British aid policy is harming those it seeks to rescue

TO TOP off a successful Olympics, David Cameron put London’s time in the global spotlight to good use by hosting a Hunger Summit at Downing Street, with the aim of tackling malnutrition in the developing world. Unfortunately, yet again, Cameron’s government failed to go the distance.

Sunday’s outcome gave no indication of any shift in government policy that could help the 900m people suffering from hunger. Rather than more funding measures and “investments”, the threat of long-term hunger and ensuring food security should have forced Cameron’s hand into embracing innovative thinking. Yet innovation does not appear to rate highly in British aid policy.

The solution is simple. To meet the burgeoning demand for food, global food production must increase. Yet, over the last decade, British aid in support of agriculture has fallen from 8 per cent of the aid programme to 5 per cent. Britain is not alone. Western donors are no longer focused on boosting economic growth and eradicating poverty, but only in embracing non governmental organisation (NGO)-driven programmes to build developing countries in their image. Cameron may claim that governance, transparency and sustainability are a priority. But the policies he promotes actually undermine his good intentions.

Early in its term, the government undertook a review of its aid policies. The aim was to redirect aid to where it would be most effective. But there was a key exception – the UK would continue to fund programmes to halt deforestation and reduce carbon emissions. This has been disastrous. The campaign against palm oil shows the consequences. It is a food staple in developing countries and one of the most successful industries for breaking the poverty cycle. In southeast Asia, where most is produced, it accounts for no more than 2 or 3 per cent of forest clearance. But Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) say it must be stopped because all forest clearance should be stopped. Given that the hungry and landless cause up to 70 per cent of unnecessary forest clearances, these very conservation policies are actually resulting in yet more deforestation, not raising living standards and enhancing food security.

It’s tragic that the WWF, and its allies in government, will never tell you that forest conservation is secure in developing countries. Most have already set aside nearly a quarter of forest for conservation. This exceeds the United Nations’s standard. There is ample land to expand agricultural production of food staples. But as long as Cameron and his government oppose the clearance of forest land for sustenance, the moral imperative that should be informing British policy to overcome these Olympian struggles will continue to go wanting.

Alan Oxley is chairman of World Growth. He is a former ambassador to, and chairman of, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, the predecessor to the World Trade Organisation.