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Dear Forum administrators and facilitators,
In this contribution on a 'zero' draft of the political outcome document I call the attention of the FAO-WHO joint working group to paragraphs that in my view require rewriting or deletion altogether.
Para 3 - "Recognise that the causes of malnutrition are complex and multidimensional, while food availability, affordability and accessibility remain key determinants."
If you reverse the construction - "recognise that low or inadequate availability of food, unaffordable food and lack of access to food are the results of complex and multi-dimensional factors, and that malnutrition arises from these results combining" - that is in my view closer to the conditions experienced by families and households that are food insecure. Framed in the original way, where they are 'determinants', allows the idea that these determinants can be rectified to find credence, and that by doing so malnutrition will subside. Not so.
Para 3 - "The evolution of food (including agricultural) systems -- with innovations in production, manufacturing, storage and distribution -- has led to enhanced dietary diversity, greater consumption of vegetables and fruit, as well as meat and dairy, in developing countries, although benefits have been uneven."
It is not food systems that have evolved (the balanced and equitable ones required no evolution) but that industrial processes to convert primary crop into packaged and processed food have exchanged foodways (a more culturally apposite term) for the industrialised provision of commodity calories according to the dictates of economies of scale.
Para 3 - "The consumption of processed foods, sugars and fats, particularly saturated and trans-fats, as well as salt, have also increased globally, fuelling the global epidemic of NCDs."
This is so, and this clause is a direct descendant of the previous one and needs to be stated as such.
Para 3 - "The food system is still unable to provide safe and nutritious food for all and is increasingly challenged to do so, in view of the constraints posed to food production by resource and ecological sustainability concerns, especially climate change."
Not so. Food systems (foodways or the localised cultivation and provision of food) does provide safe and nutritious food as a thriving myriad of smallholder associations, community-supported agriculture and organic movements prove every day. To claim otherwise is folly. And furthermore to ascribe an inability of these localised and community-centric cultivation and food provisioning systems to address matters of resource use, ecological and environmental sustainability and adaptation to climate change is sophistry that must be deleted for it is wholly untrue.
Para 4 - "Reaffirm that the elimination of malnutrition in all its forms is an imperative for ethical, political and economic reasons."
Be simple and true. The continued existence of malnutrition will no longer be countenanced. Economic reasons are not the ones that govern human relationships nor their potential when nurtured, for that lies far beyond current macro-economics.
Para 6 - "Renew the commitments made at the first International Conference on Nutrition and at the World Food Summit, and pledge to increase efforts to support initiatives such as the UN Secretary General's Zero Hunger Challenge."
Only insofar as they do not hinder or obstruct diverse articulations of food sovereignty, and respect such diversity.
The 'Reshaping the food system to improve people's nutrition' requires in my view an almost complete re-casting.
Para 9 - "Recognise that good nutrition requires ..." is as we saw with Para 3 a reversing of local wisdom and agro-ecological practice. It is smallholder agriculture free from synthetic fertiliser and inputs, free from the entrapments of the commercial seed industry and genetically modified technology, and in persisting with culturally traditional methods of cultivation that is sustainable, the practice of which assures good nutrition. We do not start from a perception that nutrition is poor in all cases in order to claim that all food systems require techno-capital repair.
Food supply as the output of a mechanistic approach has nothing whatsoever to do with farmers and community institutions - which is implied here, and therefore these connected perceptions of "nutritional content, diversity and safety" are not tenable.
Para 10 - "Acknowledge that food systems should produce more ..." seeks a 'guarantee' of supply. This is repugnant. It is this guarantee of the globalised food distribution channel that has almost fatally distorted local supply and convinced food buyers that access to all possible foods (foreign and exotic) is a minimum default they can aspire to. Just as egregious is "year-round access to macro and micronutrients", for the same reasons, but these reasons can rapidly become more threatening when in the form of biofortification.
Para 11 - "Reaffirm that all systems for food production ... " evades the definitions that should be demanded for "sustainably managed" and for "ecologically sensitive". By applying whose yardstick? A local point of view that has the benefit of traditional knowledge and practice, or the view of a technocrat in a central and influential planning position who has the interests of the food industry in the foreground? The remainder of the para is based on tenuous connections between climate change, food security, adaptation and food waste, and then conflates these into 'Climate Smart' which has become something of an odious trademark to be affixed to a techno-capital vehicle that packages these aspects together as an agri-nutrition solution from which the local, the organic, the agro-ecological and the culturally appropriate have been excised. This para must go.
Para 12 - "Recognise that appropriate policy packages ... " is a clumsy effort to find common ground between 'policy' and 'nutrition', and in its clumsiness conceals the danger that it can be interpreted in ways hostile to food sovereignty. What sort of "appropriate policy packages", for whom and at what cost and preferred over which alternatives? Who will decide the adequacy of any measures? Why should nutrition be diced up amongst sectors only to be turned into a rubber stamp for the further commercialisation of those sectors? Investments, subsidies and nutrition goals cannot in any national and international formulation of rights, state duties and obligations, citizenship and justice, be combined without definition and without public regulation. This para has no place here.
Para 13 - "Recognise that increased public investment to improve nutrition is needed ... " no indeed. Support by the state for smallholder farmers in ways they have, the world over, demanded is what is needed. In this para again an attempt is made to present increased agricultural productivity with more nutritious foods. This is unacceptable when we have evidence enough to show that for at least the last decade, the quantities of primary crops produced are sufficient to meet current needs, and evidence enough to show that agricultural biodiversity when not extinguished by corporate monocultures is enough to supply the many nutrients human society needs.
Para 14 - "Recognise that empowering the consumer to make ... " the consumer is deliberately kept from both knowledge and from exercising the rights to demand information by corporate interference with the directive principles of governance concerning the obligations of a government to protecting the rights of citizens. The onus here cannot be on the consumer to find out, nor on the government to enforce, but on industry and its sponsors to be curtailed, fully and completely, from influencing choice and from filtering knowledge and information.
Paras 15 and 16 - find ways to ensure that "programmes, interventions and partnerships" are written into an actionable agenda and will be helped along by development assistance "including climate mitigation and adaptation finance, philanthropic transfers and other foreign assistance" which altogether widens the scope of the financialised food industry to determine every conceivable facet that can shape the provision of food to consumers.
There are, in these paragraphs and four others that I have not dealt with in detail for lack of time, the clear intention that the food industry - from seed to inputs, from delivery to retail, and including the financial and banking sponsors of the modern industrial food system - be in no way burdened by any expectations raised during ICN2, and that the responsibilities concerning safety, choice, information, regulation (if at all), liabilities and consequences be borne by government and using public monies. This gross bias must be corrected.
Dear Forum administrators and facilitators,
Thank you for stewarding this discussion on a 'zero' draft of the political outcome document that will be further worked upon during the Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2) to be held later this year and which appears to provisionally be called 'The Rome Accord'.
At the outset, I find it unsettling that Forum members are requested to comment on a draft 'political outcome' document that instead ought to emerge as a shared statement of political - and social - will to correctly recognise the roots of the nutrition problem, and to outline ways to deal with this problem that can be both local and feasible.
No doubt, FAO and WHO are likely to point out that this outcome document is to go through a complex mill of additions, emendations and rewriting by a joint working group. Such a process I think will very substantially dilute most of the distinct advice that our consultation can offer and, if that is indeed so, employs participation in the FSN Forum as 'evidence' of a wide and 'global' consultation that will, at both 'high level' and otherwise, point to a consensual taking of a position that fits the ICN2 deliberations. Moreover, two documents are expected to come out of the ICN2 (this one, which we are reading, and a framework of action), and both should relate to one another and to the discussion to take place in November 2014.
That is why I find this call for comment out of place at this time and in this form. If anything, the FSN Forum would better serve the efforts of FAO and WHO in their work for ICN2 by (a) reviewing in one or two stages what the joint working group readies as its draft, and (b) through a comment and submission channel that is kept current between now and the conclusion of ICN2.
Hence, as for general comments on vision of this 'zero' draft, there is only the expectation that the many gatherings hosted by FAO (often in collaboration with IFAD, WFP, UNICEF, the World Bank and WTO) concerning agriculture, food, nutrition and health will be carefully recalled, reviewed and renewed. But in 2014, with fifteen years of MDG programmes behind us, this is not enough. And this is where the remaining two broad questions fall short:
- "the background and analysis provided in the political declaration" - declarations that emerge from an exercise in multilateralism are notoriously empty of background and analysis and - without prejudice to the drafters of this 'zero' baseline in both FAO and WHO - this one is no exception. It doesn't help us at all at this stage to adopt a technique that has come into vogue over the last decade, and that is, a public draft, a commenting text that uses the internet to canvass views (or criticism), a semblance of democratic participation that nonetheless is reined in before it crosses a boundary.
- "the commitments proposed ... a more technical elaboration" - for reasons that are well known to many of those who have watched, and perhapas participated in, inter-governmental and multi-lateral meetings for the last two decades, commitments have alas become all too cheap. The promises - repeated over years at many international meetings - that richer countries would give between 0.5% and 1% of their national income have yet to be made good, and I cite this as perhaps one of the most durable examples of commitments easily made but rarely delivered. The 'technical elaboration' aspect requires the consultations around ICN2 to gather in density and frequency before elaboration becomes possible because we are ignorant of what national positions are on the major themes, and without these there is no starting position.
What will ICN2 seek to do? We are given key objectives and these are to:
* review progress made since the 1992 ICN including country-level achievements in scaling up nutrition through direct nutrition interventions and nutrition-enhancing policies and programmes.
* review relevant policies and institutions on agriculture, fisheries, health, trade, consumption and social protection to improve nutrition.
* strengthen institutional policy coherence and coordination to improve nutrition, and mobilise resources needed to improve nutrition.
* strengthen international, including inter-governmental cooperation, to enhance nutrition everywhere, especially in developing countries.
That is a time-table quite full of objectives, heavy with policy intent and just as needy for technical capacity locally, and that is why critical reviews of the inter-governmental cooperation as well as national measures are needed, but will become possible closer to November 2014.
What I find absent from the 'zero' draft - unsurprisingly for this is meant to be a politically neutral starting point, but doing so does not help us nor does it bring us closer to the ICN2 objectives - is mention of the structures of contemporary macro-economics that have given rise to the conditions that cause hunger and malnutrition to persist. It will be inadvisable for this and other drafts meant for use by ICN2 to ignore the work and impacts of the many food justice and food rights-based movements. Only very few, if there any at all, are limited to agricultural activity, nutrition or health - the vast majority of this multitude of movements and associations work within (and remain critical of) the market structures of contemporary capitalism - fair trade, agro-ecological transition, community food security, urban and community resilience, seed sovereignty, community-supported agriculture, slow food, food policy, agriculture and development, and so on.
These today thrive and contribute materially and culturally to people's lives in a world that is more beset by crisis than it was in the decade of the 1980s. And it was that period which led to the ICN 1992 final documents being marked by a decidedly reflective tone. Such as: "The effects on the poor of structural economic imbalances, particularly in low-income countries in the 1980s, have stressed the relevance of macro-economic policies for food security. Macro-economic variables, such as the exchange rate, import/export policies, inflation and budget deficits, can have significant implications for prices, incomes, and employment, especially for the poor. Therefore, to be effective and sustainable, food security policies must be set in a growth-conducive macro-economic framework. Striking an optimal balance between fiscal policy requirements and food security needs presents a difficult policy choice for developing countries implementing structural adjustments programmes." (From 'Major issues for nutrition strategies summary', 1992.)
Over two decades later, none of these factors have in any way become more conducive to ensuring food justice and equity, bringing adequate nutrition to citizens, and fostering a cultivation system that is respectful of biophysical limits as much as of natural cycles. If they were, then paragraphs 1, 3, 10, 11, 13, 17 and 19 of the 'zero' draft would not have been necessary.
What has however changed are the political implications of greater and swifter financialisation of food systems - and this is visible and has been so for at least the last decade in every country that is a member of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). There has been growing recognition of the insidious and destructive role that predatory finance plays in food systems - whether global or sub-national. The food price spikes of 2007-08 revealed how financial markets worked in tandem with large transnational - and national - agribusiness actors within the current food regime. And that is why, especially when considering paragraphs 9, 10, 11, 13, 14, 16 and 18, such implications and the consequences of their continuing needed elaboration. Whether this will be done through the 'framework of action' that is to accompany this 'zero' draft is a question I put directly, through the FSN Forum, to the FAO-WHO joint working group.
Dear FSN Forum members,
(Here follows the conclusion based on the earlier two parts. References and notes included.)
3. A multi-lateral diversionary effort arranged around virtual goalposts
The adoption of RAI will aid, in any host country, the tailoring of all policies and strategies to fit investors (foreign and domestic, for the technological advantages are now common, as much as the conduits of capital flow for food and agriculture investment are many) so that they can be 'competitive' in the market. Instead of prioritising a model of agricultural production where women, farmers/peasants, pastoralists and all small-scale food producers are at its core, in which agro-ecological forms of farming and raising livestock are supported, and through which local markets and economies are strengthened, the eight RAI principles listed here for discussion will if accepted legitimise policies that put the government and country at the service of such investors (both foreign and domestic, it must be noted). Moreover, from the point of view of human rights terms this is discriminatory; and will turn a parlous situation into a destabilising one - already countries are falling short of their obligations related to realising the right to adequate food (a foretaste of which was seen most recently during the World Trade Organisation ninth ministerial conference in 2013 December which brought to the fore disagreements about governments' own procurement of food for public programmes as distorting world trade).
Consider some of the examples presented to the public in recent months which are seen as exemplary of inclusive, sustainable development. An IFAD-supported project in Uganda has supported farmers who are now "able to send their children to school, pay for medical expenses and build better homes for themselves". The arrangement promoted (or facilitated) is perhaps too conveniently called "the type of public-private partnership that we need to see throughout Africa, with government, the private sector, civil society and smallholders all benefiting from working in partnership".
However, behind these homogenous labels are partners whose outlook and imperatives are usually contradictory, are often in competition and inimical to one another - realities in the districts and counties can be brutally but not surprisingly different from the umbrella assessments made at the regional level of international agencies. The manner in which these sharp-edged realities find voice is, for example, in the following way - "as investment in rural Africa grows, we must ensure that there are mutually beneficial partnerships between smallholders and other private sector investors. These can take many forms, including out-grower schemes, contract farming or joint share equity schemes" - here again investment is the locus of activity and outcomes, but self-determination and there is no giving way to any alternate conceptualisation of an agrarian economy.
Less sophisticated in manner is this announcement concerning Ethiopia: "A new agency responsible for large-scale agricultural investments was officially launched two weeks ago. The Agriculture Investment Agency (AIA) was set up to oversee large-scale and mechanised agricultural investment on land belonging to the Ministry Land Bank. Its aim is to boost investment in agriculture." Blunt and to-the-point (when viewed on an interested investor's screen). Can we imagine that the eight proposed principles will, in any fashion or form, temper the ambitions of either the invited investors or the local actors in Ethiopia who have established this new agency? I would flatly say 'no'. Likewise, the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development of Canada has advocated "increasing private investment in Africa's agriculture sector will help lift millions of people in sub-Saharan Africa out of poverty. Canada is taking a leadership role, on behalf of G-8 countries, to support Senegal in joining the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition ... "
Moreover, governments supporting - via departments of trade, foreign ministries, alliances of industry networks and through a complex matrix of subventions - the private sector of their countries investing in the South (the erstwhile Third World, or "developing" countries or "emerging" economies) see agriculture as "a complex and risky undertaking; for that reason, many private firms don't feel comfortable investing in African agriculture as opposed to other economic opportunities". That is why, about two years ago, the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, was said to have "leveraged" US $3 billion in private investment which USAID promised would be the beginning of the "much greater investment that Africa needs to achieve the growth targets of the African Union" - and of course to reduce poverty.
These perspectives help dispel some of the fog, but principles such as RAI (and all multilaterally promoted 'voluntary guidelines' concerning land, water or forests, for example) cannot encompass in any meaningful way the alliances being formed - involving government, business, technology and finance capital - which have blurred the boundaries between primary crop that becomes food, animal feed and biofuels in what are now called vertically integrated agribusinesses.
To illustrate, the Indonesian palm oil trade is dominated by Cargill, ADM-KuckWilmar (the world's largest biofuels manufacturer), and Synergy Drive, a large Malaysian government company. This co-exists - particularly in finance capital terms - with both an 'ethanol alliance' involving the USA, Brazil and Argentina, and a sugar-soya alliance that brings together (often uncomfortably) India, China, Mozambique and South Africa in new production enterprises backed by European Union and American subsidies and trade preferences. Are they 'Northern' acquirers of 'Southern' agri-lands? That is too simplistic, for there are powerful South-South alliances, and a web of relationships between Northern and Southern actors, both public and private (including local elites and politicians). [See 'The new enclosures: critical perspectives on corporate land deals', The Journal of Peasant Studies (July-October 2012), by Ben White, Saturnino M. Borras Jr., Ruth Hall, Ian Scoones and Wendy Wolford.]
We have tied 'land' to being 'responsible', however the transfer of resources through extra-economic coercion or non-market mechanisms is equally prevalent. This is an issue that lies outside principles, commitments and voluntary guidelines because included here are mechanisms (other than outright violence) of expropriation such as cynical manipulation of the public debt, the exploitation of the designed biases in the international credit system, financial speculation, stock-exchange gambling (what has also been called 'casino capitalism'), restrictive practices in market transactions inclusive of price manipulation, and the like.
The powerful combination of multinational corporate alliances, biotechnology, bilateral trade agreements, commodities markets and exchanges, asset managing companies, banks and financial institutions, political classes in league with industry, and the retail food industry have foisted upon us an unnatural vocabulary. Hence we are led, quite unnecessarily, to fit the kaleidoscopic cultures of small cultivation into grey bins labelled 'investment', 'competitiveness', 'logistics', 'supply / value chain', 'efficiency' and so on. Textbook business school blather assumes oracular weight and an agribusiness-oriented vision for agriculture, with large-scale (or technologically-empowered farms at the core), even if linked through "outgrower" schemes to smallholders, is one that some see as the logical and inevitable extension of global capital into rural economies. This readymade argument has been adopted by national governments, investors and (unfortunately, some) donor agencies alike.
Hence, concerning the questions raised for this consultation:
Q1. Are all relevant issues and areas ...
A. No longer a consideration as I advocate without reservation, condition or alternative the complete scrapping of the RAI.
Q2. Are the roles and responsibilities of relevant stakeholders ...
A. These are done locally and any international set of principles does not supercede local agreement in all its variations.
Q3. Does the Zero Draft achieve the desired outcome to promote investments ...
A. Does not arise as I advocate without reservation, condition or alternative the complete scrapping of the RAI.
Q4. The principles are intended to provide practical guidance ... current structure and language ... principles to be used and implemented by different stakeholders ...
A. The principles may or may not be acceptable to communities, which - as we have seen for a century now in the case of indigenous peoples and tribes, first nations and aborginal populations, who have drafted, enacted and implemented their own natural resource protection laws and exercise sovereignty - are very competent in defining their codes and (if required complementary legislations).
What else if not RAI? What I have outlined in the two preceding parts of this contribution and in this conclusion are the adverse outcomes of the market-driven neoliberal paradigm that has fostered what since 2007 we call the food crisis (itself a meta text for linked crises such as dispossession, urbanisation and concomitant migration, the feminisation of agriculture, the volatility in cost of cultivation and retail food prices both, the loss of agro-biodiversity, and a host of others). However, in the South there are many experiments with more development-driven local and community institutions that provide morally acceptable and culturally sound alternatives.
References and notes
'The agrarian question', volumes I and II, Karl Kautsky, Zwan Publications, 1988
'Summary of selected parts of Kautsky's The Agrarian Question', Jairus Banaji, Economy and Society, 1976
'Power, property rights and the issue of land reform: A general case illustrated with reference to Bangladesh', M H Khan, Journal of Agrarian Change, 2004
'The land question: Special economic zones and the political economy of dispossession in India', M Levien, The Journal of Peasant Studies, 2012
'The new enclosures: critical perspectives on corporate land deals', Ben White, Saturnino M. Borras Jr., Ruth Hall, Ian Scoones and Wendy Wolford, The Journal of Peasant Studies, July-October 2012
"In the study area (and Bangladesh generally), land grabs by foreign governments and transnational agencies have not been particularly significant compared to those by domestic corporations, private interest groups and state agencies. However, alienation of land has been indirectly influenced by factors at the global level, inclusive of policy and development interventions promoted by international financial and donor agencies." - 'Land grabs and primitive accumulation in deltaic Bangladesh: interactions between neoliberal globalisation, state interventions, power relations and peasant resistance', by Shapan Adnan, The Journal of Peasant Studies, 2013
"In recent years the government of Laos has provided many foreign investors with large-scale economic land concessions to develop plantations. Many have lost their agricultural and forest lands, or conditions of production, making it difficult to maintain their former semi-subsistence livelihoods, and thus compelling many to take up employment on the same plantations that displaced them, despite frequently having to work for low wages and under poor conditions." - 'Turning Land into Capital, Turning People into Labour: Primitive Accumulation and the Arrival of Large-Scale Economic Land Concessions in the Lao People's Democratic Republic', by Ian G Baird, New Proposals: Journal of Marxism and Interdisciplinary Inquiry, November 2011
Agri-business corporations involved either with the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition and/or are World Economic Forum partners:
AGCO Corporation, Anheuser-Busch InBev, Archer Daniels Midland, BASF, Bunge Limited, Cargill, Carlsberg Group, Coca-Cola, Diageo, DuPont, Ecolab, General Mills, Heineken, Kirin Holdings, Kraft Foods, Metro AG, Mondelez International, Monsanto Company, Nestlé SA, Orkla, PepsiCo, SABMiller, Sinar Mas, Syngenta Crop Protection AG, The Coca-Cola Company, The Mosaic Company, Unilever, Wal-Mart, Yara International, Yum! Brands, Zhangzidao Group
Dear FSN Forum members,
(Here follows the second of two parts. References and notes included.)
2. The idea of investment and how it influences policy
Definitions of 'responsibility' and of 'investment' are now informed from the ground. These definitions - by peasants' and farmers' groups and associations - recognise the behaviours of the many different actors who produce, handle and sell food. They are quite different in character and tone from a set of weak universal and consensual principles by being local, tied to legislation and enforceable, and whose structure and remit can be amended locally. When practiced by community and supported by local administrations, such definitions can halt the negative impacts of industrial- and 'market'-scale investments in agriculture. They can also control the irresponsibility of such investments dispossessing local communities of their land, of clear-cutting forests, sterilising the soil and polluting water.
In contrast the consultations (however well-intentioned) about RAI have little local basis and less community future. That is why they are very likely to be employed to obscure the power imbalances that exist to deepen industrial control of the means of agricultural production - and that is why these will not be acceptable as a measure of food growers' and food consumers' rights. The guiding of local responses is the need, which RAI does not recognise, and not an international or global charter that is fundamentally inapplicable to any actual food-growing region and therefore of no use.
Howsoever idealistic one or all of the eight principles in the zero draft are, to what extent will they be diluted or done away with entirely? Why should this happen? Because of the considerations of economic viability of agricultural (or land, or biotech) investment, of the expected profitability of a course of action that includes land grabs. My view is these principles will not be demonstrable in situ by any of its signatories in just the same way that market mechanisms that have been invented in the last 15 years as means to tackle serious inter-generational problems have proved (and continue to prove) to be instead mechanisms around which new industries profit.
These market inventions are the Clean Development Mechanism and the certified emission reduction schemes in all their hues which have contributed not at all to reducing CO2 and greenhouse gas emissions, Payment for Ecosystems Services which have been cynically refined recently in the form of 'nature offsets' (a gross perversion of an already destructive concept), reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD) which has become rather than a mitigating mechanism one through which forest-based communities are alienated from their living habitat and which has further endangered forests by financialising their benefits.
Mechanisms that have international sanction, principles that include inclusionary clauses and concepts (but which are not offered for amendment/objection to affected communities in their own languages and idiom), campaigns to promote the use of 'best practices' and to assure transparency are increasingly being invented and followed by the functionaries of monetary and finance capital. These mechanisms may accompany international trade between two countries but may also be present when internal consumption (private companies selling goods in a country, or newer forms of social welfare such as direct benefit transfers / cash transfers) takes place. These are deemed as being necessary and desirable interventions to reduce hunger, reduce poverty, tackle inequality, increase access to service and so on, but are very likely not to result in processes and outcomes that advance the interests of project affected peoples and communities.
Investment to which a 'side-car' of moralistic mechanisms have been attached have only, in the last two decades, weakened local and indigenous control over crop choices and the uses to which primary crops are put (currently seen as raw material for an international or regional food retail industry). This phenomenon is amongst the reasons why social movements have warned (and continue to warn, more loudly than before) of a spectre of extensive dispossession and displacement of small farm producers and pastoralists [see GRAIN, 'Grabbing land for food', Seedling, January 2009]. On the other hand there also exist civil society technocracies which consider these investments as providing 'developmental' opportunities and hence they argue that the potential threat of dispossession can be mediated through internationally supervised guidelines on 'best practice', such as RAI which we are discussing.
In these circles - which includes a section of the proponents of RAI, which includes the international agricultural and crop science network (usually led by the CGIAR system in rather cozy partnerships with pliant national agricultural research systems, such as those of Brazil and India), and which includes the formidable armoury of the agbiotech industry - these land acquisitions are portrayed as a benign search for food security among countries destabilised by the world food price crisis (which shocked in 2007-08, and continued the shock from 2010-11 so that it remains current). At the same time, agriculture as being profitable enough to interest the enormously influential investments funds is now a sales pitch over five years old [see ' 'Land grabbing by foreign investors in developing countries: risks and opportunities', International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) Policy Brief, 2009, and also see 'Rising Global Interest in Farmland: Can it Yield Sustainable and Equitable Benefits?', World Bank, 2011].
(A concluding part follows.)
References and notes
'The Agrarian Question in the Neoliberal Era: Primitive Accumulation and the Peasantry', Utsa Patnaik and Sam Moyo, published 2011 by Pambazuka Press and the Mwalimu Nyerere Chair in Pan-African Studies, University of Dar es Salaam
"Agricultural production must double - To combat world hunger successfully, it is important to address the diverse, long term causes of underfeeding and malnutrition. The central task in agriculture involves producing higher amounts of food staples and providing additional healthy and affordable foodstuffs. Prognoses by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) indicate that grain production alone will need to double by 2050 if everyone is to have enough to eat in the future."
"Agriculture must change - To achieve this, we must turn our environmentally damaging industrial landscape into a food production and distribution system that is more just, more environmentally friendly and more sustainable. That calls for innovative models and new, intelligent technologies to increase productivity and efficiency. These range from irrigation systems and precision technologies to a market for sustainably produced food that models itself on consumers’ needs. We must also use resources more efficiently and waste less food."
A short, representative list of 'asset managers' for whom agriculture is in 'investment class':
Adveq, Allianz, Altima Partners, Barclays Capital, BlackRock, Bligh Agri, CAIA, Capital Partners Group, Ceres, Connexion Capital LLP, Cornish Consultancy, Dilworth Paxson LLP, Duxton Asset Management, ED Capital, Emergent Asset Management, Helvetica, InvestAg Savills, Kendall Court, Macquarie, Miro, Olympus Capital, Robeco, Societe Generale, Worldwide Aginvest
Dear FSN Forum members,
My thanks to the administrators and facilitators of this subject who are guiding the consultative process. This note contains three sections. One that examines the rationale and background to the principles pertaining to 'responsible agricultural investment' (which is now referred to commonly by the 'RAI' short form); one that explains, from a point of view that is seated in a personal and regional perspective, the concepts about agricultural investment (or spending on agricultural activities) especially what are assumed and what are implied; and one that is critical of the RAI and the multi-lateral effort to find common ground with a set of principles.
(This is the first of two parts. References are included.)
1. Where the RAI has emerged from and where it may want to go
It will help if there is a willingness by the CFS to take a step back and review why we have, in 2014, a discussion about 'responsible agricultural investment' when in fact, in well balanced and thoughtful societies that are agrarian in nature, such a discussion would have been unnecessary. There is, in the prefatory material surrounding the principles up for discussion (and there is similar material to be seen for the last four years or so, over the life of this concept), a view on 'investment' and on 'responsible'. These are unlikely to be the view that one would find in a province or state, in a district or county, the majority of whose population is engaged in farming because there is undoubtedly such a variety of view about the nature of their activity. There is therefore a need to decide what degree of agnosticism can be acceptable (or tolerated, or welcomed) vis-à-vis the authority of the RAI concept. My advice is to be as realistic as possible and not turning a consultative consensus into a statement that has emerged from a deterministic process, as this shows a danger of becoming.
For that reason I would like to see in this consultation a fuller analysis of what is meant by 'investment' and by 'responsible'. That we have such concepts also means that we have conditions of irresponsible actions towards agricultural practice and agrarian societies, and that investment ought to include as thoroughly as possible a discussion about the public, social and private natures of investment. This is because investment tends to be given meanings that originate in finance and banking, in the financial and commodities markets, and from the sources of monetary and technological capital - whereas these views must not be allowed under any circumstance to dominate how the meaning of a term comes into acceptance. The investment made by generations of a community who have enriched a particular strain of traditional knowledge pertaining to the cultivation of a food staple is both implicit in the way their lives are led and implicit in their status as members of a community. In such a case (and there are fortunately still numerous such cases to be found) the term 'investment' becomes a vulgar one and is neither used nor translated.
Part of the rationale for declaring the need for RAI is the invoking of food security, of the banishment of hunger, and of the imperative to protect the biospheres while doing so. Unfortunately, the background and rationale for RAI does still not overtly and clearly enumerate what irresponsible actions or policies are when states pursue food security, seek to reduce hunger and to grow crops in ways that do not harm the environment. Without clearly enumerated actions and policies that are irresponsible, it is then left to the states themselves, to private corporations and agencies, to the financial and commodity markets, to the traders and retailers, to adjudge themselves responsible (for they will not do the opposite).
The work of the CFS will be strengthened by the presence of a teleological guide to determining irresponsibility and its opposite - this goes well beyond the enunciation of principles, adherence to which comes at no loss of profit nor is it enforceable under national or local legislation. Moreover, in what way policies will be aligned with 'responsibility'? Countries produce food and biofuel stock for internal use, but also import portions of both. In what ways are 'responsible' and 'investment' defined under these circumstances (which are the circumstances demanded by a country following its World Trade Organisation 'responsibilities' as a member state of WTO)? Lacking such definitions, the CFS when considering RAI is in danger of accepting the production, distribution and consumption patterns that are commonplace in most countries because they are imposed by the 'market', but which are systemically flawed in environmental and social terms.
(Part 2 follows.)
Other guidelines, standard schemes or codes of conduct:
Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (EITI)
OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises
Organisations working on agrarian issues, farmers' rights, land rights, social justice and equity: Centro de Estudios para el Cambio en el Campo Mexicano (Study Centre for Change in the Mexican Countryside), FIAN International, Focus on the Global South, Friends of the Earth International, Global Campaign on Agrarian Reform, GRAIN, La Via Campesina, Land Research Action Network, Rede Social de Justiça e Direitos Humanos (Social Network for Justice and Human Rights), World Alliance of Mobile Indigenous Peoples (WAMIP), World Forum of Fisher Peoples
Dear FSN Global Forum members, FAO forum administrators and facilitators, thank you for providing the opportunity to comment on the subject, 'The contribution of the private sector and civil society to improve nutrition', which will constitute part of the preparations leading up to the Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2).
As has been pointed out elsewhere amongst the contributions, a separation of 'private sector' and 'civil society' would likely have led to contributions that provided a greater degree of insight into the distinct roles of each of these groups, for they are (and should remain) quite different from one another.
I will extract some of the assumptions and statements in the guiding paragraphs which I think need close examination, and comment on these.
1) The topic text said: "It is clear the world must produce enough food in quantity and in quality in terms of variety, diversity, safety and nutrient content to feed a population of over 9 billion by 2050. How is this to be done sustainably and meet the zero hunger target?"
I will advise and urge forum administrators, facilitators and members alike to avoid using the "9 billion by 2050" (or variations thereof) metric. Not the FAO nor any global development agency, not any single country nor any group of countries, let alone any of us, reckon with food provisioning at this scale. All those on this forum I am sure work in local or sub-regional administrations, and if any FSN forum member has to plan for the population of a province of, let's say 2.5 million people (or a city with a similarly-sized number of residents) it would I think be out of the ordinary. Hence there is not, and never will be, a "we" who will feed this number. As long as we are able to help it, many of them will feed themselves, locally, nutritiously, affordably and with all the cultural variety and diversity you mention. Food companies can and do have overextending ambitions when it comes to numbers, but this I will take up below.
2) The topic text said: "In the last FSN Forum discussions, it was agreed that to counter malnutrition we need nutrition-enhancing agriculture and food systems that provide diverse and healthy diets. The role of social safety nets in protecting nutrition is also recognized as are direct measures targeted at reducing stunting and addressing acute malnutrition."
As to the first assertion, I doubt we can say there was agreement (I did not agree with the thesis provided as the topic text). There is a need for FAO and fora such as this to steer well clear of conflating at every opportunity the terms 'agriculture' and 'nutrition' into a single compound description, for continuing to do so is likely to turn the perception of agriculture as most of us commonly know and recognise it into a subordinate sort of activity, inadequate to feed people satisfactorily. So let us not foster the popularisation of a new term that can be spun by public relations firms (with the food multinationals as their clients) as a technological code for better food.
As to the second, concerning social safety nets, the recognition to which you refer may be found in a limited sense in the international circuits that have by now been provided to evangelise this method. Most instances of 'social safety nets' are cash or benefit transfers to populations comprising either rural or urban poor, and who have systematically been disempowered and disenfranchised from making and exercising their choices of what to grow and what to eat. As the experience with the cash transfer for food programme in the USA has shown, supplying money to poorly fed households results in ever greater quantities of junk food being purchased, with all the attendant health risks.
3) The topic text said: "If we consider food and nutrition insecurity essentially as a problem of poverty, the strategy to counter this insecurity needs to be founded on inclusive broad based development and sustainable economic growth. Indeed the World Bank reminds us that investing in nutrition makes sense from an economic point of view as every dollar invested generates a return of up to $US30 ..."
On the other hand, we may (and I do) consider food and nutrition insecurity as a problem of the sort of ill-conceived macro-economics fostered by the World Bank (and the International Monetary Fund, the Asian Development Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, the African Development Bank). In July 2013 the World Bank's report, 'Securing Africa's Land for Shared Prosperity', advised a ten-step program to "boost governance", "step up comprehensive policy reforms" and "accelerate shared and sustained growth for poverty reduction" in sub-Saharan Africa. The report outlined a programme aimed at "scaling-up land administration" in sub-Saharan Africa. Concealed behind these assertions was the World Bank's familiar paradigm of enhancing efficiency by "transferring land from less to more productive users at low cost" - and those more productive users are the private sector.
I think there is a very good reason why La Vía Campesina International, the global network of rural organisations, has begun a new worldwide action plan based on small-scale farming and agro-ecology, food sovereignty, and self-determination of communities - none of which has any connection with the return-on-investment example given by the World Bank. There is also a good reason why La Vía Campesina is reaffirming its stance against transnational corporations, industrial agriculture and agri-business (i.e., the private sector).
4) The topic text said: "Farmers, farmers’ associations and farmers’ cooperatives are key to feeding the world." You have my complete agreement with that statement. In its 2012 report 'Our Land, Our Lives', Oxfam deals with the type of smallholder farming households and communities that you must refer to. Debunking the myth of Africa's "unused land", the Oxfam report showing that most areas targeted by land deals were previously used for small-scale farming, grazing and common resources exploitation by local communities.
5) The topic text said: "As governments cannot feed people on a sustainable basis, they need to deal with structural conditions which constrain development while at the same time promote policies which will enable the private sector to continue to innovate and invest in the food and agriculture sector."
Governments are sovereign entities and exist, for better or worse, as the result of a contract between themselves and their citizens. I must advise that it is not for this forum to generalise that "governments cannot feed people on a sustainable basis" or that governments "need to deal with structural conditions which constrain development ..." We are not here to adjudicate between the many manifestations of governance and applaud those of them which are devoted to the promotion of private sector activity in the cultivation of primary crops and the provision of food to the population from those crops.
Let us recall that in 2007 an important report - perhaps the most important one thus far - emerged from the multilateral system, and this was the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), with contributions from experts from over 100 countries (and endorsed by nearly 60 countries). The IAASTD report concluded that "business as usual is not an option" and argued with a collective authority that was not seen before for a shift toward agro-ecological approaches, to make this shift urgently as it is necessary for food security and climate resilience.
Remember also that in the IAASTD were a number of references to the role of the government in ensuring that this shift is made keeping in mind the need for equality, social justice and people-centric development. What the authors of the IAASTD urged for was transformative changes needed in our food, agriculture and trade systems in order to increase diversity on farms, reduce our use of fertiliser and other inputs, support smallholder farmers and create strong local food systems.
Now re-examine the topic text of "feed people on a sustainable basis", "deal with structural conditions which constrain development" and "promote policies which will enable the private sector to continue to innovate and invest in the food and agriculture sector".
Six years after the IAASTD, the Trade and Environment Report 2013 of the United Nations Commission on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) recommends a rapid and significant shift away from "conventional, monoculture-based… industrial production" of food that depends heavily on external inputs such as fertiliser, agro-chemicals, and concentrate feed. Titled 'Wake Up Before it is Too Late', the UNCTAD report has said the goal should be "mosaics of sustainable regenerative production systems that also considerably improve the productivity of small-scale farmers and foster rural development", and includes in-depth sections on the shift toward more sustainable, resilient agriculture; livestock production and climate change; the importance of public sector research and extension; the role of land use; and the role of reforming global trade rules. Unfortunately, heedless of the mass of evidence marshalled in the IAASTD business as usual has largely continued. Will the new UNCTAD report be similarly ignored by the private sector (intent on pursuing the prescribed return-on-investment from 'nutrition-enhancing agriculture') and pliant governments? Or might it instead lead to a much-needed policy transformation? We shall have to wait and see.
6) The topic text said: "A thorough involvement of civil society organisations ... is key to ensure coordination, ownership, effectiveness and accountability of initiatives aimed at improving nutrition."
A cursory reading of the behaviour and approach on the ground of many transnational corporations (TNCs) and other business enterprises reads like a roster of the devastation of livelihoods, of territories and of the environment of the communities in which they pursue business and profit. For the most part, the private sector hastens the commodification of essential services and of nature itself. In so doing, they can and do violate or are complicit in violations of human rights and labour rights, they erode the basis of food sovereignty, pollute water sources and lands, and plunder natural resources.
That is why the 'Vienna + 20 CSO Conference', held in June 2013, to address current challenges for human rights, called on countries to urgently develop and institute binding systems of international regulation and norms for TNCs. States have the obligation to ensure, by establishing strong legal systems of accountability for violations of rights and effective remedy and justice for all affected people, including along the food supply chain.
The reading is shocking, dismal and everything else in between: eleven peasants and six policemen killed. 13 peasants prosecuted, and more than 50 incriminated in the course of one of the most violent land conflicts in Paraguay’s recent history; fisherwomen, men and children who have been deprived of their access to Lake Victoria in Uganda threatened with being shot by private security guards if they cross the borders established by investors who claim to have 'bought' the lake; female workers of big food retailers who are put under surveillance, sexually harassed at their workplace and underpaid in the USA; pastoralists who are trying to survive the consequences of the destruction of their habitat due to mining activities in Mongolia. These dreadful examples are but a few of the testimonies of human rights’ violations and abuses that demonstrate the increasing trend towards criminalising social movements defending food sovereignty all over the world.
However even this sparse and scattered information has been enough for UN monitoring bodies and defenders - such as the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights - to state that the second most vulnerable group of human rights’ defenders are those working on land, natural resources and environmental issues, and these you will find are central to food cultivation. The International Labour Organization has also reported that the incidence of bonded and slave labour is particularly high in certain workplaces in the food chain - such as big plantations, industrial slaughterhouses and trawlers. Remedying these violations is what I am reading in your statement of the "thorough involvement of civil society organisations" and "accountability".
Thank you and regards, Rahul Goswami
Dear FSN members,
I thank the Forum stewards for devoting space and time to this important matter, and for accommodating a variety of views on it.
The topic briefing said: "Notwithstanding the importance of the role of agriculture in producing food and generating income, employment and livelihoods, it is the food system as a whole i.e. the post-production sector beyond agriculture including processing, storage, trade, marketing and consumption that nowadays contributes significantly more to the eradication of malnutrition."
This is undoubtedly true, and what we see in country after country are populations urban and rural within which households make decisions (as consumers) for food in rapidly changing socio-cultural environments that are unfortunately disconnected from the myriad worlds of small food producers. There is, particularly in cities with populations of over half a million, considerable ignorance about food production. Such disconnectedness and ignorance is in far too many cases the hidden currency of the food systems referred to in the paragraph above. While the expectation may be - using the rubrics of governance and corporate responsibility - for food retailers to make the food chain transparent and trustworthy, doing so gets in the way of profitability and so is left undone. What becomes of nutrition (malnutrition as much as misapplied nutrition) in such scenarios, which are the norm in an urbanised planet?
Next, the topic briefing has said: "Nutrition-enhancing agriculture and food systems are those that effectively and explicitly incorporate nutrition objectives, concerns and considerations, improve diets and raise levels of food and nutrition security. Actions may include making more nutritious food more accessible to everyone or to specific targeted groups, supporting smallholders and boosting women’s incomes, ensuring clean water and sanitation, education and employment, health care, support for resilience and empowering women in a deliberate attempt to explicitly improve diets and raise levels of nutrition.
As this is a wide shelf, upon which nutrition is placed as one subject, and that is why I suggest the effective and explicit incorporation of nutrition objectives be diminished proportionately, for to insist on its primacy while attempting to preserve the importance of the 'actions' also mentioned will be confusing. The link between purchasing power of households (whether they are growers or not) and their access to food for example will govern the outcomes of many of these actions, and who is to say which is the more important of these other than the households themselves? What is also missing from this shelf is the the importance of government spending on the social sector, and equally on agricultural research and on food-related subsidies. On these matters there is usually much tension that exists, between the attempts to reduce or neutralise government (that is, public) influence in policy-making and spending, and between a private sector that wants to step in more actively.
The topic briefing continued: "Agriculture and food-based strategies focus on food as the primary tool for improving the quality of the diet and for addressing and preventing malnutrition and nutritional deficiencies. The approach stresses the multiple benefits derived from enjoying a variety of foods, recognising the nutritional value of food for good nutrition, and the importance and social significance of the agricultural and food sector for supporting rural livelihoods."
While the attention given to the diversity in diet and to rural livelihood is encouraging, it needs to be unequivocally said that the majority of traditional farming communities and indigenous peoples have, over generations, developed agricultural systems that are productive and environmentally sustainable, and which deliver 'nutritional value' automatically. These cultivating communities have domesticated thousands of crop species which, until the middle of the 20th century, were grown without agrochemicals. It is no surprise that the reason we espy, more conspicuously in organic retail outlets in Europe for example, a revival in 'ancient' or 'heirloom' cereals and fruit, is the reaction by concerned consumers to the atrophying of traditional agricultural knowledge and practices and the desire to ensure it is not lost altogether. It is small diversified farming systems that offer the most promising models to promoting agricultural and horticultural biodiversity, that conserve natural resources while doing so, that sustain yields sans agro-chemicals, and that are resilient in the face of environmental and economic change without compromising on nutrition and food security.
The topic briefing also added: "The multiple social, economic and health benefits associated with successful food-based approaches that lead to year-round availability, access to and consumption of nutritionally adequate amounts and varieties of foods are clear."
The new and seemingly permanent availability of food and the new idea of access to nutrition (which is not always associated with a typical food basket) that can be delivered, therapeutically through bio-technological methods and by employing genetic modification, needs to be halted. The idea of perennial availability is in conflict with the need to divorce modern industrial agriculture and food retail from its dependence on oil and gas. This is a limit that has long been recognised in the fossil fuels era, and in 1973 D Pimentel provided a breakdown of energy inputs for the production of a hectare of maize (about a third of the energy employed in corn production was fuel). In today's market-determined crop production and food retailing systems, the ratios of dependency have risen much further (see D A Pfeiffer, 'Eating Fossil Fuels: Oil, Food and the Coming Crises in Agriculture', 2006, which had for agriculture in the USA the following: 31% for the manufacture of inorganic fertiliser; 19% for the operation of field machinery; 16% for transportation; and 13% for irrigation).
The topic briefing has further stated: "The causal pathway from the food system to nutritional outcomes may be direct - as influenced by the availability and accessibility of diverse, nutritious foods and thus the ability of consumers to choose healthy diets, as well as indirect – mediated through incomes, prices, knowledge and other factors. Interventions that consider and affect food systems as a whole can potentially achieve more widespread nutritional outcomes than single uncoordinated actions."
There is little that the multi-dimensionally poor can choose from, in reality, and a representative reading of national and sub-national food balance sheets at the household level will prove this sad truth. The current method of providing food involves industrialised systems that are centralised and oriented towards profit (a position central to the recent 2013 June Conference on Agroecology for Sustainable Food Systems in Europe, sub-titled 'A Transformative Agenda', and organised by the European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility (ENSSER) and several like-minded partners). Such a method is also averse to regulation, let alone social needs. In such a linear approach, the assumption are made (because the current macro-economics of 'growth' permit it) of an unlimited supply of energy and raw materials (neither of which there is), and of an environment which can ceaselessly absorb pollution and waste (it cannot). This is the background against which new actors claim to be addressing priorities to strengthen nutrition and banish malnutrition.
Better nutrition emerges when communities repossess their cultural and ideological spaces to develop productive systems that minimise external inputs, pollution and waste by becoming circular in nature, by returning to principles that reflect the natural world - which is based on cycles, and in which the ‘waste’ from one species is food for another, or is converted into a useful form by natural processes.
Thank you and regards, Rahul Goswami
Dear FSN moderators and friends,
Thank you for framing a few questions around a subject that is of utmost importance, and also for extending the deadline to submit responses. I will prefer responding to these questions in a different order. My reason for doing so is that this topic has been framed in a way that can tend to obscure key actors responsible for a number of the problems concerning cultivation, the provisioning of food, the price at which it is available, the choices that can be made by consumers, and the consequences of being unable to make choices that suit them.
Hence "Making agriculture work for nutrition" may divert us from other matters that seek to reshape agriculture. If agriculture is working as it used to (following some of the evidence that we have of pre-industrial agriculture), then the nutrition aspects are taken care of implicitly. If agriculture is not being carried out as it used to be, then our experience and knowledge (qualities that lead us to such a forum in the first place) tell us that the transformations it has been forced through, in the last few decades, are a culprit. To begin to rethink agriculture as a delivery system for nutritional goals (such as the MDGs) disconnects agriculture from its role as the locus of communities which, in their most durable forms, have been 'resilient' (a term much in vogue nowadays) for centuries. If we then ask, what has changed, I think we will find a raft of influences have changed in ways most fundamental to how crops are cultivated - in our discussions, let us not treat these as inert, for doing so will seriously if not fatally hinder our understanding of why the nutrition question is being posed on this forum.
What will be hindered or otherwise obscured? Let's look at this premise: "There is now considerable interest among international development organizations and practitioners in agriculture programming and policy to improve nutrition." Yes there is now, as there was eleven five-year plans ago in my country, India, when central planning aimed to do better to feed the hungry and to pay the farming household fairly for its service in providing foodgrain. What has changed in the interim? Some of the answer lies here: "... the increasing number of international development institutions formally weighing in on the topic ...multiple institutions for planning, implementing, and supporting nutrition-sensitive agriculture, as well as a number of gaps that limit action on these principles". In the introduction to this topic you posed a few questions.
These are, one by one: what are the main approaches we collectively see as most important? To answer, I cannot see there is a 'collective' approach - for countries (if they are small in size and population) and with sub-national regions (roughly corresponding to agro-ecological regions) there will be approaches based on more or less important needs, whether these needs are finding livelihoods, ensuring that water and land resources are not grabbed, finding alternatives to migration out of rural areas, and similar concerns. The second question was: what are some practical recommendations that can more effectively promote, support, and guarantee the integration of nutrition into agriculture and food security investments? To answer, I doubt any of us are in a position to provide guarantees of any sort. National governments can provide counter-guarantees (as these instruments are called, supported by policy measures) to 'investors' that help their 'confidence' (to invest). It is uncommon to find national governments providing counter-guarantees with similar alacrity and eagerness to their own citizens these days on the matter of providing adequate food at an affordable price. So we in this FSN community may have the knowledge and experience to make a host of practical recommendations, all at the local level - but in what way are these actions related to the idea of investment, and investment by whom?
And finally: what research is needed? To answer, if we revisit the research conducted in the rural regions of, let us say, 'developing' countries 50 and 60 years ago, we will no doubt find enough to guide us today too. The social medicine followed by Rudolf Virchow in Silesia in the late 19th century, as an analogy, has as much relevance today as it did then. The 'Indore method' of composting, documented by Albert Howard and Yashwant Wad in the first decades of the 20th century, is more relevant today perhaps than it was then. We would be ill-advised to ignore the research conducted in the past simply because of its vintage and the perception that the major problems that beset us today - climate change, galloping urbanisation, destructive macro-economics - are beyond the scope of the learning these can provide.
Hence, taking the last question first (this is: which agriculture investments would you suggest that can improve nutrition? and can you think of interventions that at the same time correct other harms of current approaches and policies, thus creating further opportunities?), here is my short response. There is no agriculture 'investment' to improve nutrition other than the farming household and the cultivating community being allowed to follow the routes its accumulated wisdom and oral transmission of practice suggests. No more 'investment' in agriculture per se is required. Investments in social sector services - such as good quality and affordable rural healthcare, culturally relevant education - which may combine with sober and helpful local legislation and laws that protect land and water resources, these can allow cultivating communities to find sources of nutrition and provide non-growers (in towns and cities) the cereals, vegetables, fruits and herbs they need. Indeed, there have been and continue to be 'harms' embodied ni current approaches and policies. But will their correction amount to justice or opportunity, and if opportunity, then for whom?
Looking at this landscape from a country that produces more than enough to feed itself (India) and which nonetheless has about 20 per cent of its children under five being wasted, 43 per cent underweight and 48 per cent stunted (in terms of numbers this is about 54 million children under five years in India who are underweight which constitutes about 37 per cent of the total underweight children in the world), the question of opportunity can sound both simple and sinister. This is because there has in the last five years (and especially since the 2007-08 food price escalation) there has been no dearth of new programmes and consortia created that aim to increase yield, deliver micro-nutrition and bio-fortification, facilitate 'better' access to 'new' markets and in general tackle hunger by promising innovation and private sector savvy.
Consider one of these, called a 'New Vision for Agriculture', and which is led by the Consumer Industries Community (whatever that means) of the World Economic Forum. This programme, in its own words, "works to develop a shared agenda for action and foster multistakeholder collaboration to achieve sustainable agricultural growth through market-based solutions". Using the idiom so typical of the Davos gatherings this programme claims to have "defined a vision that highlights agriculture's potential as a positive driver of food security, environmental sustainability and economic opportunity worldwide". Indeed, if such organisation and such prose was all that it takes, there would have been no need for an FSN Forum, would there? Market utopias are advanced by the profit motive, and are usually easily recognised as such, but again over the last five years they have become very much more sophisticated than before, and can nowadays usually be identified through descriptions such as "a diverse network of global and local stakeholders ...engaged in initiative activities, including governments, international organisations, civil society, farmers organisations, research and academia ...a high-level multi-stakeholder group, provides advisory and leadership support".
The point here is, however these are described, the monetary power and policy influence exerted by such consortia is enormous. The Grow Africa partnership, a joint programme, if I understand it correctly, of the African Union, NEPAD and the World Economic Forum, has said it will "accelerate sustainable investment in African agriculture to improve food security". Political support comes from the G8 and has taken the form of what is called a New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition. Who are the 'stakeholders' in this case, other than the intergovernmental grouping and programme secretariats? There are 49 companies which together want to invest more than US$ 3 billion. Is that combined figure more than the annual combined budget on agriculture of the 54 states of the African Union? If it is, would it be used in ways that support diverse farming systems that ensure that adequate diets are accessible to all, and which simultaneously support the livelihoods of poor farmers and that are ecologically sustainable? The history of the expansion of the global agri-food industry - especially in the last ten years in what are euphemistically called 'emerging economies' - is convincingly otherwise.
To move on to the next question, which is "What can our institutions do to help country governments commit to action around your recommendations, and to help ensure implementation will be effective?" I ask you accept that my recommendations will be more or less rural- and smallholder farming household-oriented as will be others on this list. Our institutions - I am taking these to mean local institutions, in the form of small farmers' cooperatives, growers' associations, enlightened consumer groups, progressive administrators at district level - are being and will continue to be subjected to shocks caused by the volatility of prices (in what macroeconomists call the 'real' sector, indicated by the steady upward swing of consumer price indices) of food, and also by the volatility transferred to their local economic circles by the gyrations in the agricultural commodities markets. Macroeconomic planners (unfortunately, many are still cut from the same cloth, and display little useful appreciation of actual household conditions in the 'real' sector) periodically complain that such volatility has a negative impact on economic growth, discourages investment and reduces the accumulation of physical capital. I can't see these effects as provoking complaint amongst the growing number of practitioners and advocates of the Transition movement, for 'degrowth' becomes one of the several key characteristics of such a society. To touch the question again, can our current local institutions embrace a 'degrowth' manifesto which delivers food and nutrition security just as surely as it insulates itself from the volatility associated with over-exposure to the 'market'? Probably not yet, but this is a worthwhile goal. For, ranged against us is the oft-repeated logic that diversification (in and of food marketing systems and its retail front-end) and industrialisation (of agriculture) remain important factors in order that agriculture contribute to GDP growth. You can see this logic at work in the G20 Commodity Markets sub-group summary report on the impacts of excessive commodity price volatility on growth.
We are asked how, "to support the design and implementation of this programme [the one we outline under the first question], where would you like to see more research done, and why?" and to do justice here I would like to dwell upon the 'research' meme as it is applied to smallholder cultivation, to organic agriculture, to subsistence cultivation, to a human-sympathetic study of cultivating households. What might we find with a research guidance that follows cultural pathways, rather than one (so zealously peddled by phalanxes of new consortia) that is technology-driven and whose impulses are oriented towards trade and markets? I would like to explain by backgrounding my home region, in coastal western India, the small state of Goa. Here, the distance between the sea and a long chain of hills (the Western Ghats, a global biodiversity hotspot that has this year been included in UNESCO's World Heritage sites) that marks the western boundary of the enormous Deccan Plateau of peninsular India is no more than 55 kilometres at its widest. In this zone, so favoured by the south-west monsoon, there are to be found the remnants of a most ingenious rice-fish farming system which skilfully employed the tidal estuaries and a myriad small waterways. These were commons, administered collectively and their use governed by an elaborate system of coding. In the early 1980s, Goa and the adjacent regions were home to paddy histories that included over 20 varieties of rice unique to this agro-ecological region, a number of them saline-tolerant. Further towards the hills we find the dense integrated farming plots which have carefully, painstakingly accumulated growing diversity for its food value, for medicinal purposes, for commercial sale, for fruit and to fulfil the need for a ready supply of offerings (flowers, certain herbs, certain fruit) to deities (prayers and the religious calendar when read with scriptures serve as media that reinforces the ecological principle, that enshrines the ancient kernel of sustainability). In these plots, through tiered layers that rise to the canopies of the mango tree and the areca-nut tree, we find also the 'neem', the drumstick, the tamarind, small groves of coconut palms, edible gourds and a trove of local leafy vegetables.
These rural homes, for whom cultivation is a cultural activity just as much as it relates to supplementing cereal staples with the rest of the typical vegetarian food basket, have followed orally principles of sustainability for more generations than any of them can count. They maintain high diversity in on-farm niches and to buffer against climatic and economic adversities; they have long long ago combined species to enhance productivity and yields (especially in aquatic systems, which are in rapid decline over the last 20 years because of the pressure of urbanising settlements); they mastered crop rotations and intercropping, they mastered too the algebra of nutrient availability, developed their local science of pest and disease control and water management. Transmitting this lore from parents to children the knowledge of management practices that use complex, ecologically-grounded approaches (no place for off-farm inputs brought in by the seduction of short-term outputs), they invested great care in the nurturing of soil biodiversity (long before the Indian national agricultural research system began classifying the sub-continent's soil groups). They studied and conserved arthropod biodiversity to increase localised understanding of how agro-ecosystems function - this became a key ingredient in effective pest management in rice production in the rice-fish farming system, which in turn depended upon careful observations about the monsoon, and the fresh water-brackish water cycle that balanced from one season to another the entire system and so transported the community with a degree of contentment and I am sure thankfulness.
In the same way, I understand that in the Philippines there are still more than 300 kinds of edible fruit and that no more than a handful have been, as they now tend to say, 'commercialised'. There are reputed to be edible nuts in the Philippines that the urban markets are still ignorant about and yet despite the equal legacy of cultivating communities stewarding tropical diversity of utmost richness the country also contains one of the world's largest pineapple plantation businesses, whose daily and annual operations alike are overhung with the mountainous debt incurred to keep that particular supply chain in good order - it is a question of investor confidence whose ugly marriage to retail mendacity robs the growing communities of the Philippines of their accumulated wisdom, generation by generation. Yes we need a research, one that can identify and arrest this loss. And even so, what research can replace the lost rice strains of my native Goa, where the fat and fragrant red grains have been displaced by pale hybrids bearing sterile alphanumeric code names?
This is a well-trodden path, although one that governments and an internationalised agri-research network has only nodding acquaintance with, and that too reluctantly. Organisations such as the International Institute of Environment and Development (IIED) have about 40 years' experience working alongside such communities. In its published work, the IIED has repeatedly emphasised that measures to increase 'resilience' (whether for climate change or to absorb the excesses of globalisation) must view food, energy and water as interconnected and mutually dependent - indeed I would have added traditional knowledge systems, for these underpin our values and behaviour. In a similar way, this has been the core of UNESCO's Management of Social Transformations Programme, which is of a similar vintage and has more than 40 years of study and careful reflection that can guide us through troubled times ("A Guide for the Perplexed', E F Schumacher had once written, and so very useful that slim volume proved to be). These are the holistic approaches that must also be applied to economic analysis on what is now being called adaptation planning. I am convinced it is vital to use traditional knowledge and the rich raft of management skills available within communities that live with their legacies, to follow such planning - it is, in this view, the moral compass for the 'green economy' which is a term blithely and glibly appropriated by industry and their partners in government.
And so on to the final poser, "if you were designing an agricultural investment programme, what are the top 5 things you would do to maximize its impact on nutrition?". The foregoing paragraphs will help, I hope, justify why I cannot answer this as an individual or as a representative of an organisation or group. It is really not in our hands, nor ought it to be. In cities and urbanising regions of the world in which households - having struggled with food inflation for five straight years and facing no relief in the visible short term - are taking to growing some of their food basket (see FAO's first status report on urban and peri-urban horticulture in Africa) the impulse and practice to find and maintain food independence takes on a myriad shapes and directions, a kaleidoscope of growing creativity in hostile environments. Do these households - in dense housing blocks crammed into fast-expanding suburbs, in shanty towns ruled by water supply and land mafias - have choices that are just and fair? No, they are making desperate attempts, using whatever residual community knowledge they can muster, to find an equity from within. Consider what the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food said about the right to an adequate diet (he called it the agriculture-food-health nexus and it was presented to the 19th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council). "The health impacts of bad diets are well known ...unhealthy diets increase the risks of cancers of the breast, colon, prostate and other organs. Low intake of fruits and vegetables, for instance, increases the risks not only of cardiovascular diseases, but also that of gastrointestinal cancers." A homogenous approach to insuring the poor and the indigent (regulated nonetheless by endless grey paragraphs of WTO directive, subject nonetheless to the need to preserve 'shareholder value', that final metric of all things financial) will further burden these households. The cash transfer programmes that have begun in several countries over the last five years and which will be emulated in many more (mine included) are not agents of change, rather they are agents of the idea that chronic dependency can be an effective tool of governance at the most local level. The corollary is that other behaviours - by households and by rural communities, convinced that reclaiming their right to grow and to choose their food and nutrition futures - is beginning to be seen as declarations of independence. In our labours to make as much sense of it all as we can, do we stand for science, for equity and fairness, for the means with which hunger may end, or for an independence rooted in cultural values and respectful of the knowledge streams that brought us this far without endangering our environment?
Thank you and regards, Rahul Goswami
1. See the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS)
2. In 2012 August, FAO recorded that the international prices of grains averaged 23 percent higher in July than June- maize at record levels; export prices of maize increased sharply in the first three weeks of July and remained firm to the end of the month while international prices of wheat followed a similar trend to those of maize through July.
3. See Oxfam's report on the world's largest commodity traders which have a significant impact on the modern agri-food system. "Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), Bunge, Cargill and Louis Dreyfus, are dominant traders of grain globally and central to the food system, but their role is poorly understood," said the report. This report considers the traders - collectively known as the ABCDs - in relation to several global issues pressing on agriculture: the 'financialisation' of both commodity trade and agricultural production; the emergence of global competitors to the ABCDs; and some implications of large-scale industrial biofuels, a sector in which the ABCDs are closely involved.
4. See this report by Der Spiegel on price surges since the beginning of the agricultural crisis in 2008 that cannot be explained by normal factors. "Market prices for rice, for example, sometimes shoot up by 30 percent in a single day," said the report. Growing demand causes futures prices to rise, which ultimately affects the real market- which is precisely the problem. Many studies show that futures contracts affect prices on real markets, and experts only disagree on how large the effect is.
5. Cargill is the world's biggest grain trader and produces meat, animal feed, food additives and a host of other products. Cargill CEO Greg Page wrote an opinion article in The Washington Post, "How to ensure the world's food supply". He wrote that the keys to meeting the world's food needs are freer trade, the elimination of mandates for biofuels and "closing the agricultural productivity gap between Africa and the rest of the world."
6. The New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition is a programme by the government of the USA in which 45 multinational corporations are participating. These corporations are reported to have committed to investing billions of dollars in Africa.
7. Chinese agribusinesses are changing the landscape of farming at home. China Dialogue in an analytical feature said that "the new face of agriculture in China is no longer the household farmer but people like Liu Yonghao, president of the US$8.8 billion agribusiness New Hope Group and China's fourth richest person". This company claims to process 750 million fowl and 8.5 million pigs a year and already owns 16 feed factories outside of the country.
8. Shenggen Fan, director of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI, which is one of the CGIAR institutes), is reported to have said that the food price crisis "is not here yet" but that "if droughts in India, Russia and a couple of other major food producers become worse, we will see continued tightened food supply. Trade restrictions by these countries will make the situation worse." This is an extremely problematic viewpoint as it ignores (a) the crisis that has not departed since the 2007-08 food price escalation, and which has deepened since 2011 as a cursory look at country CPIs shows, and (b) that food inflation is being advanced as evidence that trade restrictions are to blame, when in fact it is exposure to global price volatility as a result of such trading that has been transmitted to local food markets and which has helped drive up food inflation.