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Food for thought; thought for action – CIDSE

Food for thought; thought for action

The much-loved idiom ‘food for thought’ takes on heightened significance this week as policy-makers and civil society organisations come together for a week of intensive and much-to-play-for set of negotiations at the 41st session of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) in Rome.

Day one of the discussions kicked off with a presentation of the key findings from the much-revered State of Food Insecurity (SOFI) 2014 report. Whilst CFS delegates got to hear first-hand about progress made and gaps still be to addressed in the global fight against hunger and malnutrition, those following the Rome discussions from afar may be keen to learn of some of the key facts & figures emerging from the report available online:

  • Global hunger reduction continues, according to the FAO, with some 805 million people estimated to be chronically undernourished in 2012–14 (a reduction of more than 100 million over the last decade)
  • Since 1990-92, 63 countries have attained the Millenium Development Goal 1 hunger target – with figures suggesting that the goal of halving the proportion of undernourished people in developing countries by 2015 is within reach.
  • Despite this apparent good news, FAO acknowledges the substantial disparities across regions throughout the world. The report suggests that Latin America and the Caribbean have taken hearty strides forward in the battle against hunger and malnutrition, yet also highlights the picture in sub-Saharan Africa and Western Asia is less rosy.

If we were to try and unpack these statistics, what would they really mean for people’s struggles on the ground? FAO points the finger at ‘disasters and conflict’ as the primary causes for the sluggish progress in the fight against hunger in sub-Saharan Africa, yet does that really tell the whole story? Whilst climate change and other man-made and natural disasters are indeed taking their toll on the most poor and marginalised communities, CIDSE believes that the role of agribusiness, which is perpetually pushing profit-driven interests over environmentally and socially equitable outputs, is failing to support small-scale food producers in these regions, and thus failing to meet the overall goal of hunger eradication. This dire situation is only exacerbated by unfair international trade rules and a series of ‘false solutions’ (such as biochar, no-till industrialised agriculture and genetically modified organisms, to name but a few) being proffered by the self-same corporate big guns. These technological ‘quick-fixes’ favour large-scale farming and create dependencies on corporations, locking smallholders into unwieldy and oftentimes devastating cycles of debt and poverty. To this end, the outcome of the Responsible Agricultural Investment (rai) principles negotiations (up for debate on Wednesday 15th October), will be critical for ensuring that the potential detrimental social and environmental impacts of corporate-led agricultural investments are prevented, and that positive investments and policies that prioritise food security are fast-tracked.

The SOFI report 2014 also highlights that ‘sustained political commitment at the highest level, with food security and nutrition as top priorities, is a prerequisite for hunger eradication,’ offering a prominent pat on the back to ‘Africa, Latin America…and individual countries’ for progress in this area. However, what can be said of developed nations in this commitment game?

For example, more than two years down the line following the momentous endorsement of the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure, where do governments stand now in implementing these guidelines at national level, and in monitoring both the Guidelines’ impacts and their contribution to more effective governance? These questions and more will be raised by Civil Society on Wednesday, during a Side event entitledTowards an innovative monitoring mechanism of the CFS: Monitoring the CFS Tenure Guidelines and the Agenda for Action for Food Security in Protracted Crisis.’ Worryingly, latest reports from the ground in Rome (#cfs41) suggest that many doors which were open directly after the 2008 food crisis are progressively closing, with civil society being forced to fight for the most basic – and internationally agreed – principles and elements. Political obstacles are threatening to derail successful outcomes for the rai principles, the Right to Food, protracted crises and nutrition security – potentially paving the way for a series of long and frustrating processes which increasingly result in a stream of ineffectual policy documents. Meanwhile, the urgency and unprecedented scale of the global crises on our hands continues to go unchecked, with frontline communities being left to go it alone in their struggles against hunger and poverty. Ensuring that the right to food – a cornerstone of the reformed CFS – is at the very core of all food and agriculture policy is an absolute must, and civil society will be investing heavily in their efforts over the coming days to remind decision makers of this.

Political will is also needed from governments from both the North and South in the topic of food loss and waste: civil society calls on governments to demonstrate commitment and political will to improve the collection, transparency and sharing of data, experiences and good practices related to food loss and waste in all stages of the food system. Given the commercial significance of substantial data, it is vital that all necessary measures are taken to ensure that access to it is transparent and non-proprietary. Following these all important steps could help ward off misinformation and distortions of innovative and highly effective food loss and waste initiatives which make a major contribution towards more sustainable food systems and global food security. Regretfully, however, intelligence from Rome suggests that civil society organisations have a hefty fight on their hands: discussions held during yesterday’s Policy Round Table on Food Losses and Waste in the Context of Sustainable Food Systems promptly reveal a glaring omission in the HLPE report: until the root causes of unsustainable food systems are tackled, food loss and waste will continue to plague our society and our environment. Civil society will be highlighting their demands in this evening’s Side Event on the topic.

We need a paradigm shift to reduce food waste and loss and build truly sustainable and resilient food systems
(Civil Society Mechanism)

Also underlined in the SOFI report is the need for an ‘integrated approach’ for reducing hunger, with the FAO nominating ‘public and private investments to raise agricultural productivity’, enhanced ‘access to inputs, land, services, technologies and markets,’ and the promotion of rural development, and ‘social protection for the most vulnerable, including strengthening their resilience to conflicts and natural disasters’ as a few essential pieces of the food security puzzle. Whilst the potential positive knock-on effect of ‘raising agricultural productivity’ per se is not to be sniffed at, CIDSE believes that the net needs to be cast much wider: approaches which focus on production alone fail to take on broad long-term environmental sustainability, and also cast a blind eye to the structural causes of hunger and interlinked climate-induced disaster. Anyone with an ear to the ground, tuned in to the daily struggles – and the resultant innovative solutions – of poverty-afflicted communities and grassroots movements will quickly come to recognise that there is in fact a blossoming treasure chest of tools, policies, frameworks, models and alternatives at our disposal for tackling the food crisis in a holistic, sustainable and effective way (intrigued readers are invited to delve into our new CIDSE paper for more!) What is needed to make this vision a reality however is implementation – which is where ‘food for thought’ must lead to effective and meaningful action. The CFS-41 will provide ample opportunity for this transition over the course of the coming week… but will decision makers step up to the plate accordingly?

Towards an innovative monitoring mechanism of the CFS
Keeping it local – key to unlocking the potential of reducing food waste