Global Food Security — [Mark Pritchard in the Chair]

– in Westminster Hall on 26 October 2022.

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[Relevant documents: Second report of the International Development Committee, Food insecurity, HC 504; and the Government response, HC 767.]

Photo of Paulette Hamilton Paulette Hamilton Labour, Birmingham, Erdington 9:30, 26 October 2022

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered global food security.

It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Mr Pritchard, and I want to thank all Members for attending the first debate I have ever hosted in this place.

I will start by setting out what we mean when we use the term “global food security”. The UK Government define it as

“stable global production and a well-functioning global trading system that reliably, efficiently and sustainably meets the needs of the UK and the world.”

It is about the security of our food system and our ability to ensure that people do not go hungry, both at home and abroad. But this issue stretches way beyond tackling hunger. Global food security involves education, international aid, tackling poverty, the impact of war and the climate crisis. I want to touch on each of those issues, looking at the worldwide situation first.

The United Nations has a global target to end hunger, achieve food security and improve nutrition by 2030 as part of its sustainable development goals, but the UN has said that we are not on track to achieve that, with the latest estimates showing that between 702 million and 828 million people—10% of the world population—are currently going hungry. The UN estimates that that number could rise to 840 million people by 2030. If we look specifically at famine, the World Food Programme has said that a record 345 million people across 82 countries are facing acute food insecurity, including up to 50 million people in 45 countries who are at risk of famine. Over 970,000 people are already living in famine-like conditions in Somalia, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, South Sudan and Yemen.

Photo of Margaret Ferrier Margaret Ferrier Independent, Rutherglen and Hamilton West

Does the hon. Member agree that farmers and agricultural workers across the world are the backbone of the globe’s access to food, despite smaller rural farmers often having to overcome the barriers of poverty and inequality? Does she agree that providing those smaller, poorer farmers with the support and technology they need is vital to every country’s food security?

Photo of Paulette Hamilton Paulette Hamilton Labour, Birmingham, Erdington

I thank the hon. Member for her intervention, and I absolutely agree.

Famine is also projected in parts of Somalia this month. Up to 60 million children worldwide could become acutely malnourished by the end of this year. Evidence from previous famines shows that young children are the most vulnerable in times of crisis. During the Somalia famine in 2011, more than half the deaths were among children under five. International aid is an extremely important part of the solution, but short-sighted cuts to the aid budget by the Government have left us isolated on the world stage. No other G7 country cut aid in the middle of the pandemic; Britain sadly stands alone in having turned its back on the world’s poorest. We are already seeing the impact of the cuts to international aid. The Government have paused all non-essential aid spending to ensure the budget does not push above their new target of 0.5% of our national income. That is yet another broken Tory manifesto promise. I join my hon. Friend Sarah Champion, the Chair of the International Development Committee, in calling for more clarification on what the spending pause means in practice.

The climate crisis is one of the leading causes of the rise in global hunger. The World Food Programme estimates that if average global temperatures rise by 2°, an additional 189 million people could be pushed into food insecurity. The Climate Change Committee has warned that global warming could lead to a 20% rise in food prices globally by 2050, hurting the poorest wherever they live on our planet. I hope to hear some reassurances from the Minister that the Government will finally deliver on their promise of providing international climate finance to help developing countries fight the climate crisis and to protect food supply.

Although there are many factors causing global food insecurity, we cannot ignore the role that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has played in increasing food prices around the world. Before Putin’s invasion in February, Russia and Ukraine were responsible for about 29% of the world’s wheat exports. Ukraine grew enough food to feed an estimated 400 million people, despite having a population of only 44 million. Both countries are also significant suppliers of fertilisers.

The World Food Programme has warned that rising food and energy prices due to the war are likely to exacerbate humanitarian crises around the world, particularly in the middle east and Africa, which are some of the most dependent regions on Ukrainian and Russian food imports. More than 80% of the wheat supply of countries such as Egypt and Somalia comes from those two countries. Russia’s blockage of grain exports from Ukraine has fuelled an international humanitarian crisis. The UN-backed Black sea grain initiative, an agreement between Ukraine, Russa and Turkey, is essential in combating rising food prices. Russia must continue to meet its commitments under the agreement in full. I hope the Minister will tell us that international pressure is being applied to make sure that happens. The war in Ukraine affects us all. In the UK, we may not be experiencing problems with our food supply in the same way that many poorer nations are, but we are seeing the impact of the war through higher energy costs and inflation.

I now turn to food insecurity in Britain. Recent research by the Food Foundation shows that 18% of British households experienced food insecurity last month, and that 4 million children live in households that experience food insecurity. Food prices are reported to be rising at their fastest rate in 42 years. That means it is more important than ever to ensure healthy, nutritious food is affordable and accessible by the most vulnerable through policies such as free school meals and by investing in healthier sustainable urban food systems. I will draw on one particular example that is close to my heart; it is something I worked on in my previous role as the Birmingham City Council cabinet member for health.

In Birmingham, we developed an eight-year strategy, in partnership with the Food Foundation, that put sustainable food at the heart of our local economy and used the power of education to transform people’s diets and help them to eat more diverse and nutritious food. I am particularly proud of our focus on nutrition in the work that we did in Birmingham. Food Foundation research shows that only half our city’s population eats five portions of fruit and veg per day, and that fruit and veg make up only 11% of expenditure, while 34% of money is spent on food high in fat, salt and sugar and takeaways. We can end food insecurity only by focusing on nutrition, to ensure that people have healthier diets. I hope the Minister can give us some assurances that nutrition will be a central part of the Government’s approach to this issue.

Let me finish by pressing the Minister to take on board three key points about food security. First, I hope the Government will acknowledge the simple fact that there is no shortage of food in our world today. The problems we face with food insecurity, both at home and abroad, are down to food being made unavailable as a result of economic and political factors shaped by people. We can change this, and we must work together to make food available for all.

Secondly, we hear a lot about the cost of living crisis and its devastating impact on our economy in Britain, but it is a global crisis that is increasing poverty everywhere. People everywhere are getting poorer, and when people get poorer they eat less food—and, crucially, less nutritious food.

Thirdly, I urge the Minister to acknowledge that food insecurity hits women and children the hardest, wherever they live in the world. All the available research points to this being a gendered issue. I hope the Government’s strategy will take that into account.

By working together internationally to reduce poverty, invest in local food production and improve nutrition, we can end global food insecurity. I urge the new Government to put these priorities at the heart of their approach to this issue.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 9:43, 26 October 2022

It is not often that I get called immediately after the proposer of the debate, so I am greatly encouraged and a bit taken aback that that should be the case. It is a real pleasure to be here and to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard. I commend Mrs Hamilton for setting the scene in such an evidential and factual way. I am sure this is the first of many debates that she will have in Westminster Hall, and we look forward to her making many more contributions.

This debate is incredibly important in today’s climate, for every aspect of daily life is being drowned in the cost of living crisis. It has engulfed us all; we read about it in the newspaper, hear about it on the radio and see it on the TV. The negativity that seems to permeate society about rises in the price of energy, fuel and foodstuffs is real, in every sense of the word. I commented last week about the price of some products back home; for example, eggs that were £1 for 10 are now £1.89—an 89% increase. Milk, another staple, is up 79p since before the crisis. Those are just two of the basics of life. The problems that people face are real, and that has been especially true in the last couple of weeks.

In addition, the devastating impact that the Northern Ireland protocol is having on smaller food producers in both the mainland and Northern Ireland often goes ignored. I will develop that theme when I talk about how we in Northern Ireland are impacted by global food security.

I am pleased to see the Minister in his place. I think this might be a new portfolio for him. I know that he has been exceptional in past portfolios, and I look forward to his reply to this debate. I also look forward to the contribution of the shadow Minister, Preet Kaur Gill, who is a good friend of mine.

Photo of Margaret Ferrier Margaret Ferrier Independent, Rutherglen and Hamilton West

According to new research, 40% of the global commercial seed market is owned by two companies, compared with 10 companies 25 years ago. Does the hon. Member share my concern that the lack of competition in the global food market broadly risks leaving the world’s food security at the mercy of a select few?

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

Yes, wholeheartedly. We are in a complex situation, and that has implications. There are some who control what happens. I know that the Minister and the Government do not always control whether we can have the impact we want to have, but I know that the Minister will address some of these issues when he responds.

Our food industry has shown incredible commitment in manufacturing, farming and fishing throughout the pandemic, including during the panic buying. It has dealt with the impacts of Brexit and the protocol, and our dedication to the Ukrainians after the Russian invasion. Our Government have committed to all those things. I fully support that, and I understand the need to do those things. This is about the safety of the world. We are not just individuals playing our own game; the rest of the world impacts us all, so the title of the debate, “Global food security,” is apt. We are part of a team that work together as best we can.

We therefore have a need for greater resilience in the UK’s entire food system. We are fully aware of the threats that can damage our food systems, emphasising the greater need for systems to be in place for our protection. Recent pioneering research from the Institute for Global Food Security at Queen’s University Belfast in Northern Ireland has established us as leaders in addressing global food security through our agritech industry partnering with different industries to develop solutions. Elected representatives often understand the need to partner with universities. Queen’s University Belfast is one of those. Such partnerships are replicated across the whole United Kingdom, and I know that others will emphasise that. For us in Northern Ireland, Queen’s University is a key partner to take this matter forward.

We recognise how important the agrifood sector is in Northern Ireland. Some 80% of what we produce in Northern Ireland is sold overseas, so it is important for us to develop that sector. There are many, many markets that we can develop. Lakeland Dairies, for example, produces a milk powder that it exports all over the world, and it is instrumental in growing that market. Even through the hard times of covid, that market was growing because the agrifood and agritech sectors have taken great steps forward.

We have been somewhat left behind by ignorance—I say that with great respect—as little consideration has been given to how the Northern Ireland protocol has impacted our food security strategies. We want to grow our sector. We need that protection and security. The Food and Drink Federation surveyed 83 members, half of which were deemed large businesses with over 250 employees, and found that food and drink imports into Northern Ireland had decreased by 10% because of the Northern Ireland protocol. I fail to see how we can possibly encourage food security strategies when Northern Ireland has been left behind. I always try to be constructive, but there is an anomaly here that has to be addressed.

I am sure Members are aware that my constituency of Strangford is rich in farming and fishing. I know the Minister has been to Portavogie. His former portfolio as Veterans Minister prompted him to visit Beyond the Battlefield there, so he knows the village and exactly where I am talking about. It is the second largest fishing village in Northern Ireland. Fishing is incredibly important for us. The Northern Ireland agrifood sector is imperative for our food security system. We produce food for five times our population and employ more than 100,000 people in that sector alone, and it is our largest manufacturing industry, so agriculture, the production line and manufacturing are critical.

I have mentioned before the concerns that land could be reforested, when it could be used further to advance the security of our agriculture sector. I urge the Minister to ensure that that is not the case. I appreciate his response to me and the debate. Food poverty has been an issue in the past two years. Local food banks in my area have been inundated with those struggling to obtain food. My office refers at least 20 people each week for assistance; that is more than 1,040 a year. That gives an indication of the impact.

The Trussell Trust food bank was the first initiated in Northern Ireland, in Newtownards in my constituency. That has grown alongside the need and demand. There is also an issue with food access, emphasised by the fact that more than 97,000 children are entitled to free school meals. It is important that the Government have responded to that, and made sure that those children have free school meals, but the fact that so many—the largest number ever—are in receipt of free school meals indicates that things are not the way they should be. I make that point in a constructive fashion. We must ensure that poverty is taken into account when it comes to food security.

The UK imports 47% of our food. I know we cannot grow everything here. It is not possible to grow some of the fruit, vegetables and minerals that we bring in. There have been debates on this issue in the past in Westminster Hall. I mentioned reforesting; it is good to have more trees for the lungs of the world, but it is also important to have land. Good, productive land should be retained for production. Other land could be used for reforesting and becoming the lungs of the world.

We must ensure that our imports are secure for the benefit of local and global food security. Our food security strategy falls within the UK and also externally, which is why the debate title, “Global food security,” is so important. We must protect and encourage the alignment of the four regional Administrations to pave the way for global food security. When we make decisions at Westminster, we must think about how they work in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, so that we can do the job better together.

I hope that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will do all in its power to preserve and protect our agriculture sector, which has proved instrumental for our food security, especially the contributions for my constituency of Strangford, as I am sure all Members will agree. I encourage the Minister to consider the installation of a private body to oversee the UK as a whole and our joint collaboration to achieve our food security goals. I say this often, but that does not lessen its impact: I believe that the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland can do great things together. I think the Minister will endorse that. Let us do that.

Photo of Patrick Grady Patrick Grady Scottish National Party, Glasgow North 9:53, 26 October 2022

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard. It is a rare experience to follow Jim Shannon, rather than him following us. He said that we cannot grow everything in this country, but anyone listening to “Good Morning Scotland” earlier would have heard about the tea plants that have just been harvested on Orkney.

Photo of Patrick Grady Patrick Grady Scottish National Party, Glasgow North

My hon. Friend says that has also happened in Stirling. That shows that, with a bit of ingenuity —and possibly as the result of a changing climate, which we will come back to—it is surprising what can be harvested when minds are put to it.

I warmly congratulate Mrs Hamilton on securing her first debate in Westminster Hall, and on an incredibly powerful speech. I agree with pretty much every word that she said, which makes it quite difficult to find something new to add to the debate. It is slightly unfortunate that it seems to be the case in Westminster Hall these days that very few Government Back Benchers want to come along, contribute and offer their perspectives. That leaves the Minister with a slightly unenviable task. Perhaps we will hear in due course which portfolio he is going to be addressing—I understand that these are slightly uncertain times.

I welcome the appointment of Mr Mitchell as a Minister of State in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. Perhaps it is understandable that he is not right here right now, although it is unfortunate, because I suspect he would have been here to speak from the Back Benches if circumstances allowed. He has been a real champion of global poverty and global justice issues, and that is a rare thing to say about a Conservative Member. Out of all the chaos and everything else that is going on, his presence at Cabinet should be welcomed, but he has a very high standard to live up to now. Those of us who have been in these debates over the years will be looking to see whether development and justice issues really do start to feature more prominently in the Government’s foreign and development strategy.

As both previous speakers have said, food security is a challenge both at home and abroad. People watching this debate might wonder why we are spending time discussing food security around the world when there are people reliant on food banks in our own constituencies —Glasgow North is no exception—but the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington powerfully laid out precisely why that is, why it is a common challenge for humanity as a whole, and the range of steps that need to be taken to tackle the issue.

If food insecurity is a global challenge, it requires a global, as well as a domestic, response. The reality is that it is the same attitudes and philosophies among decision makers, whether at home or abroad, that have left people queuing at food banks here in the UK and queuing for emergency food supplies in famine-hit countries in east Africa. The constituents I hear from in Glasgow North, including supporters of the Borgen Project, who I hope to meet in the next few days, do not want to live in a world where anyone goes hungry, whether that is families down the street or families halfway around the globe—especially not when they know that hunger and food insecurity simply should not and do not need to exist in the modern world.

The reality, though, is, as we have heard, that for too many people, hunger continues to be all too real. We have heard about some specific examples. The food crisis in east Africa is now affecting about 50 million people. In particular, Somalia is on the brink—or perhaps even past the brink—of the official definition of famine. However, food insecurity is not only a crisis or emergency situation, but a daily reality for hundreds of millions of people around the world. As was said by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington, who introduced the debate, the number, astonishingly and depressingly, seems to be rising. That is particularly frustrating because the solutions are not unknown. In my time as a Member of Parliament, I have had the huge privilege of meeting farmers in Colombia, Zambia, Rwanda and Malawi, and in Wellingborough and Scotland, and they all know perfectly well how to farm sustainably. They know how to grow crops that will feed themselves and their families and produce a surplus for market, if only they have the right kind of support and fair access to markets.

In the middle years of the 2010s, as we came close to the deadline for the millennium development goals and negotiation for the sustainable development goals was under way, a coalition of international development and advocacy organisations, including one that I worked for at the time, ran a campaign called “Enough food for everyone IF”. It made the point clearly that we live in a world that is more than capable of producing sufficient nutrition for the global population—even taking into account the rapid increase in world population numbers in recent years—provided that we get the priorities and processes right, and that is still true today.

First and foremost, as both previous speakers have said, small-scale farmers all over the world have to be at the heart of how we produce and distribute food, and they need support to grow what works best for them—as I said, enough to feed their families and enough surplus to sell at market. Too often, small farmers become reliant on particular crops and particular fertilisers and inputs, or are forced off their land altogether by multinational monocroppers and agribusinesses. That is to slightly over-simplify a whole range of interventions that are also needed, from decent irrigation, to proper education on farming techniques, to fair access to energy and fair access to markets.

We have to change our own food habits here too. Reducing western demand for meat and for out-of-season fruit and vegetables has the potential to change demands for land use around the world. A fantastic report was launched last week by campaigners for the Climate and Ecology Bill, which looks at the paths towards net zero through changing land use and changing global diets to more sustainable, more nutritious, better diets that will make us all healthier, thinner, fitter, more resilient to disease and more resilient to climate change. It is a win-win-win situation, which gets us closer to net zero into the bargain as well.

We have to address the root of the issue, and help people to understand where food comes from. It comes not from packets in supermarkets, but from the ground; we have to put things into the ground to get it in the first place, and we have to work very hard. We have to help more people understand how to cook and prepare cheap, nutritious food for themselves. That is the whole point of a holistic and rights-based approach to development that tackles a range of problems all at once.

The UK Government have to rediscover the leadership that they once showed in these areas and rebuild the consensus. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington said today’s debate was the first Westminster Hall debate she has led; the first Westminster Hall debate I led was in 2015, on the sustainable development goals. In those days, there was a consensus. Members from all parties would speak together and would congratulate the Government on achieving the 0.7% target and on taking a leading role in shaping the SDGs. Now, the SDGs seem to have been forgotten, the aid target has been slashed to 0.5%, and the Government have announced that non-essential aid spending will be frozen. What on earth is non-essential aid? Surely, by definition, all aid is essential. All aid meets a vital need that cannot be met by a domestic Government.

Cutting the aid budget and diverting funding away from long-term sustainable development projects that boost food and other security is ultimately a false economy. Perhaps, for example, fewer people would be tempted to get on small boats and cross the English channel if their countries of origin were not being dried up or flooded by climate change, with their families and communities going hungry as a result. There would certainly be less need to spend vast amounts on emergency intervention and famine relief if there was proper investment in long-term sustainability.

I was thinking back to my days in the international development sector and was reminded of a saying that was attributed to the late Brazilian archbishop, Dom Hélder Câmara:

“When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor are hungry, they call me a communist.”

I think that attitude still pervades in a lot of the world today. Investing in global food security is perhaps the ultimate in preventive spending policy. If people at home or abroad have access to good quality, nutritious, affordable and culturally appropriate food, they will live longer, happier and more successful lives.

Photo of Taiwo Owatemi Taiwo Owatemi Labour, Coventry North West

The hon. Member is making an important point. Given that malnutrition plays such an important role in a child’s development, that 45% of all deaths of under-fives are due to malnutrition and that we are in the midst of a global food security crisis, does he agree that food security should play an integral part in the Government’s international development strategy?

Photo of Patrick Grady Patrick Grady Scottish National Party, Glasgow North

Absolutely. The hon. Member makes a valid point. Children will not be able to study at school, either in the UK, in a developing country in sub-Saharan Africa, or in a middle-income country in Latin America, if they are hungry. We recognise that in the UK; we have free school meal programmes and campaign for free school meals. The Government were embarrassed into extending the free school meals programme during the pandemic, and I pay huge tribute to the Scottish Government for their roll-out of free school meals. We recognise that children who have a decent, good quality, nutritious meal will be more able to concentrate at school, and that will improve their education, which improves society as a whole in the long run. It is the ultimate in levelling up, and I hope the Minister might reflect on that.

All development processes are linked, and that is the route to tackle instability. Hungry children are more likely to go out and get radicalised. If they cannot grow their own food, if they cannot get food in the local supermarkets or the local shops and markets, and if they cannot rely on their own Governments to provide them with support, of course people will end up getting radicalised and seek more violent or extreme solutions to the challenges that face them in their country.

I agree entirely with Taiwo Owatemi that tackling the root causes of poverty is in everybody’s interests; that was pretty much where I was going to conclude. Food security is at the root of a lot of the sustainable development goals, and a range of different international development interventions are aimed at achieving it, because that is the basis for what we all need to survive. It is on that basis that we can all live in a fairer, more peaceful and prosperous world.

Photo of Taiwo Owatemi Taiwo Owatemi Labour, Coventry North West 10:05, 26 October 2022

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard, and I thank my hon. Friend Mrs Hamilton for securing this timely debate.

Global food networks are innately linked to our national security. Throughout Putin’s illegal war, Russia has refused to fulfil its commitment to export grains from Ukraine, which in turn has poured fuel on the fire of an already serious humanitarian emergency. Rising food prices across the globe are having a devastating impact on the poorest communities, which cannot continue. Yet at a time of such calamity for global food security, what do the Government decide to do? They continue to cut the UK’s aid budget, with disastrous effect.

As the global community reels from conflict, hunger and climate catastrophe, the Conservatives continue to heap damage on to our global reputation. Britain should be at the forefront of providing aid to the hungry, not turning our backs on the world stage when help is most needed. Our allies are noticing, and they will not forget this moment. Britain is a leader on the world stage or it is nothing, so I urge the Government to think again and provide the help that is so badly needed. The Conservatives’ own manifesto contains an explicit commitment to end

“the preventable deaths of mothers, new-born babies and children by 2030”.

Given that malnutrition plays a role in 45% of all deaths of under-fives, and with global food insecurity rising, it is unacceptable that food receives only three mentions in the international development strategy. This Government are showing their true colours when it comes to fighting global food poverty. They will not act when it matters, and that is truly disgraceful.

The Government are breaking their own promise not only on preventable deaths, but on the looming threat of climate change. Global warming could lead to a 20% rise in global food prices by 2050, hurting the world’s poorest countries. The Government must finally deliver on their promise on international climate finance, to help developing countries fight the climate crisis, and help to protect food supply. If food security is not connected for the world, it is not protected for us at home. This, more than most, is an interconnected issue, and if we do not deal with it on a global scale, there is minimal chance of success. We cannot close ourselves off from the reality of climate change; we must work together with those who will be worst affected to find a solution now.

In the United Kingdom, we need a sustainable pivot towards self-sufficiency, meaning a decisive shift towards a farmer-focused food chain. We have a target to double the amount of locally sourced food in our shopping baskets. We need to put local farmers in Coventry, the west midlands and across the country, and fishers, food producers and workers, at the heart of plans to deliver healthy food locally. To support our farmers and save our planet, locally produced food must be the future. To achieve that, we need to boost the viability of small and medium-sized enterprise producers of fruits, vegetables, dairy and livestock, and increase the land area dedicated to smallholdings. City gardens and other urban green spaces must provide local populations with a much higher percentage of their daily food. That is something that we need to urgently address.

Unless the Government act, the UK’s reputation will continue to wane as we are seen to be closing ourselves off. This is an opportunity for our country to become a world leader in an area that will only grow in significance in the years to come, and for the Government to tackle a key issue that also affects the United Kingdom. Food poverty is on the increase, and in my city of Coventry many families now depend on food banks. If the Government refuse to act, Labour is ready and willing to do what is needed to provide food for the children of this country and the world.

Photo of Alyn Smith Alyn Smith Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) 10:10, 26 October 2022

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Pritchard, and to wind up for the SNP in this very important debate. I warmly congratulate Mrs Hamilton on securing it. She said it was her first Westminster Hall debate; I hope it is not her last.

This important discussion is close to my heart. I was a Member of the European Parliament from 2004 to 2019, when that Brexit thing got in the way, and I sat on the Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development. I was often struck by the interconnected nature of those issues: climate change, food insecurity and resource scarcity are drivers of many of the issues that we traditionally view through a foreign affairs prism, but which actually need to be viewed through a much more coherent prism.

It is a pleasure to see Jim Shannon in his place. I know that fishing and farming are close to his heart; he has been a strong advocate of both sectors for a long time. He made the point powerfully that the UK imports 46% of its food, so the UK’s food security cannot be viewed in isolation; it needs to be viewed through a much wider prism, and our policies need to align better.

My hon. Friend Patrick Grady made a very powerful point on behalf of his constituents: they do not want to see anybody suffering from food insecurity and hunger, whether in our own communities or worldwide. That needs a far stronger response. In a very powerful speech, Taiwo Owatemi spoke about the interconnectedness of climate change and international development policy, and said that we need to do better than we have managed to date.

I feel for the Minister, because there is an awful lot in this. As I say, I was struck by the fact that food, agriculture and foreign affairs are often interlinked, and the same is true domestically. Call it agriculture and only so many people are interested, but many are interested in food, nutrition, land management, trade, climate change, animal welfare, development policy and social justice. Food is at the heart of many of those issues, and we do not have the policy coherence that we need. I feel for the Minister, who has to cover all that.

To make a consensual point—this has been a cross-party, consensual debate—these issues cut across party, country and region. We all need to work on them together, because I am afraid they are getting worse, and they are getting worse faster. The developed world—I do not like that term—is in a position to help other countries that are suffering the consequences of our economic, trade and foreign policy.

I have some concrete suggestions. I am indebted to two organisations: the National Farmers Union of Scotland has produced a number of strong recommendations for domestic food security, which is part of the wider context, and the International Development Committee’s “Food insecurity” report contains a number of strong recommendations. I hope the Government take those recommendations to heart, because if they tackle this issue seriously, no one will applaud louder than me. It needs urgent attention and cross-cutting solutions.

The biggest thing we can do to tackle short-term food insecurity is to go back to the 2019 Conservative party manifesto and reinstate the 0.7% international aid commitment. I appreciate that the cut to 0.5% is temporary, but it means that a lot of people in the developing world are suffering. On 6 May, the ONE campaign published concrete data showing that the UK official development assistance cut had caused 11.6 million children, girls and women to lose out on nutritional support, 6.2 million girls under two and 12 million babies to lose out on nutritional support, 7.1 million children to lose out on education, 5.3 million women and girls to lose access to modern family planning methods, and 3.3 million to lose humanitarian aid. In addition, 54 MW of clean energy has not been installed.

That relates to my wider point about policy coherence. We must remember that food needs a farmer. We should not allow ourselves to get tied up in short-sighted debates about meat versus vegetables, and between competing land uses. Farmers will be integral to how we feed ourselves now and in the future. Farmers need to be at the heart of that policy. Policy coherence needs to begin at home, and our policies are not as coherent as they need to be.

I was struck by the point made by the hon. Member for Strangford about forestry. We are dealing with that issue in Scotland as well; the Scottish Government have recently brought out new forestry guidelines. I remember when I helped to draft the European Parliament’s common agricultural policy. It encouraged farmers to diversify into energy crops, photovoltaic panels and forestry, but it was always meant to be for the bits and bats of land that farmers could not do much else with. It was never meant to be taking prime agricultural land out of agricultural production. We must get that back out of our agenda. Of course there are going to be competing land uses—at home and worldwide—but we must put food production far higher up our national security and resilience agenda.

There has been a good debate and discussion. We have a lot of suggestions. I again refer Members to the International Development Committee’s report, which has a lot of concrete suggestions and, in a spirit of constructive co-operation, I offer the Minister our support; where we see positive developments, we will be constructive. These points are not party political. They are not limited to one country, however we define country. They are not limited to the domestic, however we define that too. We need to work together on this stuff.

Photo of Preet Kaur Gill Preet Kaur Gill Shadow Secretary of State for International Development 10:16, 26 October 2022

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard. I thank my hon. Friend Mrs Hamilton for securing this hugely important debate, which is an existential matter for many of our constituents and millions around the globe.

I also thank Jim Shannon, who cares about our role in the world and speaks up for the most marginalised at home and abroad. I also thank Patrick Grady for his contribution, which made the link between food insecurity at home and abroad. I thank my hon. Friend Taiwo Owatemi for making a powerful case on the impact of aid cuts and the decimation of the Department for International Development.

At a time of converging global crises, I look forward to working with the new Minister for Development, who is not in his place, in the interests of the world’s poorest and most marginalised, and those of the British people, who expect us to play a leading role in building a fairer, safer world, which is in our national interest. Global food security is national security. The UK imports almost half the food it consumes, exposing us to fluctuations in global prices. In the year to September, food and non-alcohol beverage prices rose nearly 15%—the highest rate in 40 years. For many basics, the rise was even higher.

For our poorest constituents, the impact stings all the more, as more of their disposable income is siphoned away on the essentials. At this point, we can all cite shocking tales from our constituency mailbag. I spoke to a headteacher from my constituency recently, who told me they have children turning up to school nervous wrecks, unable to concentrate. They have seen their parents skipping meals, and are often hungry themselves. One boy she spoke of was so hungry that they caught him trying to eat from a pot of PVA glue.

This not just a national crisis, but an international crisis that we have an interest in solving. Globally, food prices have soared over the past year. Despite dropping over the summer with harvests rolling in, the Food and Agriculture Organisation shows that prices remain high, at 8% above last year’s levels. Global wheat prices remain 10.6% above values in August last year. According to the World Food Programme, 345 million people are experiencing acute food insecurity.

The causes are multifaceted, but the consequences are invariably stark, as many hon. Members have highlighted. Putin’s barbaric war of aggression with Ukraine has poured fuel on the fire of inflation. Earlier this year, the Russian block on grain exports from Ukraine contributed to an international humanitarian crisis. Across the House, we are united in standing up for Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression. We welcome the UN-backed Black sea grain initiative between Ukraine, Russia and Turkey, which has been essential to get shipments out of Ukraine and to combat rising food prices. The UK has to put its diplomatic weight behind extending the agreement beyond November. Russia must continue to meet its commitment under the agreement in full. I hope that the Minister will continue to provide support to the EU solidarity lanes programme, which is helping to ship millions of tonnes of grain from Ukraine via land and river borders each month.

Let us be clear: Ukraine is only one factor in the global hunger crisis. Even before Russia’s invasion, food, fuel and fertiliser prices were rising, and 70% of those facing acute levels of food insecurity in 2021 were in conflict-affected countries. Ukraine-related food price spikes are only the latest evidence that the global agriculture system is broken. That reinforces the global need to diversify our food sources and support developing countries with a bottom-up approach to food security. Households’ right to food is put under increased pressure when they experience extreme events that are out of their control. The hungry have few choices: they can migrate in search of food, take food from others by force or die of starvation. The question for us is how to work with partners to stabilise and build resilient local food environments.

Rising global food prices are being felt by people from Nugaal to Northfield. Like the pandemic before it, this crisis is a reminder that island though we are, the greatest challenges facing the world will also reach our shores. In these difficult times, there is cause for solidarity and international co-operation between allies and nations. It is a call that, in times past, Britain has answered proudly.

As many colleagues have said today, the suffering across the world is enormous. Labour has been ringing the alarm about the hunger crisis for the best part of a year. From Afghanistan to Yemen to sub-Saharan Africa, conflict, inflation and accelerating climate change are creating a perfect storm. In June, the World Food Programme warned that the number of people at risk of succumbing to famine or famine-like conditions could rise to 323 million this year. The former Minister, Vicky Ford, travelled to east Africa last week, where she will have seen the human consequence of the crisis at first hand. It is a shame that she cannot now turn that into action.

Extreme hunger is driving mass displacement and conflict, and putting hundreds of thousands of lives at risk. According to Oxfam, more than 13 million people across Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia were displaced in search of water and pasture in just the first quarter of 2022, while the UN warned that 350,000 children could die by the end of the summer in Somalia alone.

After the catastrophic famine of 2011, which killed 260,000 people—half of them children—the UK and the international community vowed “never again”. The UK learned lessons with a much stronger response to the famine of 2017, when it succeeded in saving thousands upon thousands of lives. However, despite the current crisis outstripping those of five and 11 years ago, the UK’s response this year has paled in comparison. The World Food Programme director, David Beasley, said that it has put aid workers in the unimaginable position of having to take food from the mouths of the hungry to give to the starving.

At a time when we should be fortifying our alliances and building international co-operation, the UK, under this Government, has gone missing. Successive cuts to overseas aid and the chaotic block on spending this summer, just weeks after the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office budget was signed off, have left the UK isolated. Repurposing aid away from poverty has not gone unnoticed. In June, Samantha Power, chief of the United States Agency for International DevelopmentUSAID—expressed disbelief at this Government’s decision to strip back support from east Africa:

“at just the time of this, arguably, unprecedented food crisis, you’re actually seeing a lot of the key donors scaling back, if you can believe it…assistance in places like sub-Saharan Africa. And that comes on the heels of the British government…making significant cuts”.

Last week, Abdirahman Abdishakur Warsame, the presidential envoy for Somalia’s drought response, made these chastening remarks:

“In the 2017 drought, the UK and its leadership was vital, its advocacy and energy was great, and it encouraged people like me to match that commitment. Britain was a great ally to Somalia but that is all gone. The UK is still an ally, and they help with security, but when it comes to humanitarian response they are not there, not in leadership or in aid. It’s all gone.”

He is right to speak out because the situation is so grave. Some 700,000 people are now on the brink of famine in east Africa, and many millions more are suffering from acute malnutrition.

Let me be as clear as I can. When I say famine, I mean mass death. Under the integrated food security phase classification system, that means two in every 10,000 adults or four in every 10,000 children dying every single day. Oxfam has warned that across the region, someone is now dying of hunger every 36 seconds. By the time this debate finishes, that will be 150 people more.

The urgency of this crisis could barely be more stark. However, earlier this month, when the Minister in the other place, Lord Goldsmith, was asked how much of the £156 million allocated to this crisis had been disbursed to date, he said that less than half had been allocated. Let me impress on the Minister that when 260,000 people died in the famine of 2011, more than half died before the official declaration of famine was made. What are we waiting for? We cannot wait until a formal announcement to act.

On the steps of Downing Street, our new Prime Minister tried to claim the mandate of the 2019 general election and recommitted to delivering on that manifesto. In the context of this debate, I remind the Minister what that manifesto said:

“Building on this Government’s existing efforts, we will end the preventable deaths of mothers, new-born babies and children by 2030”.

Given that malnutrition plays a role in 45% of all deaths of under-fives, and that in a food crisis it is women and girls who eat less and eat last, we would expect food security to be a top priority for this Conservative Government. Why was food mentioned only three times in the Government’s 10-year international development strategy? Why did Ministers turn up empty-handed to the Nutrition for Growth summit in December and take two years to renew its pledge? Why did an estimated 11.7 million women and children lose out on nutrition support last year due to the cuts?

I will finish by referring to the single greatest long-term challenge to global food security: the climate emergency. This summer, droughts, floods and wildfires wreaked havoc in the UK and across the world. In Pakistan, devastating floods left a third of the country—equivalent to the size of the United Kingdom—underwater. Acres of rice fields were lost. In India, extreme heat decimated crop yields in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, leading to a domestic grain export ban. In the horn of Africa, we face an unprecedented fifth failed rainy season in a row.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has warned of the impact of global warming on food security—not only from the wanton destruction of extreme weather events, but as soil health progressively weakens and ecosystems collapse, pests and diseases become more common and marine animal biomass depletes. This is a disaster for the world, including for us in the United Kingdom. The Climate Change Committee has warned that global warming could lead to a 20% rise in food prices by 2050. That is a reminder why international co-operation and development is essential to protect people at home and across the world.

The truth is that the UK has a unique role to play, but under this Government we are falling woefully short. Our international development expertise, decimated with the destruction of DFID, is sorely missed here and abroad. Our research institutions and universities have an incredible role to play in unlocking long-term solutions to the global food security crisis, such as their role in developing drought-resistant crops.

In the crises of years past, we stepped up as leaders on the world stage to galvanise action and co-operation on the challenges that we have in common, helping to develop early warning systems so we can act decisively before tragedies strike. What happened to that ambition? Will the Minister tell us why his Government continue to invest in fossil fuels overseas? Why were central projects for adaptation and mitigation indefinitely paused this summer? When will the UK finally deliver on the international climate finance that it promised as host of COP26 last year?

The Opposition know where we stand. We cannot keep lurching from crisis to crisis. It is only long-term development that will help us turn the tide on the greatest global challenges, and rebuild trust based on our shared values and common interests. Global crises demand global solutions. I hope that the new Minister for Development will recognise that and will fight to return the UK to the global stage.

Photo of Mark Pritchard Mark Pritchard Conservative, The Wrekin

There is usually a time limit of 10 minutes for Front Benchers. Given that we have a little more time, I allowed the shadow Minister to speak for a bit longer. In the spirit of fairness, if the Minister wants an extra two minutes, that would be in perfect order.

Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) 10:28, 26 October 2022

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard. I am standing in at short notice after my right hon. Friend Vicky Ford left her position. I wish to put on the record our gratitude for everything that she did so magnificently in the Department in recent months in her role as the Minister for Development. Her work was much admired throughout the House and her recent visit to Ethiopia showed the compassion with which she conducted her duties and the extent of her contribution. I put on the record our thanks to her.

In the same spirit, I congratulate the incoming Minister for Development, my right hon. Friend Mr Mitchell. He will need no introduction on this issue; he has long-standing and deep expertise. I am sure he will fulfil the role with alacrity and that he will be available for Westminster Hall debates in the near future.

I congratulate Mrs Hamilton on her first Westminster Hall debate. She gave a passionate speech full of information and I am grateful for the issues and questions she raised. She set the issue of food security in the global context very effectively, and mentioned the fact that food insecurity is a function not of food shortage but of a lack of access to food; I agree wholeheartedly. It is with great regret that we see food being weaponised as a political means of achieving certain outcomes around the world—indeed, we are seeing that in mainland Europe right now.

The hon. Member mentioned the fact that we have a global cost of living crisis; I will make some remarks about our contribution to the World Food Programme in that respect. She rightly pointed out that women and children are disproportionately affected by food insecurity, and I assure her that that is why empowering women and girls is one of the main pillars of our international development strategy. We are in agreement on that issue. She also made some remarks about climate finance, which I will cover presently.

I thank all hon. Members for their contributions, not least the Labour spokesperson, Preet Kaur Gill; Margaret Ferrier, who is no longer in her place but talked about the importance of small farmers; and Jim Shannon, who talked about the importance of domestic food production and the magnificent production of fish and beef in his constituency, which is an extremely important contributor to UK domestic production. Patrick Grady talked about the importance of sustainable agriculture and small farmers, which was a very relevant set of remarks, and Taiwo Owatemi mentioned the climate impact of food security, which is something we are serious about and which I will cover presently.

Alyn Smith made clear the connection between geopolitics and agriculture and brought to bear his deep experience in the European Parliament, which was welcome. He referred to the IDC report; he will have seen the Government response, which is cogent and lays out the fact that the Government are doing a great deal. He should be reassured that there is coherence across Government about bringing development to bear throughout everything we do, and that it is linked into the integrated review in terms of our being aware of climate change and food security as a function of geopolitics, but I welcome his remarks.

The world faces an unprecedented food and nutrition crisis. Conflict, climate change and the lasting impacts of covid have had a devastating impact on local and global food systems and the people who rely on them. On top of that, we have the insecurity coming out of Putin’s outrageous invasion of Ukraine and the extent to which he has sought to weaponise the flow of grain, principally, but also other foodstuffs from Europe’s breadbasket. We are keenly aware that up to 345 million people face acute food insecurity. Close to 50 million people are one step away from famine and, across the regions of most concern, some 9 million children are suffering from severe malnutrition. Our focus is on meeting humanitarian need, keeping food moving and working to future-proof global food systems. We are working to resolve conflict and address its root causes.

I gently say to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston that we have been constrained in our official development assistance budget, given the reduction to 0.5%, but we should be proud that it is still north of £11 billion annually. It is not a decimation: development is still a very important part of our political output through the Foreign Office, so we should be upbeat about what we can achieve given—and despite—our budgetary constraints. Helping those in acute humanitarian need is a top priority. We are taking life-saving action. Our support to the World Food Programme is helping it to reach 150 million people in urgent need of food and nutrition assistance this year. We plan to provide £156 million of bilateral humanitarian assistance to east Africa this year, helping millions of people to access essential services and supplies, including food, water, shelter and healthcare.

Of course, the UK is combining aid with diplomacy, using our political influence to bring others to the table and deliver a greater impact. At September’s United Nations General Assembly we co-hosted an event with the head of humanitarian affairs at the UN, Martin Griffiths, the head of the United States Agency for International Development, Samantha Power, and the Governments of Italy and Qatar, to raise the level of alarm around the humanitarian crisis in the horn of Africa.

Furthermore, we have been one of the first to respond to the terrible flooding that has affected more than 33 million people in Pakistan. Alongside the amazing response from the British public to the Disasters Emergency Committee’s appeal, we have provided supplies, shelter and essential water and sanitation assistance to help to prevent water-borne diseases. Colleagues have been hugely impressed with Lord Ahmad’s leadership on that in the Department.

When it comes to multilateral finance, international co-operation is paramount in addressing food insecurity. With the UK’s support, the multilateral development banks are stepping up their assistance. Of course, we remain one of the largest shareholders—indeed, we are joint fifth—at the World Bank. The bank has announced $36 billion-worth of support alongside a further $9 billion from other multilateral development banks.

When it comes to Ukrainian grain, it is clear that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been extremely harmful. We have pushed hard for the Black sea grain initiative and are very grateful for the leadership and co-ordination provided by the Turkish Government, which has helped to stabilise food supplies by increasing the flow of grain out of Ukraine. Since 1 August, more than 8 million tonnes of food has been exported from Ukraine’s Black sea ports and, importantly, more than 60% of the wheat exported has gone to low and middle-income countries. That is despite what Putin’s regime might say in its propaganda. It is vital that Russia does not block the deal’s extension when the initial 120-day period expires on 19 November. We are working really hard through our diplomatic channels to ensure that that does not happen, because the grain must keep flowing.

Several Members mentioned climate change and sustainable agriculture, which is absolutely critical. Feeding the world must work hand in hand with tackling climate change, biodiversity loss and biological threats. I can confirm that our international development strategy reaffirmed our commitment to doubling our international climate finance to £11.6 billion between 2021-22 and 2025-26. At least £3 billion of that will be invested in solutions to protect and restore nature, and we aim to ensure a balanced split between mitigation and adaptation finance. We are putting our money where our mouth is. We think that is important because, as has been discussed in this debate, if the climate is protected to allow small farmers to continue production, that tackles the root cause of these sorts of issues.

Furthermore, under our COP26 presidency we helped to bring agriculture and food systems to the centre of climate discussions at that forum. We launched the agriculture breakthrough agenda, which will help to accelerate the transition to sustainable agriculture. At the World Bank annual meetings, we bought partners together for our policy dialogue, to learn about and collaborate on policies that work for people, climate and nature, such as the repurposing of harmful subsidies.

For example, Vietnam is training farmers in the Mekong delta in sustainable rice production, cutting the use of water resources by 40% and reducing fertiliser use while increasing farmers’ incomes. Similarly, Sierra Leone is planting trees on degraded lands to reduce the impact of climate change and to protect farmers from flooding. I am sure Members will be pleased to hear that in Malawi, Nepal, Rwanda and Ethiopia, our commercial agriculture for smallholders and agribusiness programme is helping farmers to adopt climate-smart technologies and improve fertiliser use.

On science, technology and innovation, our investment in science and research has been important to the Foreign Office’s work. Our support enables bodies such as CIGR—the International Commission of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering, which is the world’s leading agricultural science and innovation organisation—to release new climate-resilient wheat varieties, which help millions of farmers to increase the resilience of their crops to drought and disease. Last year alone, our investments resulted in the release of 59 climate-resistant and nutritious new bio-fortified crop varieties, feeding more than 27 million people.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

I thank the Minister for his comprehensive response to the debate. I and other Members have talked about the partnership between the agrifood sector and universities, and how that advances the technological opportunities that result. Does he recognise that those contributions and those partnerships in universities across all of this great United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland really point the way forward to finding a new way to feed the world?

Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I agree entirely; that co-operation is extremely important. That kind of research and co-operation has shown that the efficiency of things such as photosynthesis in food crops can boost yields by more than 20%. That is critical to drive up yield, improve the efficiency of land use and, of course, feed the world, so we are in agreement. We need such technological transformation to expand global food supplies in a sustainable way without expanding land use or damaging the environment.

I conclude by thanking all hon. Members for their thoughtful contributions. We acknowledge the fact that feeding the world in the face of such huge challenges demands the attention of us all, and the entire effort of the Government is focused on that. I am grateful for the contributions from all parties. We will continue our extremely important work.

Photo of Paulette Hamilton Paulette Hamilton Labour, Birmingham, Erdington 10:40, 26 October 2022

We heard from Jim Shannon, who highlighted the important contribution of agriculture in Northern Ireland to our food security. We must ensure that no one feels they are left behind.

I thank Patrick Grady, who talked about the right type of support for farmers and people having access to markets to sell the products they produce. His experience of working in the international aid sector made his contribution to the debate really helpful.

As a fellow west midlands MP, I thank my hon. Friend Taiwo Owatemi for focusing on the importance of locally produced foods in ending food insecurity. I also thank Alyn Smith, the Opposition Front-Bench spokesperson, my hon. Friend Preet Kaur Gill, and the Minister; I am grateful for his responses. This has been a really important debate and I thank each and every person who has spoken.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House
has considered global food security.

Sitting suspended.