This member participated in the following discussions
I am responding on behalf of Grace Ochieng Andiki (Founder and Coordinator of Got Matar Community Development Group, western Kenya) and myself (retained by the Group as its volunteer fund-raiser).
We believe that it may be useful to share with participants a practical example of how one community, without waiting for government to respond to its needs, has sought to address some of the issues being considered under “Youth – Feeding the Future”.
We will tell you briefly about an on-going initiative, led and managed by the community, aimed at creating better opportunities in life for young people in a very deprived rural area of western Kenya, hit very hard by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Around the turn of the century about one third of the adults were HIV positive, and the working age population was dying out, leaving about 30% of the children orphans. Some of the children carried the virus.
It is hard to imagine the sheer scale and depth of the human and economic impact of this blow on a community already living in deep poverty.
Recognizing that “life must continue through odds”, a group of “serious thinkers” set up and registered a Community Development Group. The Group decided that as the community had “lost a generation”, the priority should be to make sure that its children could enjoy a decent education. They focussed first on upgrading facilities and capacity in the 10 primary and pre-primary schools serving the area (2002-2006). In 2006 they decided to build a 600-place secondary school, one block of classrooms each year over 4 years; they allocated community owned land, began planning and fund-raising and, within 4 months, had constructed the first block, employed teachers and enrolled 114 Form 1 pupils!
The new school was intended to cut the “brain drain” by enabling youth to continue their post-primary education within the area rather than have to leave their homes to attend secondary school, and probably never return to live and work in their villages. The core facilities were largely completed in 2010, when the first batch of “graduates” left, many going on to higher education. The community, having built the school, handed its operation over to the Ministry of Education to assure continuity. However, in keeping with its original aims, the Community continues to arrange bursaries for well qualified children, especially orphans, from the poorest families to ensure that they have equal access to good education and a daily school lunch.
The original idea had been to include opportunities for practical skills training in the secondary school curriculum, but this proved impossible. So a third phase of the programme offers young girls and boys training in a range of practical skills, aimed at broadening employment opportunities and accelerating local development processes. In 2011 the Community registered and began to set up an Institute of Technology (IoT) to run the skills training programme, starting it up in rented buildings so as to avoid engaging in major capital expenditure until it was certain of its feasibility. Training in practical skills is of particular importance in a situation in which the normal inter-generational transfer of knowledge from parents to their children has been badly interrupted.
There are now about 100 young pupils (many in the 15-17 year old bracket) in the IoT, 75% of whom are girls. Courses are offered in Tailoring and Dress-making, Food and Nutrition, Wood-work, Metal-work, Computer skills, Masonry, Car Mechanics, Beauty Therapy and Hairdressing. All courses lead to nationally recognized diplomas. These skills are all relevant to local and national development. As part of their apprenticeship, students engage in practical work, off-setting part of their tuition fees – for example in making school uniforms, taking part in building and furnishing the new IoT buildings (as well as the girls’ dormitory for the secondary school).
The immediate aim is to raise the number of courses from 8 to 10, responding to local demand, and to increase the number of pupils to 200. The Institute will eventually have 10 specialised training workshops and an administration block as well as a dormitory. This should allow the Institute to operate on a financially viable footing, with income from tuition fees and bursaries as well as from the sale of goods and services covering its recurrent costs – mainly teachers’ salaries. Two training workshops have already been built and equipped, and funds have been raised for two more to be completed this year. The Community is seeking another US$135,000 to complete the facilities (see www.gotmatar.org).
The Community has raised resources from both external donors and local sources to cover capital costs and the costs of bursaries. Though funds have always been tight, donors have responded well because of the strong commitment of the Community to its children and because of its efficiency in managing the process. Management is entirely local with no foreign presence (except a brief period during which two Norwegian “gap year” students taught in one of the primary schools).
What we can say is that the Community Development Group has gone a long way towards achieving its goals. It has done a lot to widen opportunities for young people from the area, especially girls, to get a decent and accessible education, and the results from the final exams taken by secondary school leavers are showing a progressive improvement in performance. All of this will, without doubt, improve livelihood and employment opportunities for those who have benefitted.
It is still too early, however, to arrive at an objective judgement of the impact that investing in better education is having on the community and the local economy, let alone specifically on its 15-17 year olds. We don’t know whether more will stay within the community or, armed with better knowledge and skills, will seek employment elsewhere. We cannot say for certain that boys and girls who have completed their secondary schooling and stay at home, running the family farm, are better than others in bringing about improvements. What is encouraging is that some of the first students who have already graduated from university are doing volunteer teaching in the schools during their holidays. A number who have chosen to be trained in the health sector are engaged in addressing HIV-related problems, especially the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of the virus. IoT graduates in Tailoring/dressmaking and Wood-work are setting themselves up in business – and so on. The presence of the new educational facilities is helping people, young and old, to take a new pride in their community and to emerge with greater confidence from the profound demoralisation induced by the AIDS epidemic.
The extent to which young better educated people decide to stay in the community where they were born and to contribute to its development, ultimately depends on whether it offers opportunities for them to earn a decent living. The area still suffers from poor health services (though these are getting better), lack of safe drinking water and very limited access to mains electricity supplies. As throughout the rest of Kenya and most of the world, the prospects of making a decent income from farming and fishing – the mainstays of the local economy - will remain unattractive until the urban bias in food policies that favours low consumer prices is changed to ensure that food producers are properly remunerated for their labour and investments.
Andrew & Grace
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This is a very timely and important discussion, based on an excellent background note.
I don’t feel very qualified to enter the discussion but nevertheless would like to make a general observation that could be relevant.
The fact is that currently many governments are reluctant to expand social protection programmes because of their fiscal implications. They tend to minimize their commitments on the usually spurious but fashionable grounds that social protection risks creating long term dependence. This may mean that, in promoting social protection for rural populations in which poverty is heavily concentrated, we need to be able to claim that this is an interim dependence-reducing measure. The better longer term (and more sustainable) solution to rural poverty would seem to come from raising food prices in ways that allow the market to funnel greater cash flows into rural areas, generating greater prosperity, more employment options, better wages etc. Once policies eventually push up food prices, some social protection will still be required targeted on the very poor in both rural and urban areas to enable them to eat healthily (especially as food prices rise), but the overall number of SP beneficiaries will fall.
The implication is that any argument for the immediate expansion of social protection in rural areas needs to be set in a broader policy framework with a special focus on food pricing policies.
The positive linkage between higher food prices and poverty reduction has been looked at by Derek Headey at IFPRI in “Food Prices and Poverty Reduction in the Long Term” (IFPRI Discussion Paper 1331, 2014).
Best wishes to participants,
Это очень своевременная и важная дискуссия, которая базируется на отличной информационной записке.
Я не считаю, что обладаю достаточной квалификацией, чтобы вступать в обсуждение, но тем не менее, хотел бы сделать общие замечания, которые могут оказаться важными.
Все дело в том, что в настоящее время многие правительства неохотно идут на расширение программ социальной защиты, так как это подразумевает финансовые вложения с их стороны. Они стремятся минимизировать свои обязательства на, как правило, ложных, но элегантных обоснованиях, заключающихся в том, что риски, связанные с социальной защитой, создают долгосрочную зависимость. Это может означать, что способствуя социальной защите для населения сельских районов, в которых концентрация бедности особенно высока, мы должны быть в состоянии утверждать, что эта мера является промежуточной и направленной на снижение уровня зависимости. В долгосрочной перспективе лучшее (и более устойчивое) решение проблемы бедности в сельских районах может возникнуть в результате повышения цен на продовольствие таким образом, который даст возможность рынку направить больше денежных потоков в сельские районы, создавая тем самым условия для процветания, большее количество вариантов трудоустройства, более высокие зарплаты и т.д. Как только с помощью мер политики будут подняты цены на продовольствие, некоторые меры социальной защиты, направленные на крайне бедные слои населения как в селах, так и в городах, будут по-прежнему необходимы для того, чтобы дать им возможность правильно питаться (особенно в условиях роста цен на продовольствие), однако же общая численность получателей социальной помощи уменьшится.
Отсюда следует, что любой аргумент в пользу немедленного расширения программ социальной защиты в сельских районах необходимо включать в более всеохватывающие программы политики с особым акцентом на меры политики, направленные на регулирование цен на продукты питания.
Положительная взаимосвязь между повышением цен на продовольствие и снижением уровня бедности была рассмотрена Дереком Хиди из Международного исследовательского института продовольственной политики в работе «Цены на продовольствие и снижение бедности в долгосрочной перспективе» (Derek Headey. “Food Prices and Poverty Reduction in the Long Term” – материалы для обсуждения №1331, МИИПП. 2014 г.).
С наилучшими пожеланиями участникам,
I have been hesitating to comment on this theme. It interests me very much but I also know just how little I understand about international trade in agricultural products. I will, however, make a few short observations based more on intuition than on any in-depth knowledge of the subject.
1. The rules that have painfully emerged from long-drawn out GATT and then WTO negotiations are generally benign (especially from the perspective of improving efficiency), but the manoeuvring in which nations and regional groups quickly engage following agreements prevents the achievement of their intended purposes. Thus, for example, the farm subsidy bill of the OECD countries has continued to rise (to US$415 billion in 2012): adjustments have been introduced in the purposes for which payments are made so as to conform with WTO requirements, but with the same ultimate effect of lowering food prices for consumers and producers within the rich countries – and with knock on effects on international markets. Witness also the abusive use of non-tariff barriers for protection of national agricultural products and the selective application of food import/export sanctions in the context of international political disputes (e.g. EU-Russia).
2. Most governments implicitly favour policies that keep food prices low for consumers, claiming that this enables the poor and hungry to have easier access to food. A blind eye tends to be turned to the conditions of work endured by people working in the food chain and to the low incentives such policies offer for new investment in farming. The result of these policies may be to increase rural deprivation and hunger. Interestingly, when prices rose in 2007-08 and 2011, the medium-long term effect was to reduce poverty (both rural and urban) in developing countries (see Headey, D., Food Prices and Poverty in the Long Run, IFPRI, 2014).
3. “Conventional” food policies tend to reinforce the asymmetries which already exist in commercial food marketing systems (both national and international). They effectively subsidise all consumers (encouraging over-consumption and waste), rather than benefit poor families who need better access to food – an issue best addressed through social security programmes, freeing up subsidy funds to provide farmers with incentives to adopt sustainable production systems..
4. It is most unlikely that the handful of international corporations that dominates the international trade of each of the major food commodities is in any way committed to improving human nutrition or food security. The fact that several of these same corporations also dominate the international trade in farm inputs implies that their interests are in extending input-intensive agriculture at a time when the shift to genuinely sustainable production systems based on harnessing agro-ecology-driven processes is urgently needed on environmental and climate change grounds.
5. While it would be wrong to blame the current trading rules and systems for the fact that more than half the world’s population are malnourished (800 million chronically hungry; 1.5 billion overweight or obese and rising fast; probably 2 billion with micronutrient deficiency), they certainly don’t help matters. From a global perspective, it would seem to be extraordinarily rash to perpetuate a system in which the food and farm input trade which plays such a fundamental role in the health and survival of the world’s population as well as the health of natural resources is in the hands of what amounts to a privately run cartel, whose members are largely above the law and not accountable to any national or international authorities.
6. The lack of apparent concern about an issue of such massive significance for the human race is perplexing. To the extent that there is concern, it is exemplified by the fair trade movement and some certification schemes through which consumers who are conscious of the inequities and environmental risks inherent in the current system seek to bypass it, but these still account for only a small proportion of traded food products.
7. We have been fortunate, since the end of World War 2 to have been able to meet the food needs of a rapidly growing population, thanks, in part, to the globalisation of the food market and the uptake of input-intensive farming. But the need now is to translate ample food availability into healthy eating by all people and to shift food production and consumption onto a truly sustainable basis. This can only be achieved by the emergence of strong institutions that are able to exert themselves in the global public interest.
8. Worryingly, there is little appetite for moves in this direction. We easily forget that, partly because of the absence of such a capacity, 258,000 fellow humans died in Somalia just 4 years ago for lack of food, in a world with more than enough food for all to eat well – and waste much of what has been produced. We must not wait for a truly catastrophic global food shortage to force us to face up to the need for global institutions empowered to shape the ways in which our food systems are managed in the global rather than private interest.
I have been following this discussion but have hesitated to contribute because I cannot point to well substantiated success stories at country level, although I have been involved at various times in being a minor player in policy change processes in many country situations. Nor do I feel that, as implied in the introduction, “information” itself is the key to inducing policy change. What I think we need to look at is how new ideas emerge and are successfully propagated, and what we do to improve and accelerate these processes.
One implication might be that our own FSN “community” should move from simply sharing ideas and experiences and making comments on CSF draft papers to becoming a group of advocates for policy changes related to its host Organization’s 5 strategic objectives. I think that we have to ask ourselves how we can become catalysts for change.
To understand this, It might be interesting to take a careful look at the strategies and tools applied in two highly successful recent moves to induce radical policy changes – the Jubilee 2000 campaign on debt forgiveness (http://advovacyinternational.co.uk) and the international campaign to ban land mines (www.icbl.org). Both of these succeeded in moving rather obscure topics very quickly to the top of the international agenda, mobilizing “people power” to put pressure on governments and international institutions to commit to reversing conventional policies. The aims were very clear and expressed in simple terms that everyone could understand. They appealed to people’s sense of justice and fairness, and the campaigns were managed with great skill, using most of the communication skills available at the time.
Avaaz and other internet petition-raising programmes, are, I suppose, the modern-day heirs to Jubilee 2000 and ICBL.
In the food security area, it would be interesting to make a careful review of what has worked – or not worked.
The idea of the “Right to Food” gained initial recognition in the 90’s and has been propagated with reasonable but still quite limited success over the last 10 years following the launch of the Voluntary guidelines, in the sense that a growing number of countries are building the RtoF into their constitutions. But it remains quite a complex concept with legal connotations, and hence it has been difficult to generate wide popular support for it and I suspect that it is hard to show a correlation between a country’s subscription to the RtoF and nutrition improvements. Lula was much more successful in creating the immediate emergence of public and political support for ending hunger in Brazil by simply pledging to ensure that, as a result of the Zero Hunger Initiative, every Brazilian would enjoy 3 meals per day by the end of his term as President - a goal that everyone could understand and work towards. (Interestingly it was only several years after the launch of Zero Hunger that Brazil adjusted its constitution to incorporate the right to food as a national objective thus guaranteeing long-term commitment to achieving Lula’s vision).
I am totally convinced that hunger and most other forms of malnutrition can be eradicated very quickly. The great communication task is not so much to share information and ideas on this amongst the “cognoscente” as we are now doing, but to create a broad constituency of public support for the very simple idea that within 10 years it should be a perfectly normal function of any society to see that all its people are able to eat healthily.
Achieving this goal may, like Brazil’s Zero Hunger, require 30 or 40 well-coordinated component programmes involving, food production, nutrition, education, social protection and so on – but that is for the technical people to work out and the more that communicators are drawn into the details, the less successful they will be in creating needed support for the major policy changes this goal implies.
Perhaps members of the Forum could be invited by our Secretariat to work together in advocating this idea in the run-up to ICN2, using the wide range of different tools available to them.
Too down to earth?
At this stage I wish to comment on Section 5 and particularly on the tentative proposal to create an Inter-Governmental Panel on Nutrition (IPN) that would report to the UN General Assembly.
Over the years, one of the great institutional weaknesses at the international level has been the treatment of matters relating to food security and hunger eradication on the one side and nutrition on the other as largely different subjects. The cause for this separation has more to do with the first subject has been seen as lying within the purview of Ministries of Agriculture and the second as falling under Ministries of Health. At the international level, this dichotomy is reflected in the respective mandates of FAO and WHO.
One of the really good things about ICN 1 and 2 is that there has been a genuine recognition of the need to bring many disciplines together to tackle nutritional problems whether they relate to hunger, mineral and trace element deficiencies or overweight/obesity. We are also seeing in the draft Plan of Action welcome attention being given to the environmental dimensions of food production and consumption.
It seems a step backwards, therefore to recommend, albeit tentatively, the creation of IPN when we already have the High-Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition (HLPE) reporting to the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) which, in turn, reports to UN ECOSOC.
Would it not be more consistent with the spirit of the Plan of Action to propose a widening of the agencies sponsoring the CFS (FAO, IFAD, WFP) to include also WHO and probably UNICEF, and to open its discussions more explicitly to Ministers of Health rather than mainly Ministers of Agriculture? This would conserve within the UN system the unity of approach to food security and nutrition that is evident in the Plan of Action and any successful practical interventions. It could give added weight to the CFS and especially to the HLPE. To create the IPN runs the risk of having two bodies within the UN system dealing with nutrition-related issues in the broadest sense, competing for scarce resources, reporting to different bodies within the UN system and possibly becoming rivalrous.
I would not have suggested this a few years ago, but the reformed CFS is now proving its worth and the HLPE is producing some high quality reports. Let’s build on this rather than be tempted to create yet another body.
I believe that the “new” CFS is now sufficiently mature to begin to look objectively at what type of institution is needed to provide for the fair and equitable management of food in the world, especially if and when global shortages occur.
This is not an abstract issue, because the absence of institutions endowed with the necessary powers and competence to take timely decisions and actions led to 258,000 people dying of hunger and related causes in Somalia just 3 years ago. Good early warnings were given and specific interventions were proposed that would have saved many lives and prevented millions of people from abandoning their farms – but the institutional arrangements were not in place internationally to ensure a timely follow up.
The Somalia incident is small and quite isolated in relation to the possible scale and complexity of a global food shortage. We have got used to maintaining a reasonable balance between global food supplies and demand and therefore may have become dangerously complacent. But there is a real and, I personally believe, growing, danger that such a shortage could occur and the global community would be totally unprepared to prevent it and, still less, to ensure that it was managed in ways that would minimize the number of casualties.
I would hope that, in the coming biennium, the HLPE could be tasked with completing a wide-ranging study on “Threats to Global Food Security and Possible Response Strategies”. The work could involve:
- Developing an understanding of the nature, origins, extent and probability of possible threats (especially covariant threats) to the continuing availability of adequate food supplies at the global level;
- Identifying measures to forestall or reduce risks of potentially catastrophic events;
- Outlining the scope of contingency plans to be activated in the event of emerging crises,
- Proposing institutional arrangements, endowed with the necessary powers of intervention to take measures to cut risks of emerging crises and to intervene in the event of serious shortages to ensure fairness in access to food and the minimisation of casualties.
The findings of the HLPE study would be presented to the CFS and hopefully be taken up as a major workstream in the following biennium, leading to agreements on the required coping arrangements.
Early action on this is important, given the growing risks to global food security posed by the accelerated spread of pests and diseases, by the probable speeding up of climate change processes, and by the growing concentration of ownership in international trade in food commodities and farm inputs. I would go as far as suggesting that it would be irresponsible for the CFS not to start work soon on this theme which, though potentially contentious, is of fundamental to the safeguarding of global food security and hence central to its mandate.
We have been asked to comment on the zero draft of a “political outcome document”. It seems to have been written in a mode that became fashionable in the Summits, including the food summits, that preceded the launch of the MDGs. And so it touches on almost every aspect of food and nutrition, often in rather bland language, but carefully sidesteps the making by governments of any commitments for the implementation of which they can be held accountable.
The authors may claim that the commitments made at ICN2 will relate to the proposed “Framework” and “Decade of Action”, referred to in the last paragraphs – but, even here, the language is vague. I quote “Recognizing that a framework for collective commitment, action and results is needed …… and agree to the following commitments:…..” And, here again, the listed commitments are ones of good general intent but non-monitorable!
I suspect the problem arises because, following not very convincing precedents, the draft political outcome document has been prepared separately and ahead of the Plan of Action. Surely what we need first is the Plan of Action and then the Political Outcome Document, which becomes the vehicle through which participating governments collectively and individually commit themselves to its implementation and indicate their willingness to be held accountable for results. The POD would thus become a very short statement of commitments, which would refer to the more detailed PoA.
I am raising this general point now because I believe that, if the eventual POD bears any semblance to the present draft, ICN2 will be perceived as a lost opportunity to get hard decisions taken on actions at international, regional, national, corporate and individual levels which will put an end to a situation in which, even though adequate food is produced, the health of more than half the human population is being damaged by bad nutrition. And this is happening when we know most of the solutions but lack the courage to apply them.
I would dearly like to see ICN2 become a turning point in the way in which the global community faces up to nutritional issues –in which countries, rich and poor, come together to address one of the greatest threats to humanity through committing themselves to joint and individual actions intended to maximise the global public good rather than to respond to narrow national or vested interests. We are the first generation of humans to live in a strongly globalised system – especially as it relates to food management – and we must do all in our power to make it work for everyone’s benefit – including for the wellbeing of future generations.
We must create a situation in which all people can eat healthily, with food produced sustainably.
We must never forget that the present food management system allowed 258,000 people to die in Somalia 3 years ago, and still leaves over 800 million people needlessly exposed to premature death because of our failure to apply proven solutions.
I propose that the Secretariat, which drafted the POD, put it aside for now and, instead concentrate all efforts on drafting a robust Framework and Decade of Action Programme – making this the centre of attention for the Conference and preceding consultations. The POD would then be redrafted as a statement of political commitment to implement the proposed Framework/Decade.
I am fully convinced of the essential role that social protection must play in reducing hunger and improving nutrition amongst people whose food consumption options are curtailed by their inability to buy adequate food. The evidence seems to point quite convincingly to the particular advantages of targeted family-focussed cash transfers, with predictable monthly amounts being transferred, where possible, through adult women household members. Such transfers will provide greater eating choices to participating families, and their nutritional impact may be increased through links with nutrition education and possibly supplementation programmes for pregnant and nursing mothers and their youngest children. The biggest challenge is to reach the very poorest families as well as individuals – those living “outside the system” - and to bring them on board. To minimize risks of institutional capacity constraints, such programmes should be nationwide in scope with a single register of participants and kept very simple, with a minimum of attached conditionalities. Wherever feasible transfers should be made electronically through cash withdrawal cards or telephone money transfer systems so as to minimise risks of rent-seeking behaviour in the administration of transfers.
Having said this (in perhaps rather too dogmatic terms !), I would suggest that we need to start to look at such social protection programmes as part of a broader process of food pricing system reform, at least in developed and middle-income countries. Part of the impact would be nutritional (less over-eating, and resulting overweight/obesity outcomes), but the aim should be to also to capture other important potential social, financial and environmental benefits.
In the most general terms, we are seeing a price squeeze all along the food chain (except at the level of major retailers who, through their immense purchasing power are able to protect their margins) which has a lot of bad effects. It contributes to a general impoverishment in rural areas, with low incomes for small-scale farmers and an absence of incentives for them to invest in raising production; appalling conditions of work for farm labourers and people working in food assembly, processing and distribution; and a pervasive under-provision of rural infrastructure and services. One consequence is rural-urban migration on a massive scale. Relatively low food prices for consumers encourage food wastage and over-consumption and, most importantly, mean that we are failing to pay for the environmental costs of our food production and distribution (natural resources degradation and greenhouse gas emissions), effectively passing the bill for this onto future generations.
People who buy fair trade food have recognized the multiple social, environmental and behavioural benefits of paying more for their food and demonstrate that quite small retail price rises, if passed back through the system responsibly, can create a whole range set of good effects. They represent, however, a very small fraction of the world’s buyers of food who are happy to see the continuation of low price regimes, accepting the argument that prices have to be kept down to reduce the threat of food deprivation for low-income families. In fact, given that the highest concentration of poverty, hunger and other forms of malnutrition are concentrated in rural areas, a rise in food prices, reflected in higher producer prices, could have a hugely beneficial impact on the rural poor and obviate part of the need for extended social protection systems. The inflationary impact of rising food retail prices would also be relatively limited, given that , at least in developed countries, the proportion of household expenditure applied to food is quite modest.
I am simply suggesting that, if dependable social protection measures, based on regular cash transfers (with the transfer amount indexed to food price inflation) are put in place, this opens very important opportunities for an upwards movement of food prices for high and middle income consumers and a consequent correction of many of the “wrong signals” created by present policies. To the extent that a part of the price rise would come from increased taxation on food – especially “high footprint food” – the resultant income could be ploughed back into social protection for the poor and into accelerating the shift towards food production systems that are truly sustainable from environmental, economic and social perspectives.
I very much hope that the CFS will look at the connections between social protection and nutrition in this broader context of overall food pricing policies.
Some further thought is given to food pricing issues in the second edition of “How to End Hunger in Times of Crises” by Trueba and MacMillan, available from Amazon and www.fast-print.net/bookshop.
While the idea of PES is at first sight conceptually attractive, It may simply provide an easy way out – a way of avoiding the inconvenient truth that most consumers of food are failing to pay for its full cost (the exception being those who support fair trade systems). In so doing, they are passing on to their children the costs of destroyed and polluted natural resources Felled forests, eroded and nutrient-depleted soils, depleted aquifers, reduced biodiversity etc) and of coping with accelerated climate change processes which are, to a large extent, being driven by the greenhouse gases emitted by the current systems of intensive crop and livestock production. Low food prices that fail to internalise these costs are usually justified on the grounds that, if food prices rise, more people will be hungry – forgetting that, apart from causing environmental damage, low food prices encourage overconsumption and waste of food on a vast scale, and lead to appalling conditions of work for most people engaged in the food chain, especially small-scale farmers but also the people involved in harvesting, transport, processing and distribution. And so, when people call for more investment in food production they should probably spend less effort in inventing various PES programmes but simply lend their weight to the idea that a gradual rise in food prices from consumer back to farm gate is a rather good thing from a food management perspective. It should include taxing the system at various levels to create mechanisms through which middle and high income consumers can start to foot the bill for the social and environmental damage that they are now creating and fund the shift to more sustainable systems.
An essential corollary for such a fundamental policy shift is the putting in place of social protection programmes, with transfer amounts indexed to local food prices, that enable all low income families to meet their essential food needs. It is far cheaper to do this that effectively subsidise the costs of food for all consumers by turning a blind eye to the negative externalities induced by conventional policies.
To some extent the rise in international food prices that has happened in the last 3-4 years has begun to address the problems caused by long-term low prices, but its effect on investment in expanding production has been muted by the undermining of confidence caused by speculation-driven price volatility. But rising prices alone, unless accompanied by policies to protect food consumption by the poor and to support the shift to more socially and environmentally sustainable production and consumption systems, will do little to improve global food management systems – and could even exacerbate the fundamental problems that, if harnessed sensibly, they could resolve.
Dear FSN Forum members,
in our little book on How to End Hunger in Times of Crisis, Ignacio and I had proposed a Global Mechanism to Cut Food Waste and Over-consumption, based on principles similar to those that underlie the design of the Clean Development Mechanism. The idea is that affected countries would voluntarily set themselves time-bound targets for
Cutting waste and over-consumption and put in place programmes of their choice designed to achieve these goals. To the extent that they failed to meet their reduction targets, they would be able to buy entitlements to over-consume from under-consuming countries which would be required to use the funds for certified investments support of their hunger reduction programmes. The assumption is that – as in the case of programmes for alcohol and tobacco reduction, behavioural change would occur more slowly than intended and that the mechanism would, therefore, raise considerable resources. In countries that consider using differential rates of taxation on foods as an inducement to reduce over-consumption, the resulting revenue could be applied to meet the costs of purchasing entitlements through the Mechanism.
The attachment (copied from our book) offers a fuller explanation of the proposal.