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Глобальный форум по продовольственной безопасности и питанию
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Re: Urbanization, Rural Transformation and Implications for Food Security - Online consultation on the background document to the CFS Forum

George Kent
George KentDepartment of Political Science, University of Hawai'iUnited States of America

Greetings –

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

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.

George Kent