Analysis: How to secure food for all in a sustainable way?

More than one billion people are suffering today from hunger and serious malnutrition. This despite the fact that a variety of high-level meetings and conferences have approved ambitious and mandatory goals to reduce or eradicate hunger from this world.

The UN defined one of the millennium goals as halving the number of people who are starving by 2015. Nevertheless FAO calculates that 115 million more people will be exposed to serious hunger and malnutrition during 2008. There is enough food in the world to give everyone a nutritious diet every day, but the distribution between those who have and those who have not is becoming steadily more unbalanced. Marginalisation, poverty and discrimination are among the reasons. Others are lack of access to resources such as farmland, forests and fisheries, as well as forced migration as a result of uneven power balances and insecure land rights. Misguided agriculture policies and a weak focus on land use in aid and development are other reasons for the current situation.

The effect of climate change will further exacerbate the food security problem on all continents and in many countries. Access to fresh water will be reduced as a result of glacier melting and reduced precipitation, erosion will worsen due to more extreme weather and floods, plant growth will be hampered as a result of higher temperatures – just to name some of the probable effects of climate change.

At the same time, there is an increased need for food in the world, amongst other things because of the fact that significant parts of the production of corn, sugar beet and plant oils in countries such as the US, Brazil and Argentina are being used to make biofuels.  We have seen prices on the world market fluctuate strongly in the past couple of years, creating a difficult situation for both exporters and importers of food, and contributing to major social unrest in a number of countries. The causes of the price increases and variations are many, but one important reason is probably the fact that international speculators see food as an interesting market for making a fast profit. That industrial countries are dumping subsidised products on the global market as well contributes to the fluctuations of price levels, and makes it impossible for local producers in many developing countries to compete with cheap imports.

In spite of the many good intentions expressed about ending the current shameful situation, there is a lack of political will to allow action to follow words. Donor countries do not follow up on their promises of increased aid, and their need to take their own agricultural sectors into account means that there is no end to export subsidies and the dumping of food commodities. ForUM regards food security as one of the most important issues that must be solved by the global community during the next few years. Unfortunately the situation is such that world leaders’ attentions are pulled in many directions and the question of food security is not prioritised because hunger and malnutrition first and foremost affects the populations of developing countries, and not the voters in industrial countries. The media also shows little interest for the world’s hungry, for the same reasons.

To improve food security and secure the right to food for all vulnerable groups, there must be easier access to food and increased possibilities to produce their own food. During the past 25 years, an ever-decreasing percentage of international aid has been used on agriculture, and this  has been used for large-scale industrial production. A bias towards increased food production does not, however, necessarily lead to a decrease in hunger.  The research report IAASTAD (International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development) states that current agricultural policy must change. According to the report it has been a major mistake for many years not to prioritise small-scale agriculture and ecological production. When formulating agricultural aid programmes and policies, women must be taken into special account. They are the most important food producers in many countries, but have seldom been included in consultations and have little influence.  

The right to food as a part of human rights has not been followed up to any great extent. It is therefore a major step forward that violation of economic, social and cultural rights will soon be able to be judged before a UN committee.  An Optional Protocol that opened the way for this possibility, was approved by the UN in 2008 and will come into effect as soon as more than ten states have ratified it. Norwegian authorities have however stated that they do not wish to ratify the protocol. Norway played an active and positive role when voluntary guidelines for the right to food were developed within the framework of the FAO. It is now important to ensure that these regulations are actively applied, and that the official Norwegian position on ratification of the Optional Protocol is altered. 

The ongoing negotiating rounds addressing compensation to developing countries for current climate changes, have too little focus on the most important food producers in the world: small farmers, pastora­lists, and fishermen. A funding scheme for conservation of rain forests will hopefully be set up to ensure that the carbon in these forests is maintained in the soil and vegetation. But there is little talk of the major potential to bind carbon in mixed agricultural systems and grazing land, which would also increase food production and the capacity  to adapt to the challenges of climate change.

Major amounts of financial resources are already used on emergency relief, and climate change will mean this type of support will have to increase significantly in years to come. But this type of relief is often provided with little knowledge of the local context and needs, and with little coordination with local and national authorities. Food aid has led to the destruction of local markets, the harming of local food production and the mixing of new crop types with those found locally. GM maize (GM = genetically modified) has been introduced into some countries in Africa, in direct conflict with the wishes expressed by the nation in question. Food aid use must be subject to stricter regulations in the future.

New players continually threaten traditional rights to land, water and other resources. Large areas of land have been sold, leased or given away to national or foreign interests that wish to produce food or agrofuels on an industrial scale. Pastoralists, who depend on being able to move freely to access grazing pastures and water for their animals, are then forced to give up their traditional way of life.

ForUM’s job is to work with its members to develop just policies, and to influence processes in Norway, internationally and in the South that can lead to better global food security, to the benefit of the primary target group: the poor and marginalised. This means that ForUM must work proactively to strengthen agriculture’s position within aid programmes, and see to it that trade policies are not harmful to developing countries. It is especially important to strengthen the representation of small farmers, pastoralists and the landless in international processes that affect their access to food and water.

Food Security

Thematic Advisor:
Arvid Solheim
Cell 970 22 162

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We are a contact point for the coordination of policy initiatives and recommendations. Many of the following documents are in Norwegian adressed to the Norwegian government. But we also influence international processes so quite a few of them are in English.

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