Campaign blog

Don't believe the hype

Meredith Alexander's picture Meredith Alexander Head of Trade and Corporates

Biofuels represent the triumph of hope over experience. Faith alone seems to be the driving force behind increasing production.

In rich countries, drivers hope that biofuels will ease their guilt over driving and maybe even flying. Governments hope that biofuels will help them meet targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions without increasing hunger. Unfortunately, they are wrong on both counts. Biofuel production has already made millions more people hungry and scientific evidence that biofuel use can’t help stop climate change increases every day.

Biofuel myths are just as pervasive here in India. I’ve met farmers, business people and even government officials whose hopes for biofuels aren’t matched by reality. One businessman has invested tens of thousands of rupees in growing jatropha, a biofuel plant. In return, his income has been only 3,000 rupees. Despite this massive loss, he would try again.

Why is he so convinced? He has seen some extremely high income projections for jatropha based on completely unrealistic yield assumptions. More worrying are the farmers giving over vital land to jatropha. I’ve met people who have to spend more money to buy the rice or vegetables their family need to survive because they are growing jatropha. These people can’t afford expensive mistakes. So far, none of them have seen the kind of income they have been promised. Most have had no income from jatropha at all. But the myths surrounding the plant are so strong that some are willing to keep trying.

I’m here to do research about jatropha, but hearing from these farmers is making me want to take action. I’m looking for ways that ActionAid can help by spreading accurate information about biofuels to farmers in India. When I come back, I’ll be helping plan ways to bust the biofuels myths in the UK too. Watch this space!

Some good news from the World Food Summit

Alex Wijeratna's picture Alex Wijeratna Senior campaigner, policy and campaigns

Aside from country host Silvio Berlusconi, G8 leaders appeared to shun the World Food Summit in Rome last week.

Although the gathering was largely a disappointment for the 1 billion hungry people in the world today - there were no extra resources, or an ambitious commitment to end hunger by 2025 - one bright spot was to be found. This was agreement to strengthen and open up to farmers' groups and civil society organisations an important goverance body at the UN's main food and hunger organisation, known as FAO.

Leaders agreed to strengthen one part of the FAO, the Committee on World Food Security (CFS), and agreed the Committee will become the foremost UN/global political platform for dealing with food security and nutrition.

The plan is historic because people most affected by the food crisis will be allowed to formally participate in this new body - such as civil society organisations representing smallholder farmers, women, fisherfolk, landless, young people, urban poor, indigenous people and food workers.

Ensuring the voice of these people is built into this global governing body by right is a major breakthrough, and something ActionAid has been campaigning for with others in Rome over this last year or so.

In fact, the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier de Schutter, says the reform of the CFS "is the single most important achievement of the international community to the [food] crisis, along with the renewal of pledges to reinvest significantly in agriculture and rural development."

All a bit tecky but basically an excellent bit of progress for smallholder women farmers!

Response from the PM to our hunger report

Alex Wijeratna's picture Alex Wijeratna Senior campaigner, policy and campaigns

News hot off the HungerFREE campaign press for you! Prime Minister Gordon Brown has just replied to ActionAid about our new hunger scorecard report - called 'Who's really fighting hunger?' - which one of our supporters, Avis Talbot, handed in to No 10 Downing Street on World Food Day in October.

Gordon Brown's letter acknowledges the scale of the global hunger crisis - over 1bn going hungry worldwide - and says that the UK has taken the lead in pressing for a coordinated international response to the problem. He highlights that G8 donors pledged $20bn on fighting hunger at L'Aquila in July, and that the UK's contribution to that pot is £1.1bn over 3 years.

However, this is all a small start. It shows the government is beginning to take hunger seriously (thanks to your campaigning pressure), but it's clearly not enough. Some estimate that as little as $3bn of the G8 $20bn pledge is genuinely new and 'extra' money. The UN estimates that the global community needs to find $44bn a year to really eradicate hunger - four times more than what's been offered by the G8 so far.

Our global HungerFREE campaign will continue to keep the heat up in the UK and beyond. We need to keep pressing for the right level of resources, the best policies, and better governing bodies and structures to ensure a fairer food system that works for the poorest and truly delivers a HungerFREE world.

Rich countries shun hunger summit

Kim Trathen's picture Kim Trathen International Campaigner

Yesterday was the first day of the World Food Summit.  Along came the Pope, and Barosso from the EU, and most African heads of state but hang on… where were the leaders from the G8 rich countries?  Only Berlusconi turned up from the G8 countries, and the lack of donor countries was noted by many.

Team ActionAid had a fruitful day, but not without its share of frustrations too. NGOs weren’t able to get to the important rooms in the Summit to hear the speeches and meet with delegates. Instead we were cooped up in a room watching the proceedings on a TV screen! However, HungerFREE (in the form of our Americas Director, Adriano) managed to get a slot in the busy agenda of Lula, President of Brazil. 

HungerFREE wanted to congratulate Brazil for scoring number 1 in our scorecard report which we launched a month ago. Because of strong political will, Brazil in the last 6 years has cut child malnutrition by a staggering 73%, which contributed to a drop in child mortality of 45%. This shows what can be done when you put your mind and money to it. Our report was called 'who's really fighting hunger?' – so we thought it was appropriate to give Lula a pair of HungerFREE boxing gloves. He seemed quite tickled with them – and put them on to pose for a photo.

Lula gets his HungerFREE boxing gloves

We also met with the French Minister to hand over the Peuples Solidaires/ActionAid/Avaaz petition which has now been signed by 170,000 people calling for an end to the hunger scandal. More handovers to other G8 countries to organise today so time to be off.

(Photo of President Lula with his boxing gloves: ©FAO/Rocco Rorandelli.)

Last night, we lit up the Coliseum!

Kim Trathen's picture Kim Trathen International Campaigner

I’m here from the HungerFREE team in Rome for the World Summit on Food Security, where leaders are discussing the current food crisis. Over 150,000 people have taken action to call for an end to the crisis and last night to make our voices heard we lit up the Coliseum!

This only ever happens at significant global moments – with 1 billion people now hungry and the summit getting underway, last night was a significant global moment. Our candlelit vigil drew the newspaper photographers and TV crews, making our point hard for world leaders to ignore.

Lighting up The Coliseum

For the past two days we’ve been at the ‘People’s Food Sovereignty Now!’ forum with over 800 farmers and civil society representatives from across the world. We have the opportunity to put the voice of farmers and those who are actually experiencing hunger into the official summit discussions, so debates have been hot and lively.  

The summit kicked off this morning. We’ve heard that leaders from up to 60 countries around the world are coming. However, disappointingly Berlusconi from Italy is the only G8 (Group of 8 rich countries) leader to confirm attendance. What does that say about their commitment to ending hunger?  

Watch this space for news of the summit over the next couple of days!

Free Food!

Meredith Alexander's picture Meredith Alexander Head of Trade and Corporates

Rich countries waste around half of their food supplies. This is incredible in a world where more people than ever before are going hungry.

A fair chunk of this waste occurs in supermarket supply chains: for example slightly bendy carrots that don’t fit a uniform size and shape, or food that is nearing, but not necessarily at, its sell-by date. All supermarkets reject a portion of the produce they get from their suppliers and some surveys suggest it’s as much as 40%.

The food we waste is just part of the puzzle of our global food systems. We’ve been working with Tristram Stuart, a campaigner who has written a book all about it and right now we’re gearing up to the biggest ever event on food waste.

On 16 December Tristram, along with a host of celebrity chefs, will be Feeding the 5,000 with food that would otherwise have been wasted, and if you’re not squeamish about the shape of your carrots, you could be one of them.

What? Feeding the 5,000

Where? Trafalgar Square, London

When? 16 December

Let us know you're coming: email

Food waste is a massive issue but the good news is we can all do something about it, from making lunch out of our leftovers to campaigning for supermarkets to change their practices. We hope to see you there on 16 December!