A Policy Framework to Achieve Food Security and Adequate Public Nutrition while Rural-Urban Population Dynamics Change
In this discussion, the phrase ‘adequate public nutrition’ entails that people in a social group are able to consume a diverse, wholesome, balanced diet daily. Having this possibility implies that the dietary ingredients necessary for the purpose are available at an affordable price in a sustainable way. Moreover, what constitutes a balanced diet for an individual depends on one’s age, sex, state of motherhood, work, climatic conditions, etc. What its ingredients are is often governed by a person’s food culture.
Food security then will be understood as availability of such dietary ingredients at an affordable price in a sustainable manner. Even under ideal conditions, it may be difficult to ensure a sustainable and an adequate supply of them at all times. Therefore, within reasonable limits, we may have to be flexible about what those ingredients might be. My purpose here is to identify the main causes of this difficulty arising from the changing rural-urban population dynamics, and suggest a policy framework to overcome them.
It would repay to spend a little time on clarifying some important aspects of the problem before we proceed. I have defined the term ‘public’ as ‘people in a social group’, but this is too vague. I think it would be reasonable to include in this group all the urban and rural population of a country. Sometimes, it is useful to state what might seem to be obvious in order to ensure the inclusiveness of an approach.
I would identify the ingredients of a balanced diet for a given population with reference to its food culture, because it reflects both the general dietary needs of the people and what plant and animal food are best raised under the climatic and geographic conditions obtaining in an area. Further, supporting various food cultures is crucial to ensuring the bio-diversity in agriculture and animal husbandry. When there is a justifiable reason for changing or adding to them, it would be wise to choose species closely related to them.
Challenges Faced by Sustained Procurement of a Varied and Balanced Diet
Before we consider what policy framework would be suitable for our purpose, it is necessary to identify the difficulties in food procurement people would face under the present change in population dynamics. Let us assume that most people know what ingredients they need for a varied and balanced diet, and are willing and able to prepare them for consumption. Then, our problem will be one of sustained availability and affordability.
Taking availability first, in developing countries, most of the food production is carried out in rural areas using labour-intensive methods. In affluent countries, food production has been industrialised with the consequent environmental degradation. Migration of rural population in developing countries will inevitably lead to a reduced food production owing to a man-power shortage, while industrialising the food production there would hardly change the unemployment rates among the emigrants, but would result in environmental damage.
This indirectly brings us to the problem of affordability. Division of labour is now so ingrained in nearly all societies, vast majority of people have to resort to procuring food by buying it. So, even when the appropriate food items are available, their inability to afford them owing to their poverty has already made millions hungry and malnourished.
Our third problem affects both the availability and affordability of food. Whether we are concerned with increasing population in urban centres or world-wide, it is indisputable that ecosystem services necessary for food production are finite, hence, it is untenable to believe that food production could keep pace with population growth ad infinitum. A regular rainfall, suitable temperature, natural restoration of soil fertility and green fodder, are among the key products of the ecosystem services which are already over stretched.
So, let us recall the challenges a policy framework should be designed to overcome:
• Halting further environmental degradation and inducing its regeneration with a view to increasing the available ecosystem services necessary for enhancing food production, hence, its availability.
• Limiting the global birth rates in general and limiting urban population increase through migration in particular. This necessity is dictated by the fact that the possibility of life on earth depends on the equilibrium between the availability of certain finite mineral resources and the living. These include water, Oxygen, Carbon dioxide, Nitrogen, etc.
The possibility of the first equilibrium depends on the qualitative and the quantitative equilibrium among all living species. Its qualitative aspect reflects the bio-diversity among the living, while its quantitative component refers to the supportable population of each species including man.
• If we could succeed in dealing with the two difficulties above, then we still face a shortage of labour for food production owing to the migration of rural people to cities. But if it is proposed to introduce capital-intensive agro-technology to increase rural food production, we revert to environmental degradation as before that drives us into the same evil circle from which global warming and Aral Sea catastrophe arose.
• Moreover, most of those migrants do not possess the education and/or training that could enable them to secure employment in a city. Besides, most developing countries suffer from high unemployment rates, which is highest in cities. This would make a balanced diet beyond most migrants even when it is available.
• Even if migration into urban centra were manageable, and the migrants could find employment in their new homes, and rural food production in developing countries became sufficient, we would still encounter an infra-structure inadequate to guarantee a satisfactory level of food availability in urban areas.
Dealing with these challenges is not only a question of food security and nutrition, but it also involves the form of future human settlements in the world and all its very grave implications for the present and coming generations. Here, two approaches are available to us. First is the easy and apparently intuitive selectionist’s way, and the second is the more difficult but inclusive holistic way. Let us look at them in turn before we consider some appropriate policy options.
Assessment of Each Approach
The selectionist’s approach comes in several flavours, each reflecting the extent to which it takes into account all the factors that influence a sustainable availability and affordability of food. In one form of its manifestations, action is directed at food production in or near urban settlements, but ignores Population dynamics.
As the population in the settlements increase, it would result in their ‘singaporisation’ dotting the world with gigantic conurbations. The availability of food in them is expected to be ensured by highly industrialised, capital-intensive, factory farms of limited bio-diversity using a great deal of energy.
In a more inclusive variant of this approach, a certain area around an urban centre may be singled out as a specific region of food production. When there are several such regions, food production may be coordinated to increase its availability and lessen individual regions vulnerability due to the fluctuations in its ecosystem services, etc.
Another variant directs its focus of action to areas ranging from squatter camps to rural areas facing depopulation due to emigration. Here too the emphasis is on food production, and its affordability to the needy is believed to be safeguarded by getting them to engage in trade or food production using advanced capital-intensive methods.
There can be several more selectionist’s variants strung between the modes of action I have described. Provided that they are incorporated into a hierarchy of holistic strategies implemented by somewhat modified operational approaches, I shall have no reason to deprecate them. But, freed from such an anchor, they could do more harm than good.
Let me illustrate my point. Most selectionist’s approaches (eg. PERI) are built on the idea of ‘agricultural entrepreneurship. But, this only addresses the problem of availability of wholesome food, because it does not tell us how the tens of thousands of other migrants who are not agricultural entrepreneurs could afford the food thus made available. Naturally, this method would benefit the food producers, sellers and the urban people who already have some source of income and whose dietary difficulties were mainly due to the shortage of food. A tour around the Angolan capital, big cities in South Africa, India, etc., I think, would convince us of the need for a holistic approach.
Another selectionist proposal allows singaporisation of human settlements, and advocates the use of latest technology as an environmentally benign way of producing sufficient quantities of novel food for all. It has three grave defects which exclude its incorporation into a rational and humane strategy designed to solve our problem.
- As the previous solution, it only considers the question of availability, but ignores the question how the migrants can afford the food on sale.
- In every part of the world, unplanned urban population growth has greatly increased the incidence of all forms of crime, urban violence, homelessness, insecurity, and unemployment, lack of health care and education and training facilities. Moreover, infectious diseases propagate extremely quickly in areas of high population density, while high building density causes extreme and insalubrious weather fluctuations as observable in New York City. Effect of such settlements on the climate of adjacent areas remains to be determined.
- Most of us do not eat just because we are hungry, or just to get in the nutrients we need in a way analogous to what we do when we fill our car with petrol. I think I am justified in saying even the poorest of us derive some enjoyment by eating. It is stimulated by the taste, flavour, colour, texture, temperature, etc., of the food. I have called this experience dietary enjoyment.
Nobody knows how many natural ingredients have been used as food after due preparation. We can call this collection the human dietary ingredient set (HDIS). Some of its ingredients have been removed either because they were discovered to be poisonous (eg. Bitter Almonds), or became socially unacceptable for some reason.
The remainder includes a great variety of fruits, vegetables, cereals, edible seeds, fish, meats, etc. The knowledge and skill needed to grow, raise, harvest, prepare and consume items in this HDIS represents our collective food culture, a priceless artefact that sets us apart from a brutish existence. We still can enjoy it more or less fully.
We have no right to deny this heritage to the future generations. We have no right to destroy or make extinct any item in the present day HDIS thus denying the future generations what we may enjoy today. We have already done a great deal of harm here by deprecating the value of many local cultivars in favour of foreign varieties, and driving them into extinction through disuse.
If allowed, production and sale of ‘novel’ dietary ingredients would shrink HDIS in conurbations. These will be used to ‘make’ simulations of the ‘real thing’. So, not only would be the future generations denied the enjoyment of some real food, but they are expected to be content with some ersatz product, marvelling at our ‘cutting edge’ technology that was used to cut them off from the real thing. This is the way technology opens to singaporised communities and it might end in a dietary ‘Brave New World’ every reasonable human being would regard with horror and loathing.
I shall now look at the overall solution a holistic approach to our problem would yield. Obviously, unless we have decided on a solution to a problem, it is impossible to form a policy whose successful implementation would resolve it. My objective is to enhance the quality of life of a nation’s population whether people live in town or country.
The only reasonable way of achieving this universal felicity seems to be to make the relationship between the urban centres and the outlying areas one of real mutual dependence, where both parties are able and willing to engage in a fair exchange of values in peace and security. An over simplified example of this would be the fair price a city-dweller pays to a rural Gardner for quality fresh fruits and vegetables.
So, my proposal is concerned with achieving a sustainable, higher quality of urban life not in isolation, but as something that applies to both city and state as an integrated whole. A holistic framework for this would be concerned with ameliorating the quality of life in both areas in tandem. As the space at my disposal here compels me to restrict my self to nutrition, the interested reader might find useful a fuller description of this tandem model described in https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/evolution-cities-sustainable-means-enhancing-our-quality-lal-manavado
Our problem then is how to ensure a sustainable supply of suitable food stuffs available and affordable to both the urban and rural people while keeping their respective populations at optimal numbers. It will be seen at once addressing the migration from rural to urban centres is only one component of dealing with our overall problem of enabling the people to experience a reasonable quality of life in the face of global population growth.
Qualifications and Provisos
Food security and nutrition are a key component of the success in enhancing a nation’s quality of life using my tandem model where town and country advance in unison. Even when separated from the whole, success in achieving food security and nutrition still depends on how successful we are in enabling our target group achieve their other fundamental needs, viz., education, health and security, and how reasonable they are in meeting their procreational need, not to mention our non-material need.
While strongly emphasising the crucial importance to our success of undertaking appropriate and simultaneous action in those other areas, I will only touch on education as it relates to people’s dietary competence and food systems. Meanwhile, it will be necessary to include some policy decisions outside the domain of nutrition, because food systems are formed of some components outside of it, viz., transport, storage, and communications, and buying and selling systems.
As it is crucial to avoid certain mistakes we have made time after time, I shall first specify what I shall not do:
- Shall not regard current migration from the rural to urban centres as sustainable.
- Shall not suggest that It is possible to achieve a secure supply of wholesome affordable food if the current pattern of migration should continue, unless it is accompanied by a more or less equal movement of people in the opposite direction.
- Shall not ignore the fact that the number of migrants is very large, a comparatively few will be able to take up agriculture as a living in their new urban setting.
- Shall not over look that vast majority of migrants will be buyers of food.
- Shall not advocate the use of technology as a means of creating ‘employment possibilities’, that would enable majority of the unemployed migrants to find paid work, and thus be able to afford to procure food. That this is a fallacy becomes clear when we recall technology is intended to be labour-saving, and most rural immigrants into cities lack the basic education and training needed to master the proposed technology.
- Shall not ignore the logical and scientific inseparability between bio-diversity in food production and local food culture.
- Shall not assume it is justified to regard food as just another thing to be commercially exploited for maximum possible profit.
- Shall not believe or assume that it is safe to supplement the ecosystem services beyond today’s limits using agro-technology and engineering.
- Shall not suggest that food security and adequate public nutrition can be achieved in isolation.
- As purchasing is the commonest means of food procurement, and rising urban unemployment in developing countries is a fact, I shall not try to solve our problem only in terms of availability.
- Shall not overlook that its wastage throughout food systems is a major obstacle to the availability of food.
- Shall not under estimate the importance of insecurity (war etc.), inept and/corrupt government, and fallacious pictures of city life propagated by the ‘media’ as causes of this demographic change and drop in food production.
It is clear that we need a raft of well-integrated policies whose more or less successful implementation is essential to our success. This requires the decision-makers to be willing and able to integrate their policies in a way that each would support the others. The key to our success is the effective implementation of a set of mutually supportive policies embodying intra- and inter-policy harmony.
As to the areas to be included, I would like to clarify two issues that have often clouded many discussions, viz., research and technology. It is crucial to understand their inclusion in a policy is only as a means or a tool to be used, and never as a goal. This is a logical fact. So, a policy on how to achieve our objective may contain the policy segment, ‘appropriate research and the use of suitable technology will be use to achieve …’
Strictly speaking, the above is nothing more than a strategic decision on the tools to be used to achieve a specific goal. Later on in this discussion, I will offer an example of how research and technology become a part of a strategy required to implement a sound agriculture policy. This is not to deny that a government may justifiably have a policy on research and technology. But that has nothing to do with its use for a particular purpose.
For the sake of completeness, I will outline some of the supportive attributes other policies must possess to ensure the successful implementation of a good food and agricultural policy. It is axiomatic that all policies should take into account every relevant aspect of the local reality, viz., climate, geography, existing infra-structure, public services, available financial and other material resources, current level of human know-how, etc. Unless this is done with scrupulous care, resources will be wasted and very meagre results will be obtained.
Sustainable production of wholesome food, a healthy climate, access to clean air and water, etc., depend on the extent to which ecosystem services are available to us. Extent of this depends on the continued well-being of our environment. Its well-being is sustained by freedom from environmental degradation, while it is enhanced by environmental regeneration. Hence, it is crucial for the achievement of our objective to have an environment policy that embodies the following:
I. Ensure that the use of Ecoservices or natural resources will not cause environmental degradation.
II. Promote qualitative and quantitative bio-diversity in general and in particular in agriculture, animal husbandry, and in fisheries.
IIII. Prevention of any undertaking releasing into environment material toxic to the living, could cause mutations in them, or could bring about an artificial imbalance among the species such as algal blooming in bodies of water. All undertakings will be required to progressively reduce their emission of green-house gases and materials detrimental to earth’s Ozone layer.
IV. Environmental regeneration is given a high priority.
V. Rewarding innovations that reduce the consumption of energy and finite natural resources, or the prolongation of the life span of articles in common use, while penalising the opposite.
VI. Unless it is necessary for national security, no undertaking may use agricultural and arable land for any other purpose.
As vast majority of people depend on buying food as their principal means of its procurement, it is vital to begin with enabling them to earn a decent income. But in most developing countries, high unemployment levels are prevalent among both urban and rural populations. Regardless of their national economic status, most of the unemployed in the world do not possess the background know-how necessary for them to acquire new skills that would fit them for decent employment within a reasonable period of time.
So, making it possible for them to afford food requires a humane employment policy that emphasises the importance of adopting labour-intensive means of earning a sustainable, decent income immediately or after a comparatively short training. Moreover, it should be relevant to the actual local needs, and should be well within the capabilities of people under training, and should underline the great value of food production and agricultural pursuits. It should never forget unless technology is used with greatest care, it results in more or less permanent unemployment to a varying extent.
A legal issue has emerged as a major stumbling block to employing rural migrants under 18 years of age. A variety of global conventions on children’s rights and the legal restrictions on the employment of minors makes it legally impossible to implement schemes to train and employ youth unwilling or unable to acquire a conventional education.
No doubt, best intentions motivated those conventions and laws, but they exclude rural youth who lack educational opportunities or are unwilling to go to school, from any thing other than illegal under-paid work or vagrancy in cities. Perhaps, it would be wise to revise those conventions so that national authorities may be empowered to design a realistic and humane youth employment policy that should ensure minimum wages, financial rights, safety at work, etc. Indeed, giving those youngsters a chance to earn a decent income through rural food production would reduce their migration into cities.
In some areas, insecure land tenure has been a great obstacle to the availability of food, and the cause of people migrating to cities. This may involve a community’s sole right to harvest a forest, or an individual’s tenure of a plot of land. An enforceable legal framework to publicise, uphold and enforce some communities’ right to harvest their forests keeping them free from intrusion, and securing one’s ownership of the land one cultivates, ought to constitute a part of a country’s legal policy.
Nearly every legal system seems to uphold freedom of expression unless it is used to incite violence through public mind management using media as a tool. It incites violence by manipulating public beliefs by inducing people to believe that some half truth or a lie is true. Likewise, media now manipulate the rural people’s beliefs about city life, rendering them blind to urban reality, and promoting a nation-wide belief in the fashion ability and the ‘good quality’ of industrial food and drink.
This act of public mind manipulation manifests itself as advertising and other forms of ‘promotion’. Their effect on the rural to urban demographic shift, public health, a country’s food culture, agriculture, bio-diversity, and environment needs no elaboration. I think it is high time to question the specious notion of freedom of expression having a value in itself, and to curtail its above use which results in public misery, just as we rightly do it with respect to extremist propaganda.
As the legal issues above have a direct bearing on both aspects of our discussion, I have mentioned them explicitly. However, in the following discussion, legal policy would be required to clear the way for revision of several existing policies that are governed by international agreements, some of which promote migration to cities and adversely affect domestic food production of developing countries. For instance, international trade policies are totally incompatible with any effective national policy to prevent environmental degradation, or to promote its regeneration.
Next, a policy on appropriate education and training is necessary to our success both with respect to the availability of food, and enabling the people to work and earn enough to procure food and other essential items and services. I think we have already waited too long to admit the great errors on which current education systems are based:
- Every child _should_ get an education enabling it to get a highly paid ‘white collar’ job.
- Sole purpose of a good education is to enable a child to earn the highest possible income/get the most prestigious job.
- What consequences doing such jobs may have to others and to our environment are not a part of education.
- Every child wants I and II; therefore it has a right to education. But, no child is born with any such knowledge, hence, this is a notion propounded by some ‘educated’ parents for all the children in the world, regardless of what other children’s parents think, nor yet what those youngsters are willing and capable of acquiring. Not only is this grossly arrogant, but it results in countless number of drop-outs from schools.
- This has led to the deprecation of agricultural pursuits as something beneath the dignity of white collar workers. Now, evidence of this is so easy to observe in every society.
If it should earn the respect it deserves, a good education policy shall reject the untenable ideas on which I-V are based, and strive to tailor a country’s education on its real needs and values, i.e., how best it may enable its people to adequately satisfy their six fundamental needs without entailing harm to others and to our common habitat. Perhaps this will always remain a dream, but, man has managed to realise some of his dreams in spite of himself.
Other things being equal, neither education nor work could be satisfactorily undertaken unless one’s health permits it. So, a sound health policy relevant to the local burden of diseases is a key element in our raft of policies. Often, resources needed for the purpose are hard to come by, and outside help may be available. But, unless such help is carefully integrated into a sound national health plan by policy, such help could do more harm than Good.
Distribution of authority to determine and direct the internal affairs of a nation varies so greatly from country to country, that it is impossible to make general policy recommendations. Further, the matter is made even more complex by the extent to which political power may be devolved in a country. Within these limitations however, it would repay to design a deployment policy which would require a suitable distribution of educational, health, agricultural, etc., institutions in areas of the country where they would be of the greatest relevance. For instance, agriculture training facilities located in farming areas would be of the greatest use.
By today’s standards, a fair financial policy seems to be a contradiction in terms. The notion of a prudent financial policy is simply another way of saying put your money into what will most likely to yield you the highest return. But it does not entail any considerations like avoiding environmental degradation, foreclosure of mortgages, redundancy of workers due to automation (very cutting edge technology indeed), relocation of production facilities, etc., etc. It is easy to see the effect of such a financial policy on affordability of food to some city dwellers, let alone the migrants.
A supportive financial policy will ensure an adequate budget allocation for the implementation of appropriate policies in agriculture, education, health, etc, while refraining from allocating resources to policies that with thwart us in achieving our objective. It would make it easy to secure financial backing for labour-intensive cooperative ventures whose returns may be modest. It will promote a fair exchange of values between producers of goods and providers of services, and their consumers. It will refrain from backing those who profit by speculation.
I have often spoken of trade policies as a major obstacle to our objective in more than one way. They can have a negative impact in three ways:
- Availability of food reduced through export of food to secure foreign currency or through the replacement of food crops by cash crops. Very often, this is encouraged by development agencies that advocate the subordination of agriculture policy to that of trade.
- Establishment of local or multi-national near monopolies in food buying and selling system. As these will ‘maximize’ their profits/increase their effectivity, food producers are forced to grow what those sellers would buy from them. What sellers’ buy depends on what they sell most. What they sell most is what they have manipulated people into buying through advertising. Effects of this insidious process is now becoming more and more evident even in developing nations as increasing incidence of obesity and deficiency diseases.
This is because such selling entities resort to industrial food processing to increase profit by reducing production cost by using fewer cultivars/animal breeds to make a few standard products. Not only does this trend reduce bio-diversity in agriculture, but it promotes factory farms that employ fewer people and causes greater environmental degradation.
- International and domestic trade policy that undercuts domestic food production and the local HDIS by allowing the import, manufacture and sale of industrial food that does not belong to the local food culture. This brings about the health problems mentioned earlier and a reduced demand for some items in the local HDIS, which in turn, leads to unemployment among the local farmers and forcing them to migrate to urban centra.
- So, a supportive trade policy shall make certain that I, II and III do not obtain, and actively promote domestic food production and fair trade through trade devolution, viz., food bought and sold by smaller buying and selling units preferably by food cooperatives.
Trade and financial policies can act in tandem to increase employment rate, reduce the need for long-term food storage and to replace the ‘convenience food’ of industrial origin by freshly cooked local cuisine, by supporting the establishment and running of strategically located small restaurants for people who find it difficult to prepare their daily meals. When food is offered at a reasonable prices, such establishments will become gathering places for families. This presumes that there is adequate urban security.
Development policies of some countries have caused a great deal of misery and suffering to billions of people. In its design, they have been encouraged by international agencies to embrace industrialisation and free trade as a panacea to all social ills. Almost invariably, whenever an industrial installation was built, it was near some large urban centre and depended on people willing to work under harsh conditions. Most of those people came from rural areas.
When such projects were completed and went into operation, thousands of rural workers were laid off and settled down in urban slums. As the vast majority of them were unskilled labourers, and no efforts were made to mitigate their plight, they derive no benefit whatsoever from the national development to which they have contributed. Meanwhile, the free trade policy has alarmingly denuded forests of tropical hard wood, and several once forest-clad areas in Africa, South-East Asia and the Amazons have become semi-arid scrubland to which none would return.
Hence, development policy should not be dictated to by the amount of financial profit its implementation may yield. It should be governed by three prime considerations, viz., does it provide long-term employment to the greatest possible number of people with the skills they now possess, does it adversely affect the country’s current or potential food production, and does it promote environmental sustainability? A negative answer to any of those questions disqualifies a policy proposal as unsound and irresponsible.
For decades, defence budgets of most nations have been excessively high. Its consequences range from deficit spending to under funded services concerned with agriculture, health, education etc. I think it is high time that the defence planners began to appreciate that large hungry and malnourished groups are a greater threat to the stability and the internal security of a country than enemies without. A willingness to agree to a rational defence budget would prove a very useful adjunct to the implementation of a sound financial policy.
A country’s infra-structure is often the responsibility of more than one authority. I shall confine myself to transport and telecommunications as they are the most relevant here. Policy on the former should develop harbours and water ways, railway and a road networks in a country, preferably in that order for that reflects their respective energy efficiencies. A considerable number of food items are not affected by relatively slow transport, eg. cereals, dried, salted or otherwise preserved food. Moreover, their construction and maintenance offers many employment opportunities.
Telecommunications policy should be realistic with respect to the current level of technical expertise of the country (both technicians and users), cost of installation and maintenance, and the actual need. At the same time, it should aim to build a system that is robust, flexible and open to future evolution into a more complex system of greater functionality if the need for it should emerge.
The very possibility of our satisfying any legitimate need depends on the level of security we enjoy. Please note that every form of discrimination, violence, theft, etc., etc., are manifestations of inadequate security. Our security depends on our willingness and ability to observe certain ethical and legal norms, and the authorities’ willingness and ability to do the same, as well as their willingness and ability to apprehend and justly deal with those who do not observe these norms.
So far, the debate on security and its achievement has been conducted in a very fragmented way by various closed groups of professionals. These include jurists, defence experts, policemen, criminologists, etc. None of these groups are willing or able to conceive of security as a single state of affairs that may manifest itself in a variety of forms. Therefore, this debate should be opened to the public so that we may develop a non-partisan, holistic approach to the problem.
Perhaps the most important and controversial policy issue we need to address is that on population growth. I have already outlined why it is critical to our well-being and that of the future generations. At social level, its implications for national and international security are very grave indeed. In the full knowledge that my view expressed here, would be vigorously attacked, I propose a family planning policy that encourages with every possible incentive, single-child families.
These then are some of the attributes policies in the ambience of the suggested food and agriculture policy must possess in order to ensure its success. Neither the list of ambient policies, nor that of their desirable attributes given here is exhaustive. I have devoted much space to outline how we may ensure inter-policy harmony here, because unless it obtains, even the best food and agriculture policy implemented with greatest skill would only yield an indifferent result.
Food and Agriculture Policy
I shall now outline a food and agriculture policy framework whose appropriate and skilful implementation would enable us to achieve our objective. It can be divided into three main components, viz., production, intermediate part and finally procurement and consumption. This division will make it easier to understand the different segments of the needed policy.
The purpose of the food and agriculture policy we need is to ensure a sustainable availability of a qualitatively and quantitatively adequate supply of food at an affordable price. Qualitative component of this supply ensures the diversity and the wholesomeness of the available diet, hence the need for bio-diversity in agriculture and animal husbandry. So, let us consider how to address those logically inseparable four aspects of the food supply with reference to three areas of policy described earlier.
Let us first consider how each area of food and agriculture policy may contribute to the sustainability of the desired food supply. In order to achieve this, production component of a food system, which I have called the yielder system, will have to be governed by the following policy decisions:
- A yielder system may not require ecosystem services in excess of what is optimal with reference to the local environmental conditions. When local ecosystems services have been supplemented by agro-technology (irrigation etc.) or the use of agro-chemicals, it would be wise to reduce their use in a gradual and a pragmatic way.
- Undertaking to promote the use of local cultivars and livestock through incentives to their producers, and public education as to their merit.
- Making food production a source of a decent income, a rewarding activity, and a valued profession, to which an adequate number of skilled people will always be attracted.
- Promotion of multi-culture, agro-forestry on appropriate scale, and environmental regeneration in the area.
- Ensuring an uninterrupted supply of suitable seeds and livestock at a reasonable price to the producers. Sometimes, it may be necessary to ensure them a similar access to some ecosystem service supplementation (eg. irrigation) and animal feed.
- Dependable means of harvesting the produce at a suitable rate. For example, if bad weather is anticipated, rapid harvesting may be essential to save a crop. Obviously, the strategy needed here will include the establishment of a reliable meteorological service accessible to food producers.
Please note that the implementation of each of the above four policy segments to ensure a food system’s sustainability requires strategies that may sometimes cut across other policy segments. For instance, segment 3 above may require the following strategies:
- Establishment of appropriate agriculture schools/training facilities in strategic locations.
- Public education to make people understand the importance of food production, dietary diversity and the local food culture.
- Design and use of suitable funding mechanisms for training in agriculture, to establish oneself in food production, etc.
Let us now examine the policy segments that influence the sustainability of what I have called the intermediate part of a food system. It includes transport, storage, food preserving and buying and selling systems.
- All those systems ought to be as environmentally benign as possible.
- When faced with unemployment, it is necessary to make those systems as labour-intensive as possible, because most people procure food by purchasing it, hence they need an income.
- Strategic deployment of storage facilities, appropriate food preserving units, transports systems, etc. This ensures a sustainable availability by reducing waste due to spoilage on transit and storage.
- Promote the establishment of strategically located family restaurants selling wholesome food at reasonable prices for the benefit of those who are unable to prepare their own food. These ought to be run on a cooperative basis, and similar food selling units in direct contact with producers will be of great service.
Just to note two strategies needed to implement the policy segment 7 above:
- Require the systems involved are as energy efficient as possible.
- Ensure they do not release into the environment pollutants or green-house gases.
Sustainable procurement and consumption of food represent one side of an exchange where production and intermediate parts make up the other. It is vital to remember that it is the former that justifies the existence of the latter, and never vice versa. The reason for this is obvious; everybody’s need for food in order to live generates the need for its production, transport, etc. Policy segments to ensure sustainability of procurement and consumption include:
- Induce the public to appreciate and value food production as one of the most important activities.
- Encourage the public to procure and consume a varied and wholesome diet, preferably composed of local produce.
- Take steps to induce the public to avoid food whose production adversely affects the availability of ecosystem services and the current HDIS.
Implementation of these policy segments principally depends on adopting suitable education strategies like dietary education at the institutional level, and campaigns of public education. Now going over to the question of quality and quantity, I shall deal with them together because they have many policy segments in common. Let us begin with food production:
- An agriculture policy that encourages and supports cultivars and livestock best suited to the geography and the climate of the area involved. Additionally, this will increase the sustainability of production and its bio-diversity.
- Establishment of food quality control agencies with authority to order the withdrawal of unhealthy products.
- Support maximum production of food locally, especially when high unemployment rates, migration of peoples to cities, and malnutrition are causes for concern. Under these circumstances, it is unwise to support cash-crop production.
As an example of strategies needed here, maximising food production would require among other things, effective measures to confer secure land tenure to peasantry. Moreover, policy segment 14 will also contribute to it, but at a higher level. We can now move onto the intermediate part of a food system.
- Institute actions to minimise food wastage in storage and transit.
- Ensure that a reliable and timely supply of food from stocks is available to the end-users.
- Make sure that when fresh food is needed now, it is not preserved for future sale.
- Ensure that speculation in food does not adversely affect the quantity of staple food stuffs like cereals etc., available to anyone.
As an illustration of a strategy to implement segment 17, one may initiate help to procure ships, barges, goods wagons etc. Please note what we are interested in here is to move from production units to end-users either directly or via a storage facility in a timely fashion to ensure that an adequate quantity of it is available to them. Our next stop is procurement and consumption.
- End-user education concerned with the importance of a varied, wholesome and a balanced diet, their preparation or procurement, and the importance of dietary enjoyment as a civilised need and avoidance of domestic food wastage.
- Curtailing the availability of unhealthy food.
Example strategies to implement 22 might include taxation, sales restrictions, and counter-advertising to deglamourise the desirability of partaking highly advertised products. Now it is time to look at what policy segments are necessary to make the output of a food system affordable. As the previous policy segments are concerned with ensuring the sustainability, quality and quantity of its output, here we need to look at the system as a whole to ascertain the affordability of its products.
- Devolution of the food trade.
- When unemployment is high, labour-intensive sources of employment should be required. When conditions including population increase improve, more sophisticated but appropriate technology may be introduced. Success of every evolutionary approach and the universal failure of every ‘revolutionary’ approach should always be borne in mind.
- Effective steps to create more employment opportunities in food and agriculture field should be undertaken. Implementation of segment 23 is essential to achieve this as will be explained below.
- An increase in agricultural production shall not be undertaken using capital-intensive methods hoping that would lower food prices, because---
- It does not decrease unemployment rate, but can make many jobs in food production redundant and thereby adding to the numbers of those who cannot afford to buy enough food.
- It automatically assumes that food wastage cannot be remedied, surplus production of several common staple items cannot be distributed in a fair way, and the excessive profits made by the intermediate part of a food system does not have to be addressed with some vigour.
- Its negative impact on environmental sustainability, hence on climate change.
Let me repeat that the list of policies given here is not exhaustive. I shall outline some strategies useful in implementing the policy segments 23 and 25 because they would expand the employment possibilities in food and agriculture in town and country while making a contribution to the quality and quantity of public nutrition.
The argument to support the decision on policy segment 23 refers to some irrefutable facts obvious to everyone. First, High unemployment and population increase are endemic in countries where the incidence of mass hunger and malnutrition are greatest. Secondly, vast majority of the world’s population procures food by purchasing it.
Therefore, we need to take simultaneous action to enable people to purchase their food and to increase quality food production when it is necessary. Unless both are done, all we can expect to achieve is a food surplus in the producing country that may be exported to some intermediary’s profit while the plight of those who could not afford food remains unchanged.
Activities in the intermediate part of a food system, viz., transport, storage, preserving, catering, buying and selling are getting increasingly concentrated in hands of few people or their façade ‘a legal entity’ a phrase used by law to refer to a commercial establishment to make its human owners free of certain liabilities.
They are motivated by their desire to maximise their profits. Use of technology is one of the most effective ways of cutting production costs by cutting down the number of people needed for the purpose.
Most unemployed people in developing countries, especially migrants into cities have no chance whatsoever in finding work in the kind of capital-intensive establishment operating the systems in the intermediate part of a food system. But with some suitable training of comparatively short duration, they can support themselves if opportunities to do so exist and they are willing to take them.
Company fusions and takeovers that are common among the tradesmen are always followed by redundancies. Therefore, if we sincerely want to create employment opportunities really open to both young and old rural migrants to cities, it is essential to devolve the economic power of many big companies especially in buying and selling food, catering and some types of preserving.
In general terms, the best devolutionary strategy would be to confine the activities of a commercial unit to a certain geographical area. Here the political question is simply whether it is fair that many should make a modest profit so that they may be able to meet their fundamental needs including nutrition, or is it fair a few tradesmen should be allowed to make large profits while the plight of the billions of unemployed remains unchanged.
The companion strategy to the above would be the one to implement the policy segment 25, using the strategies needed for the provision of technical, legal and financial assistance to suitable people to establish and run preferably on a cooperative basis the following:
- The type of family restaurants described above.
- Similar strategically located sales outlets.
- Transport, storage and common preserving and semi-refining units (eg. milling) closely linked with food producers.
- Variety of suitable farms.
To sum up, I have proposed here a policy framework that consists of two parts. The first outlines some suggestions concerning those other relevant policies that surround a food and agriculture policy. The success of the latter is inextricably linked with how much support they can offer to its implementation. The second part describes various segments of a holistic food and agricultural policy intended to mitigate the immense burden of nutrition millions of people face today.
At the same time, I have proposed a few strategies that may be used to implement some segments of the food and agriculture policy. It is very important to remember that the success of a policy depends on the appropriateness of the strategies chosen to implement it. The unifying thought throughout has been that adequate and wholesome public nutrition depends equally on the sustainability of a food supply, and the availability and affordability of the food it provides.
A word on examples of successful projects; They represent how one or more strategies have been put into practice in the field or at the operational level as some prefer to call it. It is the last link in the chain that begins at policy design and reaches out to people through strategic plans of implementation.
Obviously, when they are appropriate with reference to the local needs, their success and continuance on a larger scale depend on how seamlessly they can be integrated into the strategies we need to implement the food and agriculture policy described here because sustainability of food production, and the quality, quantity and affordability of its output depend on it.
For instance, if some local technology dependent agriculture project is successful, we must always ask ourselves the question how many people does it enable to afford enough to eat, how many dos it deny that possibility, and is it sustainable? If the answer to the second is greater than that to the first, the project is unacceptable in spite of its local success. If it is not sustainable and enables more people to afford an adequate diet, it may only be used as a short-term emergency measure.
What I have emphasised throughout this discussion is the fundamental value of nutrition, well-being of our environment, and the need for cooperative endeavour rather than competition for unlimited personal gain regardless of its consequences to the others. We know the magnitude of the problem, we have the means of solving it, but can we overcome the inertia of our indifference and our reductivist partisanship through centuries past?
Mr. Lal Manavado