Twenty-seventh Session

Rome, 28 May - 1 June 2001



1. This paper offers a broad overview of the issue of political will and its impact on the fulfilment of the commitments made at the World Food Summit (WFS) in November 1996. Following its consideration at the 27th session of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS), the paper will be submitted to the 31st FAO Conference in November 2001, during which Heads of State and Government are expected to take stock of progress achieved since the World Food Summit and to reaffirm their commitments.

2. The paper begins by recalling the major commitments into which governments entered at the Summit. Following this, it offers a rapid overview of changes in the international socio-political and economic environment in the period from 1996 until now and considers how this has impacted on the ability and willingness of governments and the international community to adopt effective measures for implementing their WFS commitments. The subsequent chapter reports on the major actions taken by FAO to reinforce the awareness and will of all concerned parties to fight undernourishment and assesses the extent to which there has been a deepening of political commitment to address the scourge of hunger with determination at international and national levels. Finally the paper seeks to summarise some areas of emerging consensus consistent with the Rome Declaration and Plan of Action, which might provide a focus around which reaffirmed commitments and strengthened partnerships can be built.


3. The World Food Summit, held in Rome in November 1996, was the third international meeting on food and nutrition issues since 1970, having been preceded by the World Food Conference in 1974 and the International Conference on Nutrition, organised by FAO and WHO, in 1992. The WFS was notable because of the very high level of government representation, with 112 of the 186 countries present being represented by their Heads of State or Government or their deputies, as was appropriate for a meeting aimed at securing the political commitment required to tackle the cross-cutting underlying causes of widespread hunger and malnutrition, the resolution of which requires the engagement of many sectoral ministries. A further feature of the WFS was that it was specific in setting a time-bound monitorable goal, yet sufficiently realistic to recognise that full eradication of hunger worldwide would not be feasible in the medium term.

4. The Summit concluded with the issuance of two major documents, the Rome Declaration on World Food Security and the World Food Summit Plan of Action.1 The Declaration was essentially an agreed statement of goals and policies, concluding with seven major commitments, whereas the Plan of Action set out in detail the actions which countries agreed to take in operationalising their commitments.

5. The first two paragraphs of the Declaration eloquently summarise the consensus on policies and specific goals reached at the Summit:

We, the Heads of State and Government, or our representatives, gathered at the World Food Summit at the invitation of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, reaffirm the right of everyone to have access to safe and nutritious food, consistent with the right to adequate food and the fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger.

We pledge our political will and our common and national commitment to achieving food security for all and to an ongoing effort to eradicate hunger in all countries, with an immediate view to reducing the number of undernourished people to half their present level no later than 2015.

6. Of particular significance is the Declaration's acknowledgement of the human right to adequate food and of the implicit need for common action between countries in efforts to eradicate hunger.

7. The seven WFS commitments concerned:

(i) Ensuring a political, social and economic environment for the eradication of poverty and for durable peace;
(ii) Implementation of policies to eradicate poverty and inequality and to improve access to sufficient nutritionally adequate and safe food;
(iii) Pursuance of participatory and sustainable food, agriculture, fisheries, forestry and rural development policies and practices;
(iv) Ensuring that food trade and trade policies in general foster food security for all;
(v) Prevention and preparedness for as well as reaction to emergencies in ways that encourage recovery and development;
(vi) Promotion of optimal mobilisation and allocation of public and private investments for sustainable food, agriculture and rural development;
(vii) Implementation and monitoring of the Plan of Action in cooperation with the international community.

8. These commitments, in turn, provided a framework for 27 specific objectives and 182 proposed actions, many of which were to be implemented by countries in cooperation amongst themselves, jointly with the international community or in partnership with civil society.

9. No proposals for new institutions or for pledges of additional resources were put forward during the Summit. There was an implicit recognition throughout the preparatory process that the world has the capacity to feed its population adequately today and in future, that most of the international institutional arrangements for this are in place and that it should be possible to muster the necessary financial resources from existing sources. Instead, the main concern was how to generate and sustain the political will to translate the commitments into the required actions.

10. The World Food Summit, like other summits, was premised on the assumption that, by drawing national leaders together in a public forum to commit themselves collectively to tackle major issues of global concern in a concerted manner, it would reinforce their determination to bring about change and heighten their accountability. It would also strengthen the partnerships between governments and with the international community and civil society which would be a prerequisite for achievement of the goals. Whether, in practice, however, national leaders have the power to induce the complex processes needed to bring about rapid reductions in hunger depends very much on their standing in their own countries, on the systems of governance over which they preside, on whether potentially feasible solutions exist and on whether those responsible for taking action are persuaded of the validity of what they are expected to do. There are thus bound to be situations where leaders are genuinely committed but, for reasons beyond their control, subsequent action has been ineffective. In assessing how successful the World Food Summit was in creating and sustaining political will, the paper will not therefore question whether statements made at the Summit and subsequent international meetings were expressions of genuine political will on the part of all participants or simply the result of a process in which public admission of dissent is difficult. It would not, for instance, have been easy for a national leader to state that he or she was not committed to reducing hunger. The important issue is just how deep that commitment might be and whether the financial and institutional capacity as well as the technical means to fulfil the commitments really exist or can be created within each country and in the partner institutions, including FAO, whose cooperation was foreseen.


11. One of the great achievements of the past century has been the production of enough food not only for the needs of a global population which has doubled, from some three billion in 1960 to over six billion in 2000, but also to ensure a better standard of nutrition, with average daily food intake rising from about 2,250 kcal to 2,800 kcal per person in the same period. Apart from raising output, the agricultural revolution of the 20th century has led to remarkable increases in labour and land productivity which have been reflected in a progressive fall in real international grain prices.2

12. Looking back on the century, however, future historians are likely to point to the anomaly that hunger should have coexisted on a vast scale with more than adequate aggregate global food supplies. The simultaneous persistence of widespread extreme food deprivation and plentiful food supplies in a world with excellent means of communications and transport, can only suggest that there are fundamental flaws in the way in which nations are functioning and the relationships between them are governed and managed. The situation was described as unacceptable in the Rome Declaration, yet the world continues to live with it. This chapter looks at the ways in which recent developments in global political relations and thinking, and related institutional changes, appear to affect the incidence of hunger and the ability and willingness of governments to eradicate it.

13. When the Berlin Wall came crashing down in 1990, a wave of optimism swept around the world. Many observers expected that the combination of market-based economic policies and democracy would induce rapid growth in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union; that the cessation of big-power confrontation would bring an end to proxy wars and lead to a sharp drop in expenditure on arms, and that this, in turn, would free resources which could be channelled to poorer countries to speed their development. Ten years later, few of these hopes have materialised. Fundamental structural problems have held back transition and growth in most of the centrally planned economies. Increasingly militant expressions of nationalism and ethnicity, combined with a thriving arms market, have fuelled conflicts, dashing development hopes and driving millions from their homes into penury. And the peace dividend has not contributed to increased flows of aid resources into poorer countries (which have fallen steadily over the decade) in spite of unprecedented prosperity in developed countries: indeed the end of super-power clientelism has allowed aid to fall back to a level determined by more by altruism than geopolitical considerations.

14. There has, however, been a growing recognition of the extent of global interdependence and attempts are being made to make this work for everyone's benefit. Following the establishment of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in 1995, trade barriers have started to come down and there are high expectations that freer trade will broaden markets and reduce transaction costs to the benefit of developing countries. There has been a massive growth in Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) by the private sector, with this now accounting for 82% of net financial flows into developing countries, compared to 44% in 1990.3 Similarly, rapid advances in global communications and information technology are accelerating the speed with which knowledge can spread, opening up exciting opportunities for citizens of developing countries to make a knowledge leap-frog. The UN Conference on Environment and Development in 1992 created a new awareness of the extent to which the global environment was endangered by human activity, setting in process movements towards the creation of new regulatory bodies and funding instruments.

15. But, while the globalisation of trade, economic relations, communications and environmental management offers interesting prospects for the benefit of the populations of developing countries, it is a double-edged sword. Thus, to the extent that developed countries maintain trade barriers or subsidise their farmers, the prospect of expanded markets for developing countries diminishes. Dumping foodstuffs at prices below production costs may benefit low-income consumers but it can also undermine production incentives, thus inflicting lasting damage on the food-crop agriculture of developing countries and contributing to rural impoverishment. Similarly the rapid increase in the supply of private capital, combined with a narrowing of the role of the public sector, may have provided a motive to cut Official Development Assistance (ODA) which decreased during the 1990s from 0.33% to 0.25% of the GNP of OECD countries, to the detriment of the majority of developing countries, especially the least developed countries in Africa which receive almost no private inflows.

16. The "Washington consensus", based on the application of macro-economic policies which liberalised markets, had a major influence during the last decade of the century both on the way in which governments in developed countries perceived their role and in the economic policy advice given to developing country governments by the Bretton Woods Institutions. All around the world, states began to withdraw from activities which it was hoped could be better handled by the private sector, concentrating on their role as providers of public goods; domestic markets were deregulated and trade and investment regimes liberalised; civil services were cut and fiscal discipline was tightened. Controversy still reigns over the impact of these structural adjustment programmes, but, while some countries have clearly benefited, others have seen little response in terms of economic growth, a widening of the gap between rich and poor, a civil service which does not have the strength to provide essential public goods and a private sector which has been slow to respond to new opportunities.1 The simultaneous process of rural-urban migration, apart from its important demographic impact, may also have contributed to further erosion of the political weight given to rural affairs, strengthening tendencies for urban bias in decision-making.

17. The Summits of the 1990s, including the WFS, were successful in their aims of raising public awareness of major global problems, developing plans to address them and securing high level commitments for joint action by countries and international agencies. Expectations were thus raised that there would be action on an unprecedented scale to address the most important issues facing humanity. But this came at a time when the response capacity of the UN system was seriously curtailed by budgetary restrictions imposed by reform-minded governments, many of which themselves had adopted inward-looking policies that gave little attention to development issues. A further unintended consequence of the Summits was to over-crowd the development agenda, with the attentions of governments being shifted from one major theme to another with bewildering speed, thereby complicating priority setting and diffusing effort. The resultant lack of visible progress on many of the selected themes, combined with rising doubts over the effectiveness of multilateral assistance programmes, further damaged the credibility of the sponsoring agencies.

18. Thus there was a situation in the years immediately following the WFS in which many developing countries were grappling with adjustment problems, struggling with fiscal resource constraints and confronted with a progressively broadening list of international commitments which they had undertaken to internalise. Many of the poorest countries were engaged in conflicts which sapped their resources and energy; others were beset with massive natural disasters; some awoke in the mid-1990s to the enormity of the social and economic impact of HIV/AIDS; while others struggled to maintain fledgling democracies in the face of public discontent over austerity measures. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that, in line with conventional wisdom and prudence, most developing countries tended to take resource allocation decisions with the aims of cutting budget deficits and of maximising the rate of economic growth, on the assumption that this would eventually contribute to a reduction in poverty even in the absence of measures for asset and income redistribution. The result was that few countries, in spite of their pledges at the Summit, embarked on purposive large-scale programmes for improving food security. Nor were they necessarily encouraged to do so by their development partners who, in spite of the discrediting of "trickle down" assumptions, continued to emphasise policies and investments which supported economic growth as the main goal of development in their country assistance strategies4 and to apply conventional economic analysis techniques which gave little weight to distributional concerns in investment decisions.

19. The over-riding concern for economic growth, efficiency and undistorted trade, combined with the pressures on the citizens of developed countries to increase consumption is increasingly at odds with concerns for social equity and the welfare of poor people elsewhere in the world. Commitment amongst donors to engage in helping to address humanitarian and development issues was further eroded by disillusionment over the effectiveness of aid, concerns over corruption, a diminishing geopolitical rationale for assistance and, in some cases, the need to apply austerity policies domestically.

20. Rising public indignation over such apparent indifference to issues of global inequity and squandering of natural resources has, however, given rise to what may have been the most significant political development in the last few years of the 20th century - the emergence of transnational civil society advocacy movements which bring together coalitions of interest groups which are dissatisfied with the way in which the world is managed and are demonstrating a formidable capacity to influence the conduct of global affairs. Though thriving in democratic societies, these movements by-pass normal institutional mechanisms. Instead, they draw much of their influence from successfully harnessing the power of mass media communication and information technology to build highly articulate and visible global constituencies of support for the causes which they champion (see Box). Others adopt less visible public profiles, working with similar effectiveness through broad networks of grass-roots activists who influence national and international decision-making processes through writing to and quietly lobbying their political representatives. What these movements are showing is that, whether it concerns human rights, environment, trade, debt or food safety, there are a very large number of people throughout the world who are strongly committed to seeing a global society which is managed more equitably and sustainably and who are prepared to use all possible measures to make their voice heard by those in power and the general public.

The Power of Civil Society Advocacy
The scale and speed with which debt has been reduced for Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPCs) at a time when the formal stance of most developed country governments has been towards a reduction in aid is, to a very large extent, attributable to the effectiveness of the advocacy campaign led and orchestrated by the Jubilee 2000 Coalition. Amongst the reasons for the success of Jubilee 2000 are:

  • Clear and simply stated, relentlessly reiterated time-bound goals: a tight deadline loaded with symbolism;
  • Appeal to people's shared sense of justice, regardless of religion, race, politics or wealth;
  • Construction of a loose coalition of Civil Society Organisations (including NGOs, religious groups, civic organisations, parliamentarians etc.), many of which had extensive existing networks;
  • Maximum use of media and state-of-the-art information and communication technology to complement traditional methods (religious services, televised concerts, demonstrations etc.) in quickly mobilising widespread and highly visible worldwide popular support;
  • High quality research and monitoring, leading to the development of well articulated messages (e.g. "too little, too late");
  • Targeting of key leaders worldwide to enlist their support by providing an assurance of popular backing;
  • Focus on major decision-making events, particularly G-8 Summits, ensuring that debt issues remain high on the agenda and that individual leaders are accountable for adhering to their commitments.

Ending hunger in the world is a cause which could provide the driving force for an equally effective international movement driven by civil society.

21. That this voice is being heard, whether through celebrities meeting the Pope, human chains at G-8 Summits or riots on the streets of Seattle or Prague, is evident in the speed and extent of the response of world leaders, the United Nations, the Bretton Woods Institutions, transnational corporations and private philanthropists. Amongst the most notable successes of such movements - and one of particular relevance to many Low-income Food-deficit Countries (LIFDCs) - has been the acceleration and deepening of debt relief under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative (as noted in the above Box). The related decision by the G-8 Cologne Summit in 1999 to link accelerated debt relief to practical measures by developing countries to address poverty has become the driving force of the development agenda at the start of the 21st century.

22. There are also signs that some transnational corporations (TNCs) are increasingly committed to conduct business with a growing concern for ethics, whether this relates to the employment of child labour, genetic modification of plant and animal species, trade in conflict diamonds or limiting environmental damage associated with mining, manufacturing or toxic waste disposal. This is reflected in the substantial response by TNCs to the United Nations Global Compact through which they undertake to respect the principles of good corporate citizenship.

23. The new wave of large-scale philanthropy targeted on problems facing poor people in developing countries is probably less driven by civil society pressures and more by the altruism of those who are distributing a part of their massive wealth.

24. Whatever the motives for action, the new Millennium has begun with a strong consensus that the main goal for development must be to eliminate poverty. However, although hunger is the direst manifestation of poverty, there has been a conspicuous lack of focus within poverty reduction strategies on food security issues and concern over hunger tends to be confined largely to emergency situations. Nor are there signs of a willingness on the part of both developing and developed countries to set aside the resources required to achieve the eradication of hunger in all its dimensions. The great danger is that the debate on poverty reduction strategies will continue in the corridors of power, delaying commitment to even the most obvious of actions, while almost 800 million people, many of them children, are deprived of the opportunity to live a full life. There is also a real risk that the very success of the agricultural revolution of the 20th century and the current general adequacy of world food supplies may encourage widespread indifference towards the need for urgent solutions to chronic hunger.


25. FAO's actions towards reinforcing commitment to the achievement of the WFS goals have been based on the conviction that, given the required political determination, it lies well within current technical, institutional and financial capacities to eradicate hunger within a very short time, provided that the objective is addressed directly rather than obliquely. Indeed, unless priority action is taken to reduce hunger, which is both a cause and an effect of poverty, little progress can be made towards eradicating poverty in all its dimensions. What is needed is not more debate or scholarly treatises but a renewed determination on the part of governments, backed by international bodies and civil society, to implement the straightforward measures which they endorsed at the WFS almost five years ago.

26. The response of the UN system, civil society and governments to food emergencies, both man-made and natural, has been improving steadily, with the result that relatively few people actually starve nowadays as a result of complex disasters compared to earlier in the 20th century, as should be the case given the existence of global food surpluses and the power of modern communication systems56. In contrast, there has been less obvious success in dealing with the large-scale but less visible problems of chronic undernourishment which were the central concern of the WFS, even though they probably contribute to the premature death of many more people and should be logistically easier to overcome than food shortages during complex emergencies.

27. It is precisely because of the insidious nature of chronic hunger, that FAO has felt obliged to be insistent in reminding its members of their commitments and to draw attention to the lack of sufficient progress towards the goal set at the Summit. Projections, based on current policies and recent trends, indicate that the goal of halving the number of undernourished people by 2015 is unlikely to be achieved until 2030.7 It is because of this and because "few, if any" of the 91 countries and nine international organisations which reported to the CFS in September 20008 were able to claim substantive progress in implementing their WFS commitments, that world leaders are being again invited to Rome to renew their commitments and translate them into practical programmes.

A. Major action

28. In seeking to reinforce commitment, FAO has begun at home, engaging the assistance of its governing bodies to develop a Strategic Framework for the Organization for the period 2000-15. This has adopted the WFS Plan of Action as "a new point of reference" which will ensure that resource allocations in the Medium-Term Plan for the next six years reinforce FAO's capacity to fulfil its mandate in line with the WFS decisions.9

29. Much of FAO's effort to strengthen political commitment has been directed towards governments, particularly those of LIFDCs. A growing appreciation of the extent, causes, location and impact of hunger is developing as a result of extending the reach of the Food Insecurity and Vulnerability Information and Mapping System (FIVIMS) to 67 countries as a multi-institutional food security monitoring programme for which FAO provides the secretariat. The need for an adequate allocation of resources for rural development and for policy changes to improve access to food has been highlighted in consultations on proposed National Strategies for Agriculture Horizon 2010 as well as in a series of regional consultations (conducted jointly with WHO) aimed at strengthening the political commitment for implementing National Plans of Action for Nutrition. The launch of the Special Programme for Food Security (SPFS) in over 60 countries has drawn attention to the practical opportunities which exist for improving agricultural productivity and rural incomes through inducing simple changes in farming systems within a supportive enabling policy environment. Setting up arrangements for South-South Cooperation in support of the SPFS has also added to the political visibility of food security issues. In addition, some progress has also been made in engaging the national level commitment of FAO's development partners and governments in the fight against hunger, through extending the ACC Network on Rural Development and Food Security: however, of the 69 countries in which the Network is established, the secretariat, provided by FAO, estimates that some 20-25 thematic groups are truly active and effective, suggesting that the full strength of the Network is yet to be exploited. The indefatigable advocacy for affirmative action to reduce hunger, undertaken by the Director-General who has visited several member countries and met many Heads of State since the Summit, is bound to have contributed further to a strengthening of the political resolve to act.

30. Many actions have been taken to strengthen the engagement of civil society in ensuring an adequate follow-up to the Summit. FAO has issued policy statements which are intended to set a basis for increased collaboration between the Organization and both NGOs and the private sector. In 2000, there was a series of regional NGO/CSO consultations which culminated in a presentation to the CFS in which concerned organisations pledged to reinforce their activities in support of food security. Civil society organisations have been particularly active, working alongside FAO legal staff, in the fruitful consultations on the Right to Food which have been convened, as mandated by the WFS (Objective 7.4 of the Plan of Action) by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, with the aim of clarifying the content of the right to adequate food and the fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger, and to give particular attention to the progressive realisation of this right as a means of achieving food security for all (see Box below). These consultations have already led to the adoption of a General Comment on the Right to Adequate Food by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. More than 800 NGOs have subscribed to a draft Code of Conduct on the Right to Food, which was drafted by them following the WFS, which clarified the normative content of the right to food which governments are expected to find useful in defining accountability for eradicating hunger. Contacts with religious leaders culminated in late 2000 in an address on the issue of hunger by the Director-General to His Holiness Pope John Paul II on the steps of St. Peter's on the occasion of the Agricultural Jubilee which was attended by well over 100,000 farmers from many countries. In the political arena the influential International Parliamentary Union (IPU) has taken a lead in generating national and international support for moves towards implementation of WFS commitments and held a well-attended Inter-Parliamentary Conference on Attaining the World Food Summit's Objectives through a Sustainable Development Strategy in 1998: this resulted in a final document in which the Union committed Parliaments to support implementation of the WFS Plan of Action at national and international levels. The Director-General's participation in meetings of the World Economic Forum in Davos has provided opportunities for the substantive engagement of private sector leaders, particularly managers of major agro-industrial concerns, as partners in the quest for a hunger-free world - a goal which is shared by the members of Italian corporate "groups of friends of FAO".

What is the Right to Food?
The right to food is recognised in legally binding international instruments, including, most fully, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, where it is recognised both as part of an adequate standard of living, which also includes housing and clothing, and separately as the fundamental right to be free from hunger.
The right to food implies the right to means of production or procurement of food of sufficient quantity and quality, free from adverse substances and culturally acceptable. This right can be fulfilled by an individual's own efforts or in community with others, and must be enjoyed by all without any adverse distinction based on race, religion, sex, language, political opinion or other status.
Under the Covenant, State parties are obliged to take all appropriate steps, to the maximum of available resources, to progressively achieve the right to food for all. A distinction is made between obligations of conduct and of results, and violations can be of commission or of omission. A distinction is also made between the unwillingness and the inability of States to take action.
Under international law, the State is accountable for the enjoyment of human rights within its territory. However, the State may assign responsibilities to different levels of government, and should indeed, through its national strategy or legislation, assign as precise a responsibility for action as possible, especially in addressing multisectoral and multidimensional problems such as food insecurity.
The levels of State obligations may also be seen as being at different levels, to respect, protect and fulfil the right to food. While the importance of creating an enabling environment where everyone can enjoy the right to food by their own efforts should be stressed, it remains incumbent on the State to ensure that those who are unable to do so for themselves are adequately provided for, so that as a minimum, no one suffers from hunger.

31. Political resolve, however, is ultimately sensitive to public opinion. The Summit itself played a major role in raising public awareness of the magnitude of the problem of hunger in the world and of the need for action. Since 1996 the Organization has stepped up its public awareness-raising activities within the context of a new corporate communications strategy. Timely information on food crises is provided by the reports and special alerts of the Global Information and Early Warning System (GIEWS), and two editions have so far been published of The State of Food Insecurity in the World which have received very extensive global media coverage. Much of the material on the Organization's multilingual web-site (which scored 12 million hits per month in 2000), contributes to increased awareness of food problems and actions being taken to address them. World Food Day celebrations have been held in some 150 countries each year, and the annual Telefood campaign has added a further dimension of awareness raising and promotion of solidarity, involving more than 80 television outlets around the world and reaching around 500 million viewers. In addition, the Director-General and senior managers have given a large number of press, radio and television interviews on themes related to the WFS and many articles on the subject have been published in popular and specialised publications.

32. In line with the recognition, implicit in inviting Heads of State to the Summit and to the forthcoming FAO Conference, that eradicating hunger depends on mutually reinforcing actions in several sectors, FAO has sought to deepen its cooperation with international agencies and other inter-governmental bodies whose partnership is necessary for success. Regular meetings are held at senior management and technical levels between the three Rome-based UN food agencies and the considerable extent of their joint work is illustrated in a twice-yearly publication:10 it was also highlighted in a joint presentation to ECOSOC in 2000. The UN Administrative Committee on Coordination (ACC) provides a valuable forum for inter-agency collaboration the effectiveness of which in combining forces to address food security issues was illustrated in the excellent collaboration achieved in the work of the Task Force on Long-Term Food Security and Related Issues in the Horn of Africa,11 in which FAO took the lead.

33. While the Organization has had long-standing cooperation agreements and joint work programmes with all the major international financing institutions (IFIs), steps have been taken to deepen this collaboration and to focus it increasingly on addressing food insecurity. There have been frequent contacts between the Director-General and the Presidents of all the IFIs and of most sub-regional banks, aimed at promoting a resurgence of lending for the rural sector, a theme which has also been brought up in addresses to the Boards of several of the banks. Commitments have been reflected in new memoranda of understanding, signed with the World Bank, the African Development Bank, the Islamic Development Bank and the West African Development Bank, in which the Banks have agreed to fund, at the request of countries, SPFS-related activities.12

34. Contacts at the highest level have also been intensified with the governments of developed countries and particularly with representative inter-governmental bodies, including the European Community and the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

B. Progress

35. Any assessment of the extent to which there has been a growth in the political commitment to address hunger is bound to be subjective until firm evidence starts to emerge of faster progress towards the eradication of hunger, especially in the LIFDCs. Some 53 developing countries registered a decrease in the proportion of their population classed as undernourished between 1990/92 and 1996/98 and 39 countries have reduced the absolute number of people who are undernourished. In their reports to the CFS, however, these countries are not yet claiming that reductions are due to actions taken in response to WFS commitments, an impression which has been confirmed by the influential Society for International Development (SID) which found in the course of 32 workshops (held in 26 countries in 1999 and 2000) that very few governments had effectively initiated a WFS follow-up process involving Civil Society Organisations. Nor, as is shown in the Resources paper, is there any evidence of a rise in international or domestic resource allocations for agricultural development, which might be expected to be part of any programme for reducing food insecurity. Instead, ODA for agriculture has fallen steadily: at the same time, a number of the most food insecure countries, while failing to mobilise resources for reducing hunger, have managed to increase their military expenditure.

36. What is encouraging is the broad consensus which has emerged in the international community that the focus of development assistance must be on reducing poverty so as to achieve the International Development Goal of cutting poverty by half by 2015. There also appears to be a consensus on the need to raise ODA allocations towards the 0.7% of GDP goal and to focus this on poor countries.13 Progress has also been made in reducing indebtedness under the HIPC Initiative and in linking this with investments aimed at aspects of poverty alleviation.

37. The paradox, however, is that this welcome commitment to reducing poverty, together with the correct recognition that the causes of poverty are complex, could lead to a diffusion of effort which results in a diminished focus on the more tangible and life-threatening aspects of poverty, especially hunger. Indeed, a failure to address the problems of undernourishment frontally is likely to frustrate the achievement of the goal for poverty alleviation, to the extent that hunger is as much a cause as an effect of poverty. The holistic approaches to development embodied in the Comprehensive Development Framework (CDF) and the UN Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF) need to be interpreted and operationalised with the definition of specific sectoral priorities to address the different aspects of poverty, translating these into proposals for action and resource mobilization for achieving the goals. The debate over the difficulties inherent in measuring hunger - a state which is all to evident for those who suffer it - must not be allowed to become a motive for claiming that its reduction is not a global priority.

38. This lack of attention to addressing food insecurity as a specific issue has been very evident in the international arena since the World Food Summit. It is thus only rarely that food insecurity has been singled out for specific action by the influential G-7/8 and G-77 Summits and other major international meetings including those of the G-15 and the non-aligned movement. The most notable exception was the G-7 Summit of 1997 which identified a need to expand ODA to Africa with a special focus on targeted assistance for rural development, food security and environmental protection. But at subsequent meetings there has been no report on the steps taken in this direction nor any further reference to the problems of hunger. For example, at the G-8 meeting in Cologne in 1999, at which agreement was reached to broaden the impact of the HIPC Initiative and relate it to poverty reduction measures by beneficiary countries, these were equated with improvements in health and education, with no reference to relating debt cancellation to food security or even to measures to increase income earning opportunities. At Okinawa in 2000, the G-8 communiqué reiterated support for debt cancellation in favour of poverty reduction and again emphasised that "health is key to prosperity" and that "every child deserves a good education": it also called for dialogue on food safety issues but not on food security. Nor has the Group of 77 concerned itself much with hunger issues except to call for the implementation of the Marrakech Declaration in favour of countries whose food security is threatened by trade liberalisation.

39. The same neglect of hunger reduction as a central element in poverty reduction is evident in the International Development Goals (IDGs) established by the World Bank, IMF, UN and OECD, which exclude the WFS target for hunger reduction as a specific and monitorable objective of development in spite of strong representations by FAO on behalf of the governments which endorsed the Rome Declaration.14 A similar situation prevailed in the initial guidance given by the World Bank and IMF for the preparation of Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs), but this has subsequently been broadened to suggest that not only health, education and water supplies but also other issues relating to rural poverty and income generation be given attention. Reflecting the position taken on the IDGs, however, reducing hunger has not yet been formally singled out as an objective for PRSPs. Yet, given that in most poor countries the incidence of poverty is highest in rural areas, measures to stimulate the growth of small farmer agriculture and to improve community-level food security are bound to come to assume their proper importance in PRSPs, to the extent that these respond to a fully participative preparation process. This would be consistent with The World Bank's emerging new "vision" for rural development which focuses on the need to address food insecurity as a specific objective of its mission for rural poverty reduction.

40. The November 2000 declaration of the Council of the European Union and the European Commission on the European Community's development policy is more specific in recognising food security as a key element within a wide range of activities in support of poverty eradication but one which also must be tackled from several angles. The need to address hunger as an issue in its own right was also explicitly acknowledged (but only at a very late stage in the drafting) in the Declaration of the UN Millennium Summit of September 2000 which stated as its principal goal "to halve, by the year 2015, the proportion of the world's population whose income is less than one dollar a day and the proportion of people who suffer from hunger and, by the same date, to halve the proportion of people who are unable to reach or to afford safe drinking water."15 Hopefully the strong spirit of cooperation which was so evident at the Millennium Summit will be reflected in resolute and purposive action.

41. A cautious optimism is also encouraged by the extent, already noted, to which transnational civil society movements are emerging as powerful advocates for a more equitable world and demonstrating that there is, contrary to some perceptions, broad popular support for addressing hunger in developing countries.16 Many NGOs are already deeply engaged in coping with food emergencies and in providing support services to small farmer communities, often with an emphasis on sustainable land use practices. Others have been playing a prominent role in the post-WFS consultative process led by the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the Right to Food. These are likely to form coalitions, taking advantage of improved networking possibilities, and become increasingly effective forces in ensuring greater international and national commitment to addressing food issues.

42. Finally, at the international level, there appears to be a growing recognition of the threat to peace and security posed by hunger and extreme deprivation. Local conflicts over scarce resources can quickly spread into regional conflicts with massive destabilising impacts, preventing any serious consideration of long-term food security issues in the affected countries. It is in the self-interest of all countries to avoid such situations. Because of its responsibility, under the UN Charter, for the maintenance of international peace and security, the Security Council has been giving increasing attention to the food issues, particularly recurrent instances of the use of food as a political weapon and to the assurance of food security in complex man-made and natural emergencies. Given the scale of chronic undernourishment, especially in countries exposed to conflict, this is an issue which also needs to be confronted as an important theme in the Security Council's quest for a more peaceful world.

43. At the national level, there are indications that a few developing countries are recognising the critical role that the rural sector has to play in a process of broad-based economic development and are committed to promoting agricultural growth, focusing particularly on what they perceive as new domestic and international market opportunities. But these remain exceptions and the majority of developing countries tend to pursue urban-biased policies with little evidence of a genuine determination to stamp out hunger and malnutrition and promote rural development.


44. The World Food Summit: five years later (WFS:fyl) will provide an opportunity for governments, the international community and civil society to reaffirm their commitment to the Rome Declaration and Plan of Action. But what is required is to move beyond these broad commitments and to state in specific terms how each will work together to step up time-bound action in support of hunger eradication, focusing on those aspects of the Plan which have the most direct and immediate impact on hunger, so as to ensure that the Summit goal is achieved by 2015. In this way political commitment can be translated into action. The commitment will be all the stronger if it is based on a consensual vision of how to go about hunger eradication.

45. While firmly rooted in the Rome Declaration, the actions to be taken by each of the major parties to the meeting can also benefit from advances in knowledge, thinking and institutional relationships which have taken place since 1996. Of increasing relevance to the design of effective strategies is the growing understanding of the nature of food insecurity and of its underlying causes.17 It is also becoming clearer that chronic hunger is as much a cause of poverty as it is an effect, reinforcing the intuitive perception that measures to reduce hunger are vital precursors to successful poverty reduction programmes: as long as people - whether adults or young children - are hungry, their response to development opportunities is bound to be inhibited. Indeed, evidence is starting to emerge that in most economies the presence of widespread hunger stunts the potential for national economic growth.18

46. Advantage also has to be taken of the significant advances in institutional decentralisation which have taken place in many countries over the past five years, supporting these with adequate resources. These open opportunities for more effective collaboration at the local level between public institutions which need to respond to the multiple dimensions of food insecurity: they also greatly facilitate the participative diagnostic and decision-making processes which are increasingly recognised as important in contributing to local self-reliance in addressing critical issues, including hunger and the basis for more sustainable livelihoods. The emerging role of civil society organisations in responding to local demands for knowledge and services must also be factored into plans.

47. Significant advances have been made in thinking on human rights issues generally and particularly in how the concepts underlying the Right to Food can contribute to the design of effective programmes for hunger eradication. These emphasise the primary role of the individual, the family and community in meeting their own food needs, while attributing a "fulfilment" role to governments which is activated only when ensuring access to adequate and safe food becomes beyond local capacities.19 Governments have, of course, an important role to play in creating the conditions for local efforts to succeed, for instance by assuring peace and conditions for effective participation in political processes.

48. At the level of international institutions, the steps which have been taken to improve inter-agency collaboration at national level, through the Common Country Assessment (CCA) and UNDAF as well as the creation of the ACC Network on Rural Development and Food Security, open new opportunities for mutually reinforcing inter-agency action towards hunger eradication.

49. However, in spite of these advances in thinking and in institutional relationships, few countries have adopted the frontal attack on hunger which is needed to achieve the WFS goals and appears to be feasible. Indeed, there is little evidence, except in the consultations on the Right to Food, of much focussed thinking on what is implied in practical terms - for a community or for a nation - by the commitment to eradicate hunger, beyond the important step of raising the output of small farms (see Box). Perhaps it is this absence of a clear vision of how to confront hunger in its many dimensions with effective combinations of practical, simple and cost-effective measures which are sure to produce results, and policy reforms, which is at the root of the lack of progress which, in turn, tends to weaken the determination to fulfil commitments.

Raising farm productivity as a means of reducing poverty
Most poverty in developing countries is overwhelmingly concentrated in rural areas, and urban poverty is often a consequence of migration from rural deprivation. Amongst rural populations, small farmers' families are usually amongst the poorest and most malnourished. In many LIFDCs, success in raising small farmer productivity can lead simultaneously to a reduction in rural poverty, improvements in household food security and nutrition, greater food availability on local and national markets, and a reduced import bill. Experience suggests that often relatively modest investments, combined with simple technology changes, can result in substantial gains in both land and labour productivity where adequate markets exist for the incremental output: part of this investment may be made from farmers' own resources, particularly through conversion of labour into productive assets such as small-scale irrigation and drainage schemes, plantations of tree crops or land improvement, for instance through terracing or levelling.
Having a ready market is critical for the success of programmes for raising farm output, but one of the dilemmas facing developing countries is that the long-term decline in international cereal prices (resulting from a combination of rapid technology change and subsidies in developed countries), while allowing cheap imports and hence low food prices, tends to reduce food production incentives for small farmers and to erode their major source of income.

50. Hunger, unlike many other manifestations of poverty, is relatively easy to identify, to measure and to target. The solution - that of ensuring regular access to adequate, nutritious and safe food - is also seemingly simple. Unlike many health problems, eradicating hunger does not require many years of costly scientific research. This implies that a real option exists to address hunger, as is done in the case of emergencies and by some countries which have in place effective welfare programmes, by assuring that those in need but who are, for structural reasons, unable to meet more of their food needs either from expanded farm production or from gainful employment have access either to suitable food or to the money with which to buy it.

51. One of the most surprising aspects about the search for solutions to hunger is that almost everyone who should be concerned with its eradication - but probably not those who are genuinely hungry - tends to search for a rationale for rejecting direct measures to address the problems of chronic undernourishment in favour of what they perceive and claim to be more sustainable solutions. Paradoxically, underlying this aversion to direct solutions to what, for many people, is an urgent moral issue, are essentially ethical concerns relating to human dignity and dependence. Yet no human state can be more damaging to individual dignity nor cause more dependence on others than persistent deprivation of the food which, along with water, is the most essential ingredient for leading a healthy and fulfilling life. This is recognised by most developed countries which have in place social security systems to ensure universal adequate nutrition. Though the need for similar systems in developing countries, where the proportion of the population vulnerable to hunger is higher and risks tend to be greater, would seem to be self-evident, few countries have been encouraged by development practitioners to consider putting them in place.

52. An aversion to direct solutions is also often voiced by many economists who claim that they distort markets, remove incentives, are unaffordable, hold back growth and breed corruption. In practice, however, any steps which translate a need for food into incremental effective demand can only stimulate markets; the incentive to work harder or to produce more food is largely meaningless to those who have neither the strength nor the means to do so; redistributional measures, when properly targeted, are less costly than the investments required to underpin seemingly more sustainable solutions (and which, as in the case of some forms of taxation and land reform, may be fiscally neutral); economic growth can only be held back by the effective non-participation of those who are hungry; and there is no evidence that corruption thrives more on the resources committed to redistributional rather than investment programmes.

53. The implication of this is that the widespread bias against redistributional measures must be set aside in the search for practical and rapid solutions to hunger. They should be seen as part of a balanced set of initiatives designed to address the various manifestations of hunger and malnutrition, identified through good diagnostic work, in a targeted, cost-effective and institutionally feasible manner. As demonstrated by Maharahstra State in India and some regions of Ethiopia, the multiplier effects of such balanced programmes can be increased to the extent that they are used to create productive assets and that they are supplied by local purchases which expand domestic food markets, thereby stimulating greater farm output. Visible success towards eradicating hunger and improving nutrition, and evidence of the social and economic benefits which this brings, can thus become the turning point in generating the necessary will to complete the task in the shortest possible time.

54. There is much to be learnt from those few countries, regions and communities which have made rapid progress in reducing the incidence of undernourishment and have struck the right balance between different measures (see Box). Options might be explored for sharing such experiences with other countries through extended South-South Cooperation arrangements.

How Thailand beat malnutrition
Over three decades ago, Thailand recognised malnutrition as a national problem which was concentrated in rural areas. It decided to address malnutrition through a community-driven rural development programme. Improving the nation's nutritional status was considered as a productive investment and not an expense which was reflected in a national policy which called for accelerated action focused on the improvement of nutrition as a critical element in poverty alleviation. A national rural development policy and plan were developed with the involvement of planning officials, staff from many sectors, academics and community representatives. Nutrition improvement became a central element of a broader economic and social contract between the government and people, relating it closely to poverty alleviation. Poverty was to be addressed in all its dimensions and not from an income perspective alone. It entailed the implementation of integrated multi-sectoral actions to improve the nutritional status of the community, linking this to income generation opportunities. Rural job creation, village development projects, complete coverage of basic minimum services for the community and an expansion of food production (with an emphasis on improving the quality of the diet) formed parts of the programme. At first these activities covered only the poorest third of the country, but soon encompassed the entire nation.
Amongst the reasons for Thailand's success in eradicating moderate to severe malnutrition in a single decade (1982-91) was its investment in human capital. It recognised that addressing malnutrition had to be based on social foundations, and that, at the core of collective action against malnutrition, lay self-help. A community-government partnership was developed and fostered through broad-based social mobilisation strategies. Volunteer facilitators, selected by the community, became responsible for enhancing access of the community to minimum basic services and for mobilising the community to engage in nutrition-relevant actions. Central to this was the utilisation of a set of basic minimum needs indicators that guided the people in identifying and working towards prioritising their nutrition problems and taking appropriate actions, maximising the potential of local resources.

55. It is through reference to successful experiences and to the important developments which have taken place since 1996, as outlined above, that a possible basis for an enhanced effort towards hunger eradication, rooted in the Rome Declaration and the Plan of Action, begins to emerge along the following lines:

56. The Right to Food

Poverty, Hunger and Economic Development

Hunger as a Result of Market Failure

Options for Improving Food Access

Political Commitment

Global Inter-Dependence

57. Parties to WFS:fyl may find that the above elements provide a helpful basis for the design of enhanced national programmes for the achievement of the Summit goals, for establishing institutional accountability and for developing effective partnerships, focused on common goals. They may also offer the basis for the development of voluntary guidelines for realising the right to adequate food in terms of an International Code of Conduct on the Human Right to Food.

58. The governments of countries engaged in preparing Poverty Reduction Strategies could internalise the above considerations in defining the hunger eradication elements of these strategies to achieve at least the Summit target by 2015 within their borders. The types of programmes which they will adopt will vary, but a common feature is likely to be support for decentralised community-led initiatives designed to ensure inclusive food security, involving a strategic succession of measures aimed at bringing about immediate reductions in hunger and putting in place the ingredients of longer term sustainable solutions. Implementing the programmes will require the engagement not only of Ministries of Agriculture but also of other institutions - from both the public sector and civil society - whose mandate it is to respond to the multiple demands made by communities and common interest groups which are committed to eradicating hunger.

59. Enabling developing countries to implement hunger eradication programmes on the scale required implies a full engagement of the international community. Endorsement of the above concepts would imply acceptance of the need to take purposive actions to eradicate hunger rather than assuming that hunger would disappear as a by-product of broader measures to eliminate poverty. Hunger eradication goals should, therefore, be explicitly included amongst the International Development Goals which guide the actions of the international community. Subscription to the general considerations outlined above also implies a need for deepened collaboration between the UN agencies (especially the Rome-based food agencies but also those concerned with health, education, children's welfare and the environment), the International Financing Institutions (IFIs) and other inter-governmental bodies in working jointly within their areas of comparative advantage through the coordinated and efficient delivery of technical, food and financial assistance. International funding for hunger eradication should be on a scale commensurate with the problem and advanced under affordable terms and conditions which do not lead to a renewed increase in indebtedness.20 It is particularly important that commitments be sufficiently secure over a long term to enable governments to embark with confidence on the multifaceted programmes needed to achieve the WFS goals.

60. A sharper focus on hunger within the broader objective of reducing poverty also has implications as to how the Organization approaches implementation of its Medium-Term Plan. Indeed each major activity should be assessed for its relevance to hunger reduction and questions should be raised as to how its impact on food security could be increased. This would imply, for instance, that the Organization's long-term strategic thinking should focus less on predicting food supply and demand as determined by markets, but more on identifying food needs and how these can be met in a cost-effective manner. Policy advice would increasingly focus on the hunger eradication component of PRSPs and investment projects would be evaluated not simply in terms of their economic benefits but also for their effect on hunger reduction. And the SPFS could be broadened, so that it becomes a people-centred demand-driven instrument through which groups and communities, backed by various sectoral ministries, civil society and concerned agencies of the UN system working in partnership, are empowered to address hunger in its multiple dimensions as a first essential step in poverty reduction. This would bring the SPFS in line with the recognition, implicit in the Rome Declaration and in the invitations to Heads of State, that eradicating undernourishment requires multisectoral action. In turn, it would imply developing a joint vision on how to approach hunger eradication with other partners within the UN (especially WFP and IFAD) and with civil society.

61. Developed countries, backed by international institutions, especially those concerned with trade, have an opportunity to demonstrate their will to make potentially very significant contributions to hunger eradication by opening their markets, especially for the agricultural exports of developing countries; by reducing dumping; by sharing technology and by expanding funding for relevant international public goods (research, regulation of common fish stocks, monitoring land degradation etc.).

62. Civil society organizations, especially international and national NGOs operating in developing countries, as well as farmers', women's and youth groups, are expected to commit themselves to address the problems of hunger with renewed vigour, playing important roles in resource mobilisation, provision of technical services and advocacy. They may also assume responsibility for monitoring performance against reaffirmed commitments, using score cards as a basis for measuring achievements.

63. Good opportunities arise for the private sector to contribute to hunger reduction. Within developing countries, this would be principally through extending trading systems into rural areas and investing in small-scale industries which could provide gainful employment and equip people with new skills. At the international level, contributions can be made by the private sector in opening new markets for developing country products, moving manufacturing from developed to developing countries, and developing and freely sharing technologies which offer the prospect of improving the livelihoods of poor people. If the significant private resource transfers expected to eventually flow through the Clean Development Mechanism can be directed towards small resource-poor farmers to enable them to shift towards more sustainable systems of land use, this will also have beneficial effects on food consumption and the environment.

64. One can conclude that, in spite of the lack of progress over the past five years, the prospects for achieving the WFS goal remain good. This, however, will require that the eradication of hunger be adopted as a specific objective nationally and internationally within poverty reduction strategies, recognising not only that, as long as people are hungry, there can be little progress towards halving poverty through economic growth processes but also that all humanity enjoys a right to food in the context of international human rights legislation. The WFS goal can be achieved by tailoring programmes to address local needs and opportunities, balancing measures designed to bring about immediate reductions in deprivation with investments aimed at generating sustainable livelihood improvements so as to ensure inclusive food security at the level of each community. The lead must come from the families, communities and countries where food insecurity is deepest, but their efforts must be matched with reciprocal resource commitments by the international community, provided through bilateral and multilateral channels and CSOs on a non-recoverable basis. Developed countries can also contribute to the achievement of the Summit goal by reducing trade barriers for agricultural imports and by creating incentives for transfer of knowledge and appropriate Foreign Direct Investment, particularly in the rural areas of developing countries. It is in the self-interest of the people of both developing and developed countries to eradicate hunger as a shared endeavour as quickly as humanly possible.

1 FAO Report of the World Food Summit 13-17 November 1996, Part 1, Rome 1997.

2 Mazoyer, Marcel, Access to Food: Poverty Eradication, Safety Nets and Food Assistance, Presentation at the Inter-Parliamentary Conference "Attaining the World Food Summit's Objectives Through a Sustainable Development Strategy", Rome, 29 November-2 December 1998.

3 UN Conference on Trade and Development 2000: The Least Developed Countries 2000 Report, Geneva 2000.

4 World Bank OED: Précis, No. 202 - Poverty Reduction in the 1990s - The World Bank Strategy, Washington 2000.

5 Devereux, S. Famine in the Twentieth Century, Institute of Development Studies, Working Paper No. 105, Brighton 2000.

6 This is not to imply that there are not still serious constraints which limit national and international responses to disasters which tend to be triggered too late, under-funded and insufficiently sustained once the media spotlight has shifted to a new area of focus. The lack of any permanent facility for funding responses to major disasters imposes serious constraints on the scale and speed of action.

7 FAO The State of Food Insecurity in the World, Rome 2000.

8 FAO CFS 2000/3-Rev. 1 - Follow-up to the World Food Summit - Report on the Progress in the Implementation of Commitments I, II, V and Relevant Parts of Commitments VII of the Plan of Action, Rome 2000.

9 FAO The Strategic Framework for FAO 2000-2015 - C. Creating sustainable increases in the supply and availability of food and other products from the crop, livestock, fisheries and forestry sectors, Rome 2000.

10 FAO/IFAD/WFP Working Together, Rome 1999 onwards.

11 FAO The Elimination of Food Insecurity in the Horn of Africa - A Strategy for Concerted Government and UN Agency Action, Summary Report of the Inter-Agency Task Force on the UN Response to Long-term Food Security, Agricultural Development and Related Aspects in the Horn of Africa, Rome 2000.

12 See: FAO Mobilising Resources to Fight Hunger, Draft, March 2001 (referred to as the Resources paper).

13 IMF/OECD/UN/World Bank: A Better World for All - Progress towards the International Development Goals, Paris 2000.

14 IMF/OECD/UN/World Bank: Op. cit.

15 UN "We the Peoples" - The Role of the United Nations in the 21st Century - Millennium Report of the Secretary-General, New York 2000.

16 This is evident from a recent public opinion poll in the USA by the University of Maryland which found that 75% of Americans would be willing to pay US$50 a year in taxes to cut hunger in half worldwide by 2015 (cited by Bread for the World Institute President, David Beckmann, in a press release dated 2 February 2001).

17 FAO The State of Food Insecurity in the World, Rome 2000.

18 Arcand, J-L. Malnutrition and Growth: The Efficiency Cost of Hunger, FAO Rome 2000.

19 FAO The Right to Food in Theory and Practice, Rome 1998.

20 The need for "concessionality levels (including grants) appropriate to the purposes and to the situation of recipient countries" has been noted in the review of international development cooperation in the Report of the Secretary-General to the Preparatory Committee for the High-level International Intergovernmental Event on Financing for Development.