German Minister plans ‘Green Revolution’ to combat world hunger

With know-how from German universities and businesses, Development Minister Gerd Müller hopes to arm smallholders in the fight to eradicate world hunger. [Thomas Trutschel/photothek]

With green innovation centres “Made in Germany”, Development Minister Gerd Müller hopes to eradicate world hunger by 2030, while critics warn the biggest winners in the new initiative could be the wrong ones. EURACTIV Germany reports.

850 million people in the world are starving. Every year, 3 million children under five years of age die from lack of nutrition.

But Gerd Müller is certain that the international community can completely eradicate hunger by 2030.

With this goal in mind, the conservative politician kicked off a special initiative on Tuesday (24 March) under the heading “A World Without Hunger”.

“Four out of five people suffering from starvation live in rural areas. Many of them are smallholders. We need a structural change, a green revolution. We must strengthen investment in the green sector,” Müller told journalists in Berlin.

The “Green Revolution” is a guiding concept in the debate over fighting hunger. In the 1960s, the international community doubled food production – with devastating effects for the environment and health in developing countries.

Critics indicate that resources of available land and water became rapidly more scarce, and smallholders in particular received far too little of the revolution’s pie.

Now, Müller’s Development Ministry plans to increase annual spending on rural development and food security from almost €1 billion to €1.4 billion. Part of this sum will be used to launch so-called Green Innovation Centres in the agriculture and food sector.

“Green Innovation Centres”

Together with partners from the private and research sector, as well as NGOs, smallholders are supposed to increase profit and raise their production levels. They are supposed to learn more efficient cultivation techniques, how to work with more modern machinery, better-targeted application of pesticides, and improved shipping and marketing methods for their products, Müller indicated.

The current plan focuses on Africa, with 13 centres expected to open their doors in the coming weeks. Countries on the list include Ethiopia, Benin, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Cameroon, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, Zambia, Togo and Tunisia. One centre is also planned for India.

Oxfam: “Over the heads of smallholders”

Like many German NGOs, the aid organisation Oxfam has so far refused to join the initiative, saying the innovation centres do not involve input from smallholders.

“The ministry is happily planning top down, without including people who the whole thing is supposed help in the end. This has already been proven to be ineffective in the past. It is astonishing that projects are still developed without their target groups,” said Oxfam agriculture expert Marita Wiggerthale.

Müller’s Green Revolution initiative is supposed to produce more food through input-oriented agriculture and thereby reduce hunger. But according to Wiggerthale, the plan not only falls short of the mark. It is completely wrong.

“Unfair distribution of land and a lack of income pose a much greater challenge than increasing production,” Wiggerthale said.

Instead, the innovation centres should promote knowledge and innovation among smallholders towards sustainable production methods, while also strengthening the role of women in agriculture, she explained.

“We must overcome the productivist, profit-driven way of thinking and focus more strongly on the quality of development aid to improve income, jobs and sustainability in agriculture,” the Oxfam analyst indicated.

New sales potential for big business?

In eight out of the thirteen innovation centres, German companies have been offered a cooperation portfolio, including Bayer and BASF. The companies can contribute their knowledge, but also sell seed and modern machines.

Interest among companies has been especially high, according to attendees at a network meeting on the innovation centres.

But for the Green Party’s development analyst in the Bundestag, Uwe Kekeritz, this is precisely where the problem lies.

With taxpayer money, the German government is financing German companies at the expense of the poorest, Kekeritz argued.

The innovation centres are indirectly promoting marketing for agriculture technology, seed and fertilizers, the Green politician said. Corn and fertilizer hybrids create dependencies among farmers, and have not created any real improvements in living conditions so far, he indicated.

Kekeritz: “Purely a labelling lie”

“The term ‘Green Innovation Center’ is purely a labelling lie. Nothing here has to do with innovation,” Kekeritz said.

Instead of aid programmes for Germany’s agriculture industry, the Bundestag MP is calling for an ecologically sustainable agriculture that is adapted to local conditions, and does not create any new dependencies.

Left Party MP Niema Movassat said smallholders should also be given secure access to land and protected business markets that are not flooded with European dumped goods.

“Minister Müller must quickly change his thinking,” Movossat commented, “otherwise he will miss his target of building a world without hunger.”

Ahead of this year’s G7 Summit, agriculture experts from several countries published a Berlin Memorandum in February, calling on governments to give more power to smallholders. The document was released at a conference hosted by Welthungerhilfe, in the German capital.

The memorandum’s authors call on G7 states to invest more money and political commitment in strengthening smallholder agriculture.

Smallholders are responsible for 70% of the food supply, while around 80% of them live below the poverty line. Among the more than 800 million starving people worldwide, the vast majority live in rural areas.

>>Read: Berlin Memorandum calls on G7 to end ‘hunger scandal’

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