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Food                           and                           Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

NGOs voice common concerns over food plan

Taken from a report that first appeared in Go-Between (August/September 1996), a bimonthly publication of the United Nations Non-Governmental Liaison Service.

As the World Food Summit approaches, NGOs discussing the draft Declaration and Plan of Action are voicing common concerns about a number of key food issues.

Consensus has been reached by NGOs in all regions that the market alone is incapable of solving food security problems, and can even, at times, be directly harmful. NGOs have reiterated their concern about the ability of foreign trade to complement rather than supplant national production. In this context, NGOs in Asia recommended a freeze on the implementation of further agricultural liberalization until after a thorough study of the impact of the GATT Agricultural Accord had been undertaken and the Accord renegotiated.

Food as a basic human right
Emphasis has been placed on the legal basis for the basic human right to food, as it already exists in international agreements. NGOs in North America have taken this one step further, fully endorsing the need to establish a Convention on the Right to Food. Almost all of the NGO declarations adopted for the Summit have indicated their strong opposition to the use of food as a political weapon, including blockades of countries and communities. In Latin America, NGOs adopted a motion against the economic embargo of Cuba.

Democratization of food security strategies
In Asia, NGOs insisted that democratic control of the food system is the ultimate test of democracy. In the NGO Consultation for the Near East, participants agreed on the need to create an environment conducive to the effective participation of civil society in agricultural policy-making. All across the globe, organizations have reiterated that the vital resources that make food security possible should stay under the democratic control of food producers and local communities. On this basis, the dissolution of small farming households, as a result of indiscriminate liberalization policies enabling the entry and dominance of extremely powerful multinational agribusiness, should be prevented and reversed.

Macroeconomic policy framework
Structural adjustment programmes (SAPs) have been widely criticized as undermining food security, and international financial institutions and governments have been urged to prevent SAPs from endangering access to water, sanitation, food and nutrition. In Africa, NGOs recommended that international financial institutions adopt food security as a major indicator for the success of adjustment programmes. In Europe and North America, the inadequate commitment of governments to ensure social safety nets in the process of economic adjustment, as endorsed by governments participating in the 1995 World Summit for Social Development, was deplored. NGOs in Latin America have proposed creating debt swaps for food security programmes.

NGOs in Asia and Europe have urged FAO to adopt a Code of Conduct for agricultural investment, based on sustainability and equity, to ensure compliance with best practices in terms of food safety and ecological impact.

In all regions, the importance of recognizing the equal rights of women to land and other resources has been reiterated. All the NGO declarations adopted for the Summit have urged all actors to acknowledge and take into account the essential role of rural women as the primary managers of the world's resources and producers of over half of the world's food.

Calls have been made to alter a pattern of overconsumption by industrialized nations and local elites which may perpetuate and increase the disparity between the North and South. The importance of promoting more efficient water use and sustainable, environmentally sound food production was stressed. In Asia, NGOs emphasized the urgency of reintegrating agricultural production into the local ecology and abandoning techno-fixes like the green revolution. In Africa, NGOs highlighted the necessity to engage in organic agriculture whenever appropriate and improve local technologies through harnessing indigenous knowledge.

"Fighting hunger and malnutrition"
In preparations for the Summit, the relationship between the twin scourges of hunger and malnutrition has been highlighted. On 16 October 1996, the World Food Day, with the theme "Fighting hunger and malnutrition", will provide an opportunity for NGOs to initiate dialogue and public advocacy on issues related to world hunger and malnutrition and mobilize community efforts to promote productive activities, before the World Food Summit takes place three weeks later.


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