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Forum global sur la sécurité alimentaire et la nutrition • Forum FSN

Re: Renew the commitment: Ten-Year Retrospective on the Right to Food Guidelines

Bhubaneswor Dhakal

Dear members of Right to Food Team and FSN forum

I have some insights on the Right to Food issue. I would like to share the insights with you in response to some questions asked by the Right to Food Team.  

Right to Food Guidelines and Increasing Threat of Extinction of Some Human Races  

1.      Implementation success of the Right to Food Guidelines: A dilemma

Understanding the success of the Right to food guidelines is a complex subject. Literatures provide evidences that governments of many countries started working to increase food production since mid1900s. The policy is based on a dual principle: the state responsibility and people’s right. Many factors have been driving them to act on it. The governments also signed many international treaties related to human rights before introducing the Right to Food Guidelines by FAO council. Many principles or terms of the treaties require addressing basic needs including food. Other socioeconomic changes not targeted directly on the food issue are also contributing people access to food despite weak or counterproductive national policies on increasing food. For example in Nepal, the lands used in food production are increasingly used in non-agricultural activities in many areas, even critically food deficit areas. The national and international policies (e.g. protected area management and global carbon emission offsetting) have been hampering the land uses in food production. Consequently indigenous food production systems and environment have been spoiled. Abandonment of private lands from farming is increasing in many districts. Agricultural productivity is increasingly very slowly. Statistics show the increasing of agricultural products imports are exponential in trends. Based on these evidences the food production in the country may have decreased. Statistical figures of government agencies, manipulated for some reasons, however, may not support the argument. However, people’s access to food is increasing. Their access to food increased mainly by increasing remittances, local income opportunities, and transportation and market services. It is very difficult to argue that the Right to Food Guidelines created the favourable environments. However, the situation would be worse if the state and funding agencies had not have supported in increasing agricultural productivities.

The important of right to food is still there. Some people are still passively accepting misery and seasonal starvation. Food crises problem is frequently experienced in some districts. Moreover the import dependent country has some degree of risk of resulting humanitarian food crises because there is a probability of out-breaking and persisting a serious level of international political and economic crisis for long period. Government cannot handle the technical and social complexities building up with ongoing changes in societies, and secure the people’s right to adequate food to that condition. It may not be wise thinking to expect effective international support in deep international crises conditions. Despite some room, I have not seen any specific policy measures from both state and supporting actors to address the long term issue of right to food as suggested in the Right to food Guidelines.

Were you disappointed?

I have seen a very disappointing case. You claimed that both state and international agencies including FAO have shown commitment in achieving people’s right to food but I have seen that they are also destroying the food sources and threatening existence of some powerless ethnic groups for the benefit of affluent people. I would like to present the case of hunter gatherers (often termed tribal groups) related ethnic groups who have adapted and lived on naturally produced food with high fiber, low fat and carbohydrates, and rich in mineral (e.g. iron, zinc, calcium and potassium) elements. They have much shorter period of exposure to the foods with high energy and intensive or commercial production systems than that of many other sedentary societies. As a result they are intolerant in some or addictive to some other foods produced in intensive agricultural system and industrial processing. According to evolutionary genetic theory, some genes of the indigenous ethnic groups store food energy for longer period than the genes of nontribal and or other sedentary societies. The people carrying the genetic property become able to adapt and survive in food scarcity condition and other environmental stresses. The genes on the other hand increase obesity and related disease to the group in high energy food condition. The nutritional deficiency problem has made the health condition of the tribal people worse. Same quantity of energy food can result obesity in tribal groups than non-tribal groups. The genes The phenomena is a strong explanation  to be higher prevalence of obesity and type 2 diabetes cases in the indigenous groups than other ethnicities in developed countries  such as Australia, New Zealand and the USA. The indigenous groups seems to be addicted on the high energy foods. Most probably they have deficiency of the nutritional elements to meet their body needs. Official statistics show that the difference of average lifespan between the indigenous and non-indigenous people living in same political zone and facilities is noticeably high such as over 10 years in Australia (ABS 2009). In essence the indigenous human races are special need groups in terms of nutritional requirement. 

The nutritional need condition of the hunter gatherers are further difference than the indigenous groups in the developed countries. They have not passed their forest based life even one generation. Their natural food sources have been now managed to meet interests and needs of non-tribal groups who are used to eating high energy foods over 12000 years.  The food resources of the forest based people are suppressed or destroyed. Some resources are criminalized in uses. As a result they are facing food shortage in their territories. Inadequate access to naturally grown food has caused them to depend on high energy, processed and input intensive foods including chemical/pesticide contaminated ones. Any payment given to the vulnerable groups is not sufficient to afford healthy food. They are depended on poor quality food which are not safe from their health perspective. The policies of the agencies, thus, have forced to live the fresh water fish (the tribal groups) into salt water. The new foods (even some grain) toxicats their health and the under-nutrition further weakens their immune system. Consequently their susceptible to many diseases increased and ability to cope environmental stresses in their natural/ poor living condition decreased. The food problems have adverse health effect particularly on conceiving of women, healthy borne of baby and survival of the people to the age of reproduction and full potential life period. As a result their population growth has been potentially stagnated to declined leading to extinction.

For example, ten indigenous ethnic groups are reported at threat of extinction based on their dwindling growth and smaller size of population. The ethnic groups include Raji, Kusunda, Raute, Kushbadiya, Bankariya, Suri, Kisan, Meche, Lepcha and Hayu. They are the most powerless people in socio-political system. Some of them (e.g. Raute, Kusunda, and Bankariya) are still inhabited in forest. They shun farming and live mainly on wild foods including tubers. The other groups have also meagre of private land. There are also some other recently nomadic ethnic groups such as Chepang. All the resource poor groups used to complement the private land resources by common property resources including forest and community pasturelands to sustain their livelihoods.  Therefore these ethnic communities have been demanding with government for greater and secured access to their local forest resources. Please read details of the ethnic groups and their relationships with forest in the following references.

a.        People in Nepal. http://www.bochi-bochitrek.com/nepal/people-in-nepal.html. Downloaded on 13-07-2014.

b.      B The Local Environmental, Economic and Social Tragedies of Managing Community Forests for Global Environment Conservation: A Critical Evaluation. The Open Journal of Forestry. 4(1):58-69.  http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/ojf.2014.41010

Their food resources are non-timber products of forests which are encroached and destroyed by mainstream societies. International interventions on national forest policies further worsened the supplies. They advised and funded for industrial model of forestry which suppressed or occupied the places for production of non-timber products with food importance. Recently conventional model of protected area and Reduced carbon Emission from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+) programare introduced and promoted in the name of protecting the planate. By goal or nature the programmes destroy environment of producing non-timber forest products which require moderately open space in forest for production. It takes many years and generations to make the tribal groups well adapted to the high energy foods of non-tribal groups. Access to forest resources would make notable differences in their lives. The issue of the groups are little cared in both national and international policies and imposing the regressive policies against their welfare of the people. Thus the risk of extinction of the dwindling ethnic groups has been increased. There are adequate scientific bases to justify that these national and international policies diverting their livelihood based resources for offsetting carbon emission of affluent societies and polluted industries, supplying timber of urban users and quenching wild thrust of rich people are genocide against the dwindling ethnic groups. 

The policy problem of indigenous communities is not only in Nepal but also in other countries such as India, Indonesia, Papua Genuine and Congo. The policies are imposed by not only national governments but in the advice and support of the members in FAO council including funding agencies (e.g. Norway, USAID, AUSAID, DFID/UK and Swiss Agencies), working for Right to food. The World Bank programme is most pervasive and deadly. Some scholars and leaders of indigenous people are attempted to draw international attention on this critical issue. Why is the committee for the Right to Food bypassing it? Is it not an important issue for the committee? I believe formation of the committee is meaningless for the dwindling ethnic groups.

Is the glass half full or have empty?

I could not know whether the glass half full or have empty because the size or edge (horizon) of the glass is beyond my sight. However, I found that the subject of right on living means including food is a socially contracted reality. People in powerful position define demarcate boundary of the glass and determine whether half full or have empty based on their own values and interests. People with little power should accept the value imposed by the powerful groups. I also found that the definition and application also vary with societies and time. This may be a pessimistic view.  

What would be the role of the Committee on World Food Security?

I believe information is a powerful tool. The Committee should look the problem of people’s right to food and its solutions constructively. The focus should be on people on critical need. Based on my knowledge the information produced by the committee are poorly communicated so these are poorly reached to or used by policy decision makers.  The committee should improve the strategies of collecting and communicating the information. The right to food is also a humanitarian problem so open and proactive advocacy practices should be promoted at national and international level. I see funding agencies are drivers of the bad policies in many institutional weak countries. The committee should do direct and open talk to the funding agencies (bilateral and multilateral). 

Thanks for patiently reading my opinions.

Kind Regards

Bhubaneswor Dhakal