It was AGM time again last Saturday as the World Development Movement hosted their annual meeting and conference in Leeds. The conference theme was timely, entitled 'Not the G8: A real agenda for global justice', two days before the G8 meeting started in Northern Ireland. There was a vibrant mix of attendees from long time supporters and WDM group members from all over the country, to local university students and lecturers.
There was a great line up of speakers. We hosted the personable Raj Patel, author of Stuffed and Starved; Dorothy-Grace Guerrero, the climate justice programme co-ordinator for Focus on the Global South who travelled all the way from the Thailand; and self confessed geek, anti-austerity and debt campaigner Luís Bernardo from Attac Portugal. Further contributors to our workshops were Ray Bush, professor of African studies and development politics at the University of Leeds; Richard Solly, co-ordinator of the London Mining Network; Matti Kohonen from the Tax Justice Network and author-journalist Symon Hill. As well as many WDM staff members who led workshops and assisted on the day.
AGM. Photo: Marc Cowan
After the AGM was held and votes were cast the conference began. It opened with introductory thoughts from director Deborah Doane, Raj Patel and Luís Bernardo about the upcoming G8 summit. Deborah put it honestly that 'the G8 feels a bit outdated' and called for an alternative. Since the last time the G8 was held in the UK in 2005 all partner countries have experienced economic downturn, the effects of climate change are becoming gravely blatant and revolution has swept across the Arab world. Austerity, lead by the powerful G8 leaders, is increasing. However this does not seem to faze the cold hearted 8. Instead of working to fight the pressing issues of climate change and global malnutrition they choose instead to repackage exploitative colonial strategies. As Deborah commented 'austerity is Structural Adjustment Programmes come home to roost'.
Deborah Doane and Raj Patal. Photo: Marc Cowan
Of great importance to WDM at the current G8 summit is the formation of the New Alliance of Food Security and Nutrition. This New Alliance met at the 'hunger summit' hosted on 8th June by David Cameron. It was held at Unilever head office, if it wasn't obvious enough of their plans to financialise the global food system. Raj revealed that 'one thing you never hear at the hunger summit is the link between poverty and malnutrition'. A pressing issue that you would think would be of top priority. Raj spoke of the Green Revolution of the 1960s and it's mass failings as it obsessed with producing more food without the consideration of the crop, location and how it would feed local populations. The News Alliance seems to be a reworded and revamped version of this ancient 'initiative', with the addition of a greater emphasis on multinational corporations and agribusiness. Raj warned that 'the G8 wants us to forget the history of hunger in the south', we need to keep it top of our agenda.
Raj Patel. Photo: Marc Cowan
Raj asked the audience 'how can you have more food produced in the fields (by small holder farmers) but infant malnutrition goes up?' After audience deliberation he offered the answer that because women do the harvesting in the majority of world food production systems, more food entails more time in the fields therefore less breast feeding time. Hunger should not be a business opportunity, however this is what the G8 seem to be striving for. Raj emphasised that there are alternatives. Food sovereignty led by the global peasant movement La Via Campesina. However 'the G8 wants to crowd out a much better more vibrant food system'. It is important that democratic discussions about food policy happen for positive change to occur, merely eating locally does not go far enough.
Luís Bernardo. Photo: Marc Cowan
Luís focused on the problem of austerity measures in southern Europe. He is a leading member of Attac in Portugal and has led campaigns against the country's debt, austerity measures and the IMF's involvement in Portugal. Luís began by proudly describing Attac as 'the geeks of social movements because we love numbers'. Austerity is a complex issue therefore by looking through IMF statistics, for example, it is easier to highlight to wider society the grave problems behind them. He had recently travelled to Greece and painted a picture of the social collapse and the approaching humanitarian crisis that is happening there. He explained that 'once you start taking away welfare services you have nothing left'. It was a hard hitting speech, however it was not all doom and gloom. Luís concluded by emphasising positivity which has emerged from the current climate in Greece, Spain and Portugal. For example in Spain, people are getting together to prevent people being thrown out of their homes. The grass-roots reaction to the crisis has been outstanding. Luís stressed that 'it is very important for the global justice movement to see the creativity coming out of the ground' in Europe and worldwide. There is positivity to be found if you look for it. Southern Europe has been witness to a new kind of politics, a creative grass-roots movement, the only problem is that the mainstream is scared of what is different. We need to normalise alternative organisation and living.
Dorothy-Grace Guerrero. Photo: Marc Cowan
Dorothy-Grace Guerrero from Focus on the Global South spoke as part of the session introducing and exploring WDM's most recent campaign Carbon Capital and how the finance sector drives climate change. She stressed that for those in the industrialised north climate change may still seem like a statistic but 'for us in the South, climate change is something we are already facing'. It is not just an environmental issue, but one that is connected with trade, migration and food. Dorothy described how 'climate change is a political issue as it determines who will survive and who will develop'. She stressed that it is so important to lobby governments to tackle climate change especially in the polluting global North. The system needs to change seeing as the climate already is. Dorothy colourfully described current global North-South politics like 'an obese person asking a starving person to go on a diet'. $900 billion of current shares on the London Stock Exchange are in fossil fuels, so 'it's no surprise that we are still addicted to carbon' said Kirsty WDM's senior climate justice campaigner. Additionally a third of the current UK government is linked to the finance and carbon sectors. This is a serious problem which needs to be exposed and addressed. WDM is calling for mandatory carbon reporting so that banks have to admit what they emit.
In the afternoon Raj Patel and Christine, WDM's food and finance campaigner explored how to feed the world in the 21st century, are corporations needed? Worryingly Raj stated that only four corporations control each type of food we eat. Christine explained that 'feeding the world is not a production problem but a distribution problem' caused by corporations. The occurrence of food speculation is a clear case of corporations exacerbating inequality and the inability of people to get enough food. David Cameron's hunger summit was about giving more power of over agriculture to multinationals. However by doing this he is taking power away from small producers, who are the people who feed most of the world's people. Raj stated that 'the rules of the corporate game are set up so that corporations act selfishly and greedily'. However 'humans are not purely instruments of selfish greed, we are also very good at cooperating'. La Via Campesina is a very good example of how food producers have cooperated and become empowered, we need to stand in solidarity with them. Raj stressed that 'the solution to ending hunger is to make sure everyone earns a living wage right now'. Right now farm workers are the people most likely to go hungry because they don't own land and are priced out of the food market. Furthermore the global population is rapidly migrating towards urban areas. 'Peri-urban agriculture and polycropping are ways we need to be looking at the future of feeding cities' Raj explained. Corporations need to be changed. We need to curb their power and legal rights, and markets need to be constrained so that fair food prices can be set.
Photo: Marc Cowan
Sarah, co-ordinator of WDM's local groups network gave a motivating workshop about creative activism, there was also an activism space throughout the day for guidance from WDM staff. Professor Ray Bush from the University of Leeds held a workshop about neoliberalism full of eye opening statistics. He offered that the 'G8 is an austerity summit' not a summit that will create a new agenda that social society can sign up to. And stressed how theoretically easy it would be to cut all debt from the global South, as it is not owed to banks but states. Therefore it would not affect the global economy if the debt was slashed. Matti Kohonen from the Tax Justice Network teamed up with Luís to explore how to make corporations pay their fair share of tax. Symon Hill led a workshop to address the challenges and opportunities of digital activism. And Richard Solly gave an emotional introduction to anti-mining struggles by communities around the Cerrejón mine in Colombia. The closing session led by Dorothy and Deborah looked to the future and questioned 'If not the G8, then what?', creating alternative strategies to change the world.
Photo: Marc Cowan
Overall it was a very successful AGM and conference with a good varied turn out. Workshop leader Symon Hill commented 'I'm finding [the conference] really encouraging and interesting'. Veronika Pasteur from the North and East London group said 'I thought the opening session was very inspiring, there was a nice balance of realism and positivity'. And Flo Bateson, an International Relations student from the University of Leeds added 'I really enjoyed listening to Raj Patel. I'm really happy that this conference is being held at my uni'.
We owe a big thank you to James, Sarah and Ralph from the networks team for organising such a great AGM and conference. See you all again this time next year!