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A Better Way to Feed the Hungry--?

  • Subject: [cg] A Better Way to Feed the Hungry--?
  • From: Laura Berman <laura@foodshare.net>
  • Date: Thu, 23 May 2002 16:00:00 -0400

The Gates Foundation wants to feed the world.

article below ______________________________________________________

A Better Way to Feed the Hungry
Published on Wednesday, May 22, 2002 in the
Seattle Post-Intelligencer

by Frances Moore Lappéé and Anna Lappéé

Bill Gates thinks he's got a brilliant idea: fighting malnutrition abroad by
fortifying food.

The scheme, backed with $50 million from the Gates Foundation, in part
encourages Proctor & Gamble, Philip Morris' Kraft, and other companies to
develop vitamin and iron-fortified processed foods. It then facilitates
their entry into Third World markets.

Gates seems to believe we don't have time to address the complex social and
political roots of malnutrition. But in opting for this single-focus,
top-down, technical intervention, Gates can end up hurting the very people
he wants to help.

His strategy ignores a crucial reality: Many, if not most, of the hungriest
people in the world are themselves farmers. They eke out a living by selling
what they grow, and eating it. Helping foreign food purveyors penetrate
their markets will only further rob them of livelihood. For example, India's
dairy cooperatives -- many run by poor women -- would be hard-pressed to
withstand the onslaught of Kraft's marketing power.

The Gates approach also hurts the poor if it shifts tastes toward processed
foods -- typically adding fat, sugar, and salt while removing needed fiber
and micronutrients. This diet trend already contributes to the spread of
diseases currently burdening the industrial world. Obesity and diet-related
diseases including diabetes, heart disease, and cancer are becoming a global
crisis. In the Third World, grossly insufficient health care budgets are now
being diverted to treat these conditions, and away from treating deadly
infectious diseases.

Aiding market penetration by global food processing companies also ends up
making consumers dependent on foreign suppliers for life's essentials. But
while corporations such as Kraft or Proctor & Gamble might well participate
in Gates' do-good scheme, ultimately their interests diverge from those of
the hungry. By law, theirs is assuring the highest return to their
shareholders -- foreigners -- not the improved well-being of local people,
and certainly not hungry local people too poor to make their needs felt in
the market.

Even the piece of the Gates scheme focused on fortifying grain (presumably
locally grown) misses critical lessons learned since the first World Food
Conference in Rome declared war on global hunger almost three decades ago.

Then, many still believed that hunger could be solved by simple,
mass-production approaches. After decades of failed, technologically-driven
solutions, a new wisdom is emerging.

We recently traveled on five continents, witnessing a heartening array of
local initiatives addressing the complex, interwoven roots of needless
malnutrition. These are not pie-in-the-sky solutions; they are working.

In 1993 Brazil's fourth largest city, Belo Horizonte, declared food a right
of citizenship. This single shift of frame -- beyond charitable hand-outs,
beyond market tyranny -- unleashed dozens of innovations: Making city plots
available for local, organic farmers as long as they keep prices within the
reach of the poor; posting where to find the cheapest prices for over 40
food staples; enhancing nutrition in school lunches by replacing processed
foods with local organic food. The city also tries to innoculate newly
arrived dwellers against global corporate food advertising (probably
including that of the very companies in the Gates fold) by educating them to
the value of sticking with the healthy whole foods diets they grew up on in
the countryside.

Across the globe in Kenya, women of the Green Belt Movement, an
anti-desertification campaign that has planted 20 million trees, are now
reclaiming diverse, traditional food crops. They are creating organic
kitchen gardens growing precisely the fruits and vegetables that provide the
nutrients Gates' fortification scheme seeks to supply.

A promising international "fair trade" movement now also addresses the
powerlessness that leaves people malnourished in the first place. Third
World producers can market fair trade products, such as coffee certified by
Oakland-based Transfair USA, helping to ensure the livelihood of some of the
world's poorest people.

Tens of thousands of such innovative efforts, many citizen driven, continue
to emerge on every continent. They are succeeding because they address the
real causes of malnutrition -- concentrated economic and political power
that blocks people from pursuing their interests and from building vibrant,
sustainable local economies, accountable to local needs.

Just imagine what might happen if Bill Gates chose not to fortify corporate
foods but to use his $50 million to fortify efforts like these, encouraging
their cross-fertilization and replication. With nutrient deficiencies
stunting the lives of at least two billion people we can't afford
ill-considered strategies that will hurt rather than help.

Frances Moore Lappéé and Anna Lappéé are authors of "Hope's Edge: The Next
Diet for a Small Planet" www.dietforasmallplanet.com.

                  ©©1999-2002 Seattle Post-Intelligencer

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