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Global Forum on Food Security and Nutrition • FSN Forum

Re: Invitation to an open discussion on the political outcome document of the ICN2

Rahul Goswami
Rahul GoswamiUnesco Asia expert on intangible cultural heritage; adviser, Centre for Environmental Education Himalaya, IndiaIndia

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.