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close this bookOvercoming Global Hunger (WB)
close this folderSession one: global challenge
View the documentWelcoming remarks
View the documentPartnership to fight hunger
View the documentA vision for a hunger-free partnership
View the documentParticipation of nongovernmental organizations
View the documentNothing grows from the top down
View the documentConference themes

Nothing grows from the top down

Atherton Martin

I am very pleased to have been chosen to represent the views of several hundred thousand people, who for obvious reasons could not be here today, but who would insist that we remain faithful to their realities, their concerns, and their hopes for the future.

In the last 500 years, there have been four major threats to the survival of humanity: slavery, fascism, hunger, and environmental degradation One of these has been overcome: slavery. To a greater or lesser extent, fascism, hunger, and environmental degradation persist. Slavery was overcome by the action of people in the South and the North who were outraged by the very thought of one human being owning another human being. The other threats to our humanity, and in the context of this conference, hunger, await the action of people who, like Congressman Hall, are determined that the pain and indignity of hunger and the horror of the starvation of even one human being will not be tolerated.

The “champagne glass" of hunger and poverty that is depicted in this chart accurately illustrates the brutality of the problem of hunger. In summary, at the top of the glass the richest 20 percent of the people receive, own, and control 82 percent of all the income and wealth of the world. At the bottom of the glass, the poorest 20 percent of the people share 14 percent of the income and wealth of the world Together with the rest of us, the World Bank is challenged to accept the challenge of changing the conditions that create and sustain this horrendous human injustice.

As the representatives of NGOs, many of us from the countries of the world normally associated with the phenomenon of hunger, we simply refuse to accept hunger as a feature of life on earth. As NGOs we are convinced that an end to hunger is not only possible, but imperative We believe that for every person going hungry anywhere in this world, there should be a Tony Hall willing to go to extraordinary lengths to draw attention to the shameless fact that we have the capacity to prevent that indignity. We salute the courage and persistence of that U. S. congress man who, when all else had failed, was prepared to resort to embarrassing the U.S. Congress, the U. S. public, and the world into paying attention to the tragedy of hunger. We also salute the courageous people throughout the world and inside the World Bank who have received that message from Representative Tony Hall and decided to act on it.

Yesterday, the representatives of southern NGOs had a most interesting exchange with senior Bank staff regarding the Bank's role in contributing to the causes of global hunger We were pleased to hear many of these staffers repeat what NGOs have been saying for several years about the important contribution of economic policies and programs to the debacle of persistent poverty and its bedfellow, hunger. We were pleased because the emergence of a common perspective on the causes of hunger signal the possibility for partnership in the efforts to end hunger. We applaud these staffers and applaud the president of the Bank for his support for this conference and the resulting opportunity to have this dialogue.

As NGOs we believe that we have a special role in this and other efforts aimed at drawing attention to the problem of global hunger. Simply put, we are prepared to be the conscience of many people in rich and poor countries who see hunger, reject it, and have decided to end it. We are prepared to be the conscience of those who understand the cause of the deepening crisis of global hunger as it relates to development policies and strategies, many of which have been advocated and financed by the Rank and other international financial institutions during the past fifty years. We are prepared to be the eyes and ears of the millions who are unable to be here, who are unable to read your documents, who are unable to see the opulence of your work stations, who are unable to be here to tee you themselves what it means to go hungry. We are your conscience saying no! Enough! Let us put a stop to this'.

To put a stop to this means that we must change the way that we do business. For the Bank, probably the single most critical institution relating to the issues of global economic activity in recent decades, this means changing the way that things are done inside the Bank, between the Bank and other financial institutions, as well as between the Bank and its client governments, and most important, between the Bank and the people in whose name we combat hunger.

Instead of administering structural adjustment programs to our countries, the Bank would need to focus on making adjustments to its own operations that would allow it, for example, to establish procedures and mechanisms that allow the experiences and the expertise of poor women, workers, farmers, youth, and others to inform and shape policies and programs of the bank!

The Bank would need to subject itself and its work to the scrutiny of those same groups who are most affected by its actions, and to be responsive and accountable to the poor in whose name it addresses the issues of hunger.

The Bank would need to link its policies and programs in such areas as trade, education, health, housing, nutrition, and other important spheres of human life to the phenomenon of global hunger, and to insist on an integrated approach to the design and implementation of Bank policies and programs.

The Bank would need to admit that the medicine of structural adjustment has not helped stop global hunger, which means that it should stop trying to administer that potion to our countries.

The Bank would also need to agree to regular interaction with those who work with and represent the poor, so that NGOs from the countries of the South together with their partner NGOs from the North would provide year round input into the process of transforming the Bank into an instrument for development that is responsive to the needs of the poor and hungry among us.

It is already clear from this that our perception of economics places people at the center, and is substantially different from the notion of economics that is espoused by the Bank Lest we be misunderstood, however, we wish to make it clear that NGOs recognize the need for international trade as one means of stimulating economic activity, but we in turn ask that the Bank recognize the need for trade arrangements that not only earn foreign exchange, but meet people's needs for jobs, housing, health care, food, and other life essentials.

In the same vein, if the Bank accepts the need for large industrial economies to protect their microchip industries and the intellectual property rights that go with them, we insist that it recognise the need for countries such as ours to protect national and regional markets for our products, to protect our jobs, and to protect our rich biodiversity and other natural resources We note that such measures on the part of poor countries attract the label protectionist and are referred to as unfair trading practices, and often result in economic retaliation. We also note that the Bank is often prodding the compliance of poor countries with trade liberalization as a conditionality for financing.

We note, however, that even when large countries resort to direct cash subsidies to protect their own producers, as is the case with rice, wheat, corn, and many other commodities in the United States, for example, these measures are not considered protectionist, they do not attract retaliatory measures, and the Bank, among others, remains silent on these blatant violations of the principles of free trade A case in point the United States just this year used its PL 480 food aid program in Jamaica to force Guyana's rice out of that Caribbean market. Rice is a commodity that attracts some of the highest subsidies in the United States, and we have calculated that whereas Caribbean rice producers in Guyana receive no subsidies, just one of the five rice sup port programs in place in the United States pays an average of US$50,000 per year to each rice farmer. If this is the free trade that we are being told about, it is no wonder that poor countries cannot engage in free trade. We simply cannot afford it.

What does all this business of trade have to do with hunger? Well, it is relevant when the Bank insists that we produce more crops for export, as that is the way we will earn foreign exchange that we can then use to buy cheap, subsidized food from the rich countries and to service our international debt. But do you understand that by insisting on this dependence on a narrow range of commodities for export, you are destroying one of the only safety nets that poor countries can afford, the diversity of mixed farming that addresses some of our food needs? How many of you would invest all the money that you had saved up for your daughter's college education in one option on the stock market? Well, that is exactly what you are asking us to do.

Does the Bank have any alternative? It certainly does The conditions attached to lending the Bank's resources can be tied increasingly to rewards for efficient management of scarce resources; to food security based on local production; to the effective involvement of women in the production, preparation, distribution, and trading of goods and services; to the processing and manufacture of goods that use local raw materials and foster linkages between different sectors of the economy; to the creation of jobs for the armies of young people that populate our rural and urban areas; and to other such indicators of a development that is sustainable, equitable, participatory, and self-reliant. Such indicators as these have become known as the central features of sustainable development and should become the major conditionalities governing the Bank's policy, programming, and lending.

The practice of providing loans for development projects, yet insisting that mast of the money be spent to purchase high-priced equipment and personnel from the rich countries of the North, defeats the purpose of national self-sufficiency and regional integration and undermines any chance that we might have of developing South-South trade or the capacity to become globally competitive. This can be stopped. So, of course, the Bank can change.

The problem is that a Bank whose collective corporate experience is light years removed from that of those whom it purports to serve may be unable to craft policies and programs except those in support of cash crop production, exported growth, large-scale darns, and mega hydroelectric plants, all of which in their present form destroy the capacity for food production of previously self provisioning communities, exposing people to food shortages, and eventually to hunger. To set off on a new path, the Bank will need to work closely with organizations and people who work with and represent local communities in the poorer countries. The NGOs represented here at this conference, and the many others in whose name I humbly speak, are such organizations. We can help translate the criteria for sustainable development into concrete arrangements that see the expertise and experience of people of the South directly applied to designing and implementing programs that attack hunger at its roots.

It is good and noble that Congressman Hall's fast has brought us here today. Let us not forget that his fast was about hunger. Hunger here, hunger there, hunger everywhere, even in this, the richest country of the world! Let us also not forget, however, that it has taken a twenty-two-day fast by one U.S. congressman to bring the World Bank to the table to eat of the food of reality, but the suffering and death of thousands, hundreds of thousands even millions, of African and other children, women, and men from lack of food was not enough to do that.

This conference should not, therefore, be seen as the definitive response to the congressman's fast or to the pain and suffering of those who experience hunger around the world This conference is instead a chance for a fresh beginning of our campaign to put an end to the sound of "bubbles in bellies" once and for all This conference is our wake-up call to the fact that people in the countries where hunger persists know what is wrong, and know what must be done to end the indignity of poverty and to eradicate its ugly bedfellow hunger. Through this conference, the Bank can send a signal to the world that the sound of the bubbles has been heard for the last time. The Bank can let it be known that from today, the knowledge, skills, and expertise of people from the South and the North will be mobilized and focused on diagnosing, treating and curing the global malady of hunger.

One more decade of structural adjustment and business as usual, and there will be so many hungry people all over the world, so much degradation of our soils, so much pollution of our waters and our air, such complete destruction of our forests, so much debt, so much inequitable trade, such widespread disease, such a breakdown in family and community cohesion, such civil conflict, that even the actions of a bans formed World Bank would be to no avail. Now is the time! Now is the time to change the partners, to change the process, to change the tools of diagnosis and analysis, to prescribe be and administer a different treatment to an earth and its people that are urgently in need of intensive care.

We, the NGOs, are here to tell you that this conference must be that signal for change. We are also here to tell you that this will be so only if the Bank and others, including the U.S Congress, are big enough to admit that change is needed. Big enough to admit that the Bank's staff, as talented as many of them are, do not have a patent on the skills of economic analysis, planning, and management for growth and development. The Bank must also be big enough to admit that there are people, even in the countries where hunger and starvation are endemic, who have the skills, the experience, and the commitment to play a critical role in the campaign to end hunger.

We are here to tell you that the only chance that the Bank has to be part of this campaign to end hunger, once and for all, is to ensure that the needs of those with the greatest stake in ending hunger, the hungry, become the centerpiece of the Bank's imperative for action. The NGOs, by virtue of our evolution into institutions that know and understand these needs intimately, have the unique capacity to facilitate this new partnership, this new contract for survival, this new grand alliance for a world free from the horror of hunger. The Bank, for its part, is challenged to be a sensible, flexible, and reliable partner with the people, especially those in greatest need.

If the horror of global hunger forces the Bank to do one thing, it should be to change the terms of engagement and to do all that is necessary to make it possible for local people, poor people, hungry people to accept the Bank as a partner in this quest to end hunger. Our message to the Bank, therefore, is simple, "Come to terms with the fact that the standard prescriptions for growth have not ended poverty or hunger. The chance for a change begins and ends with the people on the ground, because very simply, nothing grows from the top, down, not trees, not economies, and certainly not people.”