Higgins warns speculation driving hunger crisis

Wed, Jan 16, 2013, 00:00

Chronic hunger is “one of the most serious challenges facing the global community,” President Michael D Higgins has said.

In his opening address at Feeding the World in 2050, a two-day policy symposium that is part of Ireland’s EU presidency, the President told delegates that chronic hunger now affected one in seven, or approximately 925 million people every day.

He said the “dire poverty” that caused such hunger was the “greatest moral and ethical challenge” the global community faced.

Describing as “predatory” countries and corporations that were “taking over agricultural land in developing countries to secure their own food security or boost corporate speculative profits”, he said they did so at the expense of the developing world.

‘Land grabs’

Mr Higgins said such “land grabs and drive for profits” were contributing to “evictions, poverty and conflict”.

Addressing the EU government department, NGO and academic delegates, the President said climate change posed an additional challenge. With regard to responses to it, he said it must be recognised that rising oil prices would drive the use of land and crops towards biofuels with serious implications for global food production.

He also cautioned against the effects of financial and market speculation on food security. In 2011, he said, it was estimated that 61 per cent of the wheat futures market was held by speculators, compared with only 12 per cent in the mid-1990s, prior to deregulation. Organised by the UCD Institute of Food and Health and co-sponsored by the Department of Agriculture and Food and the Food Safety Authority, the event was also addressed by Concern chief executive Dr Tom Arnold.

Political priority

Dr Arnold said that “probably for the first time ever” nutrition was becoming a political priority and was supported by “considered policy”.

He said while progress was being made, an opportunity existed in the form of private sector partnerships with government and civil society to reduce child mortality and stunting caused by chronic malnutrition.

He also said there was a need for more donors “including private sector and philanthropists to provide support” while the commitment of developing countries themselves was required too.

The conference continues today.