Earlier in the month, our Education Volunteers from the University of Southampton Catholic Society and I visited St Anne’s Sixth Form to look at the global food system and ask for their support for our Hungry for Change campaign.
We started with the question, “Why exactly are one in eight people around the world going to bed hungry each night when there is enough food to feed everyone on the planet?” and then played a manic game based on the global food system – to find out!
The game involved groups taking on the roles of small farmers (who provide 50% of the world’s food), a global food business, traders, the market and government.
Trade was brisk – with groups vying to make the most profit whilst ensuring they had enough money to feed themselves each ‘month’. The traders were really impressive – using all sorts of negotiating skills to achieve a large profit although they themselves produced very little at all.
Then everyone was beset by two different scenarios, – one was the onset of climate change which affected the small farmers’ crop yields (and meant they had to spend what seemed a long minute sitting on their hands when trading started again) and the other was increased investment in the same small farmers – which meant that the government had to give them extra resources. This echoed real life where in Brazil, for example, the government has invested in small farmers’ loans, training and materials to increase food production which has resulted in millions of people being lifted out of poverty.
Although the small farmer groups worked incredibly hard – they could see they were destined to struggle.With lots of natural resources (paper) to use but no means of processing them at the start (colour pens) – they had a very tough time at first and it was evident that the odds were stacked against them.
After the game ended, we then looked at Emily Mbithuka’s real life experience as a small scale farmer in Kitui in Kenya.
When drought struck, Emily faced a terrible decision: “I managed to feed my family by eating very little,” she says. “We stored some maize to make sure we could feed the small ones, but the older children accepted hunger and skipped lunch. It really disturbed me to see them hungry.”
Families across the world face this impossible choice. Emily and her husband grow maize and vegetables to eat and sell but this isn’t enough to get by so, they walk miles each day under a baking sun, often with empty stomachs, to find paid manual labour. Most people who go hungry are like Emily, living, day in, day out, unsure where the next meal is coming from. But this silent crisis rarely hits the headlines.
Emily’s also frustrated because, despite her hard work, the amount she grows is too small to attract traders. Instead she sells to a shopkeeper, who sells her crop on at triple the price. “This isn’t fair. I feel exploited,” she says. “We don’t have an option of where to take our produce. It’s like we are being cheated.” Low and unpredictable prices make it hard for small-scale farmers like Emily to sell their crops at a fair price and it’s difficult for some farmers to wait until the price is high because they’ve got nowhere to store their crops. The climate in Kenya is also becoming more unpredictable, with increasingly frequent droughts affecting farmers’ ability to grow food.
The vast majority of Africa’s people get the food they need from small-scale farmers like Emily. The potential of these farmers is immense – the tomatoes that Emily grows can feed a hundred families – but they aren’t receiving enough support.
We then looked at CAFOD’s Hungry for Change campaign which calls for fundamental changes to the global food system. Namely, it asks for empowering aid for small scale farmers, especially women, to help them access markets and increase their income, bargaining power and voice in decisions.
Furthermore it calls for checks on the power of global food companies, requiring them to report on the lobbying they do and their impacts on human rights and to ensure that workers in global supply chains get a fair deal. But the campaign also asks us to look at what’s on our own plates as we’re all part of this global food system. By choosing local, sustainable and Fairtrade food, we can send a powerful signal to companies that we want a fairer food system.
This year is really crucial as the UK is hosting the G8 summit with some of the world’s most powerful leaders– so we are calling on David Cameron to put food high on the global agenda and act for a fairer system.
Students were invited to write their own messages to David Cameron. Here are some of them below:
Dear Mr Cameron
“It is unacceptable that we are letting so many people go hungry when we have enough food for everyone and we have the power to stop this injustice. I ask you to put food at the top of the agenda at the G8. We need to provide small farmers with the means to set up cooperatives in order to help themselves.’
“..although we have enough food in this world to feed everyone, one in eight people go hungry. I would ask that, in order to rectify this problem, the government support small scale farmers in order to them to be able to earn a profit and get a fair price for their crops as well as urging the global food companies to be more open about how they do business.’
“I want you, as our international representative to send a clear message to the rest of the world that Britain is hungry for change.”
“Please put food high on the global agenda. We need change. There is complete inequality in the global food system and it is the small farmers who are suffering….”
“Please wake up and see what is happening to our food industry. It’s not a fair system.’
“..you need to make sure that large companies are honest in the way they do their business.”
“..we are Hungry for Change. Please take action!’
“As a leader, we look up to you to make a difference. Please don’t let us down.”
“Please do all you can.”
Many thanks to all the Sixth Formers who really made this a LOT of fun to do, our Education Volunteer Coordinator (Roger Lillie) and all our Cath Soc Education Volunteers who led the sessions.
A special note of thanks should also go to Mr Tucker and Mr Waterfield too who organised everything and made it all run so smoothly. Thank you all so much everyone! What a team!
For more information on the Oxfam game ‘Can you beat the system’ please click here.
If you would like to take action as part of our Hungry for Change campaign, please send a message to the Prime Minister via our website here.