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Global Forum on Food Security and Nutrition (FSN Forum)

Can Good Reasons of Habit Give Place to Better?

My apologies to Cæsar for taking liberties with something he is supposed have said. In the current discussion, I think we ought to have taken a more careful look at what we mean by value in the present context. Unless we have a very clear and correct notion of value involved, it is difficult to see how we can develop a sound set of criteria to select locally successful projects with a view to supporting them on a larger scale.

Supporting such field operations will be worthwhile only if they are sustainable without degrading the environment, and could produce the ingredients necessary for a varied, balanced and wholesome diet. What is wholesome, balanced and varied is not something that should be imposed on the people by outsiders, but should be ascertained with reference to their own food culture. This seems to be the only reasonable path away from the continuing diminution of bio-diversity in agriculture and animal husbandry.

I postulate that even the local success of a project cannot be meaningfully ascertained just in monetary terms; rather its success should be measured in terms of the number of country’s people whom it enables to procure a sustainable, wholesome, balanced and varied diet. After all, this is what we all are trying to achieve by SDG-2. In my previous submission to this discussion, I have identified our fundamental need of nutrition as what gives food its high value while intermediate systems between a food producer and an end-user gain their service value because food they store, transport, sell, etc., is valuable. Had we had no need of food, no part of a food system could have a rational value.

Having said this, I do not deny the usefulness of money as a tool to procure food, because fewer and fewer people take up agriculture or animal husbandry as their livelihood. However, it is also undeniable that in many rural areas of developing countries, malnutrition is rife even among the food producers themselves. There are two main reasons for this:

  1. Poor soil, lack of water, know-how, appropriate implements and equipment, seeds, or breeding stock, etc.
  2. For some reason, food producers in an area cannot produce the minimum output needed to provide a community a wholesome, balanced and varied diet. If 1 above is not the cause of the problem, it could be a geographic or a climatic reason, which allows people to produce even an abundance of some food, but not varied enough to provide them a balanced diet. This might also result from faulty planning, lack of know-how, commercial inducements, etc. Example consequences of both of these are incidence of deficiency diseases like night blindness and Beriberi associated with a diet mostly consisting of rice.

If we agree that the second factor above is reasonable, then the surplus rice will have less value to the producing community than what it requires for its own needs. But to a neighbouring community short of rice, that surplus will have the same value as the rice the producing community requires for its own needs. Supposing that neighbouring community has excess fish, and then a cooperative mechanism may enable the two to exchange fish for rice at commensurable values so that both communities may move a step closer to achieving our objective, viz., a wholesome, and varied and a balanced diet for all.

From a global perspective, it is the obvious desirability of this objective that gives a value to agriculture, animal husbandry, and fisheries. The intermediate systems including selling therefore gain their service value from how effective and efficient they are as channels of making available to  the end-users a sustainable supply of affordable, wholesome and varied food stuffs. I think it would repay to build the proposed framework upon this value foundation.

Best wishes!

Lal Manavado.