This member participated in the following discussions
Dear facilitator, Mr. Alwin Kopse, dear colleagues, this is a great work. Thank you again for the opportunity.
I want to say that I share the views of Mrs Carola Strassner, particularly concerning the points 1.3 and 2. on what she, elegantly, called “right” understanding. As I concisely put forward in my second contribution, definitions (e.g. SFS or FNS) are but “constructs” (conceptual and political agreements) and as such should be understood and used, in a dynamic and adaptive way. Please, see point 4 of my contribution. So, I consider very important the point 2 raised by Mrs Carola Strassner.
The issues raised by Mr. Beate Scherf also called my attention because are coming to reinforce my own perplexities in relation to our tendency to build up new constructs and abandon the previous without reference and without assessment. This is a huge chapter that I believe it is not the case to open on this debate. Everyone can understand what I am trying to say. Anyhow, it is difficult to me to understand why the “sustainable livelihoods approach” (SLA) is not taken on board by this new endeavour on SFS? What did-I miss in the development of ideas and agendas? I attach the relevant paper of the “Committee on World Food Security / CWFS, Twenty-sixth Session, September 2000, Rome, - Who are the insecure?” that shows that SLA is not about a peripherical approach but a core tool of analysis and policy-making. See also the FAO brief http://www.fao.org/docs/up/easypol/581/3-7-social%20analysis%20session_1...
I am positively impressed by this debate that presents many interesting developments, thanks to the quality-contributions of dedicated and committed colleagues.
I want to come with a second intervention on the concerns raised about the causal links between SFS (Sustainable Foods Systems) and FNS (Food and Nutritional Security). Whereas the “One Planet Sustainable Food Systems (SFS) Programme” states that SFS are a precondition to FNS (“while the ultimate goal is food security, it will not be achieved while the economic, social and environmental bases for food production and consumption are being compromised”) a number of contributions are clearly opposing this view. Probably, we have to slightly shift our standpoint of analysis and try to finetune language and terms.
I consider that SFS are not a precondition for the FNS, but, a sine qua non condition, based on the following premises:
1. There are strong causal links between FNS and SFS. Both, SFS and FNS, are highly inter-related and mutually- reinforcing/ed systems.
2. These causal links are not linear (in the sense of time, i.e. first this and then that) and are not unidirectional, i.e. only A provokes an effect to B or that A is prenominal cause to B..
3. There is agreement on the holistic approach, for both constructs (SFS and FNS), so, our analysis should be coherent with such approach, which assumes that the whole is greater than the sum up of the parties and therefore, it focusses on the wholes rather than to the dissection into parts, e.g. SFS, FNS, although distinction is necessary.
4. Both, SFS and FNS, are constructs, i.e. conceptual and political agreements. Conceptual constructs are attempts of interpretative models on which stakeholders agree upon through a knowledge-building consultative process, in order to facilitate common action, based on common language and minimally shared understanding. On the other hand, political constructs result through negotiation capabilities of several constituencies and groups over different and even conflicting agendas. Constructs are dynamic, i.e. evolve.
5. Any developments on FNS as well as on SFS do not happen just spontaneously but, are governed. Actually, Governance (including policy-making and its implementation through appropriate institutional arrangements – Public Action) is a relevant sub-system of the whole picture. Governance may be good or ill, but in any case, is a relevant part of the picture particularly in our endeavour to address disfunctions, inequalities, (un)sustainable Food Systems or Food and Nutritional (un)security.
6. Both FNS and SFS are dynamic and continuously evolving, yet, in inter-relation. There is not a SFS standard to be achieved per se but, always, in relation with FNS and vice-versa. Food Systems may be considered sustainable (environmentally, economically, socially) only if effectively underpin FNS. Yet, Food Systems can be sustainable only if FNS meets at least minimum standards. When food insecurity prevails, it is not possible building up any sustainable food systems.
Let’s see an example from the bottom, on how SFS are subject to poor FNS conditions because food (in)secure people foster (un)sustainable practices that negatively impact on environmental, economic and social sustainability. The below example focusses on the social and economic unsustainability. Yet, we also know that vulnerable-households impact negatively on the environment e.g. through ill practices on land (rotation shortages, clearing by burning and so on), firstly because of the shortage of labour (related to economic and social sustainability shortcomings). Through the example, we also try to concisely show that Governance is part of the whole picture as well as why inclusiveness and equity are important features to be understood, reminding that inequality does not stop at the gates of the community and that all small-farmers are not just the same.
In the rural areas, in Africa, the poorest, during the “hunger gap” or “lean season” when the food-need is extreme, end up selling their labour under cost (sometimes for a plate of beans) to the “better off”. In Kenya, this is the case of those households whose food (in)security mainly relies on farm temporally work (“kibarua” in Swahili) paid in cash or kind. A good number of them are women workers that are the main or only breadwinners and, whoever, the ones ensuring food to the children. Similarly, in Northern Mozambique, in the Macua society is usual the so called “o’lala” which is a traditional practice of exchanging labour for food. Such practice enables those who benefit from the work of others to reach considerable accumulation. Suffice it to say that one day's work under "o'lola" can be paid in about 3-4 kg. of cassava per day of work, sometimes only with a plate of beans, while a worker can produce 7 - 9 kg. of cassava in one day’s work. Small-farmers that have to sale their work under these conditions do not manage to cultivate their own plot of land. Labour is the major limiting factor for small farmers in the context of the subsistence agriculture, at least.
Consequently, such widespread practices as “kibarua” and “o’lala” trigger a vicious cycle of vulnerabilities, food insecurity, multiple unsustainability and trans-generational poverty. Inequalities blow up. For instance, in rural Kenya, the richest 20% of the rural earn 62% of incomes (SID, 2004), while the bottom 20% earns 3.5 % of rural income (World Socialist Website, 2008). In Northern Mozambique, Nampula, already in the beginning of the 90s’ a trend of concentration of land was observed, with about 40-50% of the total land held by only the 25% of small-producers, the latter farming 5 times more land per household than the lower quintile.
For many rural households, their production – consumption system is a cycle (a continuum) evolving along three key moments, i.e. a) production (harvest and usually sufficient food for 3-5 months) – b) lean season (6-9 months) – c) severe food shortages (periodical crisis - emergency). The “Governance” of the cycle starts at household. At household level, to make face to the food-shortages, people develop appropriate risk management (ex-antes) and coping strategies (ex-post), aimed to strengthen household resilience. However, several times such strategies are not enough and, as we can see in the above example, lead to the unsustainability of the systems. Public Action is needed. Recognising that for several small farmers, the Production – Consumption cycle evolves along a continuum (as exposed above), the Public Action may propose a corresponded remedy evolving along the Promotion-Prevention-Provision - Continuum / PPPC. As a matter of fact, food security approach addresses: a) agricultural livelihoods development (Promotion of the production, addressing underlying causes of food insecurity); b) social transfers / SSNs (Prevention from falling into extreme poverty; risk management ex ante) and c) emergency assistance as last remedy (Provision of means to meet basic needs; coping strategies ex post). (see, e.g. “Entitlements and access to food: systems of social transfers to fight extreme poverty”, Brussels, May 2008, Position paper). http://www.cc.cec/dgintranet/europeaid/activities/thematic/e6/training_2... ).
Thanks for the opportunity given and congrats for the hard and consistent work. Regarding your key question 3, Right to Food (R2F) and the Human Rights-Based Approach (HRBA) should be included, at least, in the glossary / list of terms in chapter 4.
A. Making the case:
1. The draft-paper clearly fosters the three dimensions of sustainability, i.e. economic, social, environmental, (also called the “Triple Bottom Line” / People - Planet - Profit (TBL or 3BL)). Yet, to “ensure Food and Nutrition Security (FNS) for all in such a way that the economic, social and environmental bases / assets are not compromised” (page 8 of the paper), Rights and Governance must be part of the picture. For the propose, the “livelihoods approach” could also be helpful.
2. Sustainable Food Systems (SFS), addressing Food and Nutrition Security (FNS), involve multiple rights and subsequent obligations as well as Governance challenges. These elements clearly emerge all along the draft-paper and in the very definition of SFS (e.g. ensure food security and nutrition for all, holistic approach, Responsible investments in agriculture and food systems, address underlying / root causes, among others). The draft-paper explains that “governments remain in the driving seat, promoting efforts towards coherent implementation of globally agreed frameworks and commitments”. Yet, the Right to Food (R2F) and the Human Rights-Based Approach (HRBA) are not explicit in the draft-paper. First step on Human Rights promotion and protection is to make them explicit. To act, based on Human Rights, we have to speak Human Rights. So, what is implicit in the draft-paper must also be explicit, at least as a term under chapter 4.
3. The paper refers to “food sovereignty”, which is a good step forward, and by doing so, indirectly refers to peoples “right to define their own food and agriculture systems”, putting “those who produce, distribute and consume food at the heart of food systems and policies rather than the demands of markets and corporations”. As Olivier De Schutter, former UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, said, “there is simply no other way we can combine the need to produce enough food for all and the need to meet the environmental challenge: only by supporting the vast mass of smallholders in the developing world, and by supporting them to produce for the local communities, can this challenge be met” (Desk Study on EC activities in the Right to Food area and on the Relationship between Food Sovereignty and the Right to Food, SOGES, Venetsanou, 2010 https://europa.eu/capacity4dev/file/13049/download?token ). However, the “food sovereignty” cannot substitute but combine with the Right to Food and HRBA (inter-complementary and mutually reinforced domains of action). Whereas “food sovereignty is a political claim defending the right of a community, whether at national or sub-national level, to decide how to feed itself and how to combine domestic production and international trade, the HRBA and the Right to Food (R2F) add a legal dimension to FNS” (idem).
4. The Right to Food (R2F) underpins the claim that people should be able to feed themselves as a matter of right rather than as a matter of policy choice. Poor are voiceless in the political “bargaining” to which policies’ design, interpretation and implementation are subject. Food insecure people, though in great numbers, are powerless in the political arena. The R2F sets benchmarks in the political negotiation and the trade-offs between efficiency and equity, defending people’s fundamental rights and freedoms as a non-negotiable bottom line. It does so, not at a rhetorical / abstract level of good-wishes, but, relying on the Human Rights machinery at Global (international law / binding commitments) and Country (national legislation and institutional arrangements) level. This way empowering vulnerable small-farmers can be highly relevant to sustainability (we could further develop and refer examples but, this is a big chapter and I would like to keep it as short as possible).
5. Once policies / Plans / Programmes are defined in a rights-based approach, “beneficiaries” become “rights-holders”, and the authorities designing and implementing programmes accept that they may be held accountable to them (duties-bearers). The Human Rights machinery as well as the HRBA provide a solid basis for an effective accountability. Several countries already fostered the Right to Food in their constitution and legal framework. Monitoring mechanisms, including claims and redress, are in place also at international level.
6. FNS deprived from the R2F may end up either as a catch-all rhetoric or strictly project/program anchored action. Effective ownership requires institutional and legal capabilities at country and local level. So, SFS programmes, along with technical and organisational proposals must also promote such institutional arrangements and capabilities.
B. Some key references:
1. Voluntary Guidelines on the Right to Adequate Food http://www.fao.org/3/a-y7937e.pdf
2. Right to Food http://www.fao.org/faoterm/collection/right-to-food/en
3. Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food https://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Food/Pages/FoodIndex.aspx
4. European Commission, Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament: An EU policy framework to assist developing countries in addressing food security challenges. COM(2010)127 final. Brussels, EC, 31 March 2010. http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=COM:2010:0127:FIN:...
5. Implementing EU food and nutrition security policy commitments: Third biennial report https://ec.europa.eu/europeaid/implementing-eu-food-and-nutrition-securi...
6. Monitoring a moving target: Assessment of the implementation plan of the EU Food Security Policy Framework https://concordeurope.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/Assessment-of-the-i...
7. The SR's opening speech on Right to Adequate Food meeting at the Committee of Food Security, 24 January 2017 https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/Food/Event24Jan2017.pdf
>> VERSION FRANÇAISE CI-DESSOUS
Considering that the current debate relies on sound conceptual basis and substantive inputs have already been brought, this contribution will be limited to my personal ten-year experience in the 80’s – 90’s in Cape Verde, shortly referring on what Jean Drèze and Amartya Sen in “Hunger and Public Action”, 1991, considered as a success story.
Actually, Cape Verde, a member of CILSS, which before independence (1975) had several times experienced famine, around the 80’s, during a period of twenty-year drought, has been one of the most successful stories on public action largely ensuring food security through social protection, linking relief and development.
That occurred in a two-decade programme of “national reconstruction” based on Intensive Labour Public Works (ILPW) schemes (mostly “cash for work” with some cases of “food for work”, too) fed by international in-kind food aid converted by the Government in a National Development Fund. As a result, under national initiative and leadership, in-kind food aid has been transformed in an economic stimulus, injecting fresh money in the local market, opening jobs, promoting people’s professional and organisational skills, building up vital infrastructures like roads, reforestation and watershed management systems, among others. A “save & loan scheme”, built on intensive work of communities’ empowerment and participation and fed by people’s voluntary savings, thanks to their “cash for work” incomes, has been relevant for the phasing-out stage of the programme, during the public reforms related to the “structural adjustment” promoted by Word Bank and IMF, beginning 90’s. Then, people owned save & loan schemes provided the conditions for accessing to credit for setting-up small businesses and enhancing agriculture activities. This has been possible because “save & loan schemes” was not only about money. Such community-rooted schemes were depositories of vital assets as organizational capacity, including lists of beneficiaries targeting the most vulnerable, adequate mind-set, interlocution with other stakeholders and negotiation capacity, inter alia.
The Cape Verde experience shows the strong link between Social Protection and Development Policy. Social Transfers / Social Safety Nets (SSNs) can be productive, stimulate investment and be potentially transformative. SSNs can work for boosting community economy and break the vicious cycle of poverty-inequality-destitution. There are very positive experiences of SSNs implemented through Intensive Labour Public Works (ILPW) that promote people’s organisation skills, decision-making capacity, life skills acquisition and small businesses. Saving and loan schemes can be set-up thanks to ILPW wages. SSNs based on public works also contribute to community and country sustainable development when addressing infrastructures (rural roads, warehouses, soil and water conservation, etc). SSNs based on ILPW are mutually reinforcing with decentralisation efforts and ensure “injection” of funds to local economies and the closest to the most in need.
Social transfers’ appropriate schemes could enable poor and vulnerable people to access to agricultural development opportunities, but there is need of a strong political will at National and International level addressing the typical trade-offs between economic efficiency and social equity. Unfortunately, in the Cape Verde case, in the beginning of the 90’s, the Bretton Woods (WB & IMF) imposed the primacy of economic efficiency against equity. Today, in Cape Verde, little has been left from that Social Protection machinery.
Eventually, this is about a learning process and all cases may present the two sides of the coin, the positive and the negative elements. We have to be honest and try to tell the whole story and learn from all its aspects.
Considérant que la discussion actuelle repose sur une base théorique solide et que de nombreux éléments de fond ont déjà apportés, ma contribution sera limitée à mon expérience personnelle des années 80 - 90, au Cap-Vert, avec des références à ce que Jean Drèze et Amartya Sen décrivent comme une réussite dans « Faim et Action Publique » 1991.
En effet, le Cap-Vert, pays membre du CILSS, a, avant son indépendance en 1975, connu la famine à plusieurs reprises. Dans les années 80, pendant une période de sécheresse longue de vingt ans, l’action publique du Cap-Vert a été exemplaire et a en grande partie assurée la sécurité alimentaire grâce à la protection sociale, en liant secours d’urgence et développement.
Cela a été réalisé dans le cadre d’un programme de « reconstruction nationale » mis en place pendant deux décennies. Ce programme, reposant sur des travaux publics à forte intensité de main-d'œuvre (principalement sur des schémas argent contre travail et dans certains cas, travail pour aide alimentaire) était alimenté par l’aide alimentaire internationale (aide en nature) et convertie par le gouvernement en un fonds national pour le développement.
Ainsi, par le biais d’une initiative nationale l’aide alimentaire en nature était transformée en un stimulus économique par l’injection d’argent sur le marché national, la création d’emplois, la promotion des compétences professionnelles et organisationnelles des citoyens, la construction d’infrastructures indispensables (routes notamment), la préservation des ressources (systèmes de gestion des bassins hydrographiques, reforestation), etc.
Un schéma épargne-emprunt (“save & loan scheme”) construit sur un travail intensif de renforcement et de participations des communautés alimenté par l’épargne volontaire des personnes, grâce aux revenus tirés des initiatives argent contre travail, ont été pertinents pour la phase transitoire du programme pendant les réformes publiques liées à l’ajustement structurel promut par la Banque mondiale et le FMI au début des années 90. Par le biais des schémas épargne-emprunt les personnes pouvaient réunissaient accéder au crédit et lancer des petites entreprises et/ou accroitre leurs activités agricoles. Ceci a été possible car ce schéma ne concernait pas seulement l’argent. Ces programmes communautaires étaient dépositaires de différents outils et compétences, comme de capacités d’organisation, de listes des bénéficiaires les plus vulnérables, de capacités de négociations...
L’expérience du Cap-Vert démontre le lien étroit entre protection sociale et politique de développement. Les transferts sociaux et filets de sécurités sociaux peut être productif, stimuler l’investissement et être potentiellement transformateur.Les filets de sécurité sociaux peuvent renforcer l’économie d’une communauté et casser le cercle vicieux pauvreté – inégalité – destitution.
Il y a des expériences positives de filets sociaux de sécurité mis en œuvre à travers les travaux publics à forte intensité de main-d'œuvre qui permettent de promouvoir les capacités d’organisation, de décision, les compétences pratiques et liées aux petites entreprises. Les schémas épargne-emprunt peuvent être mis en place grâce aux revenus tirés des programmes argent contre travail. Les filets de sécurité sociaux contribuent au développement durable des communautés quand ils permettent d’accroitre les infrastructures (routes rurales, gestion des ressources naturelles, entrepôts...). Les efforts de décentralisation sont renforcés (et renforcent également) les filets de sécurités basés sur les programmes argent contre travail qui garantissent l’injection de monnaie sur le marché local là où sont les personnes qui en ont besoin.
Les schémas de transferts sociaux pertinents peuvent permettre aux personnes les plus vulnérables d’accéder à des opportunités de développement à travers l’agriculture, mais cela nécessite une forte volonté politique nationale et internationale pour mieux arbitrer entre efficacité économique et équité sociale. Malheureusement, au Cap-Vert, dans les années 90, le projet Bretton Woods (Banque mondiale et FMI) a imposé la primauté de l’efficacité économique sur l’équité sociale. Aujourd’hui au Cap-Vert il reste très peu de choses de ces programmes de protection sociale.
Finalement, il s'agit d’un processus d'apprentissage et toutes les expériences ont leurs éléments positifs et négatifs. Nous devons être honnêtes et essayer de partager cette histoire afin d’en tirer les leçons.
I would definitively like to see going on honest and courageous applicable research (Action – Research – Training) on the social determinants of Food and Nutritional Security. That also means that budget has to be allocated for.
On the agenda of such applicable research, the dimension of social differentiation and inequality within communities (including its smaller social unities as nuclear family) has to be among the topic issues. Policy-makers and development practitioners should not turn a blind eye to the dynamics of social differentiation and their consequences to food security.
To give a trivial example. When a nutritionist starts his/her work in a community has to reach a good understanding of families’ internal dynamics and the role / position of women. What is the position of each family-unit within the whole group is equally important. And so on. That is about a sociological analysis to be carried on. But it has to be dynamic and fully relying on a participatory approach. Therefore, I speak about “Action – Research – Training”.
Another example could be the case of design, implementation and monitoring of Social Protection schemes. What are the internal dynamics, endowments of the several groups, how all that work together? How work the traditional safety / solidarity systems and what are their deeper dynamics and which their effects in the maintenance or transformation of the productive system as a whole? Which are the engine-factors and which the blocking-factors. To only just list ones.
Eventually, I wish that our our contributions to a public debate are honestly taken into account, and that public debate is an authentic channel for making voices heard. I consider important seeing into the final wrapping up all the core ideas herein expressed, if not public debate just will not make much sense.
To help the facilitator on her wrapping-up tasks, the core idea that I put forward is about budget allocation at all relevant programmes and projects for applicable research relying on participatory approach “Action – Research – Training” addressing: a) social differentiation and inequality within communities and their consequences to food security and b) social determinants of Food and Nutritional Security.
I am a sociologist, working since 1983 in African countries on food security as well as on participatory rural development. So, a big thanks for this public debate and the really interesting views exposed. Let me bring some “critical” points.
- Poverty is related to inequalities and inequality does not stop at rural communities’ gates. In poor rural communities relying on subsistence agriculture not all poor are equally poor.
- Social relations, inequality and growth are in a strict relation of inter-dependency.
- Inequalities taking place within rural communities lead the most vulnerable to starvation through complex practices of access to labour, land and food stocks; (assets and endowments). Remember; e.g. A. Sen and “food entitlements” or Devereux and the analysis on “food security as a social and political construct”.
- Social differentiation is underpinned by institutional constructs and social relations.
- Policy-makers and development practitioners should not turn a blind eye to the dynamics of social differentiation and their consequences to food security.
- If the reasons for the human shame of one billion hungry are several, interconnected and mutually reinforced, so have to be all the attempts of interpretation and remedy.
Concerning inequalities within communities, for instance in Mozambique, “the largest part of the variation in per capita farm sizes and poverty levels in rural Mozambique is found within villages rather than between them” (Analysis of Adult Mortality within Rural Households in Mozambique and Implications for Policy; Research Paper No.58E, Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development; Directorate of Economics; 2004).
Inequalities taking place within rural communities lead the most vulnerable to starvation through complex practices of access to labour, land and food stocks; generally assets and endowments. This is about social and power relations within the traditional system / community.
Social relations have much to do with labour, enter alia. Labour access is a major determinant of structural hunger in rural communities in Sub-Saharan Africa. Labour inequalities in rural communities lead the two lowest quintiles to trans-generational poverty and actual hunger. Labour control is much related to land control even when land apparently is “accessible” to all members of the community, even the foreigners. Much of the traditional institutions aim at regulating and controlling man-power / labour.
To give an example from Mozambique. In the Macua society, Northern Mozambique, a coping strategy through traditional social relations, called “o’lola”, takes place. This practice of “exchanging labour for food” enables considerable accumulation to those who benefit from the work of others. Suffice it to say that one day's work under "o'lola" can be paid with 3-4 kg. of cassava or sometimes with just a plate of beans, while the average flour production per workday corresponds to 7-9 Kg for cassava. Under these circumstances, a process of land concentration on the hands of few within the rural communities is taking place. For instance, in 1993, in Nampula Province, about 40-50% of the total land was held by only 25% of the subsistence producers that farmed between 4 and 5 times more land per household than the smallest 25%. The land accumulation has to be understood not in terms of property rights on land (in Mozambique the State is the only owner) but in terms of farming capacity, i.e. the capacity of a farmer to have access to labour during the peak season.
I disagree with any analysis that does not seriously rely on inter-disciplinarity and that takes a naïve approach to the traditional societies’ internal dynamics, picturing out a kind of Christmas-card image of an ideal word of perfectly functioning solidarity. This is risky when policies have to be designed and strategies implemented. Let’s take the case of the Social Safety Nets / SSN and schemes of social protection promoted in rural areas. Turn a blind-eye to social differentiation and internal inequalities, assuming, e.g. that traditional leaders are immune from any risk of power abuse, can be fatal to the most in need.
Uneven access to labour, within rural communities, leads to actual hunger.
Service providers and decision-makers should not turn a blind eye
The reasons for under-nutrition are several, interconnected and mutually reinforced and so have to be all the attempts of interpretation and remedy. Having said that, I want to draw the attention to the following aspects, related to subsistence farmers’ sustainability and resilience:
- The “labour access” issue. Uneven access to labour within rural communities is a major determinant of food insecurity and poor nutritional status leading the lowest quintiles in Sub-Saharan Africa to trans-generational poverty.
- The “labour access” issue is poorly assessed and addressed. Social differentiation dynamics and inequality within rural communities are part of under-nutrition root-causes, yet are poorly assessed and addressed. Development practitioners, activists and policy-makers should not turn a blind eye. By doing so, several policies and field actions can result harmful.
- The way forward. Today we are equipped with public goods addressing food and nutrition security. Yet, they are not part of the professional culture of development workers so far. Effective communication between sectors and a “common language” are not yet in place. The way forward should be paved on Action-Research-Learning participatory systems. Networking and inclusive decision-making schemes, at all levels, are needed. Open debates as the current one are much helpful.
The “labour access” issue
If the reasons for the human shame of one billion hungry are several, interconnected and mutually reinforced, so have to be all the attempts of interpretation and remedy. Having said that, I want to draw attention to what I am convinced to be one of the major determinants of the structural hunger in rural communities in Sub-Saharan Africa. Labour and growing inequality in labour access, within rural communities, lead the two lowest quintiles to trans-generational poverty and actual hunger.
The subsistence farmers’ sustainability and resilience is a core food and nutrition security issue. In the current context, the sustainability of subsistence agriculture is fragile and subsistence households are vulnerable. By definition, subsistence agriculture produces the strict necessary for the survival of the family. In a schematic way, inputs and outputs are equivalent and structural surpluses are not possible. In such systems, pursuing high increase of outputs leads to overwhelming pressure over the limited production assets; namely labour and natural resources, including land and forest. That impacts negatively on the environment and on the increasing inequality within rural communities. Pressure over environment and accentuation of inequalities further compromise the already fragile sustainability of households and ecosystems.
The persisting issue is that subsistence societies cannot produce structural, significant surpluses to be channelled, for instance, to the markets. What such societies actually do is allocating manpower unequally among its various groups. In short, someone has to go hungry so that subsistence-based communities as a whole can produce “surpluses”.
The “labour access” issue is poorly assessed and addressed
In poor rural communities relying on subsistence agriculture, not all poor are equally poor. Social differentiation is largely relying on complex systems ensuring access to labour. Labour, since ever, is a core food security factor for small farmers in Africa, yet it is poorly addressed by the mainstream development analysis and action that consider African communities as “labour-surplus economies” and put forward the concept of the small farmers greater economic efficiency relying on “greater abundance of family labour”. Moreover, the issue of power-dynamics within communities, involving access to land, labour and food, is not trendy, as the people-centred and rights’ approach mainly focuses on power (un)balance between the small-farmers / communities and the “others” (government, companies, and so far and so on); which of course is correct and relevant, yet not comprehensive enough.
Inequality does not stop at rural communities’ gates. Development practitioners, activists and policy-makers should not turn a blind eye. Root causes of fragile sustainability of subsistence agriculture have to properly be assessed and addressed. Socio-economic research also has to come back on the agenda and in the field work. There is an issue on research, too. Research tends to be biased and self-confirming. Often, participatory research is poorly set-up and implemented with little respect for its very guiding principles as well as for scientific and methodological standards. We need robust Action-Research-Learning participatory systems. Several issues regarding the production and food systems should be back on the research agenda. We should, for instance, analyse and compare agricultural calendars by crop and working calendars discriminated by sex and age. We should have clear food systems’ profiles by crop, including production and reproduction aspects also in terms of social differentiation.
Examples from the field in drops
The issue is complex, but I will try to give some examples.
Traditional societies have developed complex systems in order to ensure access to labour because, in the subsistence agriculture, labour is the limiting factor and not land. Such aspects have been well understood by and instrumental to the colonial rule. The chiefdoms and other traditional institutions, it is truth, give rights over land, but the real aim is ensuring rights over manpower. For instance, in Northern Mozambique, there are several schemes ensuring rights over labour, among which the rights of the first born who benefits from important labour services, the dominant lineage, the “slaves”, still visible in the field, the displaced people, the crop and land rotation and land lending, just to mention some. Nowadays, a process of land concentration on the hands of few within the rural communities is taking place. In 1993, in Nampula Province, about 40-50% of the total land was held by only 25% of the subsistence producers that farmed between 4 and 5 times more land per household than the smallest 25%. The land accumulation has to be understood not in terms of property rights on land but in terms of farming capacity, i.e. the capacity of a farmer to have access to labour during the peak season. Actually, various studies show that the population does not feel that there is a lack of land. The smallholders rather complain about labour shortage (insufficient strength to cultivate and produce more, illness during peak agricultural periods, etc.).
In rural settings, seems to picture a situation where extreme poverty is very high (around 40%, i.e. the two lowest quintiles of rural population), better off situations are in phase of consolidation (around 20%, the richest quintile) and “grey” areas exist on the edge of the poverty line (the remaining 40%) moving in and out of poverty according to external conditions, such as family illness and deaths, climate hazards, loss of jobs and cash income. For most farmers food security varies with the agricultural calendar. That is, most farmers exhaust their reserves way before the next harvest. Under those circumstances, deprived from structural surpluses, particularly during the “hunger gap – lean season”, the poorest households “sell” their labour literally for a plate of beans to the “better off” that are in a process of consolidation of assets’ concentration. At this stage, selling “under-cost” their labour, the poorest households remain caught in the trap of trans-generational poverty, because the days worked in the plots of others are days lost in their own plot. And this is about a huge lost in the context of a subsistence system.
The way forward – building blocks
- Policy-makers should not turn a blind eye. Root causes of fragile sustainability of subsistence agriculture have to properly be assessed and addressed by a food and nutrition security policy that, fostering sustainable development, acts on several lines; for instance:
- fosters mitigation (e.g. SSNs, provision of social services, supply of inputs);
- defines sound and appropriate agriculture development goals effectively addressing subsistence farmers (e.g. agro-forestry, innovation, environmental friendly and fair practices envisaging labour-friendly agricultural calendars);
- refrains from goals that impact negatively on subsistence households (doing no harm);
- foresees integration of complementary sources of income (e.g. public works based SSNs, food processing, eco-tourism);
- where appropriate, contemplates measures addressing transition from the subsistence system to progressive intensification of the agricultural production process (e.g. micro-finance, small irrigation, extension and training, farmers associations).
Today we are equipped with public goods better addressing the food security issue (e.g. the voluntary guidelines on FNS and those on land, the new FAO strategy encompassing the Right to Food, inter alia).
- The policy response to food (in)security encompasses production growth, market capabilities (trade and labour), social protection (social transfers), emergency assistance, governance and rights strengthening.
- Governance and Human Rights need strengthening on the field. It is extremely beneficial having the “public goods” that we already have in terms of FNS and we need further progress. But we also have to work out there, in the communities, in a robust bottom-up action.
- The public goods on FNS are not yet part of the professional culture of the development workers, starting at HQ level. Corporate culture is not conducive to such an innovative and interdisciplinary task so far. Effective communication between sectors and a “common language” have still to be developed.
- Eventually, we have to leave behind the Washington Consensus and move forward to a smart balance between efficiency and equity, including a dramatic increase in ODA devoted to agriculture and rural development; which under the dominance of the neo-liberal paradigm has fallen from 17% in 1980 to 8% at the end of 1090s and to the 3% of ODA in 2006. (OECD report on “Aid to Agriculture”, 2001; European Parliament, 13 January 2009, On the Common Agricultural Policy on Global Food Security).
I have been positively surprised by Bertrand Vincent’s well-structured and thorough analysis; many points of which I fully share. Inter alia, it is relevant bringing into the debate the taxation issue and its redistribution function, underpinning the equity dimension of development. Yet, I think that something important is really missing. It is truth that in developing countries “the population is insolvent” but the fact that “taxation is almost non-existent” is about a more complex issue. To me, there is a huge issue of governance. In several developing countries, e.g. multinational companies are paying too little contribution to equity dimension of development as they do pay dramatically low taxes if any. So, along with population’s insolvency we assist at population’s disempowerment.
To add my contribution to the debate, I will probably repeat what is already known but there is always need to come back to the fundamentals.
1. Whatever the ideas, models and schemes of funding, innovative or traditional, there is a huge need for progressing in governance, rule of law and people’s empowerment. Whatever the level, from micro-project up to policies, these elements have to be included and budgeted. The FAO new strategy, envisaging the right to food, opens an appropriate frame yet we assist to a cultural deficit at institutional level as well as at the level of the staff used to more “technical” / vertical solutions.
2. Along the dual path of economic efficiency and social equity, aims related to equity and goals related to efficiency pose typical trade-offs, depending on the prevailing paradigm. The current hegemony of the “neo-liberal” model is not much helpful. In fact, the Washington Consensus provides the background for the primacy of cost-effectiveness and efficiency when designing policies. In this context, looking for innovative financing, surveillance is needed to avoid surrogate solutions in alternative to social-equity based on public policies.
3. Policy making, including taxation, is subject to “political bargaining”. This is particularly relevant when considering that the food insecure are in many ways politically weak. Though in great numbers, they usually are voiceless and lack political capabilities. At local / community level it does not work out much better. Inequality does not stop at communities’ gates. Therefore, our efforts always have to organically include the governance dimension, the rule of law and people’s empowerment.
Freelancer, Development practitioner