'New vision of development' needed Catholic agency tells UN

By agency reporter
July 3, 2008

The world’s most critical environmental and social problems will only be solved by “a new vision of development”, a Catholic agency has told the United Nations.

The comments came from Progressio’s Head of Advocacy Joanne Green at a summit meeting of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) in New York yesterday.

Addressing heads of government and NGO representatives from around the world and speaking alongside the UK’s Director of Policy and Research in the Department for International Development, Andrew Steer, Joanne stated that the current world food crisis and spiralling environmental degradation are symptoms of deeper problems and should prompt the world to look at “the fundamental flaws in the Northern economic development model.”

Citing Catholic advocacy and development charity Progressio’s 40 years of experience working with some of the world’s poorest communities, Joanne criticised the current ‘model’ of development as one which pushes intensive, export-led agriculture on developing countries in order to satisfy northern demands. Instead, she said, governments, institutions and their rules must change if the world is serious about tackling poverty and climate change.

As part of this “new vision for development”, Progressio – one of just two British NGOs invited to speak as part of the UK delegation to ECOSOC’s High-level Segment to assess progress towards the UN’s Millennium Development Goals – outlined the need for a more people-centred food system that promotes the needs of poor producers and consumers in the developing world.

Multinational companies and a relentless drive from the North to promote profit over people are also partly to blame, said Green. “Instead of prompting us to question the current paradigm, such crises [as the global food shortage], provide opportunities for developed countries and multinational companies to push for solutions that further promote their interests”.

The recent meeting of the UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity is a case in point, said Green. While GM was pushed as the “silver bullet” to achieve food security, the basic fact - that poorer nations suffer from unequal access to natural resources and food, thus making them hungry - was overlooked.

Instead, Progressio argued that poor countries must be allowed to determine how they feed themselves in the next new era of food production, pointing to a recent UN report which championed the need for much greater focus on small-scale agriculture.

Joanne Green also called for northern consumers to be “honest about the impact our consumer choices have on poor people in the south and their environments” and said governments must move beyond short-term technological fixes, such as GM and agrofuels, to address the “long-ignored root causes of food crises and other problems.”

“I stand here knowing that my society and my attitudes and lifestyle choices are part of the problem like never before”, said Green. “We cannot have more of everything but also reduce poverty and have a healthy environment…we rich countries have to change our consumption now”.

Concluding, Joanne called for a radically different reality of development and globalisation backed up by “a global social contract” that brings together Northern governments, food producers and consumers with their southern counterparts.

She challenged the UK government to take the lead in learning from its failures and enable developed countries to face up to their responsibilities.

Progressio is an international Catholic advocacy and development charity working in 11 developing countries to help tackle the root causes of poverty.

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