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Why BOND's four "IF"s would make Kipling weep

An editorial expressing disappointment that BOND, of which we are a member, has decided to launch a trite and simplistic campaign on "Enough food IF". The world could easily feed all its population but attempting to put it down to such simple causes for a popular audience is unwise.

I think, by now, most people realise that, despite David Attenborough's recent comments, famine is not caused by over-population but by problems in distribution of wealth and food. Not that we disagree with Attenborough about the world population threatening the environment. However the prevalent view in the 1970s that starvation is all the fault of the developing world's population growth has been largely debunked. There is indeed enough food production available on the planet for everyone but many people starve. SOS Children works hard to stop people starving, sometimes through short term food distribution but also through education including teaching agriculture, running farms near some of our projects, helping mothers become enterpreneurs to generate an income to feed their children, medical intervention to decrease maternal mortality in childbirth and so on. Even our major role in keeping families in the developing work together has a positive effect since family units are more resilient when times are hard.

How appropriate then for BOND, of which we have been a member for over a decade, to launch a campaign called "enough food for everyone". This we support. What is less clear however is on what basis they invented the 4 "IFs", which are a loosely thrown together set of speculative actions to improve world hunger.

The reasons which keep some people poor and allow others to be rich are very complicated. Large scale interventions lobbying government and indeed large scale government to government aid programs do not have a good track record and are very hard to do well. Also "big companies" deserve a lot of credit, as well as criticism when they do wrong.

For example, as someone who lived in West Africa for years I can say with certainty that the greatest problems were caused when responsible multinationals withdrew and gave the markets over to cowboys. Those who took over were far more corrupt and corrupting, cared little for their employees, the environment or the law and paid far less tax. The withdrawl often came in part because of exhaustion over criticism from well meaning NGOs. But far more harm was caused by this rather than by "big companies dodging tax". Where I lived there were so many issues with local tax collection that revenue from the multinationals was the main reliable source of income for the government, and the company I worked for paid over twenty times as much tax to the government as it made as profit in its best year. We may disapprove of some things big multinationals do but in the end there is far more scrutiny of their actions from Western stakeholders, and their management culture is far more responsible than most small locally owned (or even Eastern owned) alternatives. Much of the presence of multinationals in the developing world is only marginally profitable and there is a likelihood that the developing world will do worse. Lose a responsible multinational and the secure tax income disappears. Look at the disappearance of multinational retailers from West Africa in recent years and you will see much woe.

We should be promoting responsible engagement not demonising for popular appeal. We certainly should not be discouraging Western businesses from working in an environment where they will no doubt sometimes be wrongly accused. We should also be taking on our own responsibilities as individuals, for example through child sponsorship rather than inventing four IFs which conveniently allow us to believe we have no role to play. BOND has chosen unwisely, alas.

SOS School Tema Ghana
Child at the SOS School Tema Ghana

 

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