In this time of ample world food production it is unacceptable that more than 840 million people remain hungry. Too many children die before adulthood, too many adults never reach their full potential, too many nations are stalled on the road to development.
Setting targets helps to achieve results. The goal of cutting by half the number of hungry people by 2015 was adopted at the World Food Summit in 1996 and reflected in the Millennium Development Goals. Yet progress is painfully slow.
What is lacking is political will. Many nations have made verbal commitments to fight hunger, but few have done enough and on the scale required. Nations will need to work harder to create the policy environment, provide the funding and implement the programmes to allow people to overcome hunger and poverty. To this end, the international community has resolved to work together within an International Alliance Against Hunger.
The Alliance will bring together the strengths of different groups into a single effort. It will include: food producers and consumers with first-hand knowledge of the problems they face; international organizations giving technical knowledge and advice and providing a forum for debate;
agribusiness firms, scientists and academics spurring innovation; the many donors funding development programmes and projects; policy-makers from rich and poor countries charting their nations' roadmap for progress; and private individuals, religious groups and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) raising awareness about the issue of hunger.
As this Alliance takes shape, leaders in an increasing number of countries are boldly putting the fight against hunger at the forefront of national priorities, realizing that only when people are well-fed can they take part in a nation's economic and social advancement. FAO applauds their courage and urges others to join them.
International Alliance Against Hunger is this year's World Food Day theme. It is a call to action, with a view to taking the concept of a global partnership and making it a reality: working together to reduce poverty and to guarantee the world's citizens a basic human right -- freedom from hunger.
16 October 2003
World Food Day
International Alliance Against Hunger: its origins and hopes
The idea of an international alliance was proposed by Johannes Rau, President of the Federal Republic of Germany on World Food Day in 2001. He urged the formation of an alliance to counter the faltering political will that prevented nations from allocating adequate resources to fight hunger and poverty. Enthusiasm for the initiative grew and, by the following year, participants at the World Food Summit: five years later entitled their final declaration an “International Alliance Against Hunger”. It is the hope of many that this Alliance gains support and leads to strong political will that will put in place programmes to eliminate the misery caused by hunger and poverty.
Over the years, millions of people have graduated from the ranks of the hungry. Major conferences have galvanized support among governments and international organizations and set clear goals for the road ahead. A wide range of development partners is using time-tested techniques to boost nutrition and income.
Clearly, no new mechanisms are needed to fight hunger. Instead, the Alliance will strengthen political commitment for existing initiatives. At the same time it will help partners to develop a common vision on measures to take and build cooperation among diverse groups.
The Alliance will provide a forum for advocacy, promote joint actions by its members and facilitate information exchange - through Web sites, newsletters and progress reports. Partners of the Alliance can offer assistance in their spheres of competence, which may include technical training, policy advice and monitoring the progress of hunger reduction strategies. Together, these activities will help to attract increased funding from financing institutions, the private sector and other donors.
While everyone has a role to play in the Alliance, the main responsibility for reaching goals lies with a nation and its people. Each country should set its own national targets through its legislative bodies and lay out the steps to move forward, including implementing programmes that target the hungry.
Already several governments including Brazil and Sierra Leone are launching ambitious hunger reduction programmes (See “Fighting hunger gets top billing”). Many other countries have also signalled their determination to address hunger on a national scale, including China, Colombia, Ghana, Indonesia, Kenya, Mozambique, Peru, Senegal and the United Republic of Tanzania.
FAO advocates a bottom-up approach in which alliances at the national level feed into an international effort. Creating a national alliance means joining the strengths of many partners committed to ending hunger. Civil society groups ranging from farmers' organizations to religious groups to research institutes and the private sector will be major players in this effort. Other alliances may be formed at regional level emanating from regional initiatives such as the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD).
The Alliance promotes a twin-track approach combining long- and short-term measures to fight hunger. To create a vibrant economy where a nation's people can provide for themselves, a country must have the building blocks for long-term sustainable growth, including improved infrastructure, sound resource management and increased access to land and credit. Major policy reform may be needed to make this happen.
In the meantime, direct assistance may be required to put food in hungry mouths, allowing people to be active participants in their own escape from poverty. This may include meals to schoolchildren, food-for-work programmes and emergency help after natural disasters or war.
Grassroots advocacy campaign: Separate effort, similar aim
While discussions on poverty reduction take place in parliaments and the governing bodies of international organizations, associations of farmers, indigenous people, artisanal fisherfolk, forest dwellers and pastoral nomads are working to find solutions to improve access to food. Both approaches will be needed in order to make strides in the fight against hunger.
Growing agreement on the urgency of making progress has set the stage for unprecedented cooperation among civil society groups and alongside inter-governmental organizations like FAO. With support from the Rome-based United Nations organizations, several NGOs are forming a coalition to campaign against hunger. Working independently but in close collaboration with the International Alliance Against Hunger, the coalition will pursue a similar aimto build political will to achieve policy changes and to allocate the increased resources needed to attain goals to reduce hunger. Other regional initiatives are also being launched, for instance a campaign promoted by farmers' organizations in ten West African countries.
The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights recognizes that everyone has the fundamental right to be free from hunger. States shall take all necessary steps for the progressive realization of the right to adequate food. The States shall respect, protect and fulfill the right to adequate food and intervene if the individuals are unable for reasons beyond their control, to provide for themselves.
Much remains to be done to translate the concept of the right to food into reality. Following the World Food Summit in 1996, NGOs proposed a code of conduct on the right to food. Governments and civil society groups are now drafting a set of voluntary guidelines on the progressive realization of the right to food in the context of national food security. These guidelines could serve as a basis for framing national policies and assigning responsibilities in key areas such as targeting the poor and hungry and providing them with entitlements to employment, productive resources and food assistance.
In addition to urging the reduction of hunger on moral grounds, the Alliance will demonstrate how making sure people are well fed is an excellent investment in a nation's economic health. Too many leaders may have falsely assumed that hunger will go away on its own. It will not. Hunger is a result of extreme poverty, but it also perpetuates poverty by reducing the productivity of individuals and nations. When people eat enough nutritious food to lead active, healthy lives they cease being dependent and begin contributing to their nation's growth and development.
FAO estimates that halving the number of hungry people in the world would yield economic benefits totalling US$120 billion a year, as millions of people are freed from the chains of hunger and start leading longer, more productive lives. It would also lessen child mortality, improve maternal health, reduce the risk of infectious diseases and extend the lives of people living with HIV/AIDS. And as developing nations become more prosperous, they will also gain greater benefits as global trading partners.
Fighting hunger gets top billing in Brazil and Sierra Leone
Elected on a platform to rid his country of hunger, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has launched a “Zero-Hunger Project” to end hunger within his four-year term of office. Though few people die of starvation in this nation, widespread poverty contributes to illness, premature death and diminished productivity.
In Sierra Leone, President Alhaji Dr Ahmad Tejan Kabbah is guiding his country forward after a devastating civil war wreaked havoc on rural livelihoods and traditional food production methods. By the end of his four-year term, he has promised to make sure that no one in his country goes to bed hungry.
Both nations will pursue a rights-based approach to hunger reduction (See “The right to be free from hunger”), applying the twin-track method of implementing short- and long-term measures. The two countries are receiving FAO assistance through the Special Programme for Food Security. This programme helps communities to take greater control of their own destinies. Through participatory methods, farmers are empowered to diagnose the problems they face and to become involved in decision-making processes to find solutions.
Three-quarters of the poor live in rural areas and derive their livelihoods from agriculture or related activities. And yet many governments of developing nations do not invest enough of their resources in agriculture. As nations prepare poverty reduction strategy papers directed at achieving the Millennium Development Goals, the Alliance can play a key role in correcting this imbalance.
And while great strides have been made in increasing food production, insufficient attention has been paid to small rural farmers, who are key to feeding the poorest and hungriest.
The Alliance can also help nations to remove obstacles faced by women, who represent the majority of small-scale farmers and yet are often denied access to essential resources like land and water, have less decision-making power and fewer opportunities for obtaining credit.
The Alliance will need to encourage developed countries to do more towards eradicating hunger and poverty. If these countries are sincere in their concern, they should open their markets to agricultural exports from developing countries, cut subsidies to their agricultural sectors and share technology. Partners in the Alliance can also help in building poor nations' capacity to improve the quality and safety of their food products, thus enabling them to compete more fully in agricultural trade.
The generosity of donor countries will be more important than ever because many nations with widespread hunger and poverty cannot raise sufficient resources domestically to stimulate growth or to develop programmes to meet urgent hunger needs.
Three Rome-based food agencies:
At the International Conference on Financing for Development in Monterrey, Mexico in 2002, FAO, the International Fund for Agricultural Development and the World Food Programme issued a joint plea for redoubled efforts to eradicate hunger and poverty. Progress was being held back, they said, by governments and development partners who had not translated the commitments they had made into concrete programmes to make lasting change.
At Monterrey, many nations promised to increase official development assistance (ODA). The European Union agreed to raise its ODA to 0.39 percent of income by 2006 and the United States of America announced it would increase development assistance by US$5 billion within three years. By keeping the plight of poor, hungry people in the spotlight, the International Alliance Against Hunger will maintain pressure on nations to honour these and other pledges.
The world already produces enough food to feed all its inhabitants. And we have the technical know-how to improve nutrition and increase access to food. If we have failed in our efforts - and 840 million hungry people suggest that we have - then it is principally due to a lack of political will. The International Alliance Against Hunger is a way to push aside apathy and indifference and usher in a new era of cooperation and action, to join forces once and for all to move swiftly to decrease and ultimately eliminate the scourge of hunger.
World Food Day
World Food Summit Follow-up
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations