Global food crisis: hunger games

Not much in politics stands out at a distance of eight years. The Make Poverty History campaign, though, lingers: 200,000 people on a march in 2005 that snaked through Edinburgh, the Live 8 concerts that reached an audience of 3 billion and then the claim of victory. Now many of the participants have regrouped to try do it again.

Last Wednesday, more than 100 charities and religious organisations – from Oxfam and Christian Aid to small student groups – launched the If campaign, a bid to re-create the momentum of Make Poverty History in the run up to the G8 summit, which Britain hosts in Northern Ireland in July. Its first hurdle will be to overcome the scepticism left by its predecessor. Then it has to win the argument about what such campaigns can achieve.

Claims of success for the last mega-movement's ambitions on debt relief and the millennium development goals were contested almost before Tony Blair and Bob Geldof were off the platform. Some of it was done. Some of it wasn't. In purely political terms, it would get, say, a five.

There is a much bigger question mark about the wider effect on public engagement and understanding of aid and development. Hindsight suggests the beguilingly ambitious slogan, despite its capacity to mobilise, did little to deepen understanding of how complex a problem it was tackling. There were other criticisms too. It was too much of the north doing stuff to the south, it was too much about celebrities and NGOs.

The new campaign is more nuanced and less celebrity-dominated (no Geldof, yet). The slogan "Enough food for everyone if ..." allows a useful cascade of information about the obstacles to be overcome. It is emphasising that money alone is not the answer. It highlights the role played by politics and governance: tax avoidance that robs governments of rightful income, clearing small farmers off the land to grow biofuels rather than locally consumed food, the lack of openness that fosters corruption.

And it is pushing in an established direction of travel. At Davos last week, the World Economic Forum launched a report, Achieving the New Vision for Agriculture, advocating supporting subsistence farmers as "change agents". The peasant, declared dead only a year or two back, has been miraculously revived. And David Cameron's backing it. Attention at the G8 is guaranteed.

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