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Food Security Summit

Volume 739: debated on Wednesday 25 July 2012


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is the agenda for the Food Security Summit that the Prime Minister has called during the 2012 Olympic Games and who will attend.

My Lords, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister will host a major event on hunger during the London Olympics. He will bring together leaders of Governments, business and civil society organisations to galvanise global efforts to tackle undernutrition.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for her Answer. I am sure that she shares my concern that recent extreme weather events in the United States, the Ukraine and lots of other parts of the world have meant that food prices are already spiralling in anticipation of food shortages. In the light of that, will she make her best endeavour to ensure that the summit addresses the issue that at the moment lots of perfectly good food stuffs are being converted into ethanol? We really need to move to second-generation ethanol production because the need of the poor to eat must be more important than the need of the rich to drive.

The noble Baroness is right that prices for maize and soya beans have now exceeded 2007-08 highs. It is too early to say how rising world prices will affect the poor in developing countries, because production for 2012 is still expected to exceed consumption. Regarding her point on ethanol, the Government are committed to ensuring that biofuel production does not jeopardise food security in the way that she indicates. Biofuels can, of course, play a positive role in promoting development, provided their production benefits smallholder farmers. The focus of the event in August is on child malnutrition.

My Lords, in the context where a malnourished child is eight times more likely to die than a child of normal weight, and where 3 million children are estimated to die of malnutrition every year, will the Minister undertake to look at the reports of our previous ambassador in North Korea, Peter Hughes, and our present ambassador, Karen Wolstenholme, who have reported on stunted growth, especially among children, in a country where 2 million died during the famine in the 1990s? Will she accept that, however much we may despise a particular ideology, it should be no part of our policy, or indeed that of the United States or other nations, to try to drive a country into submission by using food as a weapon of war?

The noble Lord is right to say that there is a very high level of malnutrition across the world, which has a terrible impact upon the health of children. That is why the Government have focused very much on trying to ensure that this issue is addressed. I take on board what he says about this report. I will make sure that DfID sees it, if it has not already done so; I should think it is highly likely that it has already. It is extremely important that we ensure that food—and support for the ability of people to feed themselves—is available worldwide, whatever the regime.

My Lords, in dealing with the challenge before us, does the Minister recognise how crucial the need is to support through both aid and trade agreements those smaller-scale ecological food production systems practised by millions of small-scale farmers and producers, many of them women, which currently deliver food for 70% of the world’s peoples? They could provide more, if properly supported and protected. They could not only increase availability of food and eliminate hunger but increase equity, create employment, build community and reverse environmental degradation. What assurance can she give that this important dimension of the problem of food security will be given proper consideration by those gathered for this summit?

The right reverend Prelate is absolutely right to emphasise the need to support those working in agriculture in their various countries. It is striking that 75% of the world’s population live in rural settings dependent on agriculture, and we are acutely aware that they are very vulnerable. People in developing countries spend 60% of their income on food, unlike in the UK, where the figure is about 10%, so one can see how vulnerable people are in these situations. We are targeting our support to try to help smallholding-farmer households and women in particular in those circumstances.

My Lords, will the summit look at the consequences of conflict on food security and, in particular, the fact that the consequences of conflict can sometimes have an unintended impact in neighbouring countries, as we see today in the Sahel region of west Africa? Is it possible for the summit to look at how we address these issues of conflict in the context of dealing with food security?

All these factors interlink. The fragility of some of these countries feeds into their problems in terms of food, and that is clearly the case in the Sahel, where the United Kingdom is supporting the feeding of 400,000 people. We are well aware of how these things interlink and I am sure that that will be part of the discussions at this event.

I welcome this initiative as an important part of the legacy of the Games, but is my noble friend aware that the number of obese people globally is approximately the same as the number of those who are malnourished, hungry or stunted? While the latter group is, thankfully, reducing in number, partly because of well-targeted aid, the number of obese people is growing exponentially, with enormous additional costs in relation to health and health services internationally.

That is why it is extremely important that we support education. That is what we do, as can be seen in, for example, Bangladesh. Although here we are addressing the need to reduce undernutrition, obviously the rise in the incidence of obesity that my noble friend has just flagged up is also a concern, although not among the same populations. It is extremely important that education is supported so that people can address both those areas.