The IF Campaign Has Got it Wrong

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June 14, 2013 By Ossob Mohamud

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In the run-up to the G8 summit this month, the Enough Food For Everyone IF campaign is launching festive events throughout the UK with all the attendant wristbands and celebrities. The IF campaign is another Western inspired movement to combat poverty and hunger in the Global South.

The IF campaign is also trying to combat the comparisons it’s getting to the Make Poverty History campaign launched in 2005. But not to worry because, this time, it isn’t exclusively about Africa although it is hard to ignore the numerous images of African women and children on the website. IF is a collection of  UK aid agencies and charities who are rallying the UK government and the G8 to make policy changes in the following ways: give more aid, stop land grabbing, end the tax dodging of  MNC’s, and demand transparency of governments and corporations on harmful actions that create a broken food system. At first glance, this approach looks refreshingly different (well, except the ‘more aid’ part) but the IF campaign falls short in many significant ways that could exacerbate global poverty and hunger.

The IF campaign does a much better job than its predecessors in focusing their criticism at the inequality in the global food system. They make the right distinction by stating that global hunger is not due to food shortages because there is plenty of food for everyone.  They implicate the greedy practices of corporations and the state governments that support them in the food crisis. In this way, the IF campaign has made an attempt to acknowledge the complexity and depth of the problem. It has seemed to mature from the reliance on poverty porn imaging and emotional appeal to looking at the root causes.

But the IF campaign doesn’t go far enough because rather than challenging the power structures that are causing the problem, it compromises with it. Many have criticized the campaign for repeating the mistakes of the past by using the G8 as a vehicle for change. The rich countries in the G8 are the culprits of the unjust food system and benefit tremendously from keeping it that way.

It is ridiculous, and terribly misleading, to claim that the G8 leaders “could be the generation to help end hunger.” The IF campaign’s feigned naivety about this is not fooling anyone. Bill Gates was the headline act at the Big IF event and is considered the vanguard of the anti-poverty movement, but his Microsoft company is a major perpetrator of tax dodging.

Not coincidentally, David Cameron held a Hunger Summit at the headquarters of Unilever, a powerful MNC, on the same day of the Big IF event. At this summit $4bn in aid was pledged and recommitments to the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition were made.

The New Alliance, launched by President Obama at last year’s G8,  is a public-private partnership that “calls on African leaders, the private sector and development partners to accelerate responsible investment in African agriculture and lift 50 million people out of poverty by 2022.” African civil society groups have issued a statement condemning the New Alliance as a new form of colonialism, other groups have called it Structural Adjustments 2.0, and many have described it as the corporate takeover of African agriculture. The IF campaign has yet to address any of these criticisms and concerns.

The IF campaign’s hypocrisy and contradictions don’t stop there. It’s also apparent in who the campaign chooses to exclude and the ideas it ignores. IF claims to be inclusive of Global South voices but has not engaged with the largest international movement of peasant farmers called La Via Campesina.

The campaign does not even mention the concept of food sovereignty which is at the heart of the struggle to create a just food system. Food sovereignty is about putting the  communities who produce and consume food at the center of decision and policy making, “rather than the corporations and market institutions that have dominated the global food system.” That is what ends poverty and hunger, but IF doesn’t seem interested. It is for these reasons that other UK organizations such as War on Want and the World Development Movement have publicly declined to join IF.

It is clear why IF has decided to avoid the more ‘radical’ elements of the anti-poverty and hunger movements. IF would instantly lose its supporters, sponsors and donors who are the very corporations and governments that are cooking up new schemes to further exploit the resources of the Global South. By turning a blind eye to these machinations, one can’t help but wonder whose side the IF campaign is really on: the poor or big business and their government clients.

So the IF campaign isn’t anything new after all.  It’s an overhyped, PR move for the likes of Cameron and Gates who are forever clamoring for the lucrative title of the poor man’s hero. It’s giving big business the pretext of charity and development to push through neoliberal policies to further exploit low-income countries. It continues to accept and propagate the premise that free markets are the solution, despite countless evidence suggesting otherwise.  It’s a campaign that has yet again reduced the poor to grateful recipients who don’t seem to have much of a say, let alone a choice, in policies designed for them at swanky G8 meetings. This is all to say, obviously, that the IF campaign is not only a painful disappointment but will worsen global poverty and hunger. 

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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