IF statement on food sovereignty

It’s a shame that War on Want have decided not to join the Enough Food For Everyone IF campaign. But it’s worth responding to some of the questions that have been raised.

On the level of consultation with people in developing countries, amongst the 100-plus organisations that make up the IF campaign, we have literally tens of thousands of partnerships and relationships with civil society groups, local communities and farming collectives in the developing world. The policy agenda that underpins our campaign has been informed by decades of experience working alongside these partners and communities to see what structural changes would make the biggest long-term difference on the front line of the hunger crisis, and where there is opportunity to do so in 2013 in the UK.

As a coalition of over 100 organisations, not all members support food sovereignty as an approach to ending hunger, so we can’t collectively campaign on that.

The G8 is a campaign target as it’s a forum that has power – a lot of the world’s most powerful leaders are there. This year it’s on our doorstep. It’s within our power as UK organisations and citizens to shape their agenda and hold leaders to account for what they deliver. The job we have as a campaign is to shift power and make change happen.

We have also been careful not to over-promise what this campaign can deliver. Learning one of the lessons from Make Poverty History in 2005, we have deliberately avoided the perception that the campaign will end hunger in 2013. We want politicians to tackle four big IFstax, land, aid, and transparency - that will be a major contribution to addressing the problem and kick-starting the beginning of the end of hunger within our generation.

Engaging with the Prime Minister on our agenda, and (where justified) praising the leadership that his Government has shown on some of these issues has raised a question about whether we’re de-legitimising our campaign, and effectively becoming pawns in a public relations exercise for David Cameron. Let us be clear – we have set out a radical and challenging campaign to government. The campaign seeks both incremental change within the current system, and to change the system that perpetuates the problems. With public outcry about the financial crisis there is opportunity for both. The fact that the Prime Minister used his Davos speech to attack tax avoidance is both a recognition of the new political reality and a welcome response to the campaigning work of organisations both inside and outside the IF campaign. Would he have sent such a forthright message about tax avoidance in developing countries had he not felt the pressure of 100 organisations on the issue? Of course, politicians of all stripes will aim to harness support enjoyed by popular campaigns for their own ends. But the IF campaign is clear: we will not judge the Prime Minister and his fellow leaders on their warm words or promises, but on the action they take to tackle hunger at the G8.

Let’s acknowledge that when charities start falling out with each other over the organisation of their campaigns, we risk coming across to the public and to policy-makers like the Judean People’s Front arguing with the People’s Front of Judea in Monty Python’s Life of Brian. That’s regrettable. Rehearsing that old scene may help us pass the new UK citizenship test, but it will do nothing to secure change for the poorest people in the world. Campaigning within large coalitions entails compromise for us all, but it’s worth it as together we are stronger. Our voice is louder. Our collective influence so much more powerful. What we can achieve so much greater. In fact, our biggest achievements in the fight against poverty and injustice have come when we’ve worked together. That’s why we do it.

Debates about the campaign are healthy and essential. We welcome them. But they can’t distract us from the task in hand – to create change. The agenda we have set out is radical – more so than Make Poverty History. This is the agenda we’ll campaign hard for, engage millions in and what we’ll judge by. The real challenge over the coming months is to put all our efforts into making as big a difference as we possibly can. People up and down the country will be joining us. We can’t afford to be cynical for too long. There is too much to do and the opportunity this year is too great to miss.