From famine to fondue: Sheeran joins WEF

Can there be hidden levers of global power in the depths of the English countryside?

Blogging his 2012 predictions a week before Christmas, the Director of the Institute of Development Studies, Lawrence Haddad, grumbled that “the anti-hunger lobby looks disorganised and toothless.”

We were barely three days into the new year before the head of the World Food Programme resigned and a new Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization had laid out his strategic priorities. Whilst these UN behemoths might not describe themselves as “the anti-hunger lobby”, I’m pretty sure they were prominent in Mr Haddad’s thoughts.

Of course, we’ve known for some time about the FAO’s appointment of José Graziano da Silva from Brazil. Lawrence Haddad himself had plenty to say about the selection process back in mid-2011.

But the departure of Josette Sheeran from WFP was more of a surprise. As recently as the end of November she appeared to be putting up a strong fight to renew her five year term.

The politics of this appointment have been (accurately) traced over the last couple of months by Colum Lynch in the Turtle Bay blog of Foreign Policy. Ms Sheeran’s efforts were admirable or futile, depending on your point of view.

As the US is the major provider of food aid, it has traditionally pulled the strings for this particular post. The strings for Ms Sheeran were pulled by the Bush administration back in 2007. Too much for Hillary Clinton to bear it seems.

And quite a change it will be for a World Food Programme boss to fetch up at the World Economic Forum – and not just the leap from chaotic Rome to prim suburban Geneva. Years of gut-wrenching visits to the world’s hunger zones, mixed with desperate fundraising on their behalf, will dissolve into cosy Alpine fireside chats with off-duty top people.

Sheeran already has committee experience at the World Economic Forum and must know what to expect – the seven male managing directors and a job title of Vice-Chairman.

What might be achieved from this curious graduation from helping the poor in spite of global wealth to helping the rich in spite of themselves? There’s one obvious answer.

Josette Sheeran dragged WFP towards a more modern purchasing policy, in which forward contracts for food might have advantages over spot markets. No one knows better how the volatility of commodities trading fails the cause of global food security. Radical reform is needed.

The WEF is at its best in persuading very influential people to think the unthinkable. Over to you Ms Sheeran.

Meanwhile I’ve been pouring over Lawrence Haddad’s 2012 predictions to glean what else might lie in store.

Trampling unashamedly over his professional tendency to hedge and complicate things, I’d say that we can look forward to the re-election of Barack Obama and the defeat of Vladimir Putin, while Nutriset (makers of Plumpy’nut) will join the big league of privately owned companies, Walmart will receive favourable mentions in Greenpeace dispatches, and the Rio+20 conference will deliver a set of sustainable development goals.

My own prediction is the same as for 2011. Food insecurity and hunger will stalk the planet until we find a way of aligning global economic activity with the sustainable dignity of the human family.


this article was first published by OneWorld UK