This member participated in the following discussions
I am concerned that the approach discussed here does not give sufficient attention to what people at the community level could do for themselves. More attention should be given to what higher level agencies could do to facilitate those local initiatives. As Florence Egal put it, “Given the mandate of both FAO and WHO, the focus on national policies is logical. But unless we include explicitly the sub-national level we will not be in a position to address sustainably all forms of malnutrition.”
Top-down approaches tend to weaken and disempower those working at ground level. This is not a matter of simply favoring bottom-up approaches over top-down approaches. It is about figuring out how to work out an appropriate “division of labor” between agencies at different levels. Based on the principle of subsidiarity, higher level agencies should not do and decide things that ought to be done and decided at lower levels.
There is a need for discussion about how to work out the division of labor. Agencies at the higher levels should shift from designing interventions based solely on their understandings of both the problems and solutions, and move more toward facilitating analyses and action by those at lower levels. These should be partnership arrangements, with learning going on at all levels.
Here are a few thoughts on Draft 14.03.16 of Urbanization and Rural Transformation Implications for Food Security and Nutrition and the comments that have been made about it.
In the Draft the paragraph on human rights on p. 5 speaks about several ways in which people’s well-being might suffer, but the relationship of these things to human rights is not explained. There is no follow-up in the document on the human rights theme.
On p. 8 the Draft says, “achieving food security and nutrition will require solutions targeting both rural and urban poor.” The targeting perspective means outsiders will provide the answers, and there will be “interventions”. This top-down orientation to dealing with food security issues can be very disempowering to those who are supposed to benefit from this work.
There is a need for discussion about how the local people themselves might themselves be important agents of change. The Draft does discuss the engagement of people in local communities, on p. 16, for example. However, it tends to see local people as subordinates in projects that come from outside, rather than seeing them as formulating and implementing their own programs of action.
The leaders of local communities have more potential impact on local food and nutrition security than anyone in Rome or Geneva or in their country’s capital. The higher-level agencies should do more to facilitate local leaders in their work. Global and national people could work with local leaders to formulate guidelines for local management of community food systems. Working out those guidelines could be a wonderful learning process for all who are involved.
The discussion of data (p. 15) is oriented toward providing information to national governments and international agencies so that they can make better decisions. Attention should also be given to ways in which data collection and analysis could be used to empower local leaders. (I discuss this in the section on Nutrition Status Information in a chapter on “Building Nutritional Self Reliance,” available at http://www2.hawaii.edu/~kent/BuildingNutritionalSelfReliance.pdf)
I agree with Dr. Hampel-Milagrosa’s message on April 1 about the importance of poverty as a cause of food insecurity. However, it is important to recognize that food security is not only a matter of economics. Food security also depends on social relations. Some people exploit others, and some people routinely support their neighbors. In stable, strong communities, where people look after one another’s well-being, no one goes hungry. We should work with that insight. There are many communities in which there is little money but the people are well nourished. Unfortunately, the importance of social relationships is not recognized in analyses that come from the top. There is no hint of it in the annual reports on The State of Food Insecurity in the World.
Some of the contributors to this discussion want to preserve smallholder agriculture in rural areas. They suggest various technological innovations, but recognize that there are many impediments. It is important to also consider social innovations, different ways of organizing food production, processing, marketing, etc. To illustrate, many large farms are organized as industrial operations, with one owner and many poorly paid laborers, operating in ways that exploit both people and the environment. More attention should be given to alternatives, such as organizing farms as cooperatives, with all workers having a share in ownership and decision-making. These different organizational models will have different impacts on local food security.
On March 23, 2016 Dr. Eileen Omosa pointed out that with better technology and better links to urban markets, the food security of rural households could be harmed. The seemingly inefficient smallholders often are important providers of food for the local non-farming poor, and those poor people are likely to be bypassed when the local farmers find ways to sell to richer people. Florence Egal also highlighted this point on April 1.
Dr. Omosa and Florence Egal also discussed the huge problem of land-grabbing by the rich, often undermining local food security. Where I live, much of the agricultural land is now controlled by seed producers who export the seeds and contribute nothing to the local food supply. That is land grabbing, not different from the earlier land grabbing for pineapple and sugar plantations.
Several people spoke about novel ways of producing food such as urban agriculture, vertical agriculture, rooftop gardens, etc. Poor people might not have the resources needed to do such things. There should be some discussion of what would ensure that the food would go to people who need it but have little money.
On March 29 Florence Egal pointed out, “Overall the draft as it stands has by and large adopted a classical supply-driven value chain approach” and suggested it might be useful to focus more explicitly on food consumption and food systems.” I fully agree.
One way to get into that would be to set aside global and national perspectives, and instead explore the issue at the community level.
The Draft focuses on urban and rural areas. It tries to cover many different kinds of situations. Perhaps this Global Forum could launch a follow-up discussion in which the primary unit of analysis is the community, the settings in which people live and relate to one another face-to-face. In many places this is the lowest level of governance. It is the setting in which local people can have the greatest influence.
Imagine that we are on the planning committee for designing a brand new community on a designated bit of land. That committee would have to talk about many things: the physical arrangements of houses and roads, the placement of farms and gardens, where shops would be placed, energy supply, waste disposal, recreation facilities, and so on. As part of that work the committee would have to plan the community’s food system, taking account of the geophysical character of the space and also the types of residents expected to live there. What would we propose? How could our favorite ideas be applied in this very specific place?
The planning committee could advise the community to create a Food Policy Council that would set up and oversee the local food system. What advice and guidelines would you include in its charter? This thought-experiment would be a difficult design challenge, but it would be easier to understand and easier to implement than trying to fix established large-scale food systems.
My question is, how should community food systems be designed? That should be the starting point for our thinking about how national, regional and global food systems should be designed.
International food trade can contribute to the food security of those who are well off, but it tends to work against the interests of poor people who are not food producers and the small-scale producers who are not selling into the major markets. Thus trade is not a good means for ending hunger.
Some people think of the commodity-based global food system as if it were the only one, but for many people there are separate local food systems that have little connection with the global one. Small local farms, often dismissed as “inefficient”, play a crucial role in providing low-cost foods to the local poor. If those small local farms are consolidated, and made more “efficient”, perhaps under the ownership of outsiders, they are likely to ship their products out to people with money, whether in the same country or abroad. The local poor are bypassed.
Also, new large scale-farms are likely to do much more harm to the local environment than the agro-ecology that is traditionally practiced on small local farms.
Food exports from poor countries produce benefits for local people, but the distribution of those benefits is likely to be highly skewed, with much of the benefit going to outsiders, the local rich, and the government, not to those who work in the fields, and not to local non-farmers.
Many poor countries see trade agreements as increasing their vulnerability to exploitation by powerful outsiders. They become especially vulnerable when the agreements prohibit making any restrictions on imports. Powerful outsiders can easily displace local producers.
In the case of the North American Free Trade Agreement, for example, it was clear from the outset that small-scale corn producers in Mexico would be hurt as a result of massive imports of subsidized corn from the United States into Mexico. The pressure to open domestic markets to foreign suppliers often means the flooding of domestic markets with food from outside. Local food producers cannot compete with the imports, with the result that their incomes plummet, destroying their food security.
The division between international trade advocates and its critics can be understood in terms of two connected points: markets are beneficial mainly to the rich and powerful; and strategies of self-sufficiency are beneficial mainly to the poor and weak.
This explains why the strongest advocates of free trade are the rich, and the strongest advocates of self-sufficiency are the poor and their friends. Strategies of self-sufficiency protect the weak from potentially exploitative relationships with those who are stronger.
Richer countries promote trade in a way that suggests it would be beneficial to all, but it would not be equally beneficial, and it certainly would not favor the poor. Trade tends to provide its greatest benefits to those who are more powerful. It contributes to the widening of the gap between rich and poor. The market system promotes the flow of food and wealth toward money and power, not toward need.
One way to protect the vulnerable would be to ensure that all parties have a clear voice in deciding what would be good for them. If small-scale corn producers in Mexico had a seat at the negotiating table, they might not have been overrun by the North American Free Trade Agreement.
It is possible to add elements to trade agreements to protect the vulnerable. Rather than relying on the market alone to improve living conditions for the poor, trade agreements could include non-market measures such as social safety nets that protect and improve their living conditions. Those who are confident that the safety nets for the poor will not be needed should have no hesitation about providing them, as a kind of insurance.
Packaging trade proposals together with protective programs of this kind might increase the likelihood that poor communities would support them.
Aloha, George Kent
I would like to offer comments on the Zero Draft: Agenda for Action for Addressing Food Insecurity in Protracted Crises (CFSA-4A) of February 2014.
(1) It should be recognized that sustained, intense, and widespread food insecurity or malnutrition is in itself a form of protracted crisis.
(2) The work of the UN’s Committee on World Food Security and other global agencies on this issue should be harmonized with that of leading national providers of international humanitarian assistance. The emerging global policy of the U.S. with regard to nutrition is discussed at http://www.globalhealth.gov/global-health-topics/non-communicable-diseases/trending-topics/draftframeworkforusgglobalnutritioncoordinationplan.html
(3) Paragraph 10 of the Zero Draft suggests that it is in the interests of everyone to address the problems of protracted food insecurity and malnutrition. That is not true. Some people, such as those who employ low-wage laborers, benefit from the persistence of food insecurity and malnutrition, since food insecure people work cheaply. Similarly, many consumers benefit from being able to purchase goods at low prices because they are produced by low-wage laborers.
(4) Item 31(vi) speaks about the absence of good governance, and points out the need to establish mechanisms for ensuring that obligations are respected. Apparently this refers to the national level, but the same could be said regarding the challenge of global governance.
(5) Regarding the preceding point, item 16 in the Zero Draft asserts that the principles set out in CFS-A4A are voluntary and non-binding. Nevertheless, the principles should recognize the need for recognition of clear extra-territorial rights and obligations with regard food insecurity in protracted crises. I discuss this in “Rights and Obligations in International Humanitarian Assistance.” Encyclopedia of Natural Hazards. Heidelberg, Germany: Springer, 2013, pp. 851-855. http://www2.hawaii.edu/~kent/RightsObligationsinIHA.pdf The essay has been republished in Disaster Management and Prevention, 2014, Vol. 23, No. 3. http://www2.hawaii.edu/~kent/DPMRightsandObligationsinIHA.pdf
(6) Item 32(i) articulates the idea that national governments are primarily responsible for the food security and nutrition of their own people. It should be recognized that trade and other externally-oriented policies of both high- and low-income countries tend to undermine this concept. In international food trade, on balance the poor feed the rich.
(7) Item 33(i) speaks about the need to examine the underlying causes of food insecurity and malnutrition. This might be asking too much of this initiative. Instead, it might be better to conceptualize the strategy for dealing with the problem of food security in protracted crises as one of establishing a global food security safety net that deals mainly with symptoms, not underlying causes. Urgent needs should be addressed immediately, as recognized in FAO’s Twin Track approach. Other global programs can address the underlying causes. Focusing this effort on the idea of establishing a global safety net seems likely to result in a more effective program of action.
University of Hawai‘i (Emeritus)
In the attached essay I call on the CFS to give attention to the food security of infants and young children, with a view to establishing new global regulations for processed baby foods and other measures.
The document is also available at
Aloha, George Kent
At the beginning of this discussion, on 16.04.2014, I reflected on the similarities and differences between care farming and caring communities. Care farming is an expression of the broader caring that is found in strong communities.
There has been a rich exchange since then, so I would like to offer a few more observations.
We should give attention to possibilities for farming that is undertaken to produce farm products needed by particular groups. For example, one might imagine farms that are devoted to raising crops that would help to meet nutrient deficiencies that are important in the local area.
Some farms could be devoted to raising crops specifically to meet needs of young children for complementary foods, as they wean from their breastmilk diets. This would fit nicely with Kanchan Lama ‘s 17.04.2014 call for child care to allow women to be fully involved in farming. Instead of working on farms that serve the general community, perhaps they could work on farms that focus on producing crops that are of special interest to women, especially those who are pregnant or new mothers. Child care could be provided at the farm site, thus making it easier for mothers to breastfeed. Facilities could be provided to enable the women to meet together to discuss their concerns about child feeding, as they do in La Leche League meetings that are common in high income countries. They could also discuss how the farmed products should be prepared for their young children.
That sort of arrangement would ensure better child care than that illustrated in the photo provided by Hajnalka Petrics on 24.04.2014.
On 23.04.2014 PV Hariharan asked, what is empowerment? I suggest: Empowerment is the increasing capacity of individuals and communities to define, analyze, and act on their own problems. Empowerment can be facilitated by outsiders, and there are also possibilities for self-empowerment, based on local initiatives.
Using this concept, we could say that care farming is empowering if it increases its beneficiaries’ capacity to care for themselves. David Nkwanga provided a good example on 23.04.2014, when he explained the Nature Palace foundation helps children and youth with disabilities obtain the skills and other resources needed to engage in profitable market gardening.
On 24.04.2014 Gina Seilern provided some links to studies about well-being and its determinants. It does include references to the importance of social connections, but it does not speak specifically about caring, the desire to act to benefit others.
It would be interesting if some of the specialists on well-being were to focus their attention on the well-being of communities. They could then explore how the quality of life of individuals depends on the quality of their communities.
On 28.04.2014 Mildred Crawford shared the experience she and others in her country have had in sharing food, farming skills and other resources with others for free. These relationships, usually informal, probably are far more widespread than anyone has recognized. These are expressions of deep caring at the community level, something that seems to be invisible to most economists and government officials. More should be done to recognize and understand these relationships.
CARE FARMING AND CARING COMMUNITIES
Care farming is a wonderful concept, based on that most human instinct, the desire to take action to benefit others. However, in much of the discussion of care farming, the assumption is that the caring goes from strong parties to weaker parties, from those who supply the caring to those who need the caring. The approach emphasizes the business opportunities in providing care to those who need it
However, in well-functioning communities, there is a great deal of caring that is not undertaken to produce incomes for those who provide the care. There is mutual caring, with no distinction between those who provide care and those who receive it. Most caring is driven by the desire to establish good human relationships. Strong caring communities function like large families. With sustained mutual caring of this sort, there is likely to be much less need for the unilateral kind of caring.
I would like to share two essays-in-progress that might help to provide context for this discussion on care farming and, more broadly, on the ways in which food systems might help to strengthen the caring. Ending Hunger in Caring Communities, available at http://www2.hawaii.edu/~kent/EndingHungerinCaringCommunities.docx argues that hunger in the world would be sharply reduced if communities were more caring. The second essay, On Caring, available at http://www2.hawaii.edu/~kent/OnCaring.pdf probes more deeply into the meaning of caring in various contexts.
Aloha, George Kent
The zero draft does not give sufficient attention to growing threats to the food security and nutrition of childen in emerging economies. I have essayed on this in The Food Security of Infants and Young Children. http://www2.hawaii.edu/~kent/FOODSECURITYOFINFANTS.docx A copy is attached here.
Aloha, George Kent
I would like to express my deep gratitude to Eileen Omosa for opening this discussion of the role of social relations in establishing food security. I think the quality of the community in which individuals and families are embedded can have a big impact on food security, especially for people with low incomes.
Historically, there was a long period when cash income was of little importance. People lived close to the earth, and close to their communities. As Karl Polanyi pointed out, in what we sometimes describe as “primitive” communities, no one went hungry unless everyone was going hungry. That pattern continues today, in what some describe as “pre-modern” communities.
In recent work on this issue (current draft available at http://www2.hawaii.edu/~kent/EndingHungerLocally.docx and also attached here) I highlight the importance of caring and social support systems not only in reducing hunger where it exists, but also in preventing it from ever happening. My observations are summarized in three major points:
- Hunger is less likely to occur where people care about one another’s well being.
- Caring behavior is strengthened when people work and play together in pursuing values they share.
- Therefore, hunger in any community is likely to be reduced by encouraging its people to work and play together, especially in food-related activities.
There is little likelihood that the hunger problem can be solved through market activities based on narrow self-interest. Caring is essential. It must be recognized and nurtured.
Aloha, George Kent
Shambhu Ghatak has given us some interesting views on the costs of hunger and the status of India’s Integrated Child Development Service. I would like to offer alternative perspectives on these two themes.
I appreciate the many efforts to assess the human and economics costs of hunger. However, to understand its persistence, we need to recognize that while hunger produces great disadvantages for some people it also produces great advantages for others. I discuss this in:
“The Benefits of World Hunger.” UN Chronicle, Vol. XLV, No. 2/3 (2008), p. 81. http://www2.hawaii.edu/~kent/BenefitsofWorldHunger.pdf
Regarding India’s ICDS, I agree that it provides important benefits for India’s children, but it falls far short of meeting the needs. I offer thoughts on how it might be managed to be more effective, in:
“ICDS: Steering an Ungainly Ship.” Economic & Political Weekly, Vol. XLVII, No. 37, September 15, 2012. http://www2.hawaii.edu/~kent/ICDS_Steering_an_Ungainly_Ship.pdf