

My hon. Friend Tony Worthington set out clearly some big issues concerning development and, in particular, problems facing Africa, including governance, the need for transparency in payments, the massive problems relating to the lack of domestic investment and the fact that so much African capital is invested outside the continent. He highlighted the twin problems of the financial and political economies, which need massive restructuring. Sometimes, I think that the financial economy will be restructured long before the political. It seems that there are fewer levers for dealing with the political systems.

When considering all the difficulties of Africa, it is possible to miss areas of hope—for example, South Africa's management of the macro-economy and the role that it has played in terms of political leadership in southern Africa. South Africa has also played its part in respect of Mozambique, which has made considerable progress since liberation, and in respect of the glimmerings of a settlement and hope in Angola after nearly 30 years of the most desperate civil war. We need to consider the positives in Africa, as well as recognising its serious problems.

The hon. Member for Salisbury rightly highlighted the problems of reproductive health and the importance of ensuring that we have a sound international policy framework to deal with that issue. He also mentioned the pressures that could be imposed if we restrict options due to views on sex education, abortion services or family planning. I share his views on that, because if the countries concerned are to be able to overcome the profound difficulties involved with people dying of HIV/AIDS and the associated problems of infant and maternal mortality, they must have a full range of services at their disposal. They cannot be subject to limits set by people on the other side of the world and in very different circumstances.

The hon. Gentleman also raised the issue in respect of European Union spending. The EU picked up the tabs left by the United States when it cut off funding to the United Nations Family Planning Association. The amounts were substantial and the EU, where movement can be glacial, acted quickly. The views of the development Commissioner and the development directorate-general are extremely clear—they were most supportive to the UNFPA in taking forward its programme and they, too, believe that it is important for people to have a range of options.

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key Conservative, Salisbury

I am not casting aspersions on the Commission, as the Parliament is the problem. If it starts flexing its muscles in this area, there could be difficulties.

Photo of Sally Keeble Sally Keeble Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for International Development

I also recognise the problems that the hon. Gentleman describes, because although many MEPs have a big commitment to development issues and share our views, some do not agree with us and they met delegates from the United States recently to talk about the issue.

I have a feeling that the hon. Gentleman has more access to those MEPs than I do, so perhaps he could use his influence to persuade them on the subject. I am grateful to him for raising the matter, as it is important that people understand that lobbying and discussion go on in private. All that should be out in the open so that people can take part in the debate. I am sure that the vast majority of people in this country and in Europe agree with us on the matter.

John Barrett spoke a great deal about political will in relation to funding, and he is right. That is why the Government have increased the amount of money going into the developing world and why the Chancellor has made proposals for the international financing facility to provide upfront the volume of money needed to implement the millennium development goals.

However, many key issues that Members mentioned involve not just money, but will—in this country, the international community and the developing countries. Conflict has cost Africa 2 per cent. in growth, and issues such as trade, agricultural reform and HIV/AIDS, which is linked to behaviour change, are tackled by having the will to provide the right policies and a regulatory framework to make it possible to overcome the legacy of Africa's problems. That is why cross-party engagement and the engagement of this country and the international community are so important.

The hon. Gentleman also mentioned, at considerable length, the problems of Zimbabwe and the shock of that country being unable to feed itself. I have lived in southern Africa, and I find that almost impossible to believe. He pointed to the lack of a distribution system for drugs and other things, which is why the Department for International Development takes such a strong systems-based approach. There is no point in providing Africa with goods, be they medicine, food and so on, if there is no distribution system.

The hon. Gentleman and other Members mentioned the importance of market access. My hon. Friend Mr. Luke made a thoughtful and informed contribution, as he spent a great deal of time reading the evidence presented to the Select Committee to prepare for the debate. He welcomed the establishment of the all-party Africa group, as do I. It will provide a forum for discussing and advancing many issues that we have discussed.

My hon. Friend also highlighted the need to find long-term solutions, especially in Malawi and Zambia, to the problems faced by the agriculture sector. He spoke at length about the damage in Zimbabwe. One thing struck me as he was speaking about what is happening there: the sobering realisation of the impact of bad governance on a country.

For example, Uganda, the pearl of Africa, is only just starting to return to how it was before Idi Amin's regime. It missed out on an era of development, as did Angola, because of conflict. I have no doubt that the recovery from what is happening in Zimbabwe will also take a long time and cost the people of Zimbabwe dear. My hon. Friend's contribution emphasised the damage that one person or one regime can do to an economy and an entire people.

The hon. Member for Banbury obviously spoke from his enormous experience and knowledge, especially about things he saw in Ethiopia. He picked out particular themes. One was the problem caused by the change of family structures brought about by HIV/AIDS and the stripping out of the middle age band. Another was the problem of governance. He rightly said that we should be advocates for Africa and that the international community has a role to play.

My hon. Friend the Member for Putney also spoke with a great deal of knowledge, especially about his visit to see World Vision work at the truck stop between Zambia and Zimbabwe. The work being done there is an example of what is possible when care is put into finding out how HIV/AIDS is spread and what interventions are needed to prevent that. It shows how it is possible to get behaviour change from people, even when one might not expect it.

My hon. Friend spoke about the role of southern Africa as the bread basket of the world, which was emphasised by many Members, and stressed the importance of social responsibility in investment and development, the development of local markets and local sourcing of relief food supplies, which was also mentioned by several Members when we discussed the disastrous impact that food aid can have. Although it meets a short-term need, it destroys long-term gains.

My hon. Friend also stressed the need for accurate data. If he provides the document he mentioned, we will give it careful thought and give him a considered response. He is right about the need for accuracy. Clearly, there is a problem if famines are hyped, but the complexity of the difficulties that southern Africa faces means that, without a lot of international effort in examining other issues as well as providing food, the situation could have been even worse. I will ensure that he gets a considered response to his point.

Photo of Mr Tony Colman Mr Tony Colman Labour, Putney

Will the Minister also respond to my point about the supermarket chains continuing to buy from countries such as Zambia and Zimbabwe and helping those economies to develop their farming base, which is good for them in the long term?

Photo of Sally Keeble Sally Keeble Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for International Development

Yes, indeed. One of the interesting pieces of work undertaken by my Department is an examination of supermarket sourcing of food in Ethiopia as part of providing sustainable agriculture in that country. The Government will continue to work with the countries in the region, the UN, other donors and the agencies operating on the ground in the short term to ensure that food and other supplies continue to be delivered to those in need.

We very much welcome the efforts that have been made to prevent large-scale death in the region. Although we expect that operations can be scaled down in April in most places, Zimbabwe will continue to need massive amounts of aid. We need to consider the longer term, in which we will work with others to reverse the downward trend in food security in the region. That means improving agricultural techniques, as several Members said, as well as tackling HIV/AIDS, reforming Government policies and reviewing our systems for providing food aid.

Those issues are important in themselves, but they are also absolutely key to the international community's aims of achieving the millennium development goals by 2015 and reducing poverty, as most issues that we have talked about are poverty related. We must deal with them if we are to end the poverty from which so many people in Africa suffer, as they are some of the really big problems for the development community. Solving them is vital for the region and the rest of Africa.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at nine minutes to Six o'clock.