Gerd Müller: Withholding knowledge is ‘akin to murder’

Tackling the effects of climate change, such as drought, as well as hunger, should be Europe's priority, said Müller. [Giro 555 SHO/Flickr]

Before International Green Week, Germany’s Minister for Development, Gerd Müller, called for a “new dimension of development cooperation” on world hunger,  to better tackle the refugee crisis. He spoke to EURACTIV’s partner Tagesspiegel.

Gerd Müller is the Federal Minister of Economic Cooperation and Development.

Do attendees of the International Green Week in Berlin have a responsibility to combat world hunger?

Absolutely. That is why my ministry will, for the first time, present a special exhibition at Green Week. Consumers should be aware of what they are eating. Many of the products we consume come from developing countries. Just think about bananas, cocoa, coffee, rice and spices. Responsible consumers can change the world, for the better.

How, specifically?

For example, if a kilo of bananas are on offer at €1.50, one should really ask the question whether the fruit has been fairly grown. On banana plantations, hundreds of thousands of children work for very low wages, at a cost to the health, with many being treated akin to slaves. That is why we want to promote sustainable bananas in Germany. We already take this approach with cocoa, coffee and cotton and we want to extend this to other products, in cooperation with vendors and consumers alike. Fair trade products benefit the environment and generate income, safeguarding the future of people in developing countries.

Germany is a sort of bargain-bin World Champion, with the lowest food prices around. We used to subscribe to the idea that “greed is good”. How will you address this?

Our attitude has to change. At the beginning of every production chain is a human being. Half a century ago, Germans spent 40% of their income on food. Today that figure is 8%. That means that we have the financial wiggle-room to behave responsibly when buying our food. We have the capacity to change the sometimes inhuman conditions that some people have to live under in developing countries, by being more conscious consumers. It is intolerable that of the 800 million people who are starving or suffer from malnutrition, 90% live in rural areas, where our food is produced.

>>Read: EU aims to crack down on unsustainable palm oil and illegal logging

What does your ministry do to combat world hunger?

Fighting hunger is the main focus of our work. Every day, the world’s population increases by 230,000 people. They all need to eat and drink. We are building 13 innovation centres in Africa and India, all towards the aim of increasing productivity, transferring knowledge and investing in training. I opened the newest centre, in Benin, at the beginning of the year. Currently, annual rice-yield stands at around 1.5 tons per hectare. We can increase this with regional farming methods, domestic varieties and other simple proposals, with the aim of achievinf five tons a year, within three to five years. This example shows that a world without hunger is possible. If we withhold our agricultural knowledge from farmers in developing countries, that’s akin to murder. This idea from Mahatma Gandhi still rings true in the age of worldwide digital networking. 

Can the fight against hunger reduce the number of people choosing to flee into Europe?

This is a very important point. Those who have nothing to eat are prepared to act radically and even kill, in order to survive. Hunger is the trigger for many political crises, including Syria. The country was hit by the most severe droughts and heatwaves of the last 200 years, between 2006 and 2011. 80% of Syrian livestock died, people began to starve and were then susceptible to radicalisation. Fighting for survival often means breaching the norms. We don’t only see this in Syria either. It’s prevalent in other countries.

Where, for example?

Hunger is a major cause of flight. In Africa alone, around 20 million people have been displaced by the the effects of climate change. Global warming has made it nearly impossible in certain parts of sub-Saharan Africa to manage the soil. Climate experts based in Potsdam have warned that if we do not limit global warming to two degrees Celsius, then those 20 million people will be increased to between 100 million and 200 million.

>>Read: German politicians disagree over use of development aid

What does that mean?

We need a whole new dimension of development cooperation. To those that believe we should seal off Germany or Europe from those subjected to unfair trade conditions and unjust exploitation of resources, I say this: We are going to pay a high price in the end. We will not be able to welcome and integrate a million more refugees this year.

Where does Europe stand on this currently?

It is shameful that we, as Europeans, do not tackle the causes of flight to the necessary extent. This is particularly true of our immediate neighbours, where we have a responsibility to act. We urgently need a European partner programme for the Mediterranean region. Just in Egypt, five million children live on the street. Half of young Egyptians are out of work and have no prospects. In other North African countries, it’s the same situation. Therefore, we have launched training initiatives in other countries as well, such as Morocco.

>>Read: Poverty-stricken Chad shows Europe how to host refugees

What is Germany doing to improve living conditions in Syrian refugee camps?

We have tripled our efforts in this region over the last two years. But we’re not going to be able to solve it alone. There’s no good expecting people to live in the mud, without enough food, because of reduced rations. They won’t stay there. I have called for some time now for member states to contribute a total of €10 billion for a joint initiative. This could be used to stabilise the region and do a lot to give people a reason to stay and not flee into Europe. Now, the German regions need €17 billion to care for and integrate refugees. It’s absurd. Every euro we invest in helping people stay in their homeland can have a double or even triple effect in the long run. It is an investment in our future.

This article was also published by EURACTIV Germany.

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