The government must act to make hunger a thing of the past

Dan Jarvis MP (Labour, Barnsley Central) is the shadow culture minister

There is enough food in the world to feed everyone. But not everyone has enough food.

This simple truth – this injustice – was brought to our attention last week, as over 100 organisations joined together to launch the ‘Enough Food for Everyone If’ campaign.

This is the first time that international charities and faith organisations have come together in this way since Make Poverty History in 2005, when the Labour government led the G8 at Gleneagles in cancelling debt and committing vital funds in aid to help the world’s poorest people.

Labour has a lot to be proud of in terms of our record on international development. Over the last decade, the number of children dying each year has fallen from 12 million to 6.9 million.

But despite many great achievements, one in eight people still go to bed hungry every night. The food crises which we see spanning the African continent, from Somalia to Senegal, are evidence of a system that is close to breaking point.

With a changing climate, increasing population and financial volatility, the food system is under strain as never before.

Food prices reached record levels in recent years, putting an additional 400,000 children’s lives at risk. Millions of people around the world are suffering the effects of malnutrition. I’ve seen this with my own eyes when I visited India with Save the Children last summer.

In the Delhi slums I met Ritu, a nine month old girl, who looked little older than a newborn. She weighed just three and a half pounds at birth; and little more when I met her. Her mother could not afford vegetables and other nutritious food, and she told me how afraid she was for Ritu’s future.

Ritu was just one of the 48% of Indian children who are stunted due to malnutrition.

When I served in Afghanistan, I saw the impact that hunger and malnutrition have on people’s lives. One in ten children in Afghanistan dies before their fifth birthday, and 59% are stunted.

The lack of global progress on tackling hunger has led many to conclude that it is an intractable problem. But the ‘Enough Food for Everyone If’ campaign tells us that we can solve this problem.

We can be the generation to end hunger – if we act now.

The coalition government must not only stick to its promises on aid – to spend 0.7 % of national income and enshrine that commitment in law – but it must also ensure that budget is spent wisely.

We know that tackling malnutrition is one of the best buy investments in development, and that it is critical to support small farmers who provide food for one third of the human race but who make up over half of the world’s hungry people.

But it is about more than money. The If campaign is right to focus on the structural flaws in the global food system which cause one in eight people to go hungry. As Labour MPs and activists we should support the campaign’s call for greater transparency across the food system.

The UK government must show global leadership in shining a light on the secretive and unfair way in which land is bought, sold and used in the developing world. I was shocked to learn that an area of land the size of London is bought up every six days in some of the world’s poorest countries.

Those who rely on this land must be offered greater protections.

It is also vital that we abolish the subsidies that make it cheaper to use food as fuel instead of feeding hungry people.

And finally, it is time for this government to start delivering on its promises to crack down on the tax dodging that robs developing countries of vital funds to invest in agriculture and feed their own people.

The more of us who join together to support this campaign, the greater the pressure we can put on the UK government and governments around the world to stop hunger in its tracks.

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