Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 10 July 2014

900 million hungry people a taxing problem for PM

The G8 in Fermanagh must prioritise the three 'Ts' of international development – trade, tax and transparency

David Cameron's political credibility rests on the delivery of his promise on tax transparency
David Cameron's political credibility rests on the delivery of his promise on tax transparency

Prime Minister David Cameron told the World Economic Forum in Davos at the beginning of the year that the priority for his chairmanship of the G8 would be tax transparency.

Development agencies such as Concern Worldwide have taken the prime minister at his word.

In actual fact, much of the campaigning by NGOs ahead of the G8 summit in Co Fermanagh in June has focused on tax.

We believe that companies operating in developing countries should pay their fair share of tax to the host government in as transparent a manner as is possible.

As the leader of one of the few governments to achieve the aid target of 0.7% of national income, the prime minister's bona fides were never in any doubt.

In spite of the fact that Britain will need the support of the other G8 members on tax, much of Mr Cameron's political credibility now rests on delivery of this Davos promise.

But another (although admittedly much smaller) part of his Davos speech has received far less public attention and that is Mr Cameron's reference to "a major push on tackling global hunger, under-nutrition and stunting".

The problems caused by food insecurity, access to land and climate change are, arguably, even more pressing than tax and require immediate action.

The call for action was echoed at a two-day conference in Dublin earlier this month, organised by the Mary Robinson Foundation for Climate Justice, among others, to examine ways to address the needs of poor and vulnerable households in developing countries.

Concern Worldwide is a partner in sharing its practical experience of putting research and innovative solutions into practice.

In the prime minister's words at Davos, this work involves "not just dealing with the symptoms of poverty, but tackling the causes".

For example, in Malawi – one of the poorest countries in sub-Saharan Africa – Concern Worldwide has for almost a decade been promoting conservation agriculture.

This means teaching more sustainable farming practices than traditional methods and concentrating on smallholder farmers who are often overlooked in the rush to promote agriculture as a development tool.

But in a country where almost half the rural population lives in poverty and is vulnerable to seasonal food crises, it's not just about nutrition and agriculture.

It also means trying to change the gender inequality which denies women access to resources and to decisions on household expenditure.

Women in Malawi fare worse than men on most social and economic indicators. For example, lower levels of wage employment than men and higher rates of HIV/Aids infection perpetuate a cycle of vulnerability and poverty. Women make up about two-thirds of the global agricultural workforce and closing the gender-gap could produce significant increases in agricultural productivity, reduce poverty and hunger, and promote economic growth.

These are the nuts and bolts of fixing a broken food system that currently allows close to 900 million people around the world go to bed hungry every night.

They don't attract headlines and they often get overlooked in media coverage of major speeches.

I believe David Cameron when he talks about prioritising the importance of the three 'Ts' – trade, tax and transparency – for international development at the G8.

But political success in these areas will require lengthy international negotiation and engagement.

This is why we must also look at the other parts of the agenda in the fight against hunger and poverty.

Making sure everybody pays their fair share is important, but it's not just about cracking down on tax avoidance.

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