India's “White Revolution”
Continuing rapid growth in India's dairy sector has spurred such significant gains in alleviating poverty and improving nutrition that it has been dubbed the “White Revolution”. Milk production in India has risen from less than 30 million tonnes in 1980 to around 87 million in 2003 (see graph). India now ranks as the world's biggest milk producer. Despite rapid population growth, availability per person increased from less than 50 kilocalories per day in 1980 to 80 kilocalories per day in 2000.
The increased availability of milk represents an important improvement in nutrition, particularly in a country where many people are vegetarians and depend on dairy products for most of the animal protein in their diets.
Producing milk has boosted the incomes of an estimated 80 to 100 million families. The vast majority are marginal and small farmers, whose plots are often too small to support their families, and landless labourers who depend on common grazing lands and forests for fodder. More than 70 percent of India's milk is produced by households who own only one or two milk animals.
On average, dairy production provides around one quarter of the income of rural households. But it is far more important than that for the poor and for women, who carry out more than 90 percent of activities related to care and management of dairy animals. In landless households, dairy production accounts for more than half of household income, compared with less than 20 percent for large farmers.
The key to smallholder dairy production and India's White Revolution has been the growth of a nationwide network of dairy cooperatives. The cooperative approach started successfully as a local initiative in Anand, Gujarat, half a century ago. Since 1970 it has been replicated all across India through a three-phase programme known as Operation Flood, backed by the Indian Government, the Anand Milk Union Limited, FAO and the World Bank. By 2002, more than 11.2 million households were participating in 101 000 village dairy cooperatives (see graph).
The importance of dairy products in Indian diets has grown along with milk production and incomes. Between 1970 and 2000, the proportion of total food expenditures spent on milk and dairy products in rural areas increased from 10 percent to 15 percent.
Although Operation Flood has come to an end, India's dairy production is expected to triple by the year 2020. With government policies that facilitate rural credit and provide essential support services to promote milk production by poor rural households, the White Revolution will continue to play a significant role in reducing poverty and hunger in India.
Right to food gains support
After more than a year of work, an Intergovernmental Working Group was expected to complete a set of voluntary guidelines for the progressive realization of the right to adequate food in time to submit them to the September 2004 session of FAO's Committee on World Food Security. The guidelines will serve as a practical tool in national efforts to implement the right to food.
In the meantime, numerous countries have pressed ahead with measures to transform the right to food from a statement of principle to an enforceable right.
South Africa is the most advanced country in this regard. The right to food is enshrined in the post-apartheid constitution adopted in 1996, which places an obligation on the state to ensure that everyone has access to adequate food at all times. The South African Government has taken further steps towards clarifying and fulfilling this obligation by drafting comprehensive legislation on food issues, in the form of the National Food Security Draft Bill. Both India and Uganda have also recently upgraded the right to food from a directive principle to a legally “justiciable” right.
In India, non-governmental organizations have succeeded in bringing violations of the right to food to court. The People's Union for Civil Liberties, for example, claimed that the public food distribution system is not working in some districts and that no attempts have been made to prevent hunger-related deaths. Although the Supreme Court has not yet reached a final judgement on the case, it has issued “interim orders” directing the government to introduce midday meals for all primary schools, provide 35 kilograms of grain per month to 15 million destitute households and double the funding for India's largest rural employment programme.
Judicial processes can be slow and expensive. In some countries, quasijudicial mechanisms are being used to claim the right to food. In Brazil, for example, public prosecutors in the Ministério Público (Public Ministry) can initiate civil suits against any person or entity, including government agencies, “for the protection of public and social patrimony, of the environment and of other diffuse and collective interests”. Since the 1988 Constitution broadened the scope for these “public civil suits”, public prosecutors have used them increasingly to press for rights such as the right to food that might be derived from the constitutional right to “education, health, work, leisure, security, social welfare, maternity protection and childhood”. Indeed a survey of attitudes among public prosecutors found that they believe the Public Ministry can contribute more than any other institution or sector to broadening and consolidating such “diffuse and collective rights” (see graph)
Hunger Task Force promotes action
Both the UN's Millennium Development Goals and the Rome Declaration approved by heads of state and government at the World Food Summit pledge to reduce hunger by half by the year 2015. The United Nations Millennium Project has established a special “Hunger Task Force” to promote immediate action towards achieving that goal. The Task Force includes experts on nutrition, agriculture, environmental sustainability, research, capacity building, business and communications, drawn from a wide range of public and private institutions.
The Task Force has carried out research to identify more precisely who and where hungry people are. A set of maps highlights the world's “hunger hotspots” and has been used to help define general typologies of hunger. Based on available information, the Task Force has concluded that about half of the world's hungry people are from smallholder farming communities, another 20 percent are rural landless and about 10 percent live in communities whose livelihoods depend on herding, fishing or forest resources. The remaining 20 percent live in cities (see graph).
Within these communities, hunger disproportionately affects the most vulnerable groups, including children under the age of five, women of childbearing age and mothers of babies, the sick and the infirm. The Task Force has called for urgent, adequately funded programmes to improve perinatal health and nutrition services and to get food to the needy. It is also emphasizing the need to renew and increase support for smallholder farming, with special attention given to improving soil fertility, water management, improved seeds and a complete restoration and overhaul of extension services. All of the recommendations from the Hunger Task Force focus on investment in poor people and the infrastructure and services they need to escape from the cycle of abject poverty and hunger. Following early action in a number of countries in Africa, the Task Force intends to put a price tag on the investments that are needed and to call upon the United Nations and its member countries to make the necessary funds available.
More than 45 million people were affected by the 21 most serious humanitarian crises in 2003. Most of these crises have persisted for many years, often triggered by armed conflict and compounded by drought, floods and the effects of the AIDS pandemic (see map). Protracted crises disrupt food production and undermine food security as they drive people from their homes, strike at the foundations of their livelihoods and erode the social fabric of families, communities and countries.
Frequently, however, farmers and communities show remarkable resilience in the face of such disasters. As Angola neared the end of almost three decades of civil war, for example, a broad review of agricultural recovery and development options reported that in many areas traditional village institutions remained largely intact, demonstrating a sustained capacity to manage land allocation and small-scale irrigation systems. In a war-torn area of Sri Lanka, a case study found that farmers in one Tamil village had been forced to abandon traditional paddy cultivation in the lowlands. But they succeeded in earning considerable cash by growing rainfed crops in the nearby hills and engaging in wage labour. Similar evidence of both destruction and resilience has been cited in reports from other countries ravaged by war, natural disasters and HIV/AIDS.
In recent years, recognition has grown that responses to chronic and protracted crises must go beyond the repeated mobilization of emergency support when humanitarian conditions deteriorate. Relief and rehabilitation efforts are far more effective if they build on the foundations of resilience rather than relying exclusively on injections of external inputs, technology and institutions.
Resilience, relief and rehabilitation
Studies have identified several keys to the resilience of farming systems and communities. And emergency relief and rehabilitation programmes have achieved notable success by building on these foundations.
Strengthening diversity: communities that cultivate a variety of crops, raise livestock and engage in other food- and income-generating activities can often adjust and survive when food production and social institutions are disrupted. In the drought-prone western Sudan, for example, communities traditionally devoted most of their land to crops and allocated only a small portion for grazing livestock. Food and income from their herds helped them survive the increasingly frequent years when drought destroyed their crops. To enhance their capacity to cope with recurring crises, a project was designed to build on this diversity by encouraging a significant shift of resources from cropping to grazing. At the conclusion of the project, the proportion of land allocated for grazing had increased from less than 30 percent to more than 80 percent (see graph, next page). The shift in land use was accompanied by a wide range of other activities, including rehabilitation of rangelands, improved access to credit and improved veterinary services, all of which fostered greater diversity, increased resilience and improved food security.
Supporting local institutions: during protracted crises, government and market institutions often collapse, leaving communities to fend for themselves. Their ability to do so often hinges on the strength and adaptability of traditional support networks and communities. Local seed markets have been recognized as responsive institutions that can fuel both resilience during crises and rehabilitation afterwards. Agencies engaged in emergency relief have found that providing vouchers that can be redeemed at local seed markets is often far more effective than distributing seeds purchased on commercial markets. Seed fairs give farmers access to a much wider selection of crops and varieties suited to local conditions. At seed fairs organized by Catholic Relief Services in five East African countries, for example, farmers were able to exchange their vouchers for an average of seven different crops and around ten varieties of each crop. In addition, since project funds are not spent on seeds, 65 to 80 percent of the money remains in the community. And much of it goes to women. Half the seed sellers at fairs in Kenya, the Sudan and Uganda and more than 80 percent in the United Republic of Tanzania were women.
Enabling adaptation and building on local knowledge: traditional institutions and knowledge often provide a foundation for resilience. But crisis conditions may also present unprecedented challenges that call for creative responses. As a way of reinforcing local knowledge and building on farmers' capacity to adapt and reorganize, a number of projects have successfully employed Farmer Field Schools (FFS). A project in Zimbabwe, for example, used participatory classes conducted by local farmers to teach AIDS widows how to produce organic cotton. Traditionally, cotton had been considered a “man's crop”, and many of the women could not afford the expensive inputs required to grow conventional cotton. Growing organic cotton reduced both input costs and labour requirements substantially. Although average yields fell below those of conventional farmers, saving an average of US$48 per hectare spent on pesticides allowed the women to reap significantly higher profits (see graph).
Elements of resilience are serving as important building blocks in efforts to reconstruct Sierra Leone's rural economy, shattered by over a decade of civil war, and to reach the nation's goal of eliminating hunger by the year 2007. When availability of grains fell sharply during the war, for example, farmers fell back on crops that required fewer inputs and did not depend on access to distant markets. Production of cassava and other tubers increased rapidly (see graph). Maintaining this diversity and promoting cassava production have been emphasized in the reconstruction campaign as keys to current progress and future resilience.
Reconstruction efforts have also tapped local knowledge and enlisted traditional village work groups to help identify, multiply and distribute cherished local seed varieties. FFS are being extended to every rural household in the country as a way to spur innovation and foster participatory, community institutions.
A growing body of experience confirms the importance of strengthening the resilience of societies and food systems before crises erupt and of factoring resilience into responses to protracted crises, based on:
The vast majority of the world's 852 million chronically undernourished people live in rural areas in the developing world. So do most of the 860 million illiterate adults (a majority of whom are women) and the 130 million children (mainly girls) who do not go to school. The fact that hunger, illiteracy and lack of schooling affect many of the same areas and people is no coincidence. Nor does it merely reflect the fact that both hunger and lack of education are facets of extreme poverty. Hunger, malnutrition and food insecurity erode cognitive abilities and reduce school attendance. Conversely, illiteracy and lack of education reduce earning capacity and contribute directly to hunger and poverty.
School attendance and literacy rates are particularly low for women and girls in rural areas (see graph). In 50 developing countries for which data are available, primary school attendance for rural girls averaged only 58 percent, compared to 63 percent for rural boys and over 75 percent for urban children. As a result, around two thirds of the illiterate people in the developing world are women and the gender gap is significantly larger in rural areas.
Hunger and malnutrition deter children from going to school and stunt their learning capacity when they do attend. A study in rural Pakistan found that a relatively minor improvement in nutrition would increase the likelihood of starting school by 4 percent for boys and 19 percent for girls. Low birthweight, protein energy malnutrition, iron deficiency anaemia and iodine deficiency have all been linked to cognitive deficiencies that reduce children's ability to learn. Iodine deficiency, for example, affects an estimated 1.6 billion people worldwide and has been associated with an average 13.5 point reduction in IQ for a population.
Lack of education reduces productivity and earning capacity and increases vulnerability to hunger and extreme poverty. Research shows that a farmer with four years of elementary education is, on average, 8.7 percent more productive than a farmer with no education. When complementary inputs such as fertilizers, new seeds or farm machinery are available, the productivity increase rises to 13 percent.
Improving education to feed both minds and bodies
Improving education can be one of the most effective ways to reduce hunger and malnutrition. Malnutrition rates decline with increased literacy, especially female literacy. Higher rates of literacy among rural women are also associated with increased enrolment of girls in primary school and lower rates of malnutrition (see graph).
Education is also the front line against HIV/AIDS. A recent study in Uganda found that people who finished primary school were only half as likely to contract HIV - and those with a secondary education only 15 percent as likely - as those who received little or no schooling.
The Indian state of Kerala is often cited as a prime example of the virtuous circle of benefits from investments in education and nutrition. Since shortly after independence, successive governments in Kerala have made education a top priority. Special attention has been given to girls and women in rural areas.
The investment has paid off. Although Kerala is not one of India's wealthier states, it ranks first in female literacy and school enrolment by a wide margin. Kerala also boasts the lowest rate of malnutrition among children and an infant mortality rate that is a fifth of that of the country as a whole (see graph).
A number of countries have recognized the importance of education for rural people and adopted policies to make it more accessible and relevant. Almost half of the rural schools in Colombia, for example, have adopted the Escuela Nueva (New School) model. These schools emphasize participatory learning and employ a curriculum that combines core national content with local modules relevant to the culture and needs of rural people. Communities and parents are actively engaged in the schools. Drop-out rates are far lower and third-grade scores in Spanish and mathematics are significantly higher than in traditional schools.
The Indian state of Madhya Pradesh pledged to build a primary school building within 90 days for any rural community that provided space and hired a qualified teacher. Today, all children of primary school age in the state are enrolled in school.
Programmes that take direct aim simultaneously at lack of education and malnutrition have achieved notable gains in several countries.
In Bangladesh's Food for Education programme, families receive food if they send their children to school instead of putting them to work. After eight years, an evaluation by the International Food Policy Research Institute found gains in both education and nutrition. Primary school attendance had increased, especially for girls. School absences and drop-out rates had declined. And calorie and protein consumption among participating families had risen significantly.
Mexico's Programa de Educación, Salud y Alimentación (PROGRESA) provides cash transfers to more than 2.6 million poor, rural families as long as they send their children to school. Benefits are higher for older children and for girls, who are more likely to drop out prior to secondary school. The programme also provides nutritional supplements for infants and small children in participating families.
After its first three years in operation, enrolment for the critical transition year from primary to secondary school increased by 20 percent for girls and 10 percent for boys. Simulation of the impact over a longer period shows that, on average, children would complete 0.6 more grades in school and 19 percent more of them would attend some secondary grades (see graph).
Rice is central to food security in the world. It is the main source of calorie intake for about half of the world's population and the predominant staple food for 34 countries in Asia, Latin America and Africa (see map). In several Asian countries, people depend on rice for more than two thirds of the calories and 60 percent of the protein in their diets.
Growing and processing rice is also the main source of employment and income for an estimated 2 billion people. About 90 percent of the world's rice is produced and consumed by small-scale farmers in developing nations. In many of the poorest countries in Asia, 60 percent of the cropland is devoted to growing rice and the poorest segments of the population spend between 20 and 40 percent of their income on rice.
Higher yields, lower prices
Over the past 40 years, advances in technology and policy changes have fuelled rapid gains in rice production and a steep decline in prices. High-yielding varieties introduced during the Green Revolution gave a strong boost to rice production. Between 1961 and 1990, global production more than doubled, from 216 million to 518 million tonnes. Yields increased from less than 1900 kilograms per hectare to more than 3 500. Real prices fell by more than 50 percent (see graph).
The increased availability and affordability of rice contributed to a rapid decline in the number of people suffering from hunger in countries where rice is the main staple food. In Asia, annual per capita rice consumption increased by more than 20 kilograms and the proportion of undernourished declined from almost 40 percent to 16 percent.
Changing consumption patterns
Over the past four decades, rice consumption patterns in different regions have evolved and converged. In Asia, where rice has been the mainstay of diets for centuries, per capita consumption of rice increased rapidly during the 1960s and 1970s. Since then consumption of other foods has increased and the relative contribution of rice has fallen. In parts of Africa, the Near East and Latin America and the Caribbean, on the other hand, rice consumption has increased significantly, both in volume and as a proportion of total calorie intake (see graph). Rice is now the most rapidly growing source of food in Africa.
Meeting the challenge
The International Rice Research Institute estimates that by the year 2025 the number of people who depend on rice as their main source of food will rise by more than 40 percent, from 2.7 billion to 3.9 billion. Meeting this demand will require government policies and agricultural practices to support sustainable increases in rice production.
Governments must calibrate farm and trade policies to keep rice both affordable for poor consumers and profitable for small farmers. In Indonesia, for example, the State Logistics Agency (Bulog) establishes a guaranteed floor price at which it will purchase rice from farmers and distributes more than 2 million tonnes of subsidized rice to poor households through a targeted social safety net programme.
In West Africa, several governments have taken steps to increase production. In Mali, the rice sector has grown rapidly over the past decade. Price liberalization has encouraged farmers and merchants to invest resources and expand production. Proliferation of small mills at the village level has reduced processing costs significantly. And the government has increased public investments in infrastructure. Now Mali, which boasts large areas suitable for irrigated rice production, aims to become “the rice basket of the Sahel” by increasing output from 735 000 tonnes to 4.5 million by the year 2010.
Closing the yield gap
With limited areas available to expand rice production, efforts to meet increased demand will depend on reducing the “yield gap” between yields demonstrated at research stations and those achieved in farmers' fields. FAO estimates that yield gains of 1 percent per year will be required to meet demand without pushing prices higher.
Hybrid rice varieties offer one proven way to boost production. Such varieties typically yield about 15 to 20 percent more than even the best of the high-yielding varieties. Since breeding the first successful hybrid in 1974, China has increased production by almost 50 percent, even while the area planted to rice has shrunk by almost one quarter.
Breakthroughs in rice breeding have also yielded major gains in West Africa. The West Africa Rice Development Association succeeded in crossing hardy African rice species with higher-yielding species imported from Asia, producing what has become known as NERICA (New Rice for Africa). With a minimal increase in fertilizer, these new varieties can increase yields by as much as 150 percent in upland areas and rainfed lowlands. Nigeria has emphasized use of NERICA as a key element in its drive to increase production from an average of 3 million tonnes in 2000-2002 to about 15 million in 2007.
Empowering small farmers
Technological advances can boost yields and government policies can help create a favourable environment for producing and marketing rice. But long-term success in improving food security depends on the ability of millions of small farmers to benefit from these gains and increase rice production as part of sustainable, diversified agricultural systems.
One approach that has proven successful at engaging and empowering small farmers has been the use of Farmer Field Schools (FFS). Between 1990 and 2000, more than 2 million Asian rice farmers participated in FFS. They learned how to reduce their use of pesticides and how to make better and more sustainable use of fertilizer and water. Their lessons translated into reduced costs, increased yields and higher incomes (see graph).
In Sri Lanka, for example, farmers who participated in FFS reduced pesticide use by more than 80 percent while increasing yields by over 20 percent. With substantial savings on pesticides and higher yields, incomes from rice production more than doubled.
Time that is left to reach the World Food Summit (WFS) goal is getting short. The distance to be travelled remains long. It is time to step up the pace, to start acting aggressively on what we know can and must be done.
Although progress has lagged so far, the WFS target is both attainable and affordable. We have ample evidence that rapid progress can be made by applying a twin-track strategy that attacks both the causes and the consequences of extreme poverty and hunger (see diagram). Track one includes interventions to improve food availability and incomes for the poor by enhancing their productive activities. Track two features targeted programmes that give the most needy families direct and immediate access to food.
To meet the WFS goal, we must now translate the twin-track approach into large-scale programmes that can be adopted in countries where hunger is widespread and resources are extremely limited.
This means that within the twin-track framework we must give priority over the next ten years to actions that will have the most immediate impact on the food security of millions of vulnerable people. Where resources are scarce, we must focus on low-cost approaches that empower small-scale farmers to raise production in ways that will enhance food consumption for their families and communities. At the same time, we must rapidly expand targeted safety nets.
Improve the productivity, nutrition and livelihoods of the poor
The vast majority of the world's hungry people live in rural areas and depend on agriculture both for their incomes and their food. Even modest gains in output by very large numbers of small farmers, when translated into improved diets, would have a major impact in reducing rural hunger and poverty.
Improving the productivity of small farmers has a ripple effect that spreads benefits throughout poor rural communities. When small farmers have more money to spend, they tend to spend it locally on labour-intensive goods and services that come from the rural non-farm sector, boosting the incomes of the rural population as a whole, including landless labourers who make up a large proportion of the hungry and poor in many countries.
Strengthen safety nets and transfer programmes
With the need so urgent and the time so short, the quickest way to reduce hunger may often be to provide direct assistance to the neediest households to ensure that they can put food on their tables. In order to make a large and enduring dent in hunger, we must scale up safety net and cash transfer programmes and make sure that they target the most vulnerable groups, including pregnant and nursing mothers, infants and small children, school children, unemployed urban youth and the elderly, disabled and sick, including people living with HIV/AIDS.
Safety nets can also be woven with strands that contribute to developmental goals. Food banks and school feeding programmes can often be designed to boost incomes, improve food security and stimulate development in vulnerable rural communities by buying food locally from small-scale farmers. Similarly, programmes that provide food to people who attend education and training programmes can improve both their nutritional status and their employment prospects.
Empower rural communities
Rural communities themselves are often best able to diagnose the local root causes of chronic hunger and to identify solutions that will benefit the most community members with the least re-liance on external resources.
Experience has shown that Farmer Field Schools (FFS) and similar approaches to adult education and community empowerment can help farmers increase production and improve targeting of social safety nets.
Sierra Leone has made FFS a key element in mobilizing a community-based drive to eradicate hunger within five years. By September 2006, more than 200000 of the country's 450000 farmers are expected to have been enrolled in self-financing FFS focusing on food security (see graph).
Scale up funding and commitment
Scaling up direct actions to reach the WFS goal, while simultaneously increasing long-term investments in sustainable agriculture and rural development, will also require scaling up resources and political commitment. Fortunately several countries have taken the lead in mobilizing political will and pressing for innovative funding mechanisms.
Calling hunger “the worst of all weapons of mass destruction”, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil has proposed taxes on the international arms trade and on some financial transactions carried out in “fiscal paradises”. The Presidents of Chile, France and Spain and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan have joined President Lula to forge the “Quintet against Hunger”, which is considering a variety of alternative funding mechanisms.
The United Kingdom has proposed one such mechanism - an International Finance Facility (IFF) designed “to 'frontload' aid to help meet the Millennium Development Goals”. The IFF would use bonds backed by long-term commitments from donor countries to provide US$50 billion a year in develop-ment assistance to the world's poorest countries up to 2015 (see diagram).
On 20 September 2004, more than 100 countries participated in a one-day World Leaders Summit on Hunger held at UN Headquarters in New York. At its conclusion, they endorsed a campaign to raise an additional US$50 billion a year to fight hunger and declared:
“The greatest scandal is not that hunger exists but that it persists even when we have the means to eliminate it. It is time to take action.
“Hunger cannot wait.”