Humanitarian Crisis (Southern Africa)

– in Westminster Hall at 12:00 am on 26th June 2003.

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[Relevant documents: Humanitarian Crisis in Southern Africa—Third Report from the International Development Committee, Session 2002–03, HC 116, and the Government's response thereto, HC 690. The Eighth Report from the Foreign Affairs Committee, Session 2002–03, on Zimbabwe, HC 339.]

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

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Chair, International Development Committee, Chair, International Development Committee 2:30 pm, 26th June 2003

I am sure that we all welcome the opportunity to debate the Select Committee's report on the humanitarian crisis in southern Africa. I am also sure that all hon. Members, in their own way, will base their contributions on the impressions that they drew from their extensive inquiry, which lasted several months and comprised several visits to various countries in Africa. I am delighted to see that three Select Committee colleagues—the hon. Members for Clydebank and Milngavie (Tony Worthington), for Leeds, West (Mr. Battle) and for Edinburgh, West (John Barrett)—are present, and I am sure that they will add to what I have to say.

Usually, when a Select Committee publishes a report, it does not prove to be timeless. That is not the case with the southern Africa report, and many of the lessons from the 2002 humanitarian crisis still need to be learned. That is particularly true of the three central recommendations on dealing with the underlying causes of food shortages in southern Africa. They relate to the HIV/AIDS pandemic, to early-warning systems and the co-ordination of relief efforts, and to Zimbabwe's role in exacerbating the region's food insecurity.

Today's debate is one of the first opportunities to put the Select Committee report into the context of the events at the recent G8 summit in Evian, which was meant to be a summit of delivery for Africa. It would be more accurate to say that it was a discussion of what should have happened but did not. I appreciate that France put forward what has become known colloquially as the "Chirac plan" on EU subsidies. I am also aware that EU countries, and France, in particular, made further commitments, which will help Africa, to the UN global fund on HIV/AIDS.

Yet, that is where it stopped. Doubtless, grumbles will grow about the fact that African countries receive more attention from donor countries than other parts of the developing world. However, that is simply because Africa is in danger of becoming the ghetto of a globalised world, as Prime Minister Meles of Ethiopia said in evidence to the Select Committee. As paragraphs 17 and 18 of the report note, Africa is suffering an almost annual food shortage and is the only continent that is relentlessly moving backwards on the millennium development goals. That is in spite of the previous G8 summit at Kananaskis, which introduced an African action plan. Frustratingly, it is making little progress, despite the UN world summit on sustainable development, which the World Bank said should focus on Africa. That is why the Select Committee's conclusions on famine and disease are still salient.

Our report outlines the way in which food insecurity is identified as a major contributor to poverty. At the same time, poverty is a major contributor to food insecurity. We examined not a drought-induced famine but a chronic crisis, in which consecutive years of poor rainfall had exposed the region's underlying vulnerability, the declining viability of rural livelihoods and the impact of HIV/AIDS. In that context, I would highlight paragraph 157 of the report:

"Africa is missing the Millennium Development Goals partly because the donors are missing the 0.7 per cent. target. We once again urge the UK Government to make swift progress towards its target of providing 0.7 per cent. of GNI in aid, to set out a timetable for meeting this target, and to encourage other donors to do likewise."

The Select Committee's conclusion is nothing new. I suspect that the Treasury would have no trouble finding the funds for that level of aid as a proportion of gross national income if it received £1 each time Ministers were approached about the 0.7 per cent. It is worth noting that the Treasury and the Department for International Development offer an alternative in their response to the report, outlining how:

"The recent proposal . . . for an International Finance Facility is intended to allow a doubling of global ODA in the years to 2015. We are discussing this idea with key partners."

The Select Committee welcomes that initiative and, indeed, any initiative that might lever in further funds for development. Until the Treasury outlines further details, however, concerns will remain about where the international finance facility leaves the 0.7 per cent. pledge. Will it still be in place, will it be honoured or will it be sidelined? What will happen to overseas development aid after 2015? Members of the Select Committee who recently went to the World Bank found that there was a degree of scepticism among its members about whether the international finance facility would benefit development aid in the way that the Chancellor and others hoped it would. That is not because members of the World Bank do not think that the facility is well intentioned. Rather, they wonder how its mechanics will work after 2015 and whether it simply seeks to redirect money already in existence.

The Select Committee report highlights the urgent need to provide overseas assistance now to prevent the international community from facing a continual cycle of humanitarian crises and from "getting overstretched", to use the words of the former Secretary of State at DFID. Overstretch poses a serious challenge to the international community's ability and willingness to respond not only in southern Africa but, as the Select Committee noted throughout its report, in the horn of Africa. That is clearly important because the international community's willingness to respond will, by definition, depend on donors' assessment of the scale and the severity of the humanitarian crisis.

The Select Committee took evidence on food insecurity in southern Africa from representatives of the United Nations World Food Programme. They estimate that as many as 14 million people in southern Africa, and another 14 million in Ethiopia and the horn of Africa, are at risk of starvation. That means that nearly 30 million people are suffering almost silent starvation. I say silent because parts of the media recognise only intermittently the scale and severity of that humanitarian crisis. That is understandable at a time when overseas coverage in the broadsheets has been dealing almost exclusively with Iraq. When articles have appeared, however, some journalists have gone so far as to suggest that we are not dealing with anything like the Ethiopia of 1985. I was in Ethiopia in 1985, and I can see that film crews looking for tents full of skeletal children today in southern Africa would be disappointed. None the less, the situation that we face today is no less a holocaust of hunger, and just as many people are affected by food shortages.

Let me put the issue in context. Paragraph 58 of the conclusion to the Select Committee report states:

"Implementing these improvements to early warning systems in southern Africa will require a commitment of financial resources and technical expertise from the donor community, national governments and regional organisations, notably SADC. We urge DFID to support reasonable requests for financial and technical assistance."

In that respect, the media cannot be guaranteed to act as an early-warning system. An early-warning system has to be initiated by the Government. To underscore that point, it is worth considering the recent assertion by the Institute of Development Studies:

"The case of Malawi in 2002 reveals the limitations of this argument. The media is a late indicator of distress, not an early warning. Journalists and television crews arrived in Malawi like spectators at a car crash: to observe the tragedy, not to prevent it."

Africans starve, journalists come, food aid dribbles forth, the journalists go and Africans still starve. The media did not fully recognise the scale of Africa's plight. If they cannot be guaranteed to act as an early-warning system, can Governments? I am not convinced that that is the case.

Judith Lewis of the World Food Programme told the Select Committee in December 2002:

"From my latest assessments in the field for southern Africa, certainly the peak period for assistance will begin in December and it is about 14.4 million people. In Ethiopia, they have assessments in the field now, and the 14 million, I think, was the worst case looking at all the factors."

At the same time that she was telling the Committee that, a DFID Minister was telling the House:

"A total of 427,000 tonnes of food aid was requested to help meet the needs of some 5.9 million people who are at risk. That followed the generally good harvests of 2001."—[Hansard, 3 December 2002; Vol. 395, c. 885.]

There is a huge difference between 14 million and 6 million people.

DFID's response to the African crisis appeared to be based not on the requests of UN agencies in the field but on DFID's judgment of what the scale of the crisis should be. I do not accept that there was ever a cogent argument to suggest that the WFP had miscalculated the need by a factor of three. It is therefore striking how DFID's assessment of the number of Africans affected has changed. It was clear from its response to the Select Committee report that it accepted the scale and severity of the southern African humanitarian crisis. However, it published its response in May 2003, not six months earlier, when food insecurity was at its most acute.

Likewise, this week's written statement from the Minister of State, Department for International Development recognised that 14 million people were at risk from famine in southern Africa, but it was less reassuring about the extent of the Government's willingness to commit to intervening in the continuing humanitarian crisis. The Minister states:

"The international effort is continuing but adjustments are being made to take account of changing circumstances."

How do Ministers believe that circumstances are changing? How do they intend to adjust the Government's humanitarian response? Two indications of the Government's current thinking appear later in the Minister's statement, but both are somewhat disconcerting. First, he asserts:

"There is expected to be little need for food aid in Malawi and Zambia where food supplies are good. In Swaziland and Lesotho, harvests are again poor but the small populations and relatively good access mean that the problems there are manageable."

He goes on to say that the Government

"intend to review this level of funding in September and decide whether to allocate further funds to the crisis."—[Hansard, 23 June 2003; Vol. 407, c. 29–31WS.]

His assessment of food insecurity in much of southern Africa does not suggest that further funds will be committed to the relief effort. That would be a mistake.

I am again concerned that the Government are completely underestimating the extent of the continuing humanitarian crisis in southern Africa, as they did in December 2002. That is despite the fact that Ministers have acknowledged that 14 million people in southern Africa are still at risk.

In that respect, I contest the Government's assessment of Zambia in particular. Last month, the Zambian Government banned the distribution of food aid in all but the south of the country to stabilise grain prices. On 12 June, after meetings with other UN agencies, Government representatives, donor Governments and the Southern African Development Community, the UN World Food Programme and the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation issued reports in which they starkly warned:

"Southern Africa still requires substantial food aid despite the fact that more food was produced in the region than during last year's severe food crisis . . . Over the next year, the six southern African countries will need to import at least 2.6 million tonnes of food to meet their minimum food needs . . . In addition, for the region to resume agricultural growth, increased and carefully targeted support will be needed for the agriculture sectors of the six countries."

That figure of 2.6 million tonnes of food aid cannot be stressed enough. That is what is needed now. It was also what was needed in Ethiopia alone in 2002, according to the Ethiopian Disaster Prevention and Preparedness Committee. None of that suggests that neither the humanitarian crisis in southern Africa nor that in the horn of Africa is receding to such an extent that UK and EU aid can be reduced to a similar degree. That raises serious questions about the effectiveness of the Government's response to the regional early-warning systems. The WFP and FAO reports resulted from extensive meetings with all the stakeholders identified in paragraph 58 of the Select Committee report. Those stakeholders are meant to put the early-warning system in place.

What has been the Government's response to the Committee's conclusion? They said:

"We agree . . . DFID is collaborating with SADC in designing a regional food security programme in which understanding and measuring vulnerability is a major component. This will be key to understanding and quantifying vulnerability both during food crises and in making links to longer term poverty."

What progress has been made in developing that regional food security programme? Is the Government's current assessment of the humanitarian situation in southern Africa based on the programme's initial findings? It does not appear that SADC, UN agencies and others are speaking the same language as DFID.

I should highlight paragraphs 69 and 83 of the Select Committee's conclusions and recommendations. They make it clear that DFID and donor Governments cannot take a laissez-faire attitude to helping southern African countries develop their early-warning systems. Nor can they take such an attitude to developing co-ordination within and between regional institutions and members of the donor community on the issue of food insecurity in southern Africa. I refer particularly to the following observation in the report at paragraph 83:

"On the basis that we believe food crises are likely to recur in the region, we believe it is unrealistic and unfair to expect regional governments in the immediate future to implement alone effective co-ordination between multiple organisations and institutions."

I am not reassured that DFID has fully taken that on board. It may agree with the Select Committee's sentiments, but is it acting fully on the recommendations that will count? Paragraph 83 went further to recommend that DFID undertake an immediate assessment of its working relationships with regional stakeholders. The contrasting language of ministerial statements on 23 June and UN reports on 12 June would not suggest that much progress has been made on that matter.

I do not dispute that DFID is working multilaterally—I would not expect anything less from it—but that does not alter the fact that the UK is responding to a level of crisis that, in many people's view, is completely different from that the WFP is witnessing. My concern is that there is too little recognition of the scale of the crisis. Until it is recognised, Africa's suffering cannot be stemmed.

Judith Lewis of the WFP made it clear to us that her calculations account for all factors; perhaps DFID's do not. It was not only Judith Lewis from whom the Select Committee heard. James Morris, the executive director of the WFP, met members of the Select Committee towards the end of our inquiry. He observed that there was

"a disaster unfolding, with 14 million people in the Horn of Africa, and 14 million in Southern Africa needing food aid. This could not be sustained by the World Food Programme".

In a later press release, he asserted:

"These figures are large and dramatic and the international community should take notice . . . Unless we come to grips with this problem very soon, we face the real possibility of witnessing a devastating wave of human suffering and death as early as next year."

I am sure that someone such as James Morris would not have put those issues in such stark language unless he felt that he had to grip the attention of decision makers. Those assessments were made in October 2002, and nothing that I have heard from the Government since—more than six months later—seems adequately to tackle those concerns, which are still held by UN agencies such as the WFP.

It is worth noting that the European Union's food security adviser on the ground in Ethiopia is now saying that, unless something dramatic changes, all that will happen is that, year on year, there will be more food-insecure people in Ethiopia and other parts of Africa—predicting a potential 20 million starving people in Ethiopia alone.

The EU paper in which those comments are made rightly concludes:

"The main challenge is to reverse the 'one step forward, two steps back' tendency in the Food Security policy dialogue".

To do that we must be forceful in our message that crisis reinforces rather than supersedes the need for a long-term, structural approach to food security. For that reason, we need to give longer-term support to agricultural extension programmes—supporting farmer training by making available a broader range of agricultural technologies—to help with road building to enable farmers to get goods to markets more easily, to improve market information and to develop organisations that can advance credit to farmers.

Of course, many in southern Africa and the horn will look with interest at today's announcement about the supposed reform of the common agricultural policy. It will be difficult for them to find anything in the package of reforms that was announced in the early hours of this morning that will give them any reason to believe that large amounts of surplus EU commodities will not continue to be dumped in markets in Africa. It is difficult to see what in the reformed CAP of today is less trade distorting than the CAP of yesterday.

The eventual elimination of food insecurity and dependence on food aid must be an objective, but that should not disguise the poverty of so many countries in the world. To help them we need to tackle their poverty. When we met Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia, he made it clear that he considered it imperative that his Government should have a longer-term food security strategy. He recognises that Ethiopia cannot go on, year after year, depending on financial and food handouts from the donor community.

I am sure that DFID will likewise want to pursue a longer-term approach, so I am pleased that the Government's response to paragraph 124 of the report accepts that in the past some of the Department's policy making on southern Africa has been short-sighted. Perhaps its estimate of those at risk of starvation will fall because it believes that many people are dying of HIV/AIDS rather than of food shortages. If that is the case, I suggest that the two are interlocked: hunger helps to beget HIV/AIDS and HIV/AIDS helps to beget hunger.

The WFP believes that the first defence against HIV/AIDS is food and likewise wants to distribute food foremost to HIV sufferers. That is exactly what the report says in paragraph 47. It is also what UNICEF said in its donor update on 9 June, which stated that

"the outlook for children is particularly bleak . . . the impact of the humanitarian crisis on children in the context of the HIV/AIDS pandemic has also been reflected in the stagnation or deterioration of what was until recently a steady improvement in the rates of childhood malnutrition across the region".

I appreciate the proposals made by France and the UK at the EU summit, in response to the recent announcement by the US Government of a $15 billion HIV/AIDS fund, to contribute Euro1 billion in 2004 to the global health fund. That is good news. However, it is disappointing and sad that unanimity on taking that proposal forward could not be reached in the Council of Ministers at the recent EU summit at Thessaloniki. Clearly, the global health fund will require new donor support of about $7 billion over the next two years—roughly $3.5 billion a year—to meet the needs of the high-quality proposals that it is considering.

A reasonable financing framework is thus clear. Europe collectively should attempt to match the US initiative with our own contribution of $3 billion a year, while Japan and other donors should contribute at least $1 billion a year in addition, making a total of at least $7 billion a year during 2003 and 2004. Donor Governments should also make commitments to the global health fund—as the report urges in paragraph 153—instead of waiting in anticipation of the international financing facility, which at the moment remains an idea.

I should like to close my comments by referring to Zimbabwe. Clearly, DFID and I disagree to a certain extent about the food security threats in countries such as Malawi and Zambia. None the less, given the Minister's statement on Monday, it is evident that his Department is primarily concerned about the humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe. We would all agree on that. However, paragraph 34 of the report states:

"We believe that the UK Government is failing to communicate clearly the ways in which Zimbabwe is exacerbating food insecurity in southern Africa. DFID should explain clearly the culpability of Robert Mugabe's policies on land reform, and emphasise too that restrictions placed on the movement of genetically-modified maize have hampered the relief effort and contributed to the deteriorating situation across the region. If he continues with the same policies and approach, Zimbabwe will remain part of the problem rather than part of the solution to famine and food insecurity in southern Africa."

It is questionable whether the Government are still fully taking into account the extent to which Zimbabwe's policies affect not only Zimbabwe but people across southern Africa as a whole. The single mention of Zimbabwean governance in this week's ministerial statement acknowledges only that

"poor governance has made the crisis worse in Zimbabwe."—[Hansard, 23 June 2003; Vol. 407, c. 30WS.]

Poor governance has made the humanitarian crisis worse not just for Zimbabwe but for Zambia, Mozambique, Malawi and the whole region.

I understand that DFID had reduced overall development aid to Zimbabwe until that country's suspension, but the total amount given in 2002 was still larger than in 1997, when this Government came to office. The Department's most recent report states that development aid should be

"focused on systematic poverty reduction in ways that support local ownership".

It added that the Government

"has. . . . increased its commitment of assistance for well thought-out programmes in key sectors in reforming countries . . . which in turn will improve the quality of public expenditure management as a whole, and help reduce corruption".

It is clear that, under DFID principles, improving democracy is regarded as a totem for supporting development aid—a point that is echoed by the United States millennium development account—but that is not what is happening in Zimbabwe.

The UK's approach to the land reform programme in Zimbabwe has been confused. That DFID programme, more than any other, puts into sharp relief the confusion of the Government's approach to Zimbabwe, democracy and development principles. As the communiqué from the Abuja agreement in September 2001 rightly observed:

"Land is at the core of the crisis in Zimbabwe and cannot be separated from other issues of concern to the Commonwealth, such as the rule of law, respect for human rights" and democracy. The communiqué also refers to the UK Government's financial involvement in land reform and welcomes the

"re-affirmation of the United Kingdom's commitment to a significant financial contribution to such a land reform programme and its undertaking to encourage other international donors to do the same."

That would be welcome if the land reform programme in any way assisted poverty reduction, but it does not. The Zimbabwean Government's "fast-track" land reform programme is not fair land reform. It does not meet the Abuja agreement terms and it does not deserve bilateral aid from the UK Government.

I should make it crystal clear that that does not mean that the Zimbabwean people should not receive emergency humanitarian assistance from DFID and other donor Governments; the people of Zimbabwe should not suffer because of Robert Mugabe's policies. However, I would welcome further clarification on DFID's approach to "good governance", as outlined in paragraph 166 of the Select Committee report.

If the Government are to understand fully the longer-term approach that is needed for southern Africa, their attitude towards Zimbabwe needs adjustment. What is happening now is different from what happened in 1985, and requires a different response. It requires long-term food security policies and improvement of the mechanisms for supporting the WFP.

In the long term, more needs to be done to deal with the following famine equation: drought plus HIV/AIDS minus fair trade equals famine. Otherwise, Africa will have 30 million people who are dependent on food aid. For Africa alone, the 2015 targets will become the 2030 millennium goals, as the continent continues to starve silently or—to reiterate the words of Prime Minister Meles—continues to be the ghetto of the globalised world.

Photo of John Battle John Battle Labour, Leeds West 2:56 pm, 26th June 2003

I particularly welcome the paragraph of the ministerial statement of 23 June that is headed "Longer-term Response", but wonder whether we could bring it more to the fore. The paragraph reads:

"The relative severity of the humanitarian crisis in Southern Africa is leading to a reassessment of the significance of food shortages to the development prospects for the region. This reassessment is taking the very high rates of HIV/AIDS infection in Southern Africa into account . . . As part of this work, the UK will develop a strategy later this year for tackling hunger and vulnerability in Southern Africa over the medium term."—[Hansard, 23 June 2003; Vol. 407, c. 32WS.]

I press the Minister to outline that strategy. I encourage him and the Department to get on with that longer-term development strategy, and to shift the frame from short-term crisis management to a longer-term approach.

Two occasions during our Select Committee visit to southern Africa changed my perception of poverty and hunger in Africa. The first was watching a woman and her two daughters in a rural part of Malawi trying to plough and hoe hard, dry ground that had lacked rain for nearly two years. I asked them, "Where are the men to help?" The answer was that the men in the family were too sick with HIV/AIDS to be able to prepare the ground or to plant seed for the following year.

The second occasion was a meeting at the Ministry of Agriculture at which there were 24 highly trained officials: technicians, agronomists, agriculturalists, top horticultural scientists and people skilled in economics. It shocked me to be told that, of those 24 in the room, five would die of HIV/AIDS within five years. That would strip out the ability of the Administration to manage the crisis. The HIV/AIDS crisis provides a framework within which we must view poverty in Africa. We must welcome all efforts to address that crisis.

It is tragic to note, as we did in our report, that Africa is the only continent that is moving backwards on the millennium development goals. As we said in the report, it will be impossible for countries to halve poverty and hunger by 2015, in line with those goals. The Department says that it shares the Committee's concern; it is essential to ensure that a humanitarian response promotes longer-term food security. At present, 115 million children, primarily in sub-Saharan Africa, do not go to school and 88 countries are behind their targets for the millennium development goal in education. In Africa, 7 million people are dying of preventable diseases. I do not blame the Government because targets are not being met, but those targets are starting to disappear across the horizon, as if they are unattainable.

The Department's response to the International Development Committee's report spells out that the crisis in southern Africa has complex causes, and it stresses a livelihoods approach, and of course we must accept that. There is a helpful reference to Malawi in paragraph 21, which states:

"In Malawi, significant progress has already been made towards a comprehensive, long-term National Food Security Strategy. This will include production, storage, marketing and trade issues."

One of the most important questions, which we pressed when we were conducting our inquiry, was why the strategic grain reserve in Malawi had been allowed to run down to such an extent that it had to ship in food aid. What had happened to the management of the strategic grain reserve was a big issue; I underline "was" because my question now is what is being done to restock the grain reserves. How do we ensure that there is enough grain to go into the reserves in the first place? The Department's reply in paragraph 23 states:

"In Malawi, encouraging progress is being made on risk mitigation through crop diversification, promotion of supplementary irrigation and support to small enterprise development made possible through income from public works employment."

I emphasise that, as I want the Department to tell us how support for small enterprise development can be fostered and pushed further.

The key economic challenge, not just in Africa, is how to link macro-strategies with micro-economic implementation. There is often a gap; there are great economic policy ideas at macro level but something entirely different happens on the ground. That is as true in Britain as it elsewhere. There is a general view in economics that countries start with agriculture, which is followed by an industrial revolution and then post-industrialisation. Now it is suggested that everyone can get a mobile phone without the wires.

It would be hard to dispense entirely with an agricultural strategy; it is hard enough to develop one in Britain. It has been a tremendous effort to try to reshape a bit of the European Union's common agricultural policy, which led to today's statement on reforms. We lack a vision of the role of agriculture in the world's societies and an international vision and strategy for agriculture that links the micro and the macro. What is needed is long-term agricultural sustainability, focusing on small farmers rather than on agribusiness.

In paragraph 27, the Select Committee states:

"The development of a cash-crop economy and export businesses can play an important role, not least in transferring technology to developing countries, but for widespread poverty reduction and livelihood enhancement the focus must be on small and medium scale agricultural producers."

The Department's response states:

"We agree. DFID believes that a sound development strategy can include developing both competitive large scale agribusiness as well as broad support for small and medium scale producers."

There is a question mark over that.

Yesterday, Mr. Key, the Opposition spokesman, took us back to his days as an economics teacher. He said we should remember that there are buyers and sellers in the world. That is an early, idealistic, romantic view of economics because now the buyers and sellers are the same corporate body. That is the problem. The people who grow the product are also the people who process it and take it right through to packaging and delivery on to our supermarket shelves. That drives out small farmers. We cannot simply say that we will help the agribusiness world as well as the small farmers. Tensions, complications and contradictions may well emerge from such a strategy.

I encourage the Department to tell us what more it can do. The Government say that they will pay due attention to agriculture, and I agree that it is right that the strategy should be within the context of country strategies. It is within their poverty reduction strategies that the agricultural dimension to a country's strategy should be worked out. I emphasise that the vast majority in Africa who rely on agriculture for their livelihoods are small farmers. It is in rural areas, where small farmers are, that we see the hunger, the poverty and the crisis. Most of African agriculture is low-input, low-output small-scale farming.

DFID research shows that agricultural production per capita fell by 5 per cent. between 1980 and 2001. That is from the DFID report entitled "Better Livelihoods for Poor People: the role of agriculture", which was published in 2002. In other words, agriculture is going backwards as well as education and health. We must consider this issue in a different way, because emphasis on small-scale production may bring down the price of food in rural areas and, indeed, for urban families, but when agriculture accounts for 37 per cent. of Africa's GDP, employs two thirds of its work force and provides half its exports, the agricultural sector will still be the engine of development and growth. There cannot be a quick jump to miss out agriculture. We cannot imagine that we can whip through the industrial revolution and get to post-industrialisation telecoms. The agricultural sector needs to be supported, and I suggest that it is the small-scale farming sector that needs that support. We must have a micro-strategy that links through to the macro-strategy.

I shall end with a brilliant example from Malawi. I visited a seed storage depot—well, it was really a hut in which seeds were stored. A DFID programme provided the seed packs. The very day that I went to see that seed storage depot—it was last October, if I remember rightly—the first drops of rain for months arrived. That seed package and fertiliser provided an opportunity for seeds to be grown just in time for the following year to prevent that year's famine—and that happened. Those seed packs were a local and, I think, a one-off initiative. I would like to know whether it caught on with other world agencies and whether there could be longer-term support from the international community. The ground cannot be prepared or ploughed if strength has been drained out through HIV/AIDS, and there is little point in ploughing it if there is not the seed and fertiliser to grow the following year's crop.

I encourage DFID to say that we must think and act according to a longer time frame, not only to anticipate climate shocks, such as a dry season, but to build, literally from the ground upwards, a long-term sustainable system that acknowledges that micro and macro-strategies must be riveted together. I know that it is difficult to get beyond annual budgeting even in the UK—the comprehensive spending review enabled us to get at least to three-year budgeting—but we need a comprehensive food security strategy that is developed from the base of small farming. If that were a top developmental priority and accepted by developing countries, we might be able to break out of the short-term panic that occurs every time that one season's rain is missed or the rain is light. However, that would require international pressure. We must also build on some of the practical action with which, in a tiny way, DFID already inspires us.

Photo of John Barrett John Barrett Liberal Democrat, Edinburgh West 3:09 pm, 26th June 2003

I congratulate Mr. Battle on an excellent speech. He highlighted an important issue, which is that this is a long-term problem. In past decades, not much progress seems to have been made. He also made the important point that one of the problems in Africa is that many of the decision makers will not be around in the long term.

Tony Baldry described how the report relates to current events. Things are moving on, but much has stayed the same in Africa. I fear that the poverty, suffering and other elements that are mentioned in the report will still exist many years from now.

At first glance, Select Committee reports do not look like impressive documents. They are always blue—although I believe that that may change to purple—and contain lots of text, tables and statistics, but no photographs. Their layout is not designed for maximum impact. However, we are bombarded on a daily basis with glossy reports, in which more thought appears to have been put into the design than the content, and this report stands out because of its content. This is no "dodgy dossier" that needs leave a question mark as to whether something exists or not. The title "The Humanitarian Crisis in Southern Africa" says it all—there definitely is such a crisis.

As a relatively new member of the Select Committee, I begin by thanking my colleagues on the Committee who contributed to the report, the expert witnesses, the Committee staff and outside organisations, and those involved when we visited Malawi.

The Select Committee report ranges from the food crisis, to poverty, HIV/AIDS, early-warning systems, the Department for International Development's response, good governance, the NGOs, and much more. Many statistics are included, some of which are harrowing. There are 3.2 million AIDS orphans in the six crisis-affected countries; AIDS will kill many more people in southern Africa than hunger. In Malawi, between 6 per cent. and 8 per cent. of teachers die each year, and the cost of their funerals takes up a major slice of the education budget. As was said earlier, AIDS kills the very people needed to respond to the current crisis and whom the region needs most to survive: health workers, teachers and other able-bodied adults.

One of the greatest tragedies of the current crisis is its complexity. It is not just about people starving in Africa because of drought, although that is a major part of the equation, and is included in some detail in the report. There is also the problem of understanding the situation from the point of view of those suffering in Africa. It is impossible for many who read the report in the United Kingdom to appreciate what it means not to have a regular supply of nutritious food instantly accessible every day. I tried to live on a Red Cross food parcel for a week earlier in the year, and I am still suffering from that.

Nor is the crisis only about health problems that can easily be tackled with extra resources—again, that issue is covered in the report—or about the fact that corruption exists. Corruption has existed in Malawi, as the hon. Member for Leeds, West pointed out, and the questions that were raised about the sale of strategic reserves are not confined to the past. That led us to wonder whether such incidents might happen again. It is possible that some people made a lot of money out of the sale of grain that never moved out of the grain silos. Even in wealthy regions, we hear of money being salted away into western bank accounts, and of a small elite in some countries having a comfortable lifestyle.

As we saw on our visit to Malawi, education is the great hope for many young people. However, we saw school buildings with nothing in them but a few basic desks. Children who start going to school often drift away either because of basic problems such as no toilets being provided for teenage girls, or because they have to help in the fields. We were told that, for every 1,000 children who start primary school in Malawi, two would graduate and one would die of AIDS.

The report also covers the impact of genetically modified crops and the debate over whether it was right for Zambia, with people starving, to refuse 18,000 tonnes of maize from the USA. President Mwanawasa said that he would rather die than eat something toxic. That debate has not been helped by some people in the UK who are opposed to GM research under any circumstances. If drought-resistant crops can be developed by scientists and that process can be accelerated, they should be able to do what they can to help with the problem. Mistakes have been made, but a lot of good work is also being done by the Department for International Development, NGOs, local communities and some Governments, who are all responding to a desperate situation.

I should like to add to the debate something that the report cannot easily include. I mentioned that there are no photographs in the report. That can work to its advantage because people will not skim through it looking at the photographs and their captions without reading the text. However, I will try to convey some of the images from the Select Committee's visit to the region.

Those of us who visited Malawi saw at first hand things that will stay with us for a long time: the AIDS victims in the clinic in Lilongwe, where we were told about the spread of AIDS and the particularly high infection rate among young girls; the orphans who are looked after by extended families—often grandparents—which often means that no one is physically able to plough the family fields and to plant seeds by hand as the survivors are too young, or too old, to do the manual work required; those suffering from tuberculosis; and children in the malnutrition ward, where one child in every bed meant that it was a quiet period—there are two or three in every bed when it is busy. Those images have stuck with me.

We saw people queuing up in dark, overcrowded hospitals, and the enthusiasm of children who wanted to learn and who travelled miles to get to school, sometimes in the blistering heat. The image that stuck with me the most was that of an elderly woman whom I saw at a seed distribution project funded by DFID. She had a bag of grain, which I could have hardly lifted off the ground, balancing on her head and was ready to walk 6 km home.

We also saw a vast lake and an abundance of water not too far away from where people needed it, and we were aware of how irrigation could help. I tried to participate in irrigation by using a treadle pump. It was as exhausting as a trip to the gym. It was hard enough for a well fed MP, but it was a greater task for someone who was already weak from hunger or ill health.

We saw beggars in the streets and people breaking stones all day. It was a really troublesome time. Perhaps future reports should carry photographs, because they would sum up the situation. A photograph is often worth a thousand words.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Chair, International Development Committee, Chair, International Development Committee

One of the most depressing points about the treadle pumps that we saw is that they are very simple and do not cost much, but there was no manufacturing facility for treadle pumps in Malawi or in South Africa. They are all imported from India. The technology seems to be so simple. All of us receive letters from vexatious constituents: I am sure that the Minister received them in his previous job. I have started to become vexatious, because I cannot understand why people who are banged up in prison for almost 24 hours a day, as they are in prisons in my constituency, cannot at least be doing useful work such as making treadle pumps. It is such a tragedy that such simple technology, which can revolutionise people's lives, has to be imported from India. Why on earth cannot we provide the facilities for them to be made in Africa, or, at the very least, put prisoners in this country to use by getting them to make some of the intermediate technology?

Photo of John Barrett John Barrett Liberal Democrat, Edinburgh West

Absolutely. I could not agree more. It would make perfect sense to manufacture treadle pumps in Africa. Equally, mosquito nets are imported from Hong Kong to a country in which everybody needs them. It makes no sense at all. It would make absolute sense to increase the economic activity in the country and to produce—perhaps at an ever-cheaper rate—goods that were needed there.

The current buzz phrase is trade liberalisation. Yesterday, there was a good debate in the House, and positive contributions were made on both sides. However, although opening up new markets will help many, we must accept that we in the developed world are a major part of the problem. Poverty is a major factor in the humanitarian crisis, yet the European Union and the United States continue to protect and to subsidise their own farmers, which destroys potential markets for those in southern Africa.

The UN estimates that if the trade rules were made to work for poorer countries, it could be worth up to 14 times the total amount of donated aid, or 30 times the amount that must be paid in debt repayments. If we are to move forward on trade, we must ensure that basic agricultural products have access to more markets and that their producers can benefit from the added value. It is a scandal that what we pay for a cup of coffee in Starbucks is the same as what a coffee farmer receives for enough coffee to produce 1,000 cups of coffee.

Trade between countries in the region must also be encouraged, as I mentioned earlier. Sadly, the systems in many countries in southern Africa, and in many of those most in need, have great difficulty in maximising the effect of outside aid. As the hon. Member for Banbury said, one example is the problem of transporting food aid to remote areas that can be cut off during the rainy season. The need to repair bridges and roads may not appear to be a top priority during the dry season, but the hungry will starve if food aid cannot be distributed on the ground because of a poor road system and lack of bridge repairs. That is one success in which DFID is involved.

When the Select Committee visited Malawi last year, we were able to see what village life was like and what people were 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, smaller vehicles were more suitable and cheaper to run.

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

My hon. Friend Dr. Tonge mentioned yesterday the progress being made in Botswana in the fight against AIDS. The Government there have involved the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and money has been taken out of the equation. Drugs and medical services have been made available, and resources have been poured in to tackle the problem. There is an educational programme to inform people how to avoid infection, in a country with one of the highest infection rates in the world.

Sadly, with every possible resource being thrown at the problem, very little is changing. In a relatively wealthy country for the region, increased wealth has brought its own problems, from alcohol to mobility. Both have increased the spread of AIDS. Young men like to get drunk; they have lots of partners and they have unprotected sex. Treatment is hampered by the stigma attached to the virus so that many will not come forward for treatment until it is too late.

I am normally an optimistic person. It is nearly 20 years on from Live Aid in 1985, when young people in their millions were moved by the plight of starving Africa and, if I had thought then we would have all the same problems to deal with 20 years later, it would be bad enough. However, if we also take into account the scourge of AIDS, we have a disaster on our hands of a biblical scale. I am not a religious person, but after reading this report many will say, "God help Africa".

Photo of Mr Tony Worthington Mr Tony Worthington Labour, Clydebank and Milngavie 3:21 pm, 26th June 2003

As my colleagues have said, this is a welcome opportunity to discuss the crisis that drew us to southern Africa last year, and the current situation in a part of the world that is not making the necessary progress towards the millennium development goals. In fact, it is slipping backwards.

It was my privilege to lead the party that went out to southern Africa. I express my gratitude to DFID and the Foreign Office, and their staff in London, Lilongwe and Harare for the quality of the experience that they organised for us. I offer particular thanks to the Foreign Office and DFID staff for coming out of Harare in order to acquaint us with the up-to-date situation there. I would also like to thank the Government of Malawi, the NGOs and the international financial institutions for the help that they gave us in constructing the report.

I should like to put in a particular and special word of thanks to one other person. At his birth this man was given a name that seemed completely unexceptional, but the speaking of his name now brings forth signs of warmth and affection in everyone who hears it. I am referring of course to Harry Potter, one of DFID's advisers in Malawi who was our principal, ever-present adviser during our visit. I was delighted to hear that Harry had been awarded the OBE in the new year's honours list. On the evidence of the support that he gave us, it was richly deserved for many years of distinguished work in development.

We are considering the report and the Government's response. I am also grateful to the Minister for Monday's written statement, which gives us an update on the situation, and is much more positive than what we were hearing before our departure. It is gratifying that the great fears about the situation in southern Africa that prompted the visit did not come to pass, although there are still serious worries in Ethiopia, Angola and, above all, Zimbabwe.

We did not go to Africa to see the idiosyncratic parts of the crisis: we wanted to consider the endemic parts of the crisis, to see whether there was evidence of endemic failure. We found major shortcomings that need to be put right in order to avoid future disasters. Although we talk about the debacle of the disappearing grain store in Malawi, I want to concentrate on those factors that lead to continuing food insecurity.

I will not go through the report, because that would take too long and be unfair to everyone. I just want to draw attention to some issues that made a particular impact on me. Obviously, they draw on the situation in Malawi, but they are apposite to other African countries with which other members of the Committee and I are familiar. I want to talk particularly about the neglect of agriculture in the developing world.

Malawi is the most rural country that I have ever visited. More than 85 per cent. of the population are dependent on the crops that they grow. It is also a densely populated country. Unlike in other African countries, there are no large towns, with associated shanty towns, to which people flee the impoverished countryside in order to get jobs. There has been a decline in migrant labour, partly because of the situation in Zimbabwe and in South Africa. More and more people have to live on ever-diminishing, divided-up patches of land. There is no reliable system of codified, legalised land tenure, which is essential if there is to be foreign investment in Malawi.

The only major export is tobacco and there is only a tiny manufacturing sector. The country is landlocked. There is insufficient demand from the outside world to make the opening up of foreign markets a priority. I was surprised to learn that the only direct contact that Malawi has with the world outside Africa is the weekly British Airways flight. That is how isolated the country is, and the collection of problems that are assembled.

Much of the soil is depleted by the demands made on it and by the obsession with growing maize. Farm animals in some parts of the country are sparse, because of the pressure on land, insecurity and previous crises. There is a grave shortage of fertiliser, so there is dependence on foreign multinationals and a tendency to depend on foreign seeds.

In such a situation, one might expect a concentration on strategies to organise a macro-agricultural policy, but that is not so. The Government's response states that there is such a policy now, but I did not detect the slightest sign that the Malawi Government had an agricultural policy for sustainable development. I was looking for it, but I did not see it. There was no sign that the donors were facing up to the issues either. It is strange to me that in other fields, such as education and health, we talk about sector-wide approaches, whereas I have not come across that in agriculture.

In the past, there has been much justified criticism of state involvement in agriculture through corrupt parastatals. The pressures from the international financial institutions for liberalisation have left countries with declining state structures, few agricultural policy plans and affected by inertia. There is a profound market failure. I am talking about a lack of markets, a lack of investment and a lack of science being used to improve matters.

Photo of Dr Jenny Tonge Dr Jenny Tonge Liberal Democrat, Richmond Park

The hon. Gentleman may come to this point later in his speech, but does he agree that in Malawi one of the big problems is the rather inefficient—to say the least—Government? When I was out there, the interest rates were astronomical. There is just no way that they can attract foreign investment to help their country along.

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

As the hon. Lady said, I will come to that. The point about the quality of governance is valuable and crucial.

The neglect of agriculture is not just by the Malawi Government. The international financial institutions must take their share of responsibility for the sad state of agricultural management. The Washington consensus—the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund—rightly demanded the abolition of inefficient and often corrupt state structures. However, as my hon. Friend Mr. Battle said, it is ludicrous to expect peasant farmers to achieve economic growth in the absence of markets and capital and with a viciously rigged trading system. The market has failed chronically, and we must put that right.

I was surprised at how little has been done over the years through the international financial institutions to build up Malawi's infrastructure. As other hon. Members have said, the treadle pump was greeted as something from the 21st century rather than something that has been around for centuries. Extraordinarily, we found that Malawi, one of the poorest countries in the world, would have been a net contributor to the World Bank this year if one new and questionable project had not been started. Ironically, the project is designed to provide food handouts for the population. We could not find any evidence of an irrigation strategy, although the Government's response claims that there is one.

In response to the crisis, DFID was, to its credit, funding the reopening of the Nacala railway to the coast through Mozambique. That would seem to be a priority for a landlocked country such as Malawi, so why, after the Mozambique war was over, was it not a priority for the Malawian Government and the international financial institutions? Why did it take a starvation crisis to stimulate the opening of access to the sea? The international financial institutions must improve their performance.

Almost every area of life has an appropriate UN organisation—WHO, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNESCO or the International Labour Organisation—but agriculture has the Food and Agriculture Organisation, which is the lowest-profile, most subterranean UN organisation. Its impact on farming in Africa is undetectable, yet it is crucial to a country that is dependent on agriculture. It is extraordinary that in the generally excellent briefing documents that we receive from NGOs there is little reference to the production of food and agricultural organisation. There are occasional references to what are termed "livelihoods", but rarely anything about overall land policy and agricultural production.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Chair, International Development Committee, Chair, International Development Committee

Everyone on the Select Committee would thoroughly applaud and cheer everything that the hon. Gentleman is saying. One danger is that we have all become so involved in the theology of sustainable livelihoods that we have forgotten that people must earn money and create jobs and wealth. Agriculture is the key to that process for many people in Africa. We must focus on basic agriculture, and not be concerned merely with sustainable livelihoods.

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

Bingo. That is absolutely right, and I could not agree more. It is strange that so many words are expended about hunger, but so few are uttered about how the food is grown in those countries.

Extraordinarily, between 1997–98 and 2001–02, DFID's annual bilateral expenditure on agriculture and livestock fell by 25 per cent., whereas its overall direct bilateral expenditure has grown significantly. CDC has also withdrawn from agriculture in Africa. I picked up no sense whatsoever that the Malawian agricultural sector could develop a strategy to export its products.

The neglect of agriculture by donors is extraordinary, given that in sub-Saharan Africa agricultural growth and productivity has stagnated and fallen over the years. The sector is sick, yet it is being ignored. FARM-Africa, an agricultural NGO, tells me that agriculture accounts for 37 per cent. of Africa's GDP, but the figure is much greater in some countries. Agriculture employs two thirds of Africa's work force and provides half its exports. As my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West said, we have to start from where we are. We cannot make a sudden leap into 21st and 22nd-century economic growth. We have to start with what is there, and make it more efficient.

I hope that the tide has turned on the neglect of agriculture. The World Bank recently produced a policy paper that seems to indicate a change of thinking. In the past year, DFID has produced two consultation papers on food security and agriculture that also indicate a change of thought. I was delighted to see in the Minister's written statement updating us on the situation in southern Africa that some rethinking was under way.

However, the response to our report on agriculture is far too complacent. There is a passivity on agriculture that is difficult to understand. The response is to leave it up to developing countries to define their needs, but that is not happening. DFID says in its response that meeting the needs of the rural poor cannot be achieved by focusing exclusively on agricultural capacity. We do not say that either, but in many cases there is no focus on agricultural capacity and no holistic approach to considering legal, institutional and other barriers, as DFID advocates.

I see DFID as easily the best development ministry in the world. As the key leader of the development community in Africa, it should be giving a lead on this issue, because it has been neglected up to this point. Current policies are not arresting decline. I am interested to hear what the Minister has to say on that, because recent reports from the World Food Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organisation note that six countries, including Malawi, will still require substantial food aid despite the fact that more food has been produced this year. Increased and targeted support will be needed for the agricultural sectors of those countries.

Dr. Tonge referred to governance. Many people feel that the high hopes that they had of the Malawi Government a few years ago have not been fulfilled. Regrettably, the political obsession in the country when we were there was the President's deliberations about whether to go for a third term of office. It was difficult to believe that the Government were fully focused on relieving poverty in Malawi. It must be remembered that when any President stands down voluntarily, many people are cut off from their source of status and income. At that time, the politicians of Malawi were focusing on their own food chain rather than on meeting the food needs of the poor, because in southern Africa politics is frequently a means of gaining personal access to the economic resources of the country as well as political power.

I said that it was difficult to find an organising strategy in Malawi for the agricultural sector. When we were there, relationships with the IMF had broken down, which was causing its own paralysis. I should be grateful if the Minister would update us on the situation.

The situation also cried out for more effective relationships and policies to be developed through the Southern African Development Community, which is the regional economic organisation. That will be crucial to future food security. The grain store debacle showed at the very least that the Malawi Government could not account for their grain. It disappeared. The anti-corruption bureau had great difficulty attaining successful conclusions to its anti-corruption investigations and, as with the grain store, the director of the bureau disappeared. I am told that he is now the ambassador in Germany. Malawi will need government of the highest quality if it is to achieve its own millennium development goal.

The final issue that I want to raise is the impact of HIV/AIDS on food security and poverty in southern Africa, which has the highest rates of infection in the world. Food security is crucial in two ways. First, a good diet is an essential, inescapable building block in the fight against AIDS for those who are infected, but many people in southern Africa do not have the constitutional resistance to fight AIDS. Secondly, the people who are brought down by AIDS often come from the most vigorous and productive sections of the population, and problems arise because extra burdens are put on children and grandparents. If famine and poverty are to be avoided, it is essential that we do better than we are doing at present in the fight against AIDS.

Having seen the plight of southern Africa, I want to ask the Minister some questions about the present policy on AIDS. The most positive contribution in recent months was a commitment, which has since been honoured in legislation, by the Bush Government in the United States to provide a fresh $10 billion to fight AIDS. That is welcome, but raises many questions. Only $1 billion will go to the global health fund, although it was the chosen mechanism of the American Government and the UK to harness a truly international effort to fight AIDS. The global health fund does not have the cash to fund its next round of projects later this year, and the Americans are keeping money away from the global health fund even though it is now under the chairmanship of one of President Bush's most senior Ministers. Why is that? Of the $10 billion of fresh money, $9 billion will go bilaterally to just 14 countries: 12 in sub-Saharan Africa and two in the Caribbean. Malawi, although suffering heavily from the impact of AIDS, is not one of the chosen 12. Fourteen countries will be well funded and the others will receive nothing. What are the plans of the EU, the UK and the global health fund to remedy that imbalance? I should be grateful if the Minister would tell me what will happen.

What progress has been made in determining America's policy for the prevention and treatment of AIDS? There are various aspects. It seems that President Bush's figures for the number of people to be treated with anti-retroviral drugs are achievable only if countries have access to cheap generic drugs produced outside the United States, but the United States has been blocking such deals during the Doha talks. Linked with that is the fact that US aid, in line with American statute, must be spent on US products. That is what the law states for US aid, and it would be interesting to know how that can be squared.

What position are the Americans taking on the supply of condoms? That is important, because in recent years the European Union has filled the gaps left by the Americans. The number of condoms supplied by the Americans has fallen. When the first President Bush was in power, the Americans supplied 800 million condoms a year and they now supply 300 million. That is an unforgettable statistic. The average man in Botswana, which is one of the most affected countries, will receive only one condom a year from international sources.

It is important to know what attitude the Americans are taking on the provision of reproductive health services and HIV services alongside each other. In a country such as Tanzania, where only $3 to $4 a person a year is spent on health care, it is ludicrous to have separate provision of services for those suffering from AIDS or needing preventive services and those needing reproductive health services. I was delighted to read the words of the EU commissioner, Poul Nielsen, who said that American reproductive health policy was being driven by zealots whose ultimate goal is no contraceptive use at all and sex only within marriage. There is a conflict between what the people driving reproductive health services in America want and what would be good international co-operative practice in line with the Cairo conference 10 years ago.

I would welcome the Minister's comments on the issue. If countries such as Malawi are to end poverty, they must have good reproductive health services to enable families to choose family size. They must also have good preventive services to avoid the spread of AIDS. In its publication "Global Health-Sector Strategy for HIV/AIDS", WHO points out that existing reproductive health programmes

"provide a clear entry point for the delivery of HIV/AIDS interventions."

I agree, but that is not what has happened, and there is a real danger that American policy will prevent that common-sense approach. I was pleased to hear from the Secretary of State and the Minister that there is great determination in DFID to maintain the solidarity achieved at the Cairo conference on reproductive health in 1994.

Our weakness with regard to the Americans is that President Bush can show that he has put serious money into AIDS work, whereas Europe cannot. What is the position with regard to the global health fund and the funding of AIDS work in general?

I and everyone associated with the report take pride in it. It asks serious questions about future policy, and I hope that it will be a help to the Department, as any responsible Select Committee report should be.

Photo of Dr Jenny Tonge Dr Jenny Tonge Liberal Democrat, Richmond Park 3:47 pm, 26th June 2003

It is tempting to start my remarks in yet another debate about Africa by asking where other Members are. I cannot imagine that they have been crowding into the main Chamber of the House Commons all afternoon for a debate on standards and privileges. That debate has already finished and the House has gone on to the Adjournment debate. We precious few, we band of brothers, are here yet again talking about Africa.

Photo of John Battle John Battle Labour, Leeds West

The hon. Lady will keep us going.

Photo of Dr Jenny Tonge Dr Jenny Tonge Liberal Democrat, Richmond Park

Yes, I will keep the debate going as long as Members want. However, I suspect that they would not want me to do that.

As we heard from hon. Members and from the Chairman of the Select Committee, other parts of the world are making progress towards the millennium goals, but Africa is going backwards. I now find this such a depressing subject. By previous standards, the current crisis was well forecasted. I was pleased that the non-governmental organisations flagged up in good time the crisis looming in southern Africa and Ethiopia. My first experience of such a crisis was the famine in Sudan in 1997–98. The Select Committee, of which I was a member, led an investigation into why we did not get an early warning of what was going to happen in southern Sudan. Things have therefore improved in that the Select Committee is not looking back to a famine, but is looking forward to see how it can continue to prevent a very large famine.

As Tony Baldry implied, just because there are no skeletons on our screens night after night, that does not mean that there is no looming crisis in southern Africa. There is, and it is very large and continuing. Frankly, it will not get better unless an awful lot happens.

This was a very good report. I cannot say that I read it word for word, cover to cover, but it is extremely interesting. It opens up a huge number of issues. I want to address just a few of them and to throw in a few of my own, if Members will indulge me.

We still do not know enough about the financial situation and how much money is needed if we are going to make realistic progress in Africa. There have been all sorts of initiatives. I know that we have made progress on debt relief, and I know that the international finance facility has been set up, but there is a lot of doubt about that.

I was very depressed to hear that the World Bank reforms to allow developing countries more voting power and more say in that institution are being obstructed by the United States. I hope that the Minister will be able to say something about that. Why is that happening? It seems to me that developing countries, especially African countries, need a much louder voice in all the international bodies, and a greater ability to make their voice heard.

The other issue that interested me was varying weather patterns—another factor in the current crisis in southern Africa. It would appear that the climate is getting more unpredictable. Many of the current food shortages are due to droughts in various parts of Africa, which have not been contained as they used to be. I know that there are many other factors, but it made me wonder whether any research had been done into climate change in southern Africa. Are the climate patterns changing? Will these long periods of drought be a permanent feature, and if so, is that related to global warming? That is yet another example of the west using all the energy, emitting all the carbon dioxide and causing global warming, with Africa suffering as a result.

Is any research being carried out on climate change? That is important, because it would help in the development of early warning systems, which are talked about a great deal. If we had more idea of what is happening to the climate in Africa, and whether there will be changing weather patterns, we might be able to improve our early warning systems. I was very impressed with an answer I received on 24 June to a question about early warning systems for food shortages and famine. The Minister gave me a full response, explaining the new systems that had been set up—including enhanced monitoring systems and early warning systems—to prevent such dreadful famines. Perhaps the Minister will tell us a little more about those in his closing remarks.

Food security is a funny thing. A couple of thousand years ago the pharaohs of Egypt had the problem taped. They had years of famine and years of plenty, but they had huge granaries to enable them to get through the lean years. It seems extraordinary that in the 21st century we are unable to cope with that. Despite all our technology and forecasting systems, the pharaohs managed the problem a little better. When will we get the report on the Malawian food storage scandal—or whatever it is to be called? When I was there, I was told that an investigation was going on. I did not know that the Minister responsible had gone to Germany, but that is an example of added value.

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

It was not the Minister who was involved, but the director of the anti-corruption bureau, who was reaching the end of his inquiries into the matter when he was transferred to another job.

Photo of Dr Jenny Tonge Dr Jenny Tonge Liberal Democrat, Richmond Park

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that correction. Being the director of an anti-corruption bureau in Malawi must be quite fun.

Food production in southern Africa is not just affected by climate change. Strangely, we have not said much about Zimbabwe this afternoon. Zimbabwe was a net exporter of food—[Interruption.] Mrs. Spelman has indicated that she will talk about Zimbabwe. It is outrageous that all the food aid has to pour into Zimbabwe. It is unbelievable. Its surplus food used to feed all the countries around it. When are we going to stop being neurotic about the black-white issue and our colonial past? Something is wrong, human rights are being abused and a country is being destroyed while we watch. We were quite ready to go into Iraq and Afghanistan, so why on earth is not more pressure being put on Zimbabwe?

It may not be a very Liberal Democrat view, but I am becoming terribly frustrated, because although we keep saying that the surrounding African countries should be doing something about Zimbabwe, they are not doing anything about it. Surrounding countries in the middle east did nothing about Iraq, and the countries in Asia did nothing about Afghanistan. The situation in Zimbabwe is a very serious matter. It is a scandal that it is now hugely dependent on food aid, and we ought to deal with that.

The hon. Members for Leeds, West (Mr. Battle) and for Clydebank and Milngavie (Tony Worthington) talked a lot about agriculture, and I agree wholeheartedly with what they said. It is depressing that there is so little agricultural production in many African countries. That is due not just to the AIDS epidemic or people not being able to plough the land.

Yesterday, I mentioned the rice farmers in the north of Ghana who are out of business and unemployed because American rice is cheaper in Ghana than the rice they grow themselves. That is a nonsense. Countries should be encouraging small farms to produce as much food as they can to feed their own families and their own people. The big boys should come in with aid only when there is a massive drought, over perhaps seven years. Stuff is being dumped and sold cheaply because of subsidies when countries should be growing their own food, and that is absolutely outrageous.

The CAP reform has been much trumpeted in the media today. I listened to the statement by the Secretary of State, but she did not give much detail, and I hope that the Minister will tell us more about how that reform will affect developing countries and trade.

The hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie and others referred to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. I agree with everything that the hon. Gentleman said, but I would add one factor. People who are very sick cannot work in the fields. They become a huge burden on their families, because they need to be helped. They need food and water, and to be nursed in the villages.

When I was in Malawi, I visited the Queen Elizabeth hospital in Blantyre, which looked a bit like my local hospital. It was a lovely, airy building with nice corridors and windows on each side. However, when I went into one of the wards, I saw that it was piled high with bodies. There were 120 of them—under the beds, over the beds, between the beds and in the corridor—and the sister said that it was quite a low count in a ward that had been built for 30 patients. She expected many more. She had four nurses, none of whom would be on duty the next day, so she would be on her own. Ten people had already died that morning and it was only 11 o'clock. It was a vision of hell.

Now I understand why the village people bring their relatives to the hospital gates and leave them there: they do not have the time or the energy to nurse them in the villages. One of the saddest things is that the Queen Elizabeth hospital in Blantyre is the only teaching hospital in the country, and there is a 40 per cent. vacancy rate for doctors and nurses in Malawi. If I were a doctor or a nurse in Malawi, and in the only teaching hospital the wards were like the ward I saw in Blantyre, I would head for another country fast. There is nothing that those doctors and nurses can do. They cannot learn or teach nursing, nor can they practise medicine. All they can do is set up drips, perhaps for a couple of days, and then act as mortuary attendants. That damages the country as much as all the other factors.

I spoke to a young doctor in Malawi—she was a public health doctor—who was keen to set up a scheme in which people could be cared for in their villages by visiting nurses or health workers, so that the hospitals could return again to their proper function. I hope that the Minister will take that issue back to his Department—I appeal to the civil servants present to do so—because, as a doctor myself, I felt for those people. They are achieving nothing, and it is no wonder that they leave. They want to progress in their careers and do something significant.

Intermediate technology was discussed earlier. Over the years, I have become a very sad person because, in my spare time, when the House rises early, I attend lectures at engineering institutes. There was an interesting lecture recently on intermediate technology, and how civil engineers could help the third world. My hon. Friend John Barrett talked about treadle pumps. At the lecture there was a man who had invented a roundabout pump. His pilot scheme in Africa involved the construction of a children's roundabout in the centre of a village, which was attached by some cunning screws—I do not know how exactly, because I am not an engineer—and worked the village pump. While the children played, jumping on and off the roundabout and swinging it round, the water was being pumped up out of the ground. The sad thing is that, at present, there are only about six such pumps in the whole of Africa. I asked whether there was not any way in which millions of such simple pumps could be installed in villages throughout Africa. Intermediate technology has a huge amount to offer.

I suggest that there should be a version of the treadle pump mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West for AIDS sufferers. They would probably find it easier to work such a pump, or even to construct one, than to undertake agricultural labour, which is tiring and heavy work.

Yesterday, I made a plea. A big multinational company, Merck, Sharp and Dohme, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Government of Botswana have established a public-private partnership to undertake all the prevention, treatment and drug provision in Botswana. I asked whether, instead of constantly bashing multinationals, we could pull those companies in and make them significant actors in the development field.

I know that such companies produce their glossy brochures, and set up schools for their workers, whom they invariably bring in from other areas rather than using local labour. However, there must be some way in which the Governments of developed countries or international institutions can encourage multinational companies to form those partnerships to drive development along. Such companies have far more resources than most countries, and the example of what is happening in Botswana is to be commended. I hope that it will be replicated in many other countries.

The developed world must decide to do something radical about Africa. We are giving inadequate medicine to a dying patient, and I am not talking about AIDS. If we had the right amount of aid, trade or whatever, we could save the life of Africa. I sometimes wonder whether we are prolonging the agony: we give a little bit here and a little bit there, and we struggle against this and we struggle against that. Nobody is prepared to take the problem by the scruff of the neck and say, "I will solve it."

I remember Live Aid 20 years ago. My eldest son was a rockabilly at the time—I never understood what a rockabilly was, but he looked very strange. He supported Live Aid and went out campaigning having been inspired by Bob Geldof. It was good that Live Aid happened, but we have not progressed since then. As my hon. Friend said, nothing much is improving. I have held this portfolio for six years—I must be the longest serving international development portfolio holder—and it depresses me that so little progress has been made.

Photo of Caroline Spelman Caroline Spelman Shadow Minister (Women), Shadow Secretary of State for International Development 4:06 pm, 26th June 2003

For the benefit of Members, I thought that it might be nice to start by mentioning that the Adjournment debate in the House marks the retirement of Sir Nicholas Bevan. Members have remarked on the sad shortage of Members in this Chamber this afternoon, but we know that many of them are in House paying their respects to Sir Nicholas. Perhaps we can pay our respects in Hansard. I am sure that hon. Members would like to join me in saying that.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

Uniquely, I have no objection. As I said in the House earlier today, Sir Nicholas has served the House for many years with great distinction, friendliness and courtesy.

Photo of Caroline Spelman Caroline Spelman Shadow Minister (Women), Shadow Secretary of State for International Development

You have ensured that it will be on the record, Sir Nicholas. As a more recent Member, I, too, have good reason to be grateful for the advice that he has given me in my relatively short time in Parliament; we shall miss him.

I am grateful to the Select Committee on International Development for the enormous amount of work that it has put into its analysis of the humanitarian crisis in southern Africa. I enjoyed reading its report, which was laid out with the Government's response. That lay-out resulted in an interesting dialogue between Members who took the trouble to visit the area to speak to many people and the Government. When those Members returned, they were well informed, on top of their already substantial knowledge of international development issues. The report forced the Government's response, which means that the quality of the dialogue in the report is excellent. When I discuss engaging with the ideas, the nature of the dialogue will become clear.

In essence, the report is a post-mortem about the peak of the humanitarian crisis, which has sadly not gone away. The research is ongoing, which is interesting. The important thing that we must draw from the report is how to avoid a repeat of the experience and how to prevent a dependency cycle. The severity of the crisis in the southern African region is a challenge to all of us who are concerned about those in the developing world.

What lessons have been learned from the crisis? The Select Committee was right to focus on the early warning systems. Although there was intelligence, the warnings undoubtedly came too late to save some lives. I welcome the vulnerability assessment report because there is a clear need to identify risk, and most of those countries are at risk. My concern about the southern African crisis was that DFID responded too slowly in two key cases. There was an early warning system for the severity of the famine in Malawi. When I wrote to the previous Secretary of State for International Development in March 2002, she replied that the shortages were localised. It was a long time before the view of the severity of that crisis changed from localised shortages to a full-blown disaster.

Exactly the same complacency characterised the initial response to the famine in Ethiopia. During an interview that the then Secretary of State gave on the "Today" programme, the famine was contrasted and compared with the severity of the crisis in southern Africa, but the indication was that it was much less serious, although almost the same number of people were at risk. My warning to the Minister is that we should be quicker off the mark in future with early warning systems, and I hope that the vulnerability assessment reports will enable him to do that.

Perhaps the key is better local intelligence on the ground. Non-governmental organisations gave early warnings of the severity of the crisis, but local intelligence gathering is very important. As hon. Members are aware, the media play a role and can help with the early warning system by drawing the world's attention to a looming problem. However, they can also hinder, because journalists who visit countries where there is an impending humanitarian food crisis sometimes misread the situation because of lack of specialist knowledge. There was an instance in Malawi when British journalists for broadsheet newspapers saw a severely browning crop on the ground. They assumed that that was an indication of the crisis, but it is a normal part of the maize cycle. We must be cautious of reports received through the media. Although they can be helpful in drawing attention to a problem, better local intelligence and a swifter response would undoubtedly have saved lives.

I am rather glad that the Select Committee members who are present today have used Malawi as an example of some of the fundamental underlying problems at the root of the crisis in the region. We are in an advantageous situation in that both Dr. Tonge, who speaks for the Liberal Democrats on such matters, and I have been there. It is useful to test our views on a country that we have all visited because we start from the same base.

There is no question that Malawi has some special features of which we must take account. It is small, peaceful—thank goodness—and landlocked, but it is massively over-populated as a result of the Mozambique war. Many of its problems arise from features pertaining to the country, but it also has problems in common with the region. The crisis was triggered by erratic rainfall and a modest fall in food production, as the report states. That shows how vulnerable the region is. The coping strategies that the population has evolved for living in such an adverse climate are incredibly fragile, and it does not take much to tip the population over the edge so that many people die. Sadly, death from starvation is an annual occurrence in Malawi.

Those conditions could be replicated next year, if not this year, if we do not tackle some of the underlying problems. Malawi has rain, and there was lots of it when I was there with thunderstorms and no shortage of water falling, but no way of capturing that benefice. The run-off from the soil was enormous. Soil erosion was tangible with vast quantities of topsoil brought down from over-cultivated fields to lie in the roads in huge pools, but there was no way of capturing what nature has to offer. The absence of irrigation is a problem in any form of farming, even subsistence farming and certainly commercial farming, in that country. It has rainfall, and a huge lake—another feature of the country—but in many ways the agrarian economy cannot take advantage of them. However, other drought-prone developing countries do respond to climatic diversity. Drought-prone countries in Asia have developed water systems and used treadle pumps, which are ancient technology, not high tech. If more help were given to the region, such technology could result in offsetting the volatility in the climate that is a feature of the region.

There is no doubt that Malawi, in common with other countries in the region, is badly affected by adverse world trade rules that work so hard against developing nations. We had a substantial debate on that yesterday, but I reiterate that Malawi has, over the years, been encouraged to grow a range of commercial cash crops, but with an absurdly repeated cycle of very limited success and frequent failure.

The example about tobacco in yesterday's debate on fair trade does not need to be repeated. Those of us who visited Malawi saw the small holdings of Malawian tobacco, but the fact that 300,000 farmers in Malawi grow tobacco means that it is an important cash crop for a country that has suffered badly from domestic subsidies applied to tobacco in the developed part of the world.

Coffee is another example. I saw neglected former plantations of coffee production. Malawi has the climate to produce coffee, but coffee has been badly affected by the devastating collapse in commodity prices. Nor has the country any chance to compete. Huge tea plantations are now derelict, bringing unemployment and aggravating the serious poverty.

There is therefore no question that today's news on common agricultural policy reform, which lacked any commitment to removing the export subsidies that so damage the cash crop-producing potential of these countries, is utterly depressing. I hope that the Minister will confirm the impression that we have been given that no word in the conclusions of that CAP reform statement today, which the Government will present as a success, brings any comfort to the developing world. I record my party's deep regret that the opportunity has been missed.

Malawi survives on a regime of dependency on food aid. That is not desirable, but it is even less desirable that we have been giving Malawi food aid—we are not alone in that, but we have been a guilty party—but have not been giving it what it has been asking for. That is a more widespread problem. I acknowledge that the Government appear to have paid attention to that in the Select Committee's report, but I want to press the Minister to extrapolate some of the lessons that can be learned.

Faced with the incredible threat and reality of starvation in the region, a cry came from Malawian people not to give food for work in the programme. The initial idea had been to prevent starvation by providing people only with food. However, Malawian farmers were asking for something quite different. They wanted the implements with which to be able to produce the crop for themselves in subsequent years.

John Barrett described what he and I had seen in Malawi: women and children undertaking infrastructure projects because the male members of their household were too sick to take part in gruelling work. It is a hot country, and building roads by hand in hot countries is sheer hard work. The women who built the roads complained that if they were paid for their infrastructure work in food or cash, they had no sooner got home than members of the extended family tapped them for it. It is difficult for someone to be confronted by members of their family who are starving hungry when they have the wherewithal to keep them alive. How does that person refuse their family a portion of the food or cash that they have been given for their work?

People want vouchers for seed and fertiliser that they can cash in when the first rains come. That would make it much easier for them to explain to other members of the family that the benefit of their road-building programme will be seen in next year's harvest, when they will have the wherewithal to plant and perhaps to feed the extended family. For a long time, we seem to have resisted that request. The good news is that in the report published on 7 May, the response from the Government makes it clear that a conversion has taken place in DFID and that the pilot programme undertaken in Malawi, which has had such good results, has attracted the Government's attention. My question to the Minister is: if the programme worked well in Malawi, to what extent does DFID intend to replicate it elsewhere in the region?

To me, the timing is poignant. The pilot programme was an NGO programme for which funding expired on 16 May, with no prospect of the inputs-for-work programme being able to continue. The conversion seems to have come on 7 May, and I understand that funds have now been found for continuation of the programme using DFID moneys. I am interested in the Government's intention and the extent to which that will happen.

DFID having been converted on the benefits of the inputs-for-work programme, I ask the Minister to turn his attention to the way in which taxpayers' money is given multilaterally through the European Union. I had a letter from Pascal Lamy in response to my enthusiasm for the inputs-for-work programme. It flatly denied the programme's benefits and said that the European Union was committed to continuing to provide Malawian farmers with cash. I know from talking to those farmers that that cash simply disappears before the point at which they need it to purchase their inputs.

Even worse, Pascal Lamy said that the EU intended to persuade Malawian farmers to stop producing maize. I would like to know the reasons behind that, because maize is a staple crop in that country and, as far as I can see, it is the crop most likely to lift people out of wondering whether they will survive until the end of the year.

I am deeply unhappy about the situation. A third of our overseas aid is given in that way. If DFID is persuaded of the benefit of the inputs-for-work programme, will the Minister use his good offices to persuade those in the European Commission who do not share that view?

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

I do not pretend to be an expert on maize, but when we were in Malawi, there was great concern about the dependence on maize because if someone grows maize on the same patch of ground year after year and there is no fertiliser and no other means of remedying the depletion of the soil, things start going downhill. A balance in the crops that are grown in Malawi would be welcome.

Photo of Caroline Spelman Caroline Spelman Shadow Minister (Women), Shadow Secretary of State for International Development

I accept that if the fertiliser is not there, it is a disaster for the soil. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman saw the powerful image that I saw. It was like patchwork. If one looked at a section of the countryside—the holdings are small—one could see the parcels of land that had been fertilised next to the parcels of land that had not. A family that was able to feed itself and perhaps the wider family would be next door to a family that might not have enough to live on that year.

It has to be said that the experimentation with organic fertilisers, which has gone on for nearly a decade in Malawi, has failed. One particularly shocking reason why it failed is that people were so hungry that they ate the green matter for composting for the organic fertiliser programme. There is simply not enough of such matter. Although we might have deep concerns about inorganic fertilisers and their consequences for the environment, the reality is that in order for people to survive in Malawi and to make the country's food supplies sustainable, providing people with fertiliser is the key. Once the soil comes back into balance through the use of fertiliser, some adverse effects that we have seen, such as over-fertilisation, can be easily avoided. It was a stark lesson for all who have been there to see the consequences when soil is deprived of the nutrients needed to produce the crop.

On the inputs-for-work programme, one question that I put to the women digging the road—in some cases phenomenal distances of 9 or 12 km were involved—was how the programme would continue now that they had finished digging. How would they be able to work for inputs the following year? I ask the Minister to consider irrigation, and simple ways of capturing water in communities.

The other key ingredient of growth in production, along with fertiliser, is sufficient water. That kind of provision might be achieved through the inputs-for-work programme. Ultimately, that does not create dependency because once the smallholder has enough fertiliser and seed, is able to save the seed and can afford next year's fertiliser, we do not need to continue providing aid in that form.

The women to whom I spoke had plenty of ideas on what they could do to improve their infrastructure by those means. They referred to capturing water and the building of fire breaks, which is very important in a desiccated country, and they would like to build schools. Malawian children miss out on school when the rains come, simply because there is nowhere dry to sit and learn. That seems a fairly basic provision.

Another key aspect of the International Development Committee's report was HIV/AIDS. Like many countries in the region, Malawi has been decimated by AIDS. In the village where I stayed, which had a population of 2,000, the man with whom I stayed was looking after 78 orphans and 53 widows, who would otherwise have had no one. The society is teetering on the edge of complete social breakdown.

I want to commend the project carried out by the Merck company in conjunction with the Government of Botswana as a model of how the terrible AIDS pandemic could be tackled more effectively in sub-Saharan African countries. Botswana has the highest rate of infection of countries in the region at 38 per cent. The particularly shocking thing that I learned from talking to those working on the project is that there are no places in orphanages—they are full—but there are community orphanages, which I experienced in Malawi. Those involve children living by themselves in the huts where their parents have just died, with perhaps—if they are lucky—a community worker dropping in from time to time. That is a long way from our concept of an orphanage.

In consequence, the children suffer terrible abuse, including sexual abuse, which should worry us deeply. A generation is growing up in a society that appears not to love, value or care for them. Without nurture in their younger years, those children are more likely to develop aberrant and psychopathic behaviour, which should really cause us concern. It makes them more susceptible to recruitment as child soldiers. They have essentially been brutalised by the experience of the pandemic, which is why it is so important that we get to grips with tackling the crisis.

I am very disappointed by the response of European countries to the challenge presented by President Bush's allocation of $15 billion to the AIDS pandemic. I thought it pretty poor to say that we would only match the contribution to the global health fund. I am even more appalled that at the European Council meeting on 19 and 20 June it was not possible to reach agreement even on matching that. It is utterly depressing that the AIDS pandemic and its significance have been allowed to slip so far down the agenda that we cannot agree to match even one fifteenth of what America is prepared to allocate to the problem.

I have a challenge for the Minister. What help has DFID in mind for child-headed households, and what will the Government do about the problem of raids on the third world for medical professionals? I know that, as far as the national health service is concerned, the Government do not want nurses and doctors to be taken from that region of the world, which faces such a serious medical challenge, but the problem of vacancy rates in the hospital in Malawi is not confined to that country. Four hundred South African nurses chartered a jumbo via a nursing agency in this country to bring them here. That practice goes on because agencies go on recruiting. As far as I can see, the Government have not found a way to stop it. I challenge the Minister to say what they will do.

Photo of Dr Jenny Tonge Dr Jenny Tonge Liberal Democrat, Richmond Park

I share the hon. Lady's fury about that practice, and I understand what she is saying. However, I hope that I made it clear that I feel very much for the nurses and doctors who have to work with the AIDS epidemic, because they are getting no experience of anything else. They more or less act as mortuary attendants. They cannot do anything, because they do not have the resources, so they come here willingly. They are desperate to get out so, although I deplore the practice in one way, I can see how easy it is for agencies to recruit those staff. They want to come here.

Photo of Caroline Spelman Caroline Spelman Shadow Minister (Women), Shadow Secretary of State for International Development

I understand that. The beauty of the Botswanan model for tackling the provision of health care and palliative care is the realisation that care, treatment and medication do not have to be provided in a hospital setting, and that it is possible to replicate a series of clinics in a network throughout the country. I suggest that if trained health professionals working in the clinic setting, providing medicines, cannot cure patients, they can at least prolong life, and providing palliative care is a rather more optimistic way of using nursing and medical skills. That is why I advocate that model of working. The key to the success of the project in Botswana is top-down support from the Government of Botswana. The fact that they are working in partnership, believe in what the project can achieve and support it 100 per cent. has helped to make its replication successful. I hope that the Minister will respond to two strong pleas to consider that.

I cannot finish without referring to Zimbabwe, because I feel so strongly about it. Zimbabwe is a special case and a shameful case within the crisis in the region. My hon. Friend Tony Baldry said that it was part of the problem but could be part of the solution. It has gone from being the bread basket to being the begging bowl. This year, it is expected to produce only 40 per cent. of the maize needed in that country alone, yet it used to feed its neighbours. In addition, escalating prices put the maize beyond the pockets of many very poor Zimbabweans and, with inflation running at 228 per cent., more and more people will be unable to afford it.

I should like the Minister to give us his up-to-date assessment of just how serious the humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe is. I should like to know how many people he believes will need food aid this year. What is the prospect of a return to self-sufficiency? Is there any prospect that Zimbabwe's capacity to produce enough not just to feed itself, but others will return? How long will it take?

At her last International Development questions, Clare Short said that there is nothing more that can be done. Her view was that there will be a terrible tragedy. I do not accept that analysis, and I hope that, with new leadership in his Department, the Minister will be able to give us a more optimistic assessment.

I agree with the hon. Member for Richmond Park that we cannot force peer pressure, but surely more could be done to bring it about. There must be more that we can do; the inconsistencies—where we are prepared to intervene and where we are not—are clear to all. It is shameful that we as a nation have adopted a hand-wringing position on Zimbabwe, and we can and must do more.

There are many early warning signals on Angola, which does not feature a great deal in the report. It is still badly affected by its conflict and is at high risk of being caught up in another ongoing crisis in the region.

I hope that the Minister will talk to us about better early warning systems. The impact of HIV and AIDS is, sadly, too far down the agenda, and anything that the Government do to bring it back up and get a real commitment will be welcome. Market access is key; perhaps it is not too late to do something about export subsidies. The developed world must stop producing rhetoric on sub-Saharan Africa and take some action, because if it does not there will be a constant cycle of crisis.

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn The Minister of State, Department for International Development 4:36 pm, 26th June 2003

I echo the thanks of Mrs. Spelman to Sir Nicholas Bevan for the service he has given to the House and to all hon. Members.

The report was impressive. It is not unusual to say that about what the International Development Committee produces, but in this case it was particularly impressive because it took such an important issue—the food crisis—and explored the complexities of the various factors and inter-relationships that make up the crisis. More importantly, it asked what lessons we can learn for the medium and longer term to minimise the chances of being in the same position again.

I concur with the comments of the hon. Member for Meriden about the dialogue that was published alongside the Government's response. I am grateful to all hon. Members who spoke in the debate, because it was evident from every speech that they brought their own experiences to the matter. There cannot be one hon. Member present who has not been to Malawi, and I shall say something later about my own experiences in that regard.

Three broad conclusions can be drawn from the debate and the report. First, the international response to the humanitarian crisis was generally effective in the end, as Tony Baldry said. About 14 million vulnerable people were helped by Governments in the region, by non-governmental organisations and by the international community, and there is no doubt that lives were saved and suffering reduced as a result.

Secondly, as the hon. Gentleman was right to say, the crisis is continuing. Although improved harvests will allow feeding programmes in some countries to stop, we expect up to 7 million people in the region to need assistance later this year. In Zimbabwe, the Government's disastrous policies made the crisis deeper and longer than it should have been and significant international assistance will again be needed. I will return to that point.

Thirdly, we need to adjust our longer-term development activities in southern Africa to take account of the lessons that we must learn from the crisis. The most valuable thing to emerge from the report and this afternoon's debate is that we should engage in discussion about what we can do differently and better in future.

We discussed variable climate as being a fact of life in the region. I understand that quite a lot of research has been carried out on the questions raised by Dr. Tonge, but it might be helpful if I to write to her about that, so that I can give her more information.

HIV/AIDS has featured prominently in our discussion. We must give more thought to how we manage the significant risks that combinations of circumstances pose to poor people in the region.

I welcome the fact that the report acknowledged both the international response to the crisis, and the response that the Department for International Development made and continues to make as a major contributor to that response. The Department has provided £106 million so far. The UK was the second largest bilateral contributor. Bearing in mind the remarks of the hon. Member for Banbury, who chairs the Committee, we need to acknowledge that contribution, and our contribution to EU assistance.

Funds from DFID have supported the UN's regional appeal, as well as the work of NGOs and some government systems. I pay tribute to those working in the region for the UN, international and local NGOs and regional governments. I also pay tribute to DFID staff in the UK and in country, whose dedication and hard work has undoubtedly helped to save many lives.

One specific area of concern raised in the report was whether we reacted quickly enough to early signs of famine in Malawi. That is a legitimate question. I visited Malawi in 2001, and met the famous Harry Potter, to whom my hon. Friend Tony Worthington referred. Harry Potter gave an interview to a journalist at the end of which the journalist said, "By the way, what's your name?" and responded with incredulity when he was told. On a visit to a village in Malawi, I remember someone remarking that the amount of grain in the bins appeared rather low for that time of year. The evaluations and review of donor performance that are under way, including those carried out by the National Audit Office, DFID, the World Food Programme and some NGOs, will help to provide the answer to that question. I undertake to keep the Committee and the House informed of the outcome of those assessments.

There are indications that the scale of the crisis this year will be smaller than last year and that about half as many people will need assistance. That is welcome news, although the problem will still be significant. Zimbabwe continues to be at the heart of the crisis, but significant crop failures in parts of Swaziland, Lesotho and Mozambique mean that help will also be needed in those countries. For that reason, we have already allocated £35 million as an initial contribution to the humanitarian response. We will review the progress of that response, and therefore the level of our contribution, later in the year. I believe that to be a sensible response to the situation.

With regard to Zimbabwe, I do not accept that DFID has failed to articulate with sufficient clarity, force or passion the responsibility that the Government of Zimbabwe bear for the catastrophe that now afflicts that country and its people. The hon. Member for Meriden was right to say that Zimbabwe has moved from bread basket to begging bowl. If someone who had been away for 25 years was told that Zimbabwe needed food aid, they would not understand what had happened because Zimbabwe was traditionally considered the bread basket of Africa. That is illustrates the extent of the disaster unfolding there.

The economy in Zimbabwe is collapsing, with inflation at more than 300 per cent. Foreign exchange is unavailable, as are key commodities, and subsistence farmers have been affected by variable rainfall. We all know about the disruption and chaos in the commercial farming sector. Even though the harvest looks better this year, it is likely that humanitarian programmes will need to be just as big as last year's, as the Zimbabwean Government will not be able to afford significant food imports. The proportion of food aid from sources other than the Zimbabwean Government must increase compared with last year. We must be clear that the food crisis in Zimbabwe is a crisis of governance.

HIV/AIDS is a massive additional burden on the Zimbabwean people, with about 3,000 people dying each week. We all sincerely hope that there will be early change in Zimbabwe. The point that the former Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend Clare Short, made in answering the question—I read the exchange—was about the difficulty in doing more to deal with the problem while recognising that in the end the change must come from within Zimbabwe.

The hon. Member for Meriden will know that the international community has made its views clear. We all hope that change comes quickly: it must come if Zimbabwe is to have the future that its people deserve. In the meantime, we will continue, together with our partners, to press for change. We will continue to make our view clear that the Zimbabwean Government are responsible for the crisis.

Photo of Caroline Spelman Caroline Spelman Shadow Minister (Women), Shadow Secretary of State for International Development

The Minister will forgive me, but I cannot let that pass. Waiting for a solution to the crisis to come from within is inconsistent, because we did not do that with Iraq. What about the recent treatment of the opposition leader? If he had not been bailed and released at vast expense and the situation had become even more disastrous, it would have been hugely complacent to say, "We are going to wait." There would be no guarantee that the situation would not get considerably worse.

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn The Minister of State, Department for International Development

It is not a question only of waiting, which is why steps have been taken to make the international community's view clear. Action was taken in the Commonwealth a couple of weeks ago, and Zimbabwe was recently suspended from voting in the International Monetary Fund, which is a decision that we supported along with a number of other Governments. If the hon. Lady has further specific suggestions that she wants to advance about the steps that can be taken, I am sure that all Members present would be interested to hear them. None of us lacks the willingness to do all that we can in playing our parts to try to bring about change, but I am merely acknowledging that the process must come from within Zimbabwe. I mean it when I say that I hope that that day is not long away.

Photo of Dr Jenny Tonge Dr Jenny Tonge Liberal Democrat, Richmond Park

Would it not be possible to put a complete ban on travel for all members of the Zimbabwean Government? They could also be indicted, and if they set foot outside the country, even in surrounding African states, they would be arrested. Very little is being done. We know that President Mugabe went to Paris. We know why he was accepted there, but the opposition feels that nothing is being done. It could equally well have been argued that change should have come from within in the case of Iraq.

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn The Minister of State, Department for International Development

I do not accept that Iraq and Zimbabwe are comparable, and if we were having a different debate we could go into the reasons for that. The hon. Lady will know about the travel ban and the assets freeze, although they have not been wholly consistently applied given President Mugabe's visit to Paris, which she mentioned.

Zimbabwe apart, I agree with the Select Committee's report that there is much that we must learn from the current crisis. The first lesson is that we must intensify our work on the long-term issues that have allowed humanitarian crises to become a regular feature in southern Africa. Poverty and weak governance are central parts of that equation. The region has astonishingly diverse geography and economics. One can compare South Africa, an economic powerhouse, with the subsistence farming of Malawi. However, the region should be able, in the right circumstances, to ensure adequate food for all its people.

DFID's focus will continue to be on the poor communities that are most vulnerable to the shocks that can lead to food shortages, be they drought, flood, epidemics or economic crises. How can we best help those communities? Self-evidently, lifting people out of poverty is the best way to ensure that they have the resources to cope when there is a shock. The wealthier countries of the region—South Africa, Botswana and Namibia—have been able to manage without serious difficulties. Indeed, South Africa has donated food to its neighbours. In other countries, however, it is not only the most abjectly poor who have been affected. Last year and in the 1991–92 drought, even those thought to be better off were hit hard in some countries, notably Zimbabwe.

We therefore need a strategic approach, and that is what the strategy mentioned in the written statement that I submitted to the House is designed to provide. My hon. Friend Mr. Battle referred to that statement. The best way to answer the point that he raised, which was touched on by the hon. Member for Banbury, is to suggest that we consult on the strategy with other interested parties when we produce it in draft form, if that is agreeable to members of the Select Committee. That would provide an opportunity to continue the dialogue referred to by the hon. Member for Meriden as we draw up the strategy and look to the longer term.

My hon. Friend the Member for Clydebank and Milngavie was right about land tenure and ownership in Malawi. I remember having a similar discussion with business people in Blantyre. They spoke about the difficulty of securing investment in tourism around Lake Malawi—which is one asset in a country that has few assets in other respects—because the longest lease that one could obtain on a piece of land for investment was for 15 years. I do not know whether the situation has changed subsequently, but who would invest big money for the long term when they could not be sure that their lease on a site would extend beyond 15 years? That is another example of how the systems that operate in a country—in this case, the law relating to land ownership and leasing—can have an impact on the economy, and thus on poverty reduction.

Regional trade could play an important role in improving the local response to food shortages, because there is already extensive informal trade in food—for example, between northern Mozambique, which often has surpluses, and Malawi. There is also extensive formal trade between South Africa and other countries in the region. We must lower barriers to that trade and allow regional production, instead of longer-distance food aid, to pick up the slack where possible.

Wider trade policy issues are also relevant. The dumping of European and north American surpluses on southern markets can have disastrous effects. That gives me an opportunity to answer the question about the deal reached yesterday. Export subsidies are a feature of the common agricultural policy which arises from surpluses. The only reason to provide an export subsidy is to deal with the surpluses that have been created. The importance of that deal, which I think was reached at 5.30 this morning, is that, in time, as it reduces production, it will in turn reduce the need for the export subsidies about which the hon. Member for Meriden and others spoke. The issue of export subsidies must be tackled specifically in the World Trade Organisation. The deal, including the decoupling that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs spoke about in her statement to the House earlier this afternoon, enables the EU to meet and, indeed, to better the domestic support targets that were proposed in the WTO negotiations. The hon. Lady is right that that is an important first step, but it is not the end of the story. What happens at the negotiations in Cancun and subsequently will provide the real test. Yesterday, we debated that issue extensively in the House.

Several important issues were raised regarding agriculture. DFID recognises the importance of agricultural production as the backbone of many communities, but some hon. Members argued that we were no longer interested in agriculture and that we were pulling back from our involvement in it. That is not the case, and we continue to fund a very large agricultural research programme. We are extensively involved in the agriculture sector in some countries, and Malawi is a good example. Hon. Members mentioned the targeted inputs programme, and I saw goods being distributed as part of that programme when I was in Malawi in November 2001. People queued with their vouchers, had their identity checked and took their sacks of seeds and fertilisers. We have made inputs available to millions of farmers over the past five years, and we are about to supply further targeted inputs in Malawi.

The targeted inputs programme is very impressive, and shows that we must do different things in different countries. It is not a matter of supporting such programmes rather than focusing time and attention on the structures and systems of Governments that are developing their agricultural policies. The truth is that we must do both, and there are different circumstances in different countries. In Zimbabwe, governance is the issue. In Malawi, there is a great and continuing need for practical support.

Photo of Caroline Spelman Caroline Spelman Shadow Minister (Women), Shadow Secretary of State for International Development

Does the Minister understand that there is a difference between the targeted inputs programme and the inputs-for-work programme? The TIP disbursed vouchers to pre-selected groups or to those who presented for the vouchers. Under the inputs-for-work programme, only those who were most in need of agricultural inputs—those who were so poor that they had no other way of getting them—were prepared to work on infrastructure projects to secure the vouchers. On analysis, the difficulty with targeted inputs was that they sometimes went to groups that could afford them, rather than to the most vulnerable, who could not. One way of testing whether there was real need was whether people presented for work. The scheme could be finessed in that 10 per cent. of the inputs could, by nomination of the workers, go to those who could not work.

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn The Minister of State, Department for International Development

The hon. Lady makes an important point about what we must do to learn from the two schemes. I accept that we must reflect on that, as we said in our response to the Select Committee. We must also ensure that support is supplied in the most appropriate way as we and other Governments develop our approaches.

I should mention that, the year before my visit to Malawi, we made the TIP available to all households that wanted to avail themselves of it, although it subsequently became more targeted. That seemed to be an intensely practical means of dealing with the situation on the ground, and it is not helpful to get into a theological argument about the right way to tackle the problem. The fact is that we must respond to different circumstances in different countries.

It is not the case that the CDC is no longer interested in agriculture. At the end of 2002, about 10 per cent. of its portfolio was in agricultural holdings. Part of its purpose is to provide investment to support businesses. In some cases, its sells them to others as going concerns. Indeed, it has passed some agricultural businesses and holdings on to others, and they continue to provide employment and to engage in agricultural activity. The CDC continues to invest in agriculture, and examples include the largest arable farm in southern Africa, which is in Zambia, an integrated tea-grading and packing business in Tanzania, and horticultural businesses in Kenya. I want to make that clear, because I do not want anyone to leave the debate with the impression that there is no continuing interest in agriculture.

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

Nor would I like to give the impression that the CDC had abandoned agriculture, but it is less focused on it. Its representatives admitted that themselves when they came to see us. They told us that the CDC was required to make profits that it could not achieve through African agriculture. That is the point. I take the Minister's point that there is interest in agriculture, but consider the input. I quoted a 25 per cent. fall during the life of the Government in the contribution to agriculture in the DFID budget. That is an expanding budget in absolute terms. If we examine the output, we see that it shows a fall in production in Africa. We cannot be satisfied with that.

Photo of Mr Nigel Beard Mr Nigel Beard Labour, Bexleyheath and Crayford

As we are not under pressure for time, I am allowing fairly lengthy interventions, but that is not the custom.

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn The Minister of State, Department for International Development

My hon. Friend made a point about the attributed spending delivered through the bilateral programme. That issue applies not just to agriculture but to other areas of our work. We have had debates before about the long-term benefit of backing the judgment of the Governments of other countries, rather than the Department second-guessing what Governments want to do for the future of their countries.

My hon. Friend will understand only too well that as we provide more in the form of direct budget support to Governments. One of the consequences is that it becomes more difficult to ask precisely what proportion of the money provided was spent on health, education, water, sanitation or agriculture. We must be honest about that problem and face up to it. We deal with direct budget support because we think that with appropriate Governments in appropriate circumstances it is a better way of supporting the development process in a country.

It may appear that we are spending less, because as we shift from bilateral programmes that can be quantified to those in which we are providing direct budget support it becomes more difficult to attribute funds in that way. I would not want to reach a position in which we said that we would forget about direct budget support and go back to bilateral programmes, which can be quantified, because people were saying that countries did not appear so interested in such support. That is not in the long-term interests of proper development. We have to acknowledge that that is a consequence that arises from encouraging development in that way.

The other major issue raised during the debate was HIV/AIDS. The second thing that we need to learn from the crisis is whether HIV/AIDS has made humanitarian crises more likely in southern Africa. I thought that the hon. Members for Edinburgh, West (John Barrett) and for Richmond Park spoke eloquently about its impact, as did others. It is very difficult to understand the scale of that impact because the numbers are so large. We certainly know the figures for the shocking infection rate, but we need to understand more about the impact that has on food production and access to food in vulnerable communities.

HIV/AIDS is hitting the young and previously healthy and productive members of communities. Millions of households in the region are headed by older people or children, who are much less able to manage the hard labour of food production or the other work that is needed to cope with their extreme poverty. We have also heard about the devastating impact that that is having on the skills base. I learned from my visit to Malawi about the loss of capacity: civil servants, doctors, teachers, Members of Parliament and those in the armed forces. That problem has an impact on all parts of the community in that country. The loss of capacity is enormous.

The hon. Member for Richmond Park described the hospital at Blantyre. I went to the bottom hospital, as it is known colloquially, in Lilongwe, which treats tuberculosis. I went into a ward with around eight beds and five people, but the sole doctor said that three months previously 30 or 40 people had been crammed in. That was no longer the case because the hospital was trialling a new way of treating TB patients, which involved their coming in with a friend who would take responsibility with the patient for ensuring that when they returned home they took the tablets in the right order. That example of a change in the way in which health care is provided—a point that was made by the hon. Lady, with her expertise and knowledge—enabled previous overcrowding in that hospital to be reduced.

Questions were asked about the global health fund and my hon. Friend the Member for Clydebank and Milngavie asked about the policy of the United States of America, rather than the policy of the Government of the United Kingdom. Clearly, I cannot answer for the Government of the United States, although I note with interest some of the positive developments. We have expressed concern in a number of international forums about some of the policy approaches, particularly those on access to reproductive health, on which my Department's position remains absolutely clear and strong.

On contributions to the global health fund, hon. Members will be aware of the additional contribution announced by the United Kingdom during the Evian summit. Discussions continue within the European Union about the possibility of a significant additional contribution. I accept the argument that Europe must demonstrate its commitment with other G8 countries.

In Malawi, increasing funding is going to the National AIDS Council, including from DFID. If Malawi continues to strengthen its HIV/AIDS programme—I discussed that with then Vice-President Malewezi when I was there—it should be able to secure further funds from international agencies to support its work.

The final lesson that we must learn from the crisis concerns the systems that we use to monitor food shortages and vulnerability. The hon. Member for Banbury made that point at the beginning of his comments. We need to understand what worked and what did not. In some ways, southern Africa is ahead of other areas in its assessment systems. Co-ordination through the Southern African Development Community is good. A common framework for vulnerability assessment has been agreed and is being refined, but I accept entirely the argument that we could do better. For that reason, we have offered funding to SADC to help it to do that. In our view, any system must be relevant and consider the region's long-term development so that it operates continuously and not just in response to particular crises. We shall not have effective early warning if the system is geared up only when a famine has begun. That is an important lesson.

I welcome this debate. The Select Committee has produced an excellent report, which has caused us to think. That is good, because it means that the Select Committee is doing its job. I hope that our written response, the continuing dialogue and the offer that I made this afternoon to consult the Select Committee and others on the draft longer-term strategy will reassure hon. Members that we as a Department and as a Government take the matter seriously. We are committed, and as we take this important work forward we want to learn lessons and to do better in future.

Photo of Mr Nigel Beard Mr Nigel Beard Labour, Bexleyheath and Crayford

Before I put the Question, may I say that from what I heard from my predecessor in the Chair and what I have heard since I took the Chair this has been an extremely interesting and well-informed debate? I congratulate all who have taken part.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at eight minutes past Five o'clock.