[Relevant documents:Tenth Report from the InternationalDevelopment Committee, Session 2007-08, HC 493-I, TheWorld Food Programme and Global Food Security, and theGovernment's response, Eighth Special Report of Session2007-08, HC 1066.]
Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(Ian Lucas.)
Although it is some time since the International Development Committee produced its report, this is a timely opportunity to bring some of the information up to date and for the Government to give an indication of how they are responding to a changing situation.
Perhaps it would be convenient for hon. Members to reflect on the circumstances in which the Committee began work on its report a year ago. It was fortuitous that the crisis developed after we had decided to write the report. Therefore, I am not claiming credit and saying that the Committee was ahead of the curve, but we were timely, as it turned out.
Indeed, on the day that Josette Sheeran, the head of the World Food Programme, gave evidence to the Committee, the Prime Minister took the opportunity to convene his food summit at No. 10 Downing street. I hope that I am not being ungallant if I say that that is possibly the primary explanation of why I was the only non-Cabinet Minister invited to attend the summit, which was an interesting and important event. It was seminal in our recognition that we have to rethink the role of food, food security and supply, and development.
People will remember that food prices rose shockingly and sharply last year. There were food riots in many countries and deep concern about the situation. People might be forgiven for thinking, because all that is no longer in the headlines and prices have eased back a bit, that the problem has been resolved. However, the reality is that prices are still at historical highs, relatively speaking, and some are at absolute highs. For example, the cost of Thai rice—the world's benchmark—is $614 a tonne, more than double its 10-year average price of $290 a tonne. That is the current price, not the peak, which was $1,000 a tonne at the height of the crisis. The price of maize in Malawi has risen 100 per cent. in the past year, and wheat prices in Afghanistan are 67 per cent. higher than a year ago. Of course, the incidental benefit from that is that wheat is more attractive than poppy to some farmers in Afghanistan, but that is not central to this debate. My point is that food security and prices are still an issue, even if startling figures are not in the headlines.
The WFP requested $5 billion to meet last year's food crisis. In spite of the fact that the sharp price peaks have disappeared, it is asking for $6 billion to deal with food shortages this year. To some people, that might seem counter-intuitive, but, because of various pressures, the reality is that the WFP has more people to feed this year. It will be instructive to deal first with the explanations for last year's food prices, and then see what has changed to cause the situation this year.
There were several explanations of why prices peaked as they did last year. One was that general economic activity forced up oil prices, which increased the costs of fertiliser and harvesting. Another was that rising living standards encouraged more people to buy meat products, and the diversion of cereal crops to animal feed imposed stresses on supply. Another argument involved biofuels, although I think that that debate got a little out of hand. Nevertheless, certainly in the United States, biofuel production took maize away from food production without delivering a great benefit in terms of fuel. Of course, there were also climate change factors—water shortages, desert conditions and crop failures for climatic reasons—and population growth pressures that contributed to what happened last year.
This year, some of those factors still exist, but additional ones have crept in. For example, the effect of the downturn has meant that many of the poorest people in the poorest countries have suffered a massive downturn in income, particularly due to the loss of remittances. That means that many of those people are poorer than they were before. Even though prices have come down from the peak, they are still historically high at a time when incomes are historically low. To a substantial degree, that is why the WFP is saying that it needs more this year than last year to address the needs and pressures that it faces.
I hope that the Minister will be able to give us an update on the Government's contribution, given that it is not always given in one go. I checked the WFP's website before I came into the Chamber to find out the UK's donations during the past three years and the current year: $100,371,690 in 2006; $66,850,922 in 2007; $168,960,902 in 2008, which was obviously a peak year; and $48,136,387 so far this year. Those are very precise figures—I suppose that exchange rates and other things are taken into account.
Perhaps the Minister will also give an indication, to the extent that he is able to do so, of the further contributions that we expect to make this year. I hope that I am right in assuming that the $48 million is current contributions, and that there will be more to come as the year progresses.
The UK is ranked about 8th or 9th among donors to the WFP. I would of course say, as would the WFP, that the UK is a significant donor. The Committee's meeting with representatives of the WFP was constructive because there was recognition that the UK is an important player and contributor to the work of the programme. However, I would like to highlight where the Committee, to some extent—I was about to say "parts company with the Government", but perhaps I will put it another way—thinks that the Government could re-evaluate its relationship with WFP.
As we understand it, the Government believe, perfectly correctly, that the WFP is the lead agency for dealing with famine and humanitarian crises involving food and relief, and that it does that extremely well and should be funded accordingly. The WFP, not unreasonably, says that although it is extremely good at such things and wants to continue to be the lead agency on them, it would like to have much more to do with preventing famine. It believes that it has many of the skills and qualities to enable it to do that, yet there seems to be a reluctance—not just by the UK Government but by the UK Government among others—to engage with that proposal.
The Committee recommended that the WFP should be recognised as the lead UN agency on hunger, not just food crises, which was in its original brief when it was set up. It should be given support not just to deal with famine and food crises but to help prevent them.
Since the Committee produced its report, the WFP has produced its strategic plan for 2008-11. Without wishing to delay our proceedings, it is probably worth putting the key points on record. The strategic plan lays out five objectives for the WFP in 2008-11. The first is to save lives and protect livelihoods in emergencies. Clearly, that is its brief, and the Government have no problem with that—that is what the Government fund it to do.
The next objectives are to prevent acute hunger and invest in disaster preparedness and mitigation measures; to restore and rebuild lives and livelihoods in post-conflict, post-disaster or transition situations; to reduce chronic hunger and under-nutrition—I shall come back to that point—and to strengthen the capacities of countries to reduce hunger, including through hand-over strategies and local purchase, which is another important point.
I am not suggesting that the Government do not agree with all those strategies. Indeed, in some cases, they do agree, and they work with the WFP on them. However, I believe that the view on other cases is that the WFP should not be involved, and therefore the UK Government do not provide funding. I would like to say unequivocally that the Committee would like the Government to think again—to revisit their position—because we think that that would be justified and could be beneficial.
We said in our report that we were shocked that the Government did not have a nutrition strategy. The Secretary of State acknowledged that he had not had a sharp focus on nutrition when he came into the role, but that he recognised that nutrition was an important part of the food security issue, and of the food issue more generally, and that that was important in achieving a number of the millennium development goals. He said that the Government would introduce a strategy on that. I do not complain that they have not yet done so, but it would be interesting to hear the Minister say what progress is being made.
It is fine to say, "People are really hungry; give them food", but let us look at the reality. Millions of children are permanently malnourished—stunted—and, as a result, they are vulnerable to diarrhoea, disease, malaria and AIDS. Therefore, because of their inherent malnutrition, if they contract any of the illnesses with which they are threatened in many environments, the chances of their dying are much higher. This is not just about making them look fitter and better; it is about fundamentally giving them the capacity to survive. Too many children still die before the age of 5, partly because they are not getting enough to eat and are going to bed hungry.
Just to reinforce my point about this year, because of other factors—the recession and the drop in income—the number of people going to bed hungry every night, according to international calculations, has now exceeded 1 billion for the first time ever. They are not hungry as we mean it, but hungry because they have not had enough to eat. The WFP has a potentially bigger role to play in developing a response to this.
On the procurement and provision of food, which the WFP has been thinking about quite a bit, neither the Committee nor the Government are responsible for calling the United States to account. However, it is well known that the US chooses to give most of its food aid in kind. Some years ago—my hon. Friend John Barrett was a member of our Committee at that time—we visited Washington and took the opportunity to discuss the issue with the deputy Commerce Secretary. She said that it was not farmers' interests in the US that caused the problem—the food is bought from them at the going rate, so it makes no difference to them whether they sell it to the Government or somebody else—but that the real issue related back to the Monroe doctrine. The shippers that carry food from the US to Africa or Asia are, to put it frankly and bluntly, making money out of doing so. Therefore they lobby Congress to allow aid to be sent not in cash, but in kind—that explains the context. From the WFP's point of view that process makes what it is trying to achieve a lot harder, because in respect of both efficiency and development assistance, it is much better for it to have the money to buy the grain from the nearest available place. That allows it to be transported quicker and at lower cost, and often provides income to farmers in neighbouring countries who have surpluses. That is often the case, because famine can be localised in one country, or even in one area of a country.
This is about getting the food from somewhere nearby to where it is most needed and, in the process, giving an income to small farmers. The WFP is now making that positive choice. It wishes to make small farmers part of the solution to the problem by making contracts with them to buy their food specifically for WFP purposes at guaranteed prices, which gives those farmers confidence that they can afford to plant and produce. Clearly, just in terms of general bilateral relationships, we would all like to persuade the US that, if it really wants to help the world's poor, this is a moment for a rethink about whether the commercial interests of US shippers are more important than the 1 billion people who go to bed hungry, and about whether a better way can be found of solving that problem in the long term. It seems to me that the WFP would wish to do that.
I had the pleasure of taking evidence from Josette Sheeran when she attended the Committee, and I have also visited the WFP offices in Rome and talked to a range of its officials. A few months afterwards, in July, I attended the Committee of the Foreign Affairs and Development Committee Chairs in Paris—it sits under every rotating presidency of the European Union—to which Josette Sheeran was giving evidence. I was somewhat surprised and disappointed, when she read a list of EU countries—not a short one—that had been of specific help and support to the WFP during that period of crisis, to find that it did not include the United Kingdom. I specifically asked her whether that was an oversight or a deliberate exclusion, and she made it clear that it was not an oversight and that although she was not ungrateful for, or unappreciative of, the significant contribution made by the UK, she did not appreciate the restrictions on funding that came from the UK Government, compared with other Governments, regarding the day-to-day activities of the WFP.
When I wrote to the Secretary of State about that, he robustly defended his position. However, he did not persuade me that the argument was entirely on his side. If the Minister feels able to elaborate on and explain that situation, I would be interested to hear about it. Although I am not implying that there is anything other than an honest difference of view, that difference is worth exploring, because it is clear that an organisation delivering impressive results takes the view that the UK's relationship with it is not as helpful as that of other countries. It is not the amount of money, but the way it is applied. It would be useful if that area were explored, to mutual benefit. I am not suggesting that there is any negativity—the WFP is positive about the UK—but it feels somewhat constricted.
It is surely right—I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman agrees—that if the Department for International Development is giving substantial aid to a United Nations body, it should be critically helpful about that body's policy and, if necessary, about how it spends its money. Will the Committee Chairman tell us whether, in this instance, he thinks that there may have been a little bit of spite involved in those remarks, in that DFID was trying sensibly to suggest how WFP policy should be rolled forward?
I can honestly say that there was no spite, because I had a private conversation with Josette Sheeran afterwards. She would want me to make it clear that she had a good personal relationship with the Secretary of State and that there was no quarrel. The money that she was getting was fine and delivered its intended purposes. There was no complaint about the relationship, but she felt that our Government was resisting its development. She would like to tease out the Secretary of State's position, and I am sympathetic to that.
Rather than being in any way challenging and critical—I do not want to be—I am saying that I completely understand the Government's position and why they are taking it. Perhaps until last year I would have said, "That's it. The Government simply say, 'We view the WFP as the lead humanitarian food relief agency. It is excellent. Whenever that is needed we will fund it generously.'" Neither I nor the WFP quarrel with that. However, if we are looking at whether we want to prevent famine—and we do— the Committee is suggesting that the WFP should have the capacity to make a contribution to that. We should at least reassess whether that would be a legitimate vehicle for British funding—that is all I am asking the Government to reconsider.
I do not want there to be any suggestion of spite, conflict or difference of opinion. My impression is that there is high regard for the British Government in the WFP, and vice versa. In respect of the development of the relationship, there is not tension but simply difference. Other countries are responding in ways that the WFP finds helpful. Personally, and from the Committee's point of view, it would be good if the British Government considered that view.
I do not want to detain hon. Members unduly. I hope that I have given some of the flavour of the report, the context in which we produced it and the changing circumstances over the last 12 months. We must not allow food security to lose its high priority on the agenda, and I shall refer to some points that have been made recently.
An article in the Financial Times on
"Don't forget that the food prices are today about 60 per cent. higher than they were only 18 months ago. And this means that those people who spend 60, 70 per cent. of their disposable income on food have been hurt very, very strongly".
Josette Sheeran has said that the food crisis is not over. The WFP worries that because we do not have food riots and there is no focus on high spikes, attention may be moving away.
I commend the Department for International Development for not chasing headlines or fashion. It tries genuinely to provide one of the most important and sustained mechanisms for delivering poverty reduction. I respect the ministerial response that the Government were not ready to change policy because they believed that they had got it right. I am asking them only to think about this, which is reasonable.
The Committee takes the view that the WFP is one of the best UN organisations. It operates in extraordinarily difficult conditions and does a fantastic job, bearing in mind that delivering food is not just about getting it there. The WFP must often build roads and secure access in dangerous places, and must do so often under fire with resulting casualties. That has positive consequences. Roads were opened up in southern Sudan for the delivery of food, and they became trading links and networks for economic development that was unrelated to the WFP, but facilitated only because the WFP built the road.
The WFP is one of the best organisations, but our conclusion is that it has the capacity to do a lot more to prevent famine. National and international communities must give serious thought not just to how we respond to emergencies—the Government do so admirably—but to how we can prevent those emergencies, and the role that the WFP could take in that. That is the key issue on which the Committee would like the Government to focus.
It is a great pleasure to follow my right hon. Friend Malcolm Bruce, Chairman of the Select Committee, in debating the Government's response to its report. I have been a member of the Committee for five or six years, and I am aware of its good work and that of the Department for International Development. In addition to thanking the Chairman and members of the Committee, I thank its support staff, who do great work and produce the detailed questions that must be asked when evidence is taken from the WFP and other experts. The Committee is one of the best Select Committees in the House, and I hope that the team effort delivers what is necessary.
In a world where there is enough food for everyone, it is tragic that 850 million people are hungry—that is what I put in my original speech, but since I wrote it, the figure has risen to 1 billion, which is even more tragic. The majority live in developing countries, but the reason for widespread hunger transcends national borders and even regional politics. Food insecurity is a problem of many global factors, and it requires an international approach. That is why the Select Committee's report is so welcome, and why I welcome the opportunity today finally to debate the Government response.
Robert Zoellick, president of the World Bank, has said that halving hunger and malnutrition is the "forgotten" millennium development goal. Given the scale of world hunger, we cannot afford for that to be the case. Hunger is one of the most tangible forms of human suffering, and one that we can all relate to, if only at a very minor level. If I were to ask each right hon. and hon. Member here to recall the last time that they were really hungry, and then to think of the last time that they ate too much, I suspect that the former would take some thought while the latter would be much easier to answer. We are the lucky ones, and it is one of our responsibilities in the House to ensure that those who are not so lucky receive our support through the Government. For that to be most effective, the Select Committee's work is vital. We can all make a strong case for increased development aid spending, but only if that money is wisely and efficiently spent.
I am sure that I am not the only Member who has been impressed by school and community groups in their constituencies who have sent generous food parcels to parts of the world that have been hit by famine or rocketing food prices. We rightly commend those acts of generosity, but when it comes to international policy for donors and global institutions, food aid is only ever a small part of the solution. The poorest people throughout the world spend up to 80 per cent. of their income on food, and there is acute vulnerability to fluctuations in food prices—my right hon. Friend has mentioned that the price of rice peaked at $1,000, and then settled back at $600 a tonne. In April 2008, there were protests in Egypt where the cost of food doubled in a year, riots in Haiti that left four people dead, violent protests in Ivory Coast, price riots in Cameroon in February that left 40 people dead, and demonstrations in Mauritania, Mozambique, and many other countries. Clearly, food security should be on all development and security agendas.
Food insecurity is widespread in many parts of Asia, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, where, amid chronic food insecurity, food rations have reportedly been halved following reduced supplies. In east Africa, more than 17 million people face serious food insecurity because of poor harvests, conflict or a combination of those factors. In Somalia, an estimated 3.2 million people currently require food assistance. In Sudan, the continued conflict and the recent expulsion of some humanitarian agencies in Darfur have caused serious problems for millions of vulnerable people who already faced a dire situation.
During a Select Committee visit to Ethiopia, we were told that approximately 6 million people are on permanent food aid. Live Aid was 25 or more years ago, and because the WFP and other agencies in the field are more efficient and effective, fewer people may be dying, but the number who do not know where the next meal is coming from or who cannot provide their own next meal is increasing.
In southern Africa, high domestic prices, the slow pace of imports, and high demand during peak hunger months are affecting the food security of around 8.7 million people, including 5 million in Zimbabwe, where the ongoing outbreak of cholera poses a serious threat to the health and nutrition of many vulnerable groups. The global economic recession is causing other problems, as my right hon. Friend has said. Remittances from family members working abroad that often sustain the food consumption of vulnerable households are drying up.
I have seen a wide range of food insecurity problems, many of which are referred to in the Select Committee report and the Government response in Darfur in Sudan, Malawi, Somalia, India, Ethiopia and so on. The report rightly identifies the new face of hunger in urban centres where the high price of food, not food scarcity, is the real cause of hunger. People are often surprised that where people are starving, there may be a market with the necessary produce not far away, but the problem is poverty.
My hon. Friend may be aware that the WFP recently instituted a voucher scheme in which, unlike previously, there is no requirement to get food to people. They are simply given the means to acquire food that is in the neighbourhood. WFP is piloting that innovative way of solving the problem.
When my right hon. Friend was making his opening speech, I was scoring out paragraphs in mine because he was pre-empting them, and he has just done that again, but I will read it anyway.
Many of the poorest people in the world are no longer reliant on good or bad crop yields, but they are now dependent on the market to access food. If someone in this country does not have access to food, we do not give them food aid, or seeds and tools to plant food. They receive money under the benefits system, so that they can go out and buy food. I am sure that there would be riots in the street if we were to suggest handing out food parcels rather than benefits. If that is not right here, surely there are plenty of other countries where we should consider alternatives. I shall return to the system of vouchers and cash.
I would be grateful to hear whether any consideration was given during the last round of the Doha talks to nutrition and the ability of countries to feed their citizens. Nutrition was mentioned in the opening speech today, and it is a key aspect of the issue. It is about not just the quantity of food available, but the quality. As we have heard, food insecurity is particularly hard to tackle in a complex, ongoing crisis and in the fragile transition to stability. During a crisis, fragile states may lack the capacity or institutional frameworks to implement long-term food insecurity solutions. That situation is made more serious by poor governance, conflicts, man-made disasters and HIV/AIDS and other diseases.
Against that backdrop, it is right that the focus is shifting towards cash, rather than the giving of in-kind food donations. I am pleased to see the increased emphasis given to social transfer schemes of cash or vouchers, which my right hon. Friend has mentioned, through the World Food Programme, and the Select Committee was right to highlight their importance. I strongly support the recommendation that the USA should immediately review its practice of giving the vast majority of its support in the form of in-kind donations of US surpluses, shipped by US companies. I remember many years ago visiting the United States Agency for International Development headquarters, where I saw a sign stating that more than 50 per cent. of aid given by USAID was spent on American companies. It boosted the American economy, rather than helping the individuals and countries that one would have thought it was going to.
I want to take a few minutes not only to consider what we can do to help to solve the problem, but to raise a few questions with the Minister about what we are doing to make it worse. Many developed countries naturally support their own farming industries and interests, but too often that is at the expense of others. Dumping surpluses or subsidising products can undermine local production in developing countries and their markets, and those markets will need to develop and thrive if developing countries are ever to inch away from their current level of food insecurity. What can the Minister say about the overdue reform of the common agricultural policy—I believe that that is central—and other negotiations that would allow a level playing field for more people and give them the ability to reap the reward of growing their own food, rather than receiving alternative cash products?
Aid should not be determined by any factors other than need and effectiveness. It is one of the best legacies of the current Government that the International Development Act 2002 explicitly states the principle that the giving of aid must be guided by humanitarian principles and not take into account the interests of the UK overseas. I am interested to hear whether the Minister has had any discussions with his counterpart in the new Obama Administration regarding any shift in US policy. I welcomed the recent commitment to a $60 million pilot project for the local purchase of food. It would be good to think that that is part of a genuine reappraisal of the approach.
As I have said, DFID has done much good work and is respected in many parts of the world. I am happy to place my views in that regard on the record. I welcome the £400 million support package for agricultural research, and I am interested in any progress report that the Minister can give on where that money is being spent and the impact that it is having. However, food security is clearly about more than supporting agriculture and matching supply with demand. It must be about building countries' and communities' resilience to the shocks that are increasingly restricting access to food for millions of people.
Growing water scarcity, triggered partly by climate change, is also severely affecting countries' ability to irrigate crops. Global demand for water has tripled in the past 50 years. We cannot consider food supply and security in any region without examining the broader effects of global warming. I would be interested to hear what DFID is doing to ensure that there is joined-up thinking between the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Ministry of Defence and DFID to ensure that food security is not just considered as a development issue.
Save the Children, in its evidence for the original report, rightly cited
"a myriad of international actors with overlapping remits but none with the key purpose of ensuring the efficacy of international donors, development organisations and governments in reducing malnutrition."
I share those concerns, particularly given that there still appears to be a lack of a specific nutrition policy or genuine measurable targets for assessing progress in reducing malnutrition. I understand that there is now a nutrition policy team in DFID, and I would appreciate any update from the Minister on the work that it is undertaking.
A few years ago, I survived for a week on a Red Cross food parcel; it was just after Christmas and into the new year period. The food kept body and soul together, but there was no nutrition there, and that was for only a week. I would not wish the experience of trying to survive on it for more than a week on anyone else. Unfortunately, however, as we have heard, 1 billion people in the world have to survive on similar rations or less. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say, because the current Government have done and are doing good work, but we can always press for more.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Key. I congratulate the Chairman of the Select Committee, Malcolm Bruce, not only on his speech and assessment of the current situation, but on this very comprehensive report. His Committee was very prescient in taking up the issue before the crisis erupted last year.
Perhaps the best way of opening my speech is to read out in full paragraph 7 of the report, which summarises what was happening in the world last year:
"It is in developing countries that people's lives are being endangered by the crisis. A 'perfect storm' of factors has conspired to send wheat prices spiralling by 122 per cent. and rice by 250 per cent. since 2000. The crisis has contributed to the threat of famine in countries such as Ethiopia, where the increasing cost of food imports has combined with drought, crop failure and conflict to double the number of people needing emergency assistance to 4.6 million. Four African countries—Lesotho, Somalia, Swaziland and Zimbabwe—are classified by the FAO"— the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation—
"as having 'exceptional shortfalls' in food production and supplies. There have been food riots in countries as diverse as Egypt, Malaysia and Yemen. In Haiti, where up to 75 per cent. of food is imported, riots during April 2008 forced the resignation of the Prime Minister."
Sadly, that was the context that followed the Select Committee's initial inquiry into this matter, but it is not an entirely new problem. I had a leading Indian human rights lawyer in my office this week, who gave me the shocking statistic that 300 million people in India eat 100 kg less a year now than they did at the time of independence in 1947. The problem has been becoming steadily worse, and DFID needs to be addressing it.
A fortnight ago, we were debating millennium development goal 6, relating to HIV/AIDS, and today we are debating MDG 1, which is probably the most important of all the MDGs, because if people do not have adequate food and water, they become, as John Barrett has made clear, vulnerable to every other disease and pressure on their lives. I need hardly remind hon. Members participating in the debate about MDG 1, but to put my speech in context, I shall put the details of it on the record. The goal is to halve between 1990 and 2015 the proportion of people whose income is less than $1 a day; to achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all, including women and young people; and to halve between 1990 and 2015 the proportion of people who suffer from hunger.
As both previous speakers have said, it was commonly assumed that 850 million people were living in hunger; it is now assumed that the figure is more than 1 billion—one sixth of the world's population. That is a very serious statistic. A child dies from malnutrition every five seconds, and 30 per cent. of all children who die, die from malnutrition-related problems. Those are shocking statistics. We all have tremendous sympathy for people in these situations and want to see what we can do about it.
Much has been said about the WFP today. I did not wish, in my intervention on the Chairman of the Select Committee, to cast any aspersions on the WFP. I just want to understand why the director of the WFP did not praise Britain in relation to contributions to the WFP, because it seems to me from everything that I have read that we generously support the WFP. Indeed, the agency is held in the highest regard worldwide and its staff deserve due credit for the vital work that they perform. The fact that eradicating hunger features as the first MDG should focus everyone's mind on how serious the matter is.
As I have stated, we discussed HIV/AIDS in this Chamber two weeks ago. Although it is right that that and the issue before us are debated separately, we must remember that the challenges that we face are not distinct, but interlinked and part of the web of poverty.
The Committee's report noted that 850 million people regularly do not eat enough food—a point graphically made by the Liberal spokesman, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West. The hon. Gentleman quoted Robert Zoellick, who said that MDG 1 is the forgotten MDG. As the Committee reported, Robert Zoellick went on to say that the world food crisis—this is perhaps the most shocking thing in the entire report—
"could push 100 million people into poverty, reversing the gains made in poverty reduction over the last seven years."
In other words, a lot of what the international community has achieved will be reversed. That is why we need the Minister to address the problem seriously.
If current trends continue, we will miss the target of halving the proportion of underweight children by 30 million children, and that will be largely because of the slow progress in southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. As I have said, a child dies from hunger-related causes every five seconds. When the Minister sums up, I hope that he will tell us how the work of the WFP and DFID in tackling hunger and malnutrition ties into the picture of underdevelopment as a whole.
As the Chairman has said, unpredictable and volatile world food prices were exacerbated by fluctuations in the oil markets, by increased weather hazards and by an overall growth in demand. Backed by the global recession, that created a perfect storm, as the Committee has said, and incomes fell. All those factors came together to make the situation worse. As I said in the debate on HIV/AIDS, the adverse exchange rate also reduced British aid. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, West quoted the chairman of Nestlé, who said that food prices rose by 60 per cent. last year. Again, that exacerbated the problem. Prices might have dropped back a bit this year, but they are still above trend.
The UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, no less, highlighted the simple consequences of such events to the Committee:
"When people are that poor and inflation erodes their meagre earnings, they generally do one of two things: they buy less food, or they buy cheaper, less nutritious food. The result is the same—more hunger and less chance of a healthy future."
In response to such concerns, the Committee recommend that:
"the safest plan of action is to prepare for relatively higher prices over the next decade, and we encourage the WFP and DFID to make the necessary adjustments to their policies."
When the Minister sums up, I would be interested to hear the Department's view of what the trends in food prices and availability are likely to be over the next few years and what plans it has to adjust budgets, if it feels that we are likely to remain above trend.
The WFP has responded to the increased challenges of global hunger by broadening its activities, moving away from simply providing food aid, which Save the Children has described as a blunt instrument, towards providing food assistance through cash and food transfer systems. As a farmer—I have declared that in the Register of Members' Interests—I think that the best long-term solution is to provide development assistance to encourage more farmers in individual countries to grow more of their own food, and DFID needs to pay close attention to that.
As has been said, we must recognise the USA as an important partner in tackling these problems. As the Chairman has said, however, the fact that the USA, which is the largest donor to the WFP, gives nearly all its donations in kind—as food—is of concern. It is far better from every point of view—whether we want to increase local capacity, get farmers to produce food themselves or deal with the environmental effects of CO2 emissions—that we do not transport vast quantities of food around the world any more than necessary.
At just the time when assistance is needed most, it is of great concern that the USA, as one of the key global players, has adopted such a policy. The Minister will no doubt recognise the concerns that that has raised, and I hope that he will enlighten us as to the dialogue that he has had with his counterparts in the USA about whether assistance should be provided in cash or in kind. I hope that he will tell us what more can be done through the WFP and direct donations by USAID and DFID to shift the emphasis on this issue.
I turn now to the work of the WFP. I share the Committee's surprise that
"DFID was not more supportive of the wider development activities undertaken by the WFP".
Those comments go in a similar direction to those made by the WFP's chairman, when she explained why she had not praised Britain more. There is something of an underlying agenda here, and it would be helpful if the Minister were to give us a clue as to what this is all about.
Clearly, the decisions taken by DFID have not been arbitrary, because the Department has stated that it has concerns over the appropriateness and effectiveness of WFP interventions. I hope that the Minister will be able to enlighten us. I will not criticise the Department's decisions in that respect, because I want the Minister to explain in more detail exactly what DFID's concerns are and what comparative advantage DFID has over the WFP in delivering health and education packages.
I now turn to two of the key issues that could feature in more long-term development—nutrition and agriculture. The report notes that donors have ignored nutrition for too long, adding:
"Only $250 million is spent on nutrition aid globally, compared with the $3 billion spent on HIV/AIDS"— in fact, it is more than $3 billion, because DFID spends £1 billion as part of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
The report continues:
"Whilst HIV/AIDS led to 380,000 child deaths in 2006, malnutrition is"— perhaps—
"responsible for 1.5-2.5 million children dying annually."
In a way, it is in invidious to compare one budget with another, but DFID's budget should surely be focused on an issue which affects so many people and which causes so many children to die each year. It is therefore welcome to read in the Government response about the establishment of a nutrition task team as part of DFID's policy and research division, and today seems like an excellent opportunity to give us an update on the team's work.
The Government response states that more than 50 per cent. of DFID's development assistance is spent on
"tackling the underlying causes of...malnutrition by investing in essential public services such as health, water and sanitation, education and social protection."
That is a welcome indication of the Government's recognition of the cross-links that exist with other aspects of international development.
On the reference to water and sanitation, however, I note that we debated the Committee's report on water and sanitation in this Chamber on
"water availability decreased substantially between 1975 and 1995", and that trend is likely to continue as a result of increasing drought, desertification and extreme weather events. That is all part of the pattern of global climate change, which not only affects water supplies, but leads to food shortages.
As a farmer, I think that our international development programme has neglected agriculture, and that has been recognised by the Committee and by many in the development community. However, I reiterate the Committee's view that this is not the time for blame, but for looking forward to see how we can redress those issues.
That belief was reinforced last summer, when I took part in a project in Rwanda. I met a man who runs a charity called Send a Cow, and he is a real expert in agriculture. He suggested that 80 per cent. of the people in Rwanda gain their living and income from agriculture in one way or another and that one of the quickest ways to help those people, who are so dependent on agriculture, is a free agricultural advisory service. I went away and did a little work on that. I got an institution in my constituency—the Royal Agricultural College—to do a feasibility study. I sent that study to the Minister, who replied that Rwanda's agriculture is improving significantly. However, I believe that there are many poor countries where a free advisory service to farmers could boost agricultural production significantly.
The report makes it clear that DFID spends only £400 million on agricultural research. In a world where a lot of good research is going on—indeed, research has helped to give a huge boost to our agriculture and that of other civilised countries since this country was kept alive during the second world war—it is important to carry on such work. I ask the Minister to reflect, without preconceived ideas, on whether his Department is doing enough on agricultural research; I am not sure.
The report touches on the issues of GM crops and biofuels—two other subjects that could be better informed by research. The use of GM crops remains a matter of great debate and there are clearly significant and sharp arguments on both sides of the subject, but the correct approach is to enable developing countries to take their own decisions on the use of such crops. I believe, as a farmer, that they can play a significant and useful role in boosting food output, particularly where there are difficult agricultural conditions, such as drought or severe pestilence. As to biofuels, in my conversation with the European Environment Commissioner there was no thought that, in relation to targets for inclusion, we should perhaps lower our aim. Again, the subject is fiercely controversial, but if the west's over-demand for the inclusion of biofuels in the general fuel mix is causing a reduction in food production that would otherwise help to feed poor countries, we need to think seriously about it.
In conclusion, I want to consider the future and ask what the Minister sees as the route to achieving MDG 1, and the role of DFID and the WFP. The Select Committee has remarked on greater integration between the WFP, the Food and Agriculture Organisation and the International Fund for Agricultural Development. Alongside that, it makes recommendations for the WFP to be the UN's leading agency on hunger. On both those suggestions, the Government have said that they will be supportive and offer their encouragement. I hope that the Minister will update us on how that encouragement has been taking shape.
Let us not overlook the important statement in the report that the problem lies not in a
"global lack of food—there is enough food in the world to meet demand—but in a long-term lack of access to food for many people".
We can produce enough food in the world, but it is not being universally distributed, and 1 billion or more people go hungry each night. If international development cannot solve that, then we have failed. I ask the Minister what progress we are making.
I congratulate Malcolm Bruce on securing this important debate on a significant report by his Select Committee. I also pay tribute to him for his leadership of the Committee, which is challenging and critical but always constructive and reasonable. The quality of the debate has been important and has perhaps made up for the lack of hon. Members in Westminster Hall today. There has been tremendous consensus on the importance of the global community stepping up to the challenge of hunger and malnutrition, and recognition that Britain plays a leading role in the world on the agenda in question. However, as right hon. and hon. Members have said, we could still do significantly more. I shall attempt to address all the issues that right hon. and hon. Members have raised.
The Select Committee report could not, sadly, have been timelier, as the right hon. Member for Gordon knows. It coincided precisely with a period of unprecedented high prices for many foods. In April last year, the international price of wheat was close to $500 a tonne; the price of maize was nearly $300 a tonne; and rice, which is a staple for half the world's population, briefly touched $1,000 a tonne. The number of people who were unable to get enough food to eat surged above 900 million, which is a shocking and stark statistic—one in seven of the world's population. Since that time the price of food commodities has fallen sharply, by about half. Wheat is now about $200 a tonne; maize is about $150 a tonne; and rice is about $550 a tonne. In part that is due to record harvests last year—nearly 2 billion tonnes of cereals—but it is more due to the general collapse of commodity prices in the wake of the global financial crisis.
Despite the welcome fall in prices, the food security of the poorest, as right hon. and hon. Members have said, has actually got worse. The World Food Programme now predicts that the number of people who do not have enough food to eat is likely to rise above 1 billion during 2009. In Kenya, for example, 70 per cent. of the population are unable to meet their basic food needs. In Zimbabwe, one in eight households cannot afford to eat every day, and in India 50 per cent. of children show signs of permanent intellectual impairment before their second birthday, because of poor nutrition. Those, too, are truly shocking statistics.
Why is that happening? Right hon. and hon. Members have alluded to the reasons. Historically speaking, prices are still much higher than they were in 2000. Prices in many developing countries have continued to rise because of local shortages, and they remain well above the international price. The household incomes of many have fallen due to the global economic crisis, increased unemployment and lower remittances and tourist receipts. Of course, serious humanitarian challenges continue in Sudan, Zimbabwe and the horn of Africa.
I thought that it would be useful to inject some personal experiences into the debate, and I have seen much of what I have outlined at first hand on my recent visits. A slow-down in economic growth in South Africa to just 0.2 per cent. in the last quarter of 2008 has led to sharp falls in the incomes of those working in mining and manufacturing. There is a continuing and massive humanitarian emergency in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Sierra Leone, which is stubbornly at the very bottom of the human development index, is suffering a sharp fall in remittance income, and the problems of food affordability that that brings to the poorest. In Uganda, desperate poverty in the north following years of conflict and a population set to double by 2030 are putting massive pressure on land and food supplies. Those issues are now hitting many parts of the developing world, particularly in Africa.
Even before the latest developments, the UK Government had been leading the international response to tackle the problem of food insecurity. Agriculture and rural development remain priorities for DFID. Our current portfolio of projects and other activities tops £1 billion, and since the FAO food summit last June, we have committed more than £900 million in response to the food crisis. Last year, $169 million of short-term food aid was delivered through the World Food Programme—a record amount for DFID. We have strengthened social safety net programmes in Ethiopia, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe and given direct budget support to countries affected by the crisis, such as Ghana, Uganda, Malawi and, as I have said, Sierra Leone. We have doubled our support for agricultural research and technology. That comes to £400 million over the next five years, and a new director of research, Dr. Chris Whitty, has been appointed.
In response to the comments of the right hon. Member for Gordon about the WFP, it is true that we have contributed $48 million so far this year, which is more than we had contributed at this time last year. We cannot say at this stage how much we are planning to give. However, we will respond nimbly to appeals that the organisation makes.
The other issue raised by Mr. Clifton-Brown was whether the WFP should become the single agency for hunger. We believe that the WFP has demonstrated its strength through its humanitarian response. Generally, we need a much greater level of co-ordination between the WFP, the Food and Agriculture Organisation and the United Nations Development Programme. The challenge for development generally, but particularly for this agenda, is to make a reality of what is described as the "One UN" approach.
The right hon. Gentleman also spoke about the relationship between the WFP and DFID. I can only say that it is not my job at any time to do anything other than to agree with my Secretary of State. However, there is a serious point to be made. We believe that our judgments on our relationship with the WFP are appropriate. We have made a strategic decision to contribute to specific appeals rather than to core funding, and we believe that our approach boosts and supports accountability for UK taxpayer resources. Nevertheless, we remain one of the WFP's most flexible donors. For example, we do not impose procurement restrictions or bag marking, which is more generally known as branding.
I say to the right hon. Gentleman that I am sure that the organisation wants a different relationship, perhaps one in which we contribute to its core funding. In our judgment, however, our current relationship is the best way to help not only with cash and resources, but to be a force for reform. We do not apologise for that; we believe that it is appropriate and in our national interest. Ultimately, we have demonstrated that during global crises; we have stepped up to the mark, made UK resources available and enabled the WFP to respond efficiently and quickly to the humanitarian challenges that it frequently faces.
The Minister is giving a straightforward and fair reply, and I do not argue with it. However, the WFP is beginning to demonstrate to other donors that it can do more, and it is getting a response. My question is straightforward, and I am sure that the Minister will not have a problem with it. May I suggest that the Department should keep the matter under active review?
I reassure the right hon. Gentleman that it is appropriate that we keep our strategic relationship with the WFP under review. The WFP has raised the matter in the past and the Select Committee has asked questions about it, so we are constantly revisiting it. None the less, we believe that we are right to stick with our judgment, although we respect other views and will always take them into account when reviewing the nature of the relationship.
I thank the hon. Gentleman. Several hon. Members have raised the question of investment in research, and I shall deal specifically with that in some detail in a moment.
We very much welcomed the Committee's inquiry last year. Its report was generous, giving credit to the WFP's work in providing a front-line response to hunger in some of the most challenging and difficult environments—for instance, in Burma, Sudan, Somalia and Zimbabwe.
The WFP recognises the leading role played by the United Kingdom in drawing attention to the growing crisis earlier in the year. It recognises the importance of nutrition in helping to achieve the millennium development goals. It acknowledges that food security is not only about giving more food aid to people in humanitarian situations, nor even about growing more food in developing countries, although these are both important elements. Social protection—the provision of cash or food for work programmes for the most vulnerable—is another hugely important part of the equation. Indeed, John Barrett has raised that particular issue.
The right hon. Gentleman made the point strongly that it is important to get the international policy agenda right. We have to make progress on Doha; we must press ahead in that process. We must also consider how to dismantle subsidies to farmers in rich countries, to ensure a level playing field for farmers in developing countries. We need to end the practice by some donors of dumping surplus agricultural produce on poor countries as food aid, because it undermines incentives to grow more food locally.
The Select Committee report has had a significant influence on Government policy, but it is respected globally because it came at a time when some of the questions that it raised need to be considered from an independent perspective. Since the report was published, international action to address the food crisis has continued, although this has now become inextricably linked to efforts to mitigate the impact of the global economic crisis, particularly on developing countries. That is understandable.
Most people are hungry because they are poor. As Members have said, hunger cannot be tackled without tackling the root causes of poverty. With strong UK support, the European Union has finalised its plans to provide an additional €1 billion of new grants to developing countries to improve agriculture and food security.
At the Madrid food security conference in January, which I attended on behalf of the UK, the international community signed up to our proposal for a global partnership on agriculture, food security and nutrition. Work is going ahead in Rome and in developing countries to firm up the details.
At the highly successful G20 summit in London in February, led by the Prime Minister, $100 billion of additional lending by the multilateral development banks was pledged for developing countries. Increased access to trade finance was also promised, as was a UN proposal to develop a system to monitor global vulnerability and to enable donors better to target those groups most at risk, especially women, children and the elderly.
The World Bank has committed itself to increase spending on agriculture by 50 per cent., and its global food crisis response fund is fully earmarked, and substantially spent, with $1.2 billion for food-stressed countries, and 27 million people being able to gain access to seed and fertiliser, or to expanded social protection programmes. It has recently been agreed to continue and expand that programme.
The world has had a food crisis, a fuel crisis and an economic crisis. Throughout, the international community can be proud of the fact that it has responded quickly and effectively to the needs of the poorest. Britain has led that debate in every international forum, with all-party support from the House. The challenge is to ensure that the commitments signed by world leaders, particularly at the G20, are delivered and implemented. Communiqués are one thing, but the need to transfer the commitments and the necessary investment into making a difference for the poorest people in the world is pressing. That is why we have a continued role, after leading the G20 summit, in ensuring that those commitments are implemented and delivered.
DFID is working with the Foreign Office and other Departments to ensure that we continue to hold the international community to account for the commitments that have been made to mitigate the impact of the current crisis. However, we should not forget that the fundamental importance of the long-term reform of international financial institutions and other global organisations is vital, if we are to learn from the global recession.
Having responded to the Select Committee report and dealt with matters relating to the WFP, I shall now deal with some of the specific points raised during our debate. The right hon. Member for Gordon and the hon. Member for Cotswold spoke about nutrition, and I want to make it clear where we are in that process. We established a nutrition task team in June, and Ministers have asked it to recommend ways in which DFID can strengthen its focus on improving nutrition outcomes in the context of rising food prices. The team is currently looking at what DFID and other development partners are already doing, to see where the gaps are and what support can be given to building a common global agenda on nutrition. That is the sort of progress that has been made, and we will report further in due course.
The right hon. Gentleman also raised the US policy of providing food aid essentially in kind. President Obama has already indicated that he is keen to expand the amount of food aid purchased in-country or within the region. That is a significant move in American policy. It is also worth noting that at the G20 meeting plans were announced for a $1 billion package of assistance, including for humanitarian aid and research and technology; and again that came from the new Administration. These are very encouraging signs of a clear and distinct shift in policy and will help the entire international community do what it has wanted to do for some time with regard to food security.
Right hon. and hon. Members have asked about research. I want to be very clear about the level of DFID's commitment on this issue. We will spend £400 million on international agricultural research over the current five-year period. That includes £20 million a year to the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, but that figure is likely to rise significantly once reforms of the CGIAR system are complete. We have been at the forefront of efforts to reform that organisation and have been instrumental in levering substantial new funding commitments from a range of donors.
Reform will focus on increased accountability and oversight, streamlined financial arrangements and the targeting of resources more effectively and to a smaller number of strategic objectives. We are committed to spending nearly £40 million over the next four years on our "research into use" programme to ensure that small farmers can access new science and technology as quickly as possible. Technology transfer is a key element of strengthening agricultural extension programmes, especially in relation to adaptation in the face of climate change. That will therefore be one of our priorities when spending our research resources.
The hon. Member for Cotswold asked about assumptions about food prices and DFID policy. The assumption is that prices will remain above trend price. Our position remains that we must address poverty, encourage economic growth and support, as the solution, increased household incomes. That returns to the point that most people are hungry because they are poor and that hunger cannot be dealt with in isolation from a total poverty reduction strategy.
The hon. Gentleman also asked about biofuels. It is important to make it clear that the impact of biofuels on food prices is not yet properly understood. Much work is still going on in this area. For example, rice prices saw the greatest increase last year, but rice is not used for biofuel production. However, we need to do much more research, and we are currently engaged in research partnerships with the World Bank and others to try to get much more empirical evidence on the impact of biofuels on food prices.
I said in my speech that—this is my experience as a farmer—one of the best ways in which to help a country suffering from food shortages is to get its indigenous farmers to grow more. I prompted the Minister on Rwanda, but he said that an extension service is not necessary. Will he undertake to establish whether every poor country in which DFID operates has an extension service, and if it does not, consider providing one? There is no way of transferring the technology that he says is a priority, if no extension or advice service is in place to give farmers that advice.
I agree that such technical advice is crucial. However, with respect, DFID cannot do everything in every country—as the hon. Gentleman knows—although we have made strategic decisions to lead in some sectors in some places. We can help to identify gaps in the availability of technical assistance and to decide on the appropriate person to fill that gap. We cannot always lead that process, however, because in some places we lack the expertise and leadership roles, but we can certainly identify gaps where technical assistance is required.
The hon. Gentleman is right about the deep-rooted history, attitudes and cultures of many countries. Often people produce just enough food to feed themselves and their families, if they are lucky. The potential to turn many of those freeholds and family-type situations into small businesses is massive. The President of Uganda made that point to me when I met him relatively recently. The international community needs to be more imaginative and innovative.
As the hon. Gentleman has rightly said, over the past 10 years, agriculture has been de-prioritised with regards to development and global community. There is little doubt about that. The view was that urbanisation was the new challenge and reality. However, many people in developing countries will say that it is not a choice, and it would be a mistake to believe that it should be a choice. Indeed, it could be undesirable not to capitalise on the massive opportunities in real areas. If we do that, there will not be massive population displacement, which can lead to urban crowding, slums and, ultimately, conflict and violence.
It is absolutely right for right hon. and hon. Members to focus on our capacity to support the agricultural sectors in many developing countries. But they must, of course, show leadership and tell us that it is appropriate to their economic and industrial vision for their country. However, assuming that is so, the hon. Member for Cotswold is right to throw that point into the mix. The international community might have taken its eye off the ball in recent years.
The Minister is making a very good point. As it happens, the Committee is visiting Nigeria next month to investigate urban poverty and urbanisation. I completely agree with him: this is not an either/or situation; we must address both. However, do we not have an opportunity here? The migration of people to cities, owing to greater economic opportunities—even though most remain poor—might create scope for more land and development reform to increase the productivity of agriculture. In some countries, reform has been resisted ironically because too many people live in the rural areas. If that population reduces, there might be scope for reform and increased production. However, I completely agree that that should be led by the country, not outside donors.
I agree entirely with the right hon. Gentleman. In any country, what needs to be clear is the potential for economic growth and progress, the potential for trade outside its borders, and the way in which to use the benefits of development to reduce poverty. The job of any state is to maximise economic growth and prosperity, and to ensure that that is distributed fairly. In countries with abject poverty, the priority should be to reduce and, ultimately, eliminate that poverty.
The way in which agriculture fits into the mix is fundamental. If agriculture is deemed to be a major part of the solution, the international community's job is to make available all necessary assistance. If rural communities are to take maximum advantage and contribute towards economic growth, the international community needs to provide technical expertise, to carry out research, and to enable crucial capacity building and reforms. I also think that developing countries should come together and learn from each other about how progress has been made.
The President of Uganda told me very proudly about a pilot project in about half a dozen—or perhaps 10—districts. It is addressing the question of how to transform family-type farming into small businesses, and how to reflect that in a register of small businesses nationally. That might create a new small and medium-sized enterprises sector, which could be a vibrant driving force for the country's economic and social progress. I agree entirely, in retrospect, that it was not a good thing that the international community took its eye off the ball. However, it has got the picture now. The question is how we work together to ensure that we can support developing countries most effectively.
On that note, I once again pay tribute to the Select Committee for a thoughtful and thought-provoking report, which certainly came at the right time. It has influenced DFID's thinking about future policy. We shall continue to keep the House informed of the UK's contribution in this area and about how we intend to respond and rise to some of the challenges and opportunities facing us.
I thank the Minister for his response.
We have had a good debate. Given that it is Thursday, perhaps we should not be surprised that the Chamber is not fuller. None the less, I genuinely think that some important points have been raised, and the Department might wish to address them in its annual report. Given the refocus on agriculture and the commitment to nutrition—if not through the WFP then through other means—with regard to famine prevention as well as emergency response, the Committee will continue to monitor the progress that is made. We look forward to hearing how the Department takes such matters forward. As the Minister acknowledged, this is work in progress. We welcome the work, and also accept that not all of it could have come to fruition at this particular juncture. We hope that we will hear more from the Department in the coming months about how things are shaping up. Beyond that, I thank you, Mr. Key, for chairing this very useful debate.
Question put and agreed to.