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An opinion article by FAO-Director General José Graziano da Silva

To Rebuild the Social Contract, Start by Ending Hunger
Originally published 23 September 2013 by Huffingtonpost.com

As political leaders gather at the 68th Session of the UN General Assembly, we mark the fifth anniversary of the extraordinary events of 2008 and after--a period punctuated by the world economic and financial crisis, three major spikes in food prices, and waves of social and political unrest across much of the world. 

While the sources and drivers of discontent vary from country to country, one factor is the same: widespread personal insecurity, arising from extreme economic vulnerability and lack of access to food. In a world marked by extreme and growing inequality, loss of secure access to food has become a reliable bellwether of political instability and violence. Hunger has become the piercing expression of broken social trust.

The good news is that across the world, people from all walks of life are working together in powerful new ways to end hunger. In national capitals, major cities and in local communities across the globe, activists, entrepreneurs, farmers and laborers, political leaders and scientists are joining forces to end the scourge of hunger and malnutrition. At the same time, they are beginning to rebuild the solidarity and sense of mutual obligation--or social contract--that lies at the foundation of human society.

Behind this movement lie four important ideas. First is the view ending extreme poverty and hunger is not a question of charity, much less of what we can afford. It is a matter of public duty, a responsibility of all of us. A second theme is that the great majority of world's poor and malnourished-- most of whom live in rural areas--must be given a stake in their own future.

Rather than seeing those living in extreme poverty as a problem to be solved, we must provide them with access to the productive resources needed to make them agents of their own destiny and contributors to the general welfare of society.

The means of accomplishing this will vary greatly from society to society, and range from securing equal and secure access to land for both men and women, to the provision of education, seeds and cultivation know-how, research and development and other public goods. There is much to be learned from the experiences of Malawi, Nepal, India, Nicaragua, and many, many others.

The third theme is that the realization of the fundamental right to food must be achieved through means that go beyond traditional modes of support and combine new forms of social protection that address security of incomes together with productive support. In countries throughout the world, we are seeing how cash transfer programs, public food distribution systems and public works programs are contributing not just directly to reducing incidence of hunger but also helping stimulate local small-scale production to meet the extra demand, and how linking school meal programs to small-scale farming can provide the triple benefit of ensuring nutritious meals for children, opening up new markets for small-scale producers, and spurring local development because of the added cash flow in the communities.

The correct mix of policies will vary from country to country, but the success of initiatives in Brazil, Ghana, Bangladesh and elsewhere indicates that a nationally appropriate combination of policies, backed by strong political will, has the potential to bring transformational change. The fourth theme is the dawning awareness that only a global movement to end hunger can assure the success of hunger campaigns everywhere.

This theme is captured well in the UN Secretary General's Zero Hunger Challenge, which builds on existing movements and calls upon UN Members and agencies to join forces with the growing worldwide movement to end hunger and malnutrition, eradicate poverty, and make our food systems sustainable.

The Zero Hunger Challenge calls for something new--something bold, and long overdue: a decisive global commitment to end hunger. It extracts from global social and political movements--movements that are open to all members of society--a unified and holistic vision. And it presents a radically new vision of how the UN should do its work: as a vehicle, as a support, and, where invited to do so, as a catalyst for movements advocating for a more inclusive and equitable society. Ending extreme poverty and hunger is not merely desirable; it is the indispensable foundation of a new global society that is both open and fair. José Graziano da Silva is Director-General of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.