Tony Cunningham is MP for Workington, in North West England, as well as Shadow Minister for International Development. He has spent time volunteering in East Africa and is committed to combatting gloabl hunger, here he tells us why.
Why is tackling hunger in the 21st century important to you?
There is enough food to feed everyone in the world and I find it deplorable that one in eight people go to bed hungry each night. The most important thing to remember is that ending global hunger is achievable. Despite the major challenges we face we must remember that this is a once in a generation opportunity.
In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis those with the least lost the most and this is something I really want to focus on. Hunger is a powerful way to expose those global inequalities. The IF Campaign to eradicate hunger worldwide is an important reminder that even basic necessities remain out of the reach of many and I feel we should do all we can to change that.
The UK must use its role as chair of the G8 and co-chair of the UN High-Level Panel on a post 2015 framework to lead the global response to hunger. We need lasting transformative change to make the world a more transparent and a more accountable place. This campaign calls on the UK to lead the world in much needed action and I feel strongly that we have a responsibility to face the challenge and seize the opportunity to make a difference.
As Shadow Minister for International Development, how important do you think it is that the government meets and sticks to its 0.7% commitment to aid?
I support the IF campaign’s call for the government to show global leadership and generate action to eradicate hunger. The government’s commitment to spending 0.7% GNI on aid is a significant part of that action. The Labour government paved the way for this and it is vital that the coalition sticks to its commitments and sends a clear message to other countries to do the same.
You insisted on Fair Trade tea and coffee when you were on the Catering Committee – are you pleased with the recognition these kind of products are getting now?
I am hugely pleased with the achievements of Fair Trade products and the greater recognition they are now getting. I think these products are making a real difference to real people’s lives on a daily basis. The products have developed so much from the early days and I am glad to see them continue to improve.
Do you see small scale farmers as key to combating hunger – or do you think the responsibility lies with big companies, what needs to be done to ensure both play a part in the on-going battle against hunger?
I think investment and assistance for small scale farmers is one of the key areas we have to get right in combating hunger. The improvements that can be made in investing in agriculture are significant and in particular we need to target investment towards women because they face a continued struggle to get equal access to resources. However, to address the hunger crisis we need a coordinated approach.
The other aspect of this is to ensure large companies are operating with both transparency and accountability. I don’t think this is happening at the moment. We need to recognise the power that big companies have and really make strides towards tackling the corporate tax gap in developing countries. If a country is losing more through the use of tax havens by the big companies operating within its borders than it receives from overseas aid there is clearly a problem.
Last year I was involved in highlighting the food crisis in the Sahel which demonstrated the varied interventions that are needed from short term disaster relief to long term investment. What is particularly exciting about the joint campaign is its strong focus on the transformative change needed to address these issues. There needs to be a continued and productive dialogue between all parties to demonstrate that all those involved can be part of the solution.
Progressio believes every land-grab is a water-grab too, what would you be doing to ensure water received sufficient recognition on environmental and development agendas?
The importance of a reliable and safe access to water is something for which I have been campaigning for a long time. I think it is an issue which can have such a significant impact and it has not been sufficiently considered.
I would continue my involvement with NGO’s working directly in the field and use this knowledge to bring compelling information about the benefits of investing in access to water to those working on the Post 2015 development agenda.
I have actually just written to Justine Greening to highlight the new report “Everyone, Everywhere” released by WaterAid on World Water Day this year.
How do you think decision makers in the UK can best enable poor communities (around the world) to influence the decision that affect them?
I think hearing from the people who are directly affected is one of the most powerful tools we have and decision makers in the UK do need to do more to enable poor communities to influence decisions that have a direct impact on their lives. This is something the Labour International Development team is really keen to do during its discussions on the Post 2015 agenda.
The thing we can do most of all is ensure the message gets out that we both need and want to hear the opinions of those affected, it has to be a processes where divisions between rich and poor, donors and recipients, become much less rigid. One thing I would be particularly keen on is involving technology to allow us to hear from more people directly.
What motivated you to volunteer in East Africa? Do you think it’s still important for young people to volunteer overseas?
The main motivation for my decision to volunteer in East Africa was the opportunity to make a difference. In fact I learned much more than I ever contributed, it certainly was a hugely beneficial experience for me in my life and I think it is tremendously important for people of any age to volunteer overseas.