What Does the Reshuffle Mean for Developing Countries?

As the dust starts to settle on David Cameron's reshuffle Justine Greening will be starting to make Andrew Mitchell's old office at the Department for International Development (DFID) her own.

As the dust starts to settle on David Cameron's reshuffle Justine Greening will be starting to make Andrew Mitchell's old office at the Department for International Development (DFID) her own. She may be disappointed at losing her Transport brief, but those of us in the international development community are hopeful that she will soon see all the opportunities available in her new post. In particular, she has the chance to build on the UK's leadership on aid and to go down in the history books as a real leader on one of the big challenges of our time - that of fixing a situation where one in seven people are going to bed hungry despite there being enough food in the world for everyone.

Her first challenge will, of course, be to champion the planned increase in the UK's aid budget next year. To help her in this crucial task, she will need to keep at her fingertips impressive statistics that highlight what UK aid achieves: vaccinating 12million people against preventable disease, for example, and supporting over 5million children to go to primary school in the last two years alone. The life-changing results produced around the world by the generosity of British taxpayers demonstrate the importance of standing by our promise to increase our budget for overseas aid. Oxfam stands ready to work with the new Secretary of State to defend it.

But Justine Greening can leave a much greater legacy if she chooses to use her position to fight for progress towards a world where no-one goes to bed hungry. Recent headlines full of news about rising global food prices are of concern to people in the UK as well to the millions of poor people around the world who are struggling to feed their families. And as a new Oxfam report shows, climate change and more extreme weather are set to make it even harder for farmers around the world to grow enough food, impacting hardest on poor people who spend up to 75% of their incomes on food. Nearly half the population of Yemen - 10 million people - are going hungry, just one symptom of the problems in our global food system.

The Prime Minister's recent Hunger Event during the Olympics was a good start, focusing on tackling under-nutrition, which is an important part of the solution. This gives Greening solid ground on which to build a more ambitious approach to tackling hunger and food insecurity. Part of her contribution must be to ensure that the UK's overseas aid budget is spent wisely. As well as funding investment in programmes to boost nutrition, some of the planned increase in the aid budget should be used to reverse decades of under-investment in agriculture and help struggling farmers in poor countries, many of whom are women. 70 per cent of the world's poor people live in rural areas and investment in this field offers huge potential to increase crop yields and feed some of the world's poorest families.

Aid is vital to improving global development, but it will never provide the whole answer. As development secretary, Justine Greening must take an interest in policies beyond aid to help solve some of the problems affecting poor countries - and which can even undermine the good done by UK aid. From her previous role as Transport Secretary she will be familiar with the issue of biofuels; European targets for turning food crops into fuel to use in our cars and planes are leading to higher food prices and harming both poor people and the environment. She should work with her colleagues to move towards scrapping biofuel targets at a UK and EU level.

At the same time the massive increase in demand for food - including for use as biofuels - is also driving a land rush in developing countries, which all too often is pushing poor people off their land unfairly, without consultation or compensation. Greening should work to turn investment in land into an opportunity for poor countries and people by promoting improvements in the way these deals are done - with much less secrecy and more safeguards for people who are currently using the land in question to make a living and feed their families. The UK's Presidency of the G8 next year would make an excellent platform for her to work with other countries to tackle this urgent issue.

The new development secretary should also use her role in cabinet to keep the Government true to its original commitment to be the 'greenest government ever'. As long term environmental concerns are gradually overtaken by short term economic ones, Britain risks failing to do its bit to tackle climate change. Using her experience at the Treasury she can also do a lot to help reach global agreement on innovative sources of finance to help poor countries adapt to the effects of climate change, which are already impacting the ability of poor farmers around the world to grow enough food.

If Greening chooses to take a lead on tackling hunger in this way, she will be in good company - Oxfam and other NGOs are planning the biggest campaign since Make Poverty History on food and hunger issues in 2013. Business leaders are also recognising the urgent need for more leadership, with Unilever chief Paul Polman chairing a global business taskforce on food security earlier this year. If she wants an ambitious plan which will leave a real legacy, there are plenty of leads to follow.


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