Vir Cantium

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Category Archives: Africa

Oxfam: We're Doomed (Again)

It’s Tuesday and the end, naturally, is nigh.

The prices of some staple foods will more than double by 2030 unless world leaders reform the global food system, Oxfam has warned.

Scarlett Johansson

The agreeable looking Scarlett Johansson - an expert in global food economics, apparently.

The ‘global food system’? Didn’t know there was one. Anyway …

The aid charity warned that millions more people could suffer food shortages in two decades due to a ‘perfect storm’ of ecological and sociological factors.
A combination of population growth, climate-hit harvests and rising energy prices will see countries ‘sleepwalk into an unprecedented human development reversal’.

Those of us of a certain age (and I am moving into the period when I can start using that phrase) will remember being at school in the Eighties (or earlier) and being told of the inevitable crises that were to ensue given the massive growth in world population by the year 2000. There would not be enough food to go round and very bad things will happen.

Now, granted, there are localised famines most years that occasionally grab the headlines, but most are as much products of war and (sometimes wilfully) incompetent government as pure over-population or poor weather. However, by and large food production has kept up with population growth as farming, food processing and transport become more efficient – thus billions of lives are saved thanks to the great evils of globalisation and free markets.

So, what are the answers?

Oxfam are launching a campaign in 45 countries, called Growing a Better Future, which has been backed by South African Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu and actress Scarlett Johansson.

Scarlett Johansson? Really? Wow. I’m sold on it then. No, don’t bother explaining any more. Oh, go on then….

Solutions envisaged by Oxfam focus on cutting out waste, especially of water, and curbing agriculture and biofuel subsidies in rich countries.

More efficiency, yes – that’s what such increases in demand will drive. Curbing subsidies, also good – promoting free markets and allowing them to do their work.

The report also calls for prising open closed markets and ending the domination of commodities and seeds trade by a handful of large corporations.

Again, more free trade, lowering barriers to entry (such as protectionist duties and subsidies). All good. Doesn’t sound like Oxfam at all.

Oh …

The charity also called for new global governance to tackle food crises, including creating a multilateral food bank.

Global governance? Like the UN, that model of efficiency and effectiveness to which so many in Darfur Rwanda various places owe their lives. Perhaps they mean some structure whereby all the countries get together and agree on things in the global, rather than their national, interest. Always works well, that does.

And then, put that body in charge of a ‘multilateral food bank’? Superb idea. Perhaps they can ask the EU for help setting it up – Brussels has a wealth of experience with running food mountains banks.


Not a good week for Islam

Not a good week for Islam (again).

The Gibbons case in Sudan has brought a welcome condemnation from the Muslim Council of Britain, which claims to represent the Muslim community in Britain. They are “appalled” and have demanded that Mrs Gibbons be released. I agree. They then continue:

“This is a disgraceful decision and defies common sense. There was clearly no intention on the part of the teacher to deliberately insult the Islamic faith,” (my italics)

I must say, that does rather imply that had she deliberately set out to insult Islam then the MCB would be happy to see her whipped. It is sad that the MCB isn’t criticising the principle of a criminal code which includes an offence of insulting a religion.

Not that I would condone someone in an Islamic country going out of their way to insult the religion – but I say that simply on the basis that it is bad manners in a foreign country not to respect (to a point) the host culture. I certainly, though, do think that criminalising blasphemy is one more step on a slippery slope – the next stage being criminalising political dissent. Why should insulting a religion be any worse then insulting someone’s politics?

But of course, Sudan isn’t exactly a haven of free speech or defender of human rights, is it?