Imagine for a moment that you’ve just been elected as President of Nigeria, rising to power on a ticket that set out to halve poverty in your country within five years.
You’ve done the numbers, and in purely financial terms, it should be easy. You exported around $55b in oil in 2009, and need only a fraction of that amount as a government to invest in poverty-reduction measures.
But, for years governments before you have failed. The oil and other natural resources that should be your ticket out of poverty have been a curse. They’ve made other exports uncompetitive, created huge competition for power, allowed corruption to flourish, and sparked conflict.
Sitting behind your desk on day 1, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the challenge ahead. The money is clearly out there, but it’s leaking into all the wrong places because of theft, mismangement, and poor decisions in the past.
You know that it could be different. Gazing into the middle distance, you’re reminded of a meeting you had with Norwegian officials just a few weeks before. They outlined to you how their country had turned oil revenues into national wealth and one of the world’s highest standards of living. As you chatted to them, you saw that these officials were no smarter, better educated or more honest than Nigerians, and that your country too could make resources work.
Grabbing out a pen, you start to scribble. You write out the decision process from exploration to discovery, extraction to export. You map out the key players involved – your government, the citizens who live in the resource-rich areas, local and foreign companies who do the extraction work, and the foreign governments and companies who buy the end products. With the help of advisors, you start mapping out where the money goes and why, who decides what to do, and how they do it.
With all this in hand, the question becomes – if this is the reality, what do we want to change? What are the guiding principles and ideas that should drive the resource extraction process so it benefits everyone?
Well, a group of the world’s leading economists, statesmen and entrepreneurs have done just that. They’ve developed the Natural Resources Charter, a set of twelve precepts setting out guidelines on how to best manage the economic opportunities created by natural resources. Driving the precepts are the reality that natural resources in a country are owned by the people. Therefore, the exploitation of a natural resource by a country should be designed to secure the greatest social and economic benefit for its people.
As President of Nigeria, the Charter has been written for people just like you. It’s designed as a tool for your Government to use to inform decision-making. Alongside this, the Charter places responsibilities on both the extraction companies and the home countries of these companies. It requires that companies consider the environment and social dynamics of the country they’re operating in, and avoid major human rights violations. It requires developed countries to push for a more transparent industry in the international arena and also regulate the behaviour of their companies at home and abroad by taking these measures into consideration.
Of course, you’re not really the President of Nigeria. But, as someone who cares about the end of extreme poverty, you’ve got an opportunity to see that natural resources are more often used for the benefit of people. Nigeria’s annual oil exports are greater than the total amount of annual aid to Africa, which means that ending poverty requires that these resources are used better.
That’s why we’ll be increasingly focused on natural resources, corruption and transparency at the Global Poverty Project in the coming months. We’ll be working with the Natural Resource Charter and others to outline what can and is being done to make resources work for the world’s poor, and what role each of us can play in making this happen.
Recently we met with the team at Nestle UK, and they offered to answer some of your questions about how they work. After gathering your suggestions on Facebook, we passed the five most liked questions onto Nestle. These are the answers to the first two questions from Nestle's Corporate Affairs team. The answers to questions 3, 4 and 5 are posted here. Our thanks to Alison and Sam at Nestle for being open to such dialogue.
1/ John Scale: I would like to ask why they continue to aggressively market baby milk formulas in developing countries, even going as far as promoting them as providing protection against illnesses such as diarrhoea despite the mass of evidence showing how this is causing huge harm to children in these countries and continuing breast-feeding could save 1.5 million children a year.
John, you raise a number of important points. Nestlé supports exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a baby’s life with continued breastfeeding and the introduction of adequate complementary foods thereafter because as the World Health Organisation (WHO) has stated “… some 1.5 million children die each year because they are not adequately breastfed”. However, the WHO never suggested that ‘not adequately breastfed’ meant ‘fed on infant formula’. The vast majority of women in developing countries breastfeed but exclusive breastfeeding is rare. In those countries, most children who are not exclusively breastfed do not receive infant formula, but are given water, solid foods like sticky rice, or whole cow’s milk which are not considered appropriate substitutes (for more information, see: www.unicef.org/publications/index_51656.html).
We take our responsibility to market infant formula in a responsible manner very seriously and have, since 1982, applied the WHO International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes universally and voluntarily in developing countries. Today this means that we do not advertise or promote infant formula to the public; do not donate free samples to mothers or to hospitals; ensure that all our infant formula products state that ‘breastfeeding is best’ with instructions for the safe preparation in the primary languages as well as diagrams to overcome the challenge of low literacy. Also, all our labels comply with local legislation and all health claims we make are scientifically substantiated. If you know of a Code breach, tell us and we will investigate. For more information please follow the link to our website www.babymilk.nestle.com.
2/ Graeme Hodge: Nestle: when are you going to expand your Fairtrade accreditation to all of your products and stop hiding behind the cocoa initiative- an initiative that has made little or no change to the daily reality for over 12,000 trafficked children who produce your cocoa products for you?
Nestlé has been working to address key issues facing cocoa farmers for many years and in 2009 we launched our £65million Cocoa Plan to accelerate programmes that aim to improve the economic, social and environmental issues facing cocoa farming communities. See www.thecocoaplan.com
Focusing predominantly on Cote d’Ivoire the world’s largest cocoa producing country the plan is based around working closely with farming cooperatives, paying a premium for better-quality cocoa, investing in farmer training and providing 12 million high potential cocoa plantlets to improve yields and therefore farmer productivity and income.
Kit Kat is our leading confectionery brand and Fairtrade certification of our most iconic brand is a demonstration of our commitment to bringing The Cocoa Plan to life and improving the lives of cocoa farming communities. We have started with Kit Kat four finger because one of the challenges of certifying a brand as large as Kit Kat is that there is currently insufficient supply of quality Fairtrade certified Ivorian cocoa to certify the whole brand. We will continue to work with Fairtrade to build relationships with additional co-ops to increase the supply of high quality Fairtrade cocoa from the Ivory Coast.
With regard to child labour Nestlé is against all forms of exploitation of children. The company is firmly committed to actions to eradicate unacceptable practices, in line with our commitments in the Nestlé Corporate Business Principles and the Nestlé Supplier Code and you can find out more about these on our website at (http://bit.ly/ieh2aB and http://bit.ly/dKZ4TH). We are also a founding member of the International Cocoa Initiative set up specifically to address child labour issues in cocoa farming. I would also urge you to consult the Fairtrade position on child labour. The Fairtrade Labelling Organisation recognises “child labour is a very complex and intractable issue...” Unfortunately, “no person or organisation can simply guarantee that child labour does not occur in a supply chain, but Fairtrade can provide assurance that its standards, certification, and producer support services all contribute to a solution” http://bit.ly/fx20E2.
I remember first seeing this amazing video by award winning Director Antony Minghella back in 2005, a few weeks before world leaders descended on Gleneagles for the G8. It captured the essence of the injustice that was the debt owed by some of the world's poorest countries to some of the richest.
Up until this point, the whole debt issue - which saw illegitimate debts to rich countries being paid back at a much higher rate than some poor countries were receiving aid - had been a sideline in my mind, and in the minds of many around the world. Although I empathised with the cause, and agreed that poor countries shouldn't have to pay back unfair debts, I couldn't get my head around of how to make sure it didn't just because a cycle of loan-forgive-loan forgive.
But, thanks to the tireless efforts of the Jubilee Debt Campaign, especially in the UK, debt had moved to the forefront of the fight against poverty. They rightly argued that ultimately fighting poverty shouldn't be about charity and aid - it should be about justice and self-sufficiency. But, how could a country ever hope to reduce poverty if they were trapped in a cycle of debt? I chatted recently to Nick Dearden about the campaign, what it is about, and what it's achieved to date. Here's what he said...
We'll publish more of this interview with Nick - including much more analysis of the debt issue in the coming weeks as consider the role of debt and development financing issues looking to the future.
Looking back, I was about 12 or 13 when I started becoming aware of the world. I started to realise that not all countries offered its people the same things; the world seemed enormous and riddled with challenges. What could I possibly do?
The Year 7 students at Laval Junior High in Canada have an idea. Back in October 2009 they started a project called Learners without Borders, supported by Social Studies teacher Angela Kallianiotis,
Initially, it was just about establishing a connection with students of a similar age in a very different part of the world – the Futures Leaders School in Uganda. But, it soon became more than that, as students realised how much they had in common.‘We are human beings with the same feelings and needs.’ said one student, Christos.
As the emails went back and forth, the kids at Laval were increasingly saddened by what they learned. ‘I was surprised to learn children our age get taken away by the LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army) to fight in a useless war...’ said Tina Zouboulakis.
So, they decided to do something about it. The kids began fundraising in order to improve the lives of their new friends; one the highlights was enabling them to have a Christmas party. However, it didn’t seem enough.
After some brainstorming, they hit upon an idea that would allow the community in Uganda to not simply rely on isolated fundraising events, but support themselves through creativity. Arrangements were made for an instructor to come into Future Leaders School and teach the pupils how to make jewelry from recycled paper.
Kajjansi beads were born.
Once the Kajjansi beads are finished, they are shipped to Canada, where the Laval students promote and sell them.
The project, dubbed ‘Helping Hands’ has been an enormous success. As one of the students testified, ‘...in less than two months we sold $8000 worth of products.’ Now, this small Ugandan community has a sustainable income, and local women have become involved; for the first time in their lives, they are earning a wage.
Head of Future Leaders School, Pastor Hosea, speaks happily of the difference Learners Without Borders has made - ‘Music, dance and drama have been introduced in our school...’ His students are equally grateful for the difference it has made, expressing hope the partnership will continue.
The students are increasingly aware that they are not just national, but global citizens. Engaging in a business partnership like this promotes a level of equality and respect that is all too often absent in fundraising events.
The kids at Laval are a step ahead. They realise that you do not have to travel to somewhere like Uganda to feel affected by what happens there, or to do something about it. With modern tools like the internet for quick effortless communication, distance is not an excuse.
“Who said children couldn’t do anything? Who said adults are the only ones able to control the situation? “ Veronica Mongiardo and her peers are right to be indignant, because they know exactly how much young people can achieve when given the opportunity.
In this guest blog post, our friends at Fairfood International look at the link between biodiversity, hunger and poverty.
As biodiversity is being lost at an accelerated pace, we should rightly look at our plates to find part of the answer. Oddly enough, plants and animals are not disappearing because we eat them – but rather because we eat too few of them.
According to The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the abundance of species has declined by 40% between 1970 and 2000. The first explanation for this grim picture that comes to mind is that we overuse them for direct human consumption. Paradoxically, the problem is the fact that we exclude them, focusing on a narrow selection of crops, fish and animal products that expands rapidly at the cost of the variety of ecosystems and abundance of living species within them.
Modern agriculture is based on monocultures, which drastically reduce the variety of plants in the respective ecosystems, and of animals and insects directly dependent on them. The role of annual crop variation, but also bacteria and fungi, in increasing soil fertility is replaced by chemical fertilizers and the higher risk of disease spread among monocultures with high density of plants is mitigated by using pesticides, which further contaminate the ecosystem. Not just the cultivated land is used in an unsustainable manner, but also the uncultivated, since the need to clear land for monocultures represents one of the main reasons for deforestation, leading to climate change and loss of bio diverse ecosystems. Take the Mato Grosso region in Brazil, whose name “thick forest” is beginning to sound like cruel irony. The surface of soy plantations has increased by 400% in the last ten years, at the expense of large parts of the Amazon forest and the Pantanal, world’s largest wetland.
The reason why monocultures thrive is to a large extent due to domestic subsidies in industrialized countries such as the US and those of the EU, which distort the allocation of resources and make farmers concentrate disproportionately on one crop, while at the same time artificially lowering prices and pushing smaller producers out of the market. The most subsidized crops, corn, wheat and soy, are used in the global animal feed industry. Unsurprisingly, they feed rapidly growing “monocultures of animals”: chickens, pigs and cows for the most, while the IUCN warns that about 30% of breeds of the main farm animal species are currently at high risk of extinction.
The interconnection between the growth of industrial farming, the rise of monocultures and the economic incentives such as subsidies constitutes a deadly cocktail for biodiversity. According to Achim Steiner, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme, “the challenge of the 21st century is to transform agriculture into a good administrator of biodiversity and reverse its destructive capacity, without restricting its mission to feed a growing world population”
Nonetheless, the fact that the variety of living life on Earth is at risk seems to pass by largely unnoticed. This is why the United Nations proclaimed 2010 to be the International Year of Biodiversity, and May 22nd the International Day for Biological Diversity, with this year’s focus on Biodiversity, Development and Poverty Alleviation. Contributing to poverty alleviation and effectively reducing its most dramatic manifestation, hunger, is the mission of Fairfood International. Within this mission, the protection of biodiversity is an underlying concept, without which sustainable development of people, the planet but also business and trade cannot be envisaged. Any strategy of poverty reduction should include concerns for the protection of biodiversity in order to be sustainable and make a positive change in the long run. In terms of an already famous analogy, it comes down to not only giving the poor the rod instead of the fish, but also making sure the lake does not disappear.