Speech by Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle at the 28th Forum on Global Issues: Food in Crisis:

10.05.2011 - Speech

Federal Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle gave the following speech at the opening of the 28th Forum on Global Issues: (No) daily bread? – food in crisis on 10 May 2011 at the Federal Foreign Office in Berlin

-- Translation of advanced text --

Dr Tewolde,
Ms Wakhungu,
Bundestag colleagues,
Ladies and gentlemen,

I bid you a warm welcome to this 28th Forum on Global Issues here at the Federal Foreign Office. I would particularly like to thank the co-organizer of this meeting, the Federation of German Scientists.

Though we may not see images of starving children on television every day, feeding the world’s people remains a tremendous challenge. In 1960 our planet had to feed three billion people. Today the number is seven billion. By 2050 a projected 9.5 billion people will be living on our small planet.

One of the development goals of the Millennium Summit in 2000 was to cut the number of the world’s hungry in half by 2015. This remains a distant goal. Even after the Summit, the number of malnourished people in the world rose dramatically. In 2009 the number of starving people passed the one billion mark. The number is expected to have fallen to 925 million in 2010. This is, however, no reason to slacken our efforts.

Feeding the world is of tremendous political consequence. Agriculture bears a share of the responsibility for environmental damage. Then there is food speculation on international financial markets. Above all, however, food issues determine the social structure of many countries and thus also internal and external security.

First and foremost, the international community must find solutions to three problems.

The first problem is wrongheaded food policy, which is currently hurting the poorest of the poor. We need to understand food policy as applied social policy.

Our food policy is wrongheaded when people are starving in places where there actually is enough agricultural land to feed the population but food is produced exclusively for export. In 2009 agricultural investors purchased 45 million hectares of land, the equivalent of an area the size of Sweden. They are producing food in poor countries to feed people in rich countries, who pay higher prices. People will not endlessly put up with seeing tilled fields in front of their houses while they must go hungry.

This is how malnutrition becomes a security issue. Malnutrition destabilizes entire societies. Security, stability, democracy and human rights are only possible where people can be certain that they and their children will have enough to eat – not only tomorrow and the next day, but also next month and next year.

Political crises threaten both the production and the supply of food. When we take action against hunger, we are also taking action for peace and security.

If structural problems in developing countries remain as they are, millions of people will continue to permanently depend on assistance. This fundamentally contradicts our concept of human dignity. Malnutrition is an assault on human dignity. Human beings should not have to stand in queues before World Food Programme aid trucks.

The second problem is the harmful interplay between agriculture and the environment. Simply producing more does not solve the problem of malnutrition. Entire forests are being cleared so that we can sow more and reap more. Fertile soil often produces only a single harvest before the top soil is blown away, rendering the land unusable.

The irresponsible expansion of production can harm the environment so severely in the long term that resources are left permanently unusable and agriculture becomes ever less productive.

Changes in eating habits in rich countries since the mid-twentieth century have also contributed significantly to climate change.

Increasing meat consumption in industrialized countries impacts the environment. By the time it arrives at the butcher’s counter, a kilo of beef has produced the same level of greenhouse gases as a 250-kilometre car journey.

But the greatest environmental problem of agricultural production is water use. More agriculture means more water consumption. The use of fertilizers pollutes ground water. An ever-dwindling supply of usable water means ever more expensive food production. The example of the Middle East shows us that agriculture and water are increasingly becoming a peace and security issue.

The third problem is irresponsible food speculation.

In recent years, speculation has ruined many development cooperation efforts. Between 2006 and 2009, millions of men, women and children went hungry because the sale of dubious financial products caused an explosive rise in food prices.

Actual supply and demand, not manipulation and abuse, must determine food prices.

Germany is providing very practical assistance to the hungry. We save lives directly in cases of sudden shortages. When disasters lead to shortages, we offer medium-term assistance to restore stability to the food supply. In the long term, we promote a sustainable agricultural economy through our development cooperation.

Germany also helps the hungry politically. We will work cooperatively in the EU, the G8, the G20 and the United Nations to regulate speculation-driven price increases on the agricultural commodity markets. In our development cooperation too, we remain committed to helping the poorest.

For years Germany has campaigned for the recognition of the right to food as a human right. This goal was achieved in November 2009 on the occasion of the World Food Conference in Rome. We will continue along this path.

A few days ago I joined other prominent figures in launching an initiative to find an internationally recognizable logo for human rights. At the launch event I experienced an engaging debate over the concept of human rights.

In Germany we strongly associate the topic of human rights with political rights. Protecting these rights is an ongoing task. But expanding the concept of human rights is also a shared task, and has for many years been a German policy concern. The right to food and the right to water are human rights which we recognize as self-evident – this is not, however, the case in many countries.

Here today I am preaching to the choir, but when it comes to the broader public we must campaign for our position, time and again. Consumers are influential. Each one of us, with our individual living and eating habits, is a part of the world food system.

Feeding the world is not an easy job. I hope that you will find new solutions and new answers here today at the 28th Forum on Global Issues.

Thank you.

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