Feeding the world, ending hunger and talking food are all over the agenda of Milan this year with the city hosting the global Expo event. I spent a day there yesterday in the massive structure outside the city trying to make sense of it all. So whats the verdict?
As my colleague from ActionAid Italy put it, the really important thing about Expo is its getting a lot of people talking about food. And that matters. On this World Food Day, we are reminded about the hard facts. The world needs food, and not just any old food. We need food that is healthy and produced sustainably without destroying the only planet we have just now. Oddly however, those who produce most of our food today - small producers who are mostly women - are being forgotten and their future potential overlooked. They do not get the support to produce. And beyond the cash, their capacity to produce is being seriously undermined by the actions and the lack of actions of states and corporates. Women in developing countries produce 60-80% of all food, but only 15% of them control land, the main means of production. That land is increasingly being bought up, in rather large parcels, by multinationals. Many of these MNCs are producing food on a much less sustainable basis and with really large question marks over labour rights and real benefits to people. Seeing a picture emerge here? We’ve got it all wrong. And the Expo is a chance to discuss that.
There are a whole lot of things going on at Expo. Today Ban Ki Moon is meeting a group of youth to mark World Food Day. Yesterday I attended an event organised by the European Commission on how agribusiness can expand their markets and tackle hunger and poverty by working with farmers organisations in developing countries. The Milan Charter brings together the good will of civil society and the city to do the food thing right. The Expo showcases how a plethora of countries from Brazil to Ireland are producing and exporting food. Beyond the countries, there is the McDonald’s, which I was interested to see has a bigger pavilion than Togo or Haiti.
But then again, so does Slow Food.
And they are saying a lot of useful things to the whole world. They are raising awareness about the problem of access to the means of production for food producers and widening inequality in this world: for example fisher communities in Myanmar who cant fish anymore because only the rich can afford the fishing licences. That impacts food security in a pretty awful way.
But what does all this add up to? Who will implement all the good will? The answer to that is unclear. The Milan Charter is full of that good will. But where’s the budget and the plan to turn that into reality? ActionAid Italy as a partner of the Expo experience will be seeking to see the will translated into real action. And globally we will keep supporting small producers and farmers to realise their rights and bring their methods and dreams into the mainstream. From women farmers and their families in Brazil practicing sustainable methods to produce coconut oil. To yet more women in Tanzania fighting for their right to land and to stop land grabbing. To women in Cambodia seeking responsible trade deals that respect their rights. Look no further, the future of food is there.