Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Food and human rights

SBS aired a doco on the growing anger in developing countries over the rising price of food and the increasing marginalization of small land holders.

Over the last three decades the failed strategies of the Bretton Woods agencies (IMF & World Bank) and the relentless push of globalization has seen the food security of poor countries threatened. As an Australian aid official I was alarmed by the alacrity with which developed countries pedaled a development template fashioned to benefit Western trade interests.

To get beyond the simplistic lexicon of a political economy shaped exclusively by global market forces, we need to explore more humanist solutions to the provision of basic human needs and acknowledge that failure to do so will condemn all of us to an insecure future. The onus on developed world leaders to end charity and imposed, culturally skewed economic prescriptions is urgent. New partnerships with the developing world to share resources equitably and strengthen human capability in areas of most need should be viewed as essential investments in global security.

During my career, amongst a litany of inappropriate technology transfers, culturally biased structural adjustment dogmas, misplaced charity and other myriad distortions, the occasional gem emerged. Such successes sustained me over the years. I felt we got the development cooperation process right every so often. Genuine cross-cultural bridges and mutually beneficial arrangements were reinforced in the process. I rationalized misgivings and convinced myself that it was vital that people with an eye for the paradox of manipulative aid strategies mitigate the worst excesses of this form of imperialism.

Food security and the provision of other basic human needs is at the core of the Millennial Development Goals. However, the economic prescriptions of the last three decades have not focused on third world self-sufficiency and local empowerment. Economic elites have benefited from opening trade channels, import-export of food commodities has expanded, multinational food corporations have acquired a greater share of the trade in food (including capturing patents on staple varieties and dominating the trade in certain commodities), small land holders have been squeezed and impoverished, aid-dependent developing countries have been manipulated by donor powers into accepting economic prescriptions that have increased rural poverty.

The GFC has sparked a review of the resource distribution template governing North-South relations. The IMF coffers have been replenished to assist the financial security of revenue-challenged developing countries. The concern is whether there has been a shift in the globalization construct, whereby unequal playing fields underpin the food trade and poor countries are dependent on cheap imports. The distortion of local food markets that has flowed from WB/IMF economic prescriptions and international food aid programs has to stop.

Globalization can only deliver just outcomes if accompanied by trade and development cooperation policies that empower and foster human dignity and freedom. Think of a world where the constructs of ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ no longer apply. A fourth world would celebrate cultural difference; the dignity and worth of all labour and the universality of human rights. We all have a stake in peace and security. The moribund ‘polarities’ and parallel development paths of the last century, blind us to the potential of shared horizons.

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