No gong for Cameron’s Hunger Summit


Naomi Hossain

Two global food crises in 5 years is a misfortune; three looks like carelessness. So yesterday’s Global Hunger Summit was a golden opportunity to tackle the causes of global food price volatility – without doubt the single greatest threat to nutrition in the 21st century, and with equally little doubt, the result of chronically malfunctioning food markets exacerbating climate change (see e.g. what the clever people at the New England Complex Systems Institute say about the 2012 food crisis).

So what did the Global Hunger Summit propose to do about the malfunctioning markets and commodity speculation behind upward fluctuating food prices? Not a lot. The joint statement the PM issued with the Brazilian VP Michel Temer acknowledged climate change, with an emphasis on science-y solutions like drought resistant crops and ‘evidence-based’ policies. But while nobody expected a full-on attack on profit-motivated food commodity speculation, there was a pat on the back for food markets, with a promise to connect poor people to them better. That must have gone down pretty well with the global food giant Cargill – which was already feeling ‘optimistic’ earlier this month as the US drought increased global food price volatility and thereby its revenue prospects.

Putting hunger high on the global policy agenda should be a good thing, but the Summit failed to connect with the concerns of poor people whose experiences are being tracked in our IDS-Oxfam Life in a Time of Food Price Volatility project (funded by DFID, Irish Aid, and Oxfam GB). Our fourth round of research is finding that many poor people are not so much ‘hungry’ as they are fed up of struggling to feed families in the face of an apparently endless series of steep price rises. Higher living costs mean more women entering poorly paid and over-crowded job markets, scrabbling around for bargains, scrounging and ‘borrowing’. In our Indonesian sites, working women say it is now cheaper to eat in the local warung than to cook at home; nobody knows what that means for children’s nutrition, but it won’t be good. And in the Bangladesh sites, women say men find bargaining for cheap food onerous and shameful, so they have to do the food shopping, too. In short, the global food crisis is a crisis of the global care economy: no number of clever evidence-based nutritional supplements will nourish babies whose mothers are working ever harder to care for their families.

What we really needed from the Summit was less charity and science and more solidarity with food justice campaigns. The point is to tackle the causes of food price volatility. And it would have been there, too, that the elusive political will to act on nutrition could be tapped: governments find the social unrest that comes with uncontrollable global food price volatility extremely scary; by contrast, they find the spectre of under-nourished babies quite easy to live with.

Naomi Hossain is a Research Fellow in the Participation, Power and Social Change research team at IDS.

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Putting pleasure into safer sex interventions


Stephen Wood

Our sex lives are determined by a vast number of complex drivers and motives, some clearly identifiable at the surface, others much harder to define. Regardless of whether mutual love, reproduction or a more transactional relationship is being expressed in the encounter, it is very likely that pleasure will also be playing a significant role in the sex we have.  Yet pleasure continues to find itself on the periphery of discussions taking place around sexual health, especially at a time when there are obvious signs that we receive diminishing returns from foregrounding risk and danger as a method of encouraging safer-sex behaviour.

The IDS Sexuality and Development Programme has contributed to bringing this debate into the development field with a number of publications in recent years, such as the IDS Bulletin ‘Sexuality Matters’, edited by Andrea Cornwall and Susie Jolly that argued that sexual pleasure is personal, often defined in culturally-specific ways and a legitimate focus of attention for development practitioners seeking to improve the efficacy of outcomes around sexual health.

Alongside this focus, our partners at the Pleasure Project have been engaging in some particularly exciting work that attempts to combine understandings around sexual pleasure (and it’s capacity to inform our sexual choices and acceptance of risk)  into safer sex interventions. Funded through our Sida “Gender, Power and Sexuality” Programme, Wendy Knerr and Anne Philpott have produced a new guide “Everything you wanted to know about pleasurable safer sex but were afraid to ask: twenty questions on sex, pleasure and health”.

The guide has just been launched at the AIDS 2012 conference to a packed audience and has already garnered a great deal of positive publicity. What is really exciting about this publication is that in spite of there not being a great amount of existing research around safe sex, sexuality and pleasure (most notably gaps around lesbians and transgender people), the Pleasure Project have drawn together insights from this body of work in an accessible manner. Giving global examples of the sexual realities of men and women’s lives serves to underscore the relevance of placing our understanding of pleasure in the design of alternative safer sex interventions. The guide feels like a comprehensive jumping off into a field of research that is rapidly taking shape and a challenge to researchers to develop cross-disciplinary understandings of how gender and culture influence sex, sexual pleasure and safer activities.

Stephen Wood is a researcher for the Sexuality and Development Programme in the Participation, Power and Social Change research team at IDS. He can also be found on Twitter as: StephenWood_UK

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