Our Primary Challenge: Defeat Hunger and Achieve Food Security For All (1)

Hunger is directly linked to poverty and their extremes are interwoven. It’s not a coincidence that the first goal set in the MDGs’ framework back in 2000 was to eradicate this two-faced damnation of mankind. As recently stated by the World Bank – for the first time in history – humanity has the means to end extreme poverty by 2030.

Defined as average daily consumption of $1.25  or less, extreme poverty means living on the edge of subsistence. In 1990, more than 1.9 billion people lived on less than $1.25 a day. Since then, the poverty rate in developing countries has fallen from 43 percent to 22 percent in 2008, reducing the number of people in extreme poverty to less than 1.3 billion. Between 2005 and 2008, poverty rates fell in all six developing regions, the first time that has happened. By 2015, the global rate of extreme poverty is expected to be 16 percent and the number of people living in poverty will fall to around  1 billion. At the global level, the goal of halving the poverty rate (in the last 15 years) has been reached, and all regions except Sub-Saharan Africa are expected to reach the target by 2015.

IMG_20131031_104636What are the future prospects of the battle against hunger? About 870 million people globally are undernourished, and another 2.3 billion are to be added to the population by 2050. That means global food production must increase by 60 per cent if we are to ensure enough food for all. Nowadays, what stands in front of us is already a scenario of great uncertainty; as Ren Wang (FAO, Skoll World Forum) states in a Forbes’ article, this challenge involves taking into account different variables – first of all, key resources like water and fossil fuels.

FAO’s response has been the launch of the “Save and Grow” global strategy, which focuses on sustainable crop production intensification (SCPI): “Save”, to produce more with less input on limited land, “Grow”, now and in the future. SCPI is based on productive agriculture that conserves and enhances natural resources. Better agricultural practices (crop rotations, use of minimum tillage and maintenance of soil cover; building soil organic matter and reducing soil erosion; harvesting and managing rainwater; relying on natural processes of predation or biocontrol for pest or weed problems; managing pollination services; selecting diverse and appropriate varieties) and ecosystem conservation are interconnected. How to incorporate the value of natural resources and ecosystem services into agricultural input and output price policies? The Save and Grow policymaker’s guide affirms that this can be achieved by establishing realistic environmental standards, eliminating perverse incentives, such as subsidies on fertilizer and pesticides, and by creating positive incentives, such as payments for environmental services, or environmental labeling in value chains.

How to bring these big “macro” plans to a local “microlevel” that suits the supposed effective beneficiaries of development programs? An interesting form of engagement by big organizations (like FAO, World Bank etc.) is the Exposure and Dialogue Programme (EDP), where the international staff joins and tries to learn experientially and directly from the food-insecure populations, especially women, that it seeks to serve. This seems like one of the most suitable ways to grasp the depth of small producers’ insecurity and the utmost reality of hunger. It provides a holistic snapshot of the
poverty that small and marginalized farmers face in rural areas of developing countries and also the
means to overcome it through collective action. A crucial example is that of India, where – while some progress has been made in rural development – much remains to be done to improve farming,
education, public access to water (for drinking and irrigation), health care and gender equality.

In the current discussion about the post-2015 development agenda, Pakistan has highlighted the malnutrition problem, which is supposed to be placed at the center of the new goals framework. It has been argued that, while there has been a tremendous increase in a global political commitment to improve nutrition, yet this has translated into a modest impact. This presents a substantial unfinished agenda i.e. to address the cause of 45% (3.1 million) of all under 5 child deaths due to malnutrition. In Pakistan alone, 35% of all under five deaths can be attributed to the menace of malnutrition.

For its part, India confirms that we have to deal with an “unfinished business” i.e. the eradication of hunger. Ensuring food security is the goal, but this is in stark contrast with the harsh reality of the “gross disparity and imbalance” in the global consumption of natural resources. On this side of the coin, the richest countries seem still unwilling to address the underlying causes of the paradox that over one billion poorest people on this planet account for a mere one per cent of total global consumption while the billion richest consume over two-thirds of it.

Policy-wise, it’s clear how the fight against hunger is deeply related to other targets like the empowerment of women, child protection and climate-smart agriculture… (To be continued)

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