5 Questions for Gunther Beger: The BMZ on Green Week

This year, the Bundesentwicklungsministerium (BMZ) is taking part for the second time in the International Green Week from 20-29. January: This time with around 750 square meters along with more than 30 partners from civil society, the business community and churches. Gunther Beger, department head at the BMZ, explains why the BMZ is expanding its commitment to the IGW and what each of us can do to contribute to a world without hunger.

 
Gunther Beger, Abteilungsleiter im BMZ. (c) BMZ

1. Mr. Beger, the BMZ provided information about one of the biggest European consumer fairs, the International Green Week, on global hunger control. How does that fit together?

After our first appearance last year, we want to anchor the issue of global food safety during Green Week permanently. The BMZ is therefore showing on 750 square meters with partners from civil society, the business community and churches, that together with strong partners a world without hunger is possible through fair purchasing and innovations. With this motto, we are also deliberately addressing an audience which otherwise has very little interest in our topics. Many people want to get to know the farm and food experience from all over the world. On the way, they come across our hall, and at the very least, everyone has to deal with the fact that there are still 795 million people worldwide who are starving. We do not want to create a guilty conscience, but point out: We can change that. Everyone can change that.

 

2. Anyone can change that? How exactly?

Consumers should be aware of what they buy, what they eat. Many of the products we consume come from developing countries. These include cocoa, coffee, bananas, rice or spices, but also textiles. The cotton picker is from Burkina Faso, the seamstress is located in Bangladesh. If I buy a T-shirt for under 5 euros today, I have to ask myself how much of it goes to the farmer in the field. Another example is chocolate. We consume an average of 12.2 kilos of cocoa per year. This cocoa comes mostly from the Ivory Coast and Ghana. 90% of cultivation is carried out by small farmers. The end product, chocolate, is just under the calculation, there is an enormous price pressure. Only six percent of the price of cocoa goes to farmers and this share has recently fallen even further. The current average price for a bar of chocolate in German supermarkets is 79 cents, that is, the cocoa farmers receive an average of only 5 cents per bar of chocolate. If the cocoa farmer were to get only a few cents more per bar, he and his family could invest in more productive cocoa plantations and increase their income in the long term.  What I want to show is: We need to be more interested in the people who work at the beginning of production under the most difficult conditions. Fair shopping not only saves nature and the environment but also creates fair working and living conditions in our partner countries. This gives the local people a future and prospects.

 

3. Is Fair Trade Not a Niche for Better Earners?

Change often starts small. The chocolate example shows clearly that with small percentage amounts more can be achieved. And fair trade reached a new record high in 2015 in Germany with 1.139 billion euros in sales. This is 11 percent more than last year. This is a success, but still very little compared to the overall market. If we want to change that, we must reach the vast majority of consumers. That is precisely why we are present at Green Week. In our minds it has to "click". At the beginning of every production chain are people. In the hall, visitors will get to know the stories of these people. They learn how a T-shirt from the "cotton field to the hanger" is produced fairly and how fair working conditions of the production countries improve living and working conditions. And yes, we can do it: For 50 years we have spent 40 percent of our income on food, today it is only eight percent. In addition, we throw away a lot of food, so you can already make a difference.

 

Without a fundamental improvement in the level of education, lasting change cannot be achieved.

 

4. What can I look for as a consumer when shopping?

Seals generally provide a good place to start. However, there are many of them, and it is not always easy for the consumer to recognize what exactly is certified. The BMZ therefore fosters market transparency with the online portal SIEGELKLARHEIT.DE. Here, consumers can find information about the claim and credibility of various sustainability seals. At first it takes some time to deal with the issue. But it's worth it.

 

5. So consumers can take action on their own. But fair trade shopping alone is not enough. What is your ministry doing to combat world hunger?

The BMZ is involved in international negotiations for fair trade, which goes beyond what the consumer knows about Fair Trade. We want fair global trading conditions and a substantial anchoring of sustainability standards. To this end, we are currently engaged, for example, in the negotiations on EU free trade agreements with Malaysia and Indonesia. With the special initiative "EINEWELT ohne Hunger", Developmental Minister Gerd Müller has also greatly increased the BMZ's commitment to food safety and rural development, to € 1.5 billion a year. Germany is therefore an international pioneer and, alongside the EU and the USA, one of the largest donors. Innovation is very important to us. At the IGW, we will show how rice can lead to more efficient and resource-conserving production, higher yields, work facilities and more income for the small farmers and their families along the entire value-added chain - from farm to plate. The examples are from 13 Green Innovation Centers, which we have built in Africa and India. The Construction of the 14th Innovation center is set to begin shortly in Mozambique. In Benin, the average yield for rice is 1.5 tons per hectare per year. The yield can be increased to five tons in three to five years through improved cultivation methods and more profitable locally adapted varieties and simple mechanization. Through the Green Innovation Centers alone, we will improve the living conditions of a total of seven million people by 2021.

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