Re: The e-Consultation on Hunger, Food and Nutrition Security

Claudio Schuftan PHM, Viet Nam

I. Qs on lessons learned and context:


1. What have the MDGs achieved? What lessons can be learned about designing goals to have maximum impact?


The mix of MDGs achievements/shortcomings is by now well known. The question here is: Do we really want to set goals --in terms of outcomes? Or do we rather want to set (annual) benchmarks --much more related to processes (a central critique of the MDGs). Goals, in the past and in the present, aim at achieving national averages. By design, this leaves half of those affected below the average. To be consistent with the UN-sanctioned Human Rights Framework, setting goals will only make sense if these are applied at the sub-national level, i.e., district or municipality since only this allows focusing national efforts on those territorial units so far most neglected and discriminated. With this being accepted, the concept of maximum impact will have to be redefined in the new framework. 


2. How has the world changed since the MDGs were drafted? Which global trends and uncertainties will influence the international development agenda over the next 10-30 years?


The world has changed plenty; but how much due to or despite the MDGs? Let us keep in  mind that the selection of MDGs was arbitrary and top-down with many of us having complained about issues left out and about the lack of consultations when they were set. The global  trends that will influence development are, for sure, peace, the progressive realization of human rights, and our success in making democracy more a local direct democracy (as opposed to the flawed representative democracy we, at best, have now). But keep in mind that the global trends will be made up of myriad local and regional trends --certainly not forgetting those due to both economic and climate-related migration-- which the new framework will have to influence in a positive direction. The human rights framework is the most effective tool we have to achieve this. In the next development phase, let the human rights perspective, then, guide the deployment of human, financial and other resources. 


3. Which issues do poor and vulnerable people themselves prioritize?


First of all, ‘vulnerable people’ I think is a euphemism. [It is the same as speaking of ‘people at risk’; we tend to think that people take risks but, beware, risks are also imposed!]. To avoid any sort of victimization, we must talk of marginalized people. Vulnerable has a connotation of ‘poor them…’; marginalized tells us our social arrangements have put them in that situation. Now to the question of which issues claim holders prioritize: The question has not been answered! Why? Mainly because we have not systematically asked them. Let us do that…and then heed their advice!  I have great hope that this time we put this question at the very center of what we do in the massive consultation that has now been launched. Should I be optimistic? For people to influence priorities, development work cannot only continue focusing on service delivery, on capacity building and on (depoliticized) advocacy; what is needed is a focus on empowerment and social mobilization (the latter also called practical politics). It is not easy to say what is really empowering in community development work. Any attempted operational definition will (always) carry a certain bias depending on the conceptual glasses one is wearing. What is clear is that --in a mostly zero-sum game-- the empowerment of some, most of the time, entails the disempowerment of others --usually the current holders of power. Empowerment is not an outcome of a single event; it is a continuous process that enables people to understand, upgrade and use their capacity to better control and gain power over their own lives. It provides people with choices and the ability to choose, as well as to gain more control over resources they need to improve their condition. It expands the 'political space' within which iterative Assessment-Analysis-Action processes operate in any community. That is what we need to pursue.


4. What does a business-as-usual scenario look like?


The business as usual scenario paints quite a grim picture, I’d say. Take, for example, the poverty alleviation discourse in the MDGs: it displaced the poverty debate worldwide: from a political discussion about its causes to a technical, risk management scheme. (N. Dentico)

Bottom line, I am not sure MDG achievements will all be sustainable. We have raced for the outcomes neglecting the participatory processes to get there, and what we see does not bode well.


An equally important question is: What does a business-as-usual mode foretell?  As another example, take the following: if current trends continue, by 2015, 3.7 million more children in Africa will suffer from malnutrition than are today. My crystal ball tells me we will see more fundamentalism more ‘…springs’, growing frustration, more (understandable) explosive conflicts; perhaps some empowerment in the process, but empowerment in an unpredictable direction; some good, I’d expect. What this tells us is the urgency for the post-2015 agenda to address the real deep structural causes of widespread disempowerment of those that live in poverty/happen to be poor.


Perhaps the most crucial element missing in the MDGs was a conceptual framework of the causes of underdevelopment (or maldevelopment). In the 1990s, UNICEF pioneered the now widely accepted conceptual framework of the causes of malnutrition identifying its immediate, underlying and basic or structural causes importantly showing that addressing each level of causality is necessary but not sufficient. This omission of the MDGs cannot be repeated by the new framework we are all trying to come up with. An adaptation of the already well accepted UNICEF framework is perhaps the best way to address this omission. Are we up to the challenge?