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

FAO Gouvernance Study Group (Astrid Agostini, Dubravka Bojic, Juan GarciaCebolla, Carol Djeddah, Florence Egal, Nicole Franz, Rebecca Metzner, Jamie Morisson, Jonathan Reeves, Mike Robson, Margret Vidar, Rolf Willmann)


This is a collective contribution from a number of members of the FAO Gouvernance Study Team responding in particular to:

Theme 2. What works best? Drawing on existing knowledge, please tell us how we should go about addressing the hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition challenges head on. Provide us with your own experiences and insights. For example, how important are questions of improved governance, rights-based approaches, accountability and political commitment achieving food and nutrition security?”


Many participants in the e-consultation underlined the importance of civil society participation and ownership, accountability of institutions, as well as of the coordination of policies, institutions and actions. These aspects relate to different dimensions of improved governance. Indeed, from the perspective of food and nutrition security, livelihoods and sustainable natural resource management, improved governance is critical for multiple reasons and notably:


First, the increasing complexity of development-related processes.

At the global level, factors beyond national control can affect efforts to reduce hunger and malnutrition; these include energy supply (and price), global commodity markets, and trade policies. Whether a given country is member of WTO or not, and whether it has ratified relevant international instruments – in human rights, agricultural, trade, natural resources or environmental fields – can and often do have implications for a range of food, production and  natural resources management policy and legal frameworks. So too will a country’s capacity to negotiate within international fora and to implement relevant international commitments.

At the global as well as at the country level, recent years have seen a growing plurality of actors (with many new, more active and more diverse stakeholders and interests, and more visible divergences in power between interest groups) with an interest in food security. This can make inclusive processes difficult to manage effectively. At the national level, there is also an increasing awareness of the interconnectedness between the environment, social and economic spheres.  Development goals can be achieved but it has become apparent that for progress to be sustained requires unprecedented levels of interdisciplinary collaboration across sectors and  institutions, and between actors.


Second, increasing uncertainty surrounds the potential impact of climate change (with the likelihood of increased resource competition and risk of conflict), and the level of willingness of key stakeholders with vested interests in current systems to engage in reform.  This makes more difficult the design and implementation of efficient and effective interventions in situations where asymmetries in information are the norm.


Third - for the majority of people, their most direct experience of “governance” is at local level through interaction with local extension agents, local agro-dealers, forest guards, fisheries officers, public health services, agricultural, social and education services. Even the best designed natural resource, social and economic policies will be ineffective in the absence of effective systems for service delivery, regulation, control of corruption and protection of rights. Inequalities in access to natural resources (rights to access land or water resources) and/or to inputs and services such as seeds, fertilizers or credit strongly limit agricultural productivity. Lack of transparency and information about Social Protection programmes, lack of awareness among possible beneficiaries, and wide “administrative discretion” lead to the failure of such programmes to reach many of those in greatest need.

While there is not a direct correlation between the two issues, it can be observed that many states with low food and nutrition security lack the capacity to create enabling and coherent policy and legal framework, be transparent and accountable to relevant stakeholders, and to enforce the rule of law and encourage gender equality.  This is often accompanied by a lack of capacity and of opportunity, for the people, to take an active part in decision-making processes and hold governments to account.

By contrast, when governance structures, both formal and informal, exercise their functions in an accountable, transparent and equitable manner, and give voice to a wide range of diverse interests, including those of the food insecure and hungry who are often excluded and marginalised, the resulting activities should contribute more fully to improving food and nutrition security in a country.


Setting the “building blocks” of the governance of food and nutrition security

Looking at hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition issues from a governance perspective offers insights and information that can improve the design of policies, programmes and projects, and provide tools to make their implementation and enforcement more effective.

While there is not, as yet, a universally agreed definition of governance, it is generally accepted that governance refers to the formal and informal rules and processes through which public and private stakeholders articulate their interests and decisions are made, implemented and sustained in different jurisdictions and levels. Taking a governance perspective requires decision-making processes affecting food and nutrition security, livelihoods and the management and sustainable use of natural resources to be in line with a number of key principles.

They are:

Participation – that people and their institutions are able to participate freely, fully, actively and meaningfully in the planning, design, monitoring and evaluation of decisions affecting them;

Accountability – that leaders are answerable within their organizations and to the people they serve, for their actions;

Transparency – that decision-makers are as open as possible about all the decisions and actions that they take and that timely and reliable information on these decisions and actions is freely and easily available;

Equality and Fairness – that all groups, particularly the most vulnerable, have equal opportunities to improve or maintain their well being;

Efficiency and Effectiveness – that rules and regulations apply equally to all groups, and that processes and institutions produce results that meet the needs of society, while making the best use of resources at their disposal; and

Rule of Law – that governments are as bound by laws as the citizens and private corporations, and that the laws themselves are consistent with international human rights.

These principles should be used nationally to consider how improved governance can support the achievement of food security goals.  One size does very definitely not fit all contexts. Different countries face different development challenges at various stages of their development, and hence require different capacities and approaches to tackle them effectively. What works in one setting may not necessarily work in another. The particular socio-economic, legal and political conditions of each country will facilitate or constrain progress towards better governance.

In other words, the purpose of having a number of key governance principles is not to describe the ideal state of “good food and nutrition security governance”, but to provide practical guidance for prioritizing interventions, designing and assessing development strategies necessary to achieve the post-2015 UN development agenda.

These key principles can also be useful in pointing out mechanisms that allow improving governance in food security and related sectors (e.g. agriculture, land, forests, fisheries) without requiring changes in the state governance system as such. The challenge is finding the right mix and form that fit the specific country context and its specific needs, and that will allow progress to be made.

Collective contribution from the FAO Governance Study Group (Astrid Agostini, Dubravka Bojic, Juan GarciaCebolla, Carol Djeddah, Florence Egal, Nicole Franz, Rebecca Metzner, Jamie Morrison, Jonathan Reeves, Mike Robson, Margret Vidar and Rolf Willmann)