Sunday, November 23, 2014

The End of Hunger and Malnutrition

ROME – Sometimes something happens that can have a fundamental impact on mankind, but passes largely unnoticed at the time. Such an event occurred in December in Rome. The Council of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization decided that the FAO’s goal should no longer be merely to reduce hunger, but to eradicate hunger, food insecurity, and malnutrition. The next step will be to confirm this change in June 2013 at the FAO Conference, in which all FAO member countries participate.

To many, this small change of wording must seem trivial. Critics will also say that adopting such a goal without setting a target date for achieving it is largely meaningless. Others may claim that even the idea of eradicating hunger is nonsense, because we lack the means to do it.

For the last 12 years, the Millennium Development Goal of halving hunger by 2015 has been the driving force for hunger reduction. The proportion of hungry people in developing countries has declined significantly – from 23.2% in 1990-92 to 14.9% today. However, this decrease owes more to a rise in the world’s population than it does to the slight reduction in the actual number of hungry people (from about 980 million to 852 million today).

A “halving” goal has only slight political appeal, as it implicitly condemns the excluded half to a life on the fringes of society, exposed to illness and premature death. Brazil’s Zero Hunger strategy, by contrast, has shown that adopting the absolute goal of hunger eradication provides a powerful means of galvanizing government departments into large-scale coordinated action, and of mobilizing society in a truly national effort to end one of the greatest injustices of our time.

To be sure, it will be increasingly difficult – though far from impossible – to meet the world’s growing demand for food, and to do this in sustainable ways. Additional food must be produced using technologies that do not damage the natural resources that future generations will need in order to feed themselves; that do not fuel climate change, which weighs heavily on farmers; and that do not accelerate the disintegration of the delicate fabric of rural society.

But the challenge may not be as daunting as it seems. The rate of population growth will be much slower than over the past 50 years, and there is much room for reducing the vast quantities of food that are now wasted. Moreover, as people’s incomes rise, they might more easily be persuaded to adopt healthier and more environmentally friendly diets than those taken up in the developed world. The double burden of malnutrition – with hunger existing alongside obesity, diabetes, and other diseases of overconsumption – clearly shows the increasing importance of global dietary rebalancing.

There is nothing really new about a commitment to hunger eradication. Indeed, the FAO was created in 1945 to bring about a world in which there would be “freedom from want,” which, in the words of its founders, “means the conquest of hunger and the attainment of the ordinary needs of a decent, self-respecting life.”

Because of the widespread fear in the postwar years of emerging global food shortages, the FAO, and the international community as a whole, focused mainly on food production – a focus that remained essentially the same in the following decades. Those investments yielded good returns: despite staggering global population growth, from 2.5 billion in 1945 to seven billion today, food availability per person has risen by more than 40%.

The problem is that hunger still persists on a vast scale; so, our focus must now shift to ensuring universal access to adequate food. This should be a top priority for governments and a goal embraced by citizens everywhere.

Breaking the vicious cycle of hunger and malnutrition requires complementing the focus on agriculture and rural development (more than 70% of the food-insecure population lives in rural areas of developing countries) with investment in other social and productive programs, including modest but predictable financial transfers to the poorest families. With the right policies in place, the incremental food demand created by these transfers, as well as by school meals programs and nutrition supplements for mothers and infants, could create opportunities for small-scale farmers to expand their output and improve their livelihoods.

In June, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon launched the Zero Hunger Challenge at the Rio+20 Sustainable Development Conference. The FAO has accepted this challenge, and is formally setting its sights on hunger eradication. I look forward with confidence to a progressive expansion in the number of member governments that commit themselves to moving as quickly as possible toward ending hunger and malnutrition within their borders – and to helping other countries to achieve the same goal.

It is never the wrong moment for the world to set its sights on ending hunger, once and for all. Now is the time.

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    1. CommentedPhilip Palij

      We all know the eradication of the worlds hunger and malnutrition should be an overriding priority. Indeed this is the aspiration of choice for many well fed and relatively wealthy members of western AND eastern Societies. So why hasn't it happened?

      In order to eliminate the scourge of hunger and malnutrition you also have to eliminate their causes so lets look at just a few taken from the list developed at Global Concerns Classroom by Elizabeth Stolz -

      Below is a list of the top five causes of world hunger:
      1. War and Conflict – It’s no coincidence that many of the world’s “conflict hot spots” are also the regions most ravaged by hunger. Imagine how difficult it is for a community stressed by violence, crumbling infrastructure, and fleeing refugees to support stable food systems. In many cases, a family whose life has been interrupted by war will see a drop in income and access to arable land. War and conflict drastically impact food supply and security.

      2. Weather and Climate Change – Natural disasters leave dramatic impact on the production of arable land. Between droughts, floods, and tropical storms, weather can be unpredictable and devastating. Although a natural disaster may strike quickly, its long-term damage can be unimaginable. In many developing countries, farmers depend on one small plot of land. If this land is destroyed by natural disaster, their source of food and livelihood is washed away with it.

      3. Agricultural Practices – In recent years, farmers have seen an increase in deforestation, desertification, soil erosion, and drought. Combined with overgrazing, over-cropping, and deforestation, the impact of poor agricultural practices can destroy arable land. By improving farming practices and increasing access to quality infrastructure, we can make huge strides in eliminating hunger.

      4. Population Growth – As the populations of countries rise, so too does the demand for food. Population growth has hit developing countries especially hard. Compounded with rising food prices, it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to match food production rates with population growth rates.

      5. Poverty – Like hunger, poverty is often a cyclical, structural crisis. In most cases, poverty and hunger go hand-in-hand. As a family sinks into poverty, they are forced to stretch their meagre income. As more money is spent on food, less money is available to spend on health care, savings, and education. Farmers may find themselves unable to purchase seeds, tools, or farming equipment. Poverty is a cause of hunger, but it is an effect as well.

      Getting to grips with these is a mammoth complex task and until you get the profiteers, war-mongers, arms-dealers, hoarders, greedy and corrupt politicians to adopt eradication of hunger and malnutrition as their motivating force as opposed to money, influence and power then you must deal with the symptoms and as we all know this is a never ending gravy train for politicians and professional office bound aid workers to make a career out of.

      My imperfect solution would be to create stability by educating at risk individuals and communities out of their poverty wherever possible. Teach communities self-help and kiss goodbye to vast addictive UN/US aid programs that deal with symptoms only.

      Recognising the total eradication of hunger and malnutrition as utopian pipe dream it is.

    2. CommentedGunnar Rundgren

      I certainly agree with this. The focus has been too much on technology in agriculture, while poverty and hunger has mainly other causes. Poverty is rather a cause for low production than the other way round (admittedly, it goes both ways to some extent). It is good that the FAO sees this clearly now. I assume the direct experience of the Director General in Brazil has contributed to this.

    3. CommentedWaleed Addas

      Eradicating hunger is a noble cause for humanity. But it will not be an easy task to achieve unless society learns how to eradicate its waste (including waste in food) and the consumerism-driven life. But societies may not be able to learn as quickly or change their habits. So can we have somesort of a country 'food-waste' index that could be monitored and later to 'tax those societies' that are the greatest food wasters. These virtual global 'UN taxes' could then be translated into ODA-equivalent amounts to be augmented (i.e. added to the ODA allocation by the wasting country) and then passed to the developing country to design sustainable projects that will add to the food security of the poor. Mr. da Silva will need all the help he can get.

    4. Commentedde Lafayette

      It may seem silly, but I consider the US a "developing country", but not in the economic sense.

      It needs to develop a culture - rather than fixate upon money, power, guns and eating oneself into the oblivion of obesity.

      No doubt, it is one of the richest countries in the world in terms of GDP per person. But in terms of culture? It finds itself in an arid desert.

      But what IS culture? Consider the dictionary definition: The qualities of a society that arises from a concern for what is regarded as excellent in arts, letters, manners, scholarly pursuits, etc.

      Excellence in the arts? Batman? In letters? Of the 28 or so writers listed as the Most Influential, only a few are alive. In manners? Come on ...

      In scholarly pursuits? Well, there is a great deal of activity at many of America's finest academic institutions - but rarely does the work play out into the rest of society to any great extent.

      Jack 'n Jill Sixpack are still the American model when it comes to defining a middle-class existence.

      And it is the fault of whom?

      I suggest it is the overwhelming influence of the BoobTube - that leveler to the Most Common Denominator at the very bottom of human interest. Such as sports, hell-bent Hollywood drama, hotdog eating contests, political fanaticism and a fixation upon whatever depicts obtaining a great deal of money very quickly.

      Money cannot buy society happiness. Or cultural attributes that are shared commonly. Most common of all those attributes being a sense of Social Justice that allows all to live decently – so fixated is it on “winning” and individual achievement.

      The dumbing-down of America continues apace.

    5. CommentedFrank O'Callaghan

      The most important writing in a very long time.

      We live on a planet where this eradication of hunger is immediately possible. We should do this in a sustainable and fair manner. José Graziano da Silva has made a great statement here.