Mr. Lal Manavado
A holistic post-2015 well-being enhancement platform
A holistic post-2015 well-being enhancement platform
Comments on the Critical, enduring and Emerging Obstacles to FSN
Before we are able to determine that something is a critical obstacle to FSN, it would have had to endure for some time. Otherwise, there is nothing concrete for us to examine and assess its role as critical or not. As for the emerging obstacles, they may vary widely; we will discuss them later on. For the present, we may anticipate some of them in generic terms, but whether they would be critical, enduring or transient obstacles to FSN can only be ascertained with certainty only after they have taken place, hence this change of heading.
Before we talk about the seven items identified as obstacles to FSN, it would be useful to consider what may be reasonably considered to be a serious hindrance to FSN. Nobody could question the obvious fact that world’s food security and nutrition depends on the influences exerted on what generates food and on the appropriateness and the competence with which it is used. Food systems are the tool used for this purpose. Like all tools, they could be well or ill designed which represents their structural suitability to achieve FSN.
Even a sound tool may be put to some inappropriate use. We will expand on this problem later on. Likewise, the finest tool in the world in incompetent hands would not achieve much. Finally, we need to consider apart from food systems and the people who operate and use it, what other physical resources are essential for its operation. These then, constitute the three logically distinct but inseperable dimensions of food security and nutrition:
Consider a car, unless we have a correct notion of parts needed to build a car and where and how they are to be fitted together, our effort would not succeed. Then again, we may have the correct notion, but may not be able to obtain the right components or would procure unsuitable ones because someone has persuaded us to do so or for diplomatic reasons. All these would yield poor returns. System thinking, when judiciously used, enables us to distinguish between the conceptual and the material requirements necessary to achieve a given objective.
It is easy to understand that if any one of the foregoing three were to disappear, the question of food security and nutrition would become merely academic. This implies that any adverse influence on any of them is an obstacle to achieving FSN. That presents us with a new challenge; what criteria may we justifiably use to ascertain what is a critical, enduring or an emerging obstacle to FSN.
This is a very serious problem; first, some of the greatest obstacles to FSN would have to be overcome by domains other than food and agriculture. In the ongoing discussion on this forum on “Reducing Inequity and Inequalities in Food Security and Nutrition”, we have dealt with them as the first order causes of inequity and inequalities in FSN. Briefly, current population growth and inter-policy disharmony between food and agriculture and other policies seem to be the most difficult obstacle to FSN we would have to surmount.
Perhaps, it is the awareness of the nature of these two critical problems that has steered this discussion into what we have termed the second order causes of inequity and inequalities in FSN i.e., those causes within the perview of food and agriculture authorities. Even though this restriction would be rather infelicitous to our success, we will try to confine ourselves to those implicit guidelines.
In our previously noted contribution, we have shown that a food system consists of eight sub-systems. In order of their emergence into the real world, they are as follows:
It is difficult to see any other justifiable description of what may constitute a food system. Nobody with the slightest knowledge of human social evolution could deny the primacy of yielder sub-system, that the first six elements of food system were already in place before agriculture was even invented and that the trade sub-system is a recent addition to our long and enduring use of food systems. We urge the HLPE to disregard any literature or authority that denies the obvious facts of human social evolution and postulates representing some untenable revision of history.
Moreover, it is time the authorities and experts ask themselves the obvious; would anybody with a vestige of intelligence engage in food trade if it already did not have a value? Trader did not create a demand for food. The demand for it arose before trade because after air and water, it is the most essential thing for life. Let our reasoning be firmly anchored to reality, for it is there those who are hungry and ill-nourished await our actions in real time. Thus, the value of food is intrinsic.
Critical obstacle 1.
Therefore, it would be reasonable to single out problems with food systems as a critical obstacle to FSN. However, this problem has three facets:
The other system requirements which are determined with respect to the possibilities of a given area and what is desired as a food system’s output, includes seeds, animals, farm implement, equipment etc. In selecting them, pains should be taken to ensure their appropriateness i.e., that they are the most suitable for the purpose within the competence of their users.
Thus, a combination of flawed food system design and its inappropriate use represents a critical and an enduring obsgtacle to FSN.
Critical obstacle 2.
A sustainable output of the requisite food is a necessary condition for FSN. Assuming that structurally suitable food systems are in place and are put to appropriate use, ensuring their sustainability requires the following:
The sole rational response to such disasters would be to establish a sufficient array of strategic food reserves to ensure an adequate emergency food supply so that all efforts may be directed at restoring the damage to food systems or the health of its operators. As we have noted, third order food sales would present an undesirable stumbling block to the deployment of such reserves.
Therefore, it would be reasonable to regard the use of materials and methods that imperil the sustainability of food systems and failure to establish adequate food reserves as a critical and an enduring thret to FSN. ‘Climate smart’ is a phrase inadequate for our purpose, for it is only one of the three eco-system services necessary for agriculture.
Critical obstacle 3.
The second prong of our approach is directed at the less affluent countries. According to the available information, family owned and small holdings are the major food producers in many parts of the world. Here, the operator competence assumes a very great importance. Not only it is crucial to ensure and adequate food production, but it is also essential to set up and run sustainable food systems that are put to their appropriate use.
We will not recommend any specific methodology for exclusive use, for what is suitable for any of the first seven sub-systems of a food system could vary widely. This makes specific recommendations not only counter-productive, but also dangerous. Farmers, fishermen and other food gatherers usually have a reasonably good idea of what to grow, when and how much fish they may take, what items are available, where and when it is best to harvest and so on. What is required is appropriate technical training when required; this applies not only to the yielder sub-system, but also to all the others.
However, we will offer a few guidelines for such training with a view to enabling the workers to earn a decent income and to enhance the local FSN:
Now to all of us; in affluent countries, we have been remiss at neglecting dietary competence as an important part of our general education. Unless we knew what is appropriate to eat in order to obtain a wholesome, varied and balanced diet necessary for nutrition and culinary enjoyment, where to procure it and how to prepare it for consumption, physical availability and affordability of food would not ensure us an adequate nutrition or culinary pleasure. In fact, it could result in some waste of good food.
In less affluent countries, this is more serious, for targeted promotion of foreign industrial comestibles has made young people reject far more nutritious and suitable local food leading to an increased incidence of NCD’s among them and waste of local produce. This is very serious in urban areas of poor countries where it would be folly to waste any scrap of food. Immediate steps to introduce aggressive dietary education with emphasis on local food culture is highly recommended.
It is obvious flaws in operator training and neglect of public dietary education constitute a critical and enduring obstacle to FSN; we have already mentioned how quantity-intensive agriculture education has rendered food systems vulnerable by using limited number of food species while its inadequacies have reduced the food production in less affluent countries. Universal neglect f dietary education has promoted food waste as well as to a rising incidence of NCD’s.
Enduring problem 1.
In our contribution mentioned earlier, we have outlined how a sense of proportion and common decency may be introduced into food systems in general and their trade sub-system in particular.
Enduring problem 2.
This problem is concerned with all workers involved in a food system, especially farmers, fishermen and other food gatherers. It has two dimensions; first, is their land tenure. Food gatherers’ right to collect food from an ancestral area is often flouted by industry and/or commerce, particularly in parts of South America. An analogous problem for the local fishermen is that with or without the connivance of their government, foreign factory ships often exhaust their traditional fishing grounds. The unfairness of this and its impact on the local FSN needs no further comment.
The second aspect of this enduring problem is the failure of the authorities and/or training institutions to increase the relevant competence of those food producers. We do not suggest an academisation of the subject, but rather a solid, practical training. At the same time, the authorities have often failed to establish and support a suitable way for those food producers to acquire suitable tools. Much effort and potential harvests have been lost owing to this.
Extending this to end-users, we find the situation is no better among them. The sad fact is that some decades ago, many countries included some dietary education in schools. Unfortunately, owing to the recommendation of certain pedagogues, it was dropped from school curricula as unnecessary. This is one of the factors that has contributed to improper nutrition in many countries with accompanying child obesity and a rising incidence of NCD’s.
Enduring problem 3.
We will call this the problem of competence allocation, for it is concerned with deploying the relevant capability in the right place. Even though errors here may not be critical, they could have serious consequences for FSN. As technical expertise comes in a wide variety of shapes, shades and relevance, it is necessary to outline a general frame of reference.
Using them in their technical sense, expertise may be needed at the global, regional and local levels. When applied to the world, FAO is a global organisation, WHO has regional offices that include several countries, and at the local level, FAO has its national offices. When we consider the organisations in a country, its national government is ‘global’ for the land and is generally divided into administrative regions while its towns and villages are its local divisions.
Therefore, the primary task at the global level is to design a policy aimed at achieving a well-defined objective eg., FSN and a sound implementation strategy. This calls for an understanding of the full extent of the need a policy is intended to address, and a knowledge of the best generic ways and means of achieving it. It is crucial that such ways and means are generic, for their national implementations are likely to display great variation. This expertise would always strive to facilitate inter-policy harmony.
Seen from a world-wide perspective, expertise required at the regional level would be concerned with adapting the previous implementation strategy so that it may suit the regional conditions. Going to local i.e., national level, further adaptation of a regional strategy may be required to attain the national part of a global effort.
Now we begin to approach the time when a considerable deployment of expertise may be needed. National government would pass on its general implementation strategy to regional authorities. They would adapt it with reference to concrete possibilities and national food needs. For example, it would repay an arid region with a long coastline to concentrate more on fisheries than on agriculture. But what sort of fisheries should be established or expanded ought to be determined by the local workers. Here, specific relevant expertise may be fruitfully deployed.
The secondary function of a global organisation is that of a facilitator. It could provide a variety of suitable material resources and relevant competence at the field level, fisheries in our example. Some may vigorously object to our deployment of most expertise at the field level. But that is where action is, that is where food is produced. This secondary function naturally requires sufficient support personnel.
In our view, most policies are encumbered with an enormous amount of superfluous verbiage. A policy expressed in more than 200 to 300 words is in the danger of becoming a rambling discourse containing logically incoherent elements contributed by a group of individuals with their own vested interests.
Implementation strategies suffer even more of this defect. Should an implementation strategy exceed 600 to 800 words, one may be certain that it is riddled with field activities that do not constitute a strategy. We have seen ‘strategies’ ten to fifteen times this length, most of which described what to be done at the field level. This represents a misplaced use of field expertise at a higher level.
As far as we know, competence to formulate harmonious policies and implementation strategies is hard to come by. It is not the lack of intelligence that causes the problem. So far, policy makers have acted in isolation i.e., concentrating only on their own area without taking into account the consequences of their work on the other policy domains. This has been and still is defended with tooth and claw to uphold ‘institutional autonomy.’ We regret to say the best efforts to change this has been limited to the invention of a redundant phrase ‘thinking in silos’ when reductive thought has been with us for centuries.
Comments on the seven points.
1. Building resilient supply chains for FSN.
Resilience is an attribute of sustainability of a food system. Therefore, one ought to look at what would adversely affect a food system, not at just one attribute of its sustainability. Besides, we cannot see why the phrase ‘supply chain’ is used her as though such a thing could exist independently of the other seven sub-systems of a food system.
2. Urban and peri-urban food systems.
Apart from home gardens, allotment gardens were once common in Berlin, London and Oslo. These were primarily for a single family’s use. Market gardens on the other hand were and are commercial. It is difficult to see why this activity should be considered to be a separate food system that deserves special attention. We believe the improvements proposed for food systems above can be easily applied to them.
3. Conflicts and the fragility of food systems.
We have covered fragility as man-induced vulnerability, a dimension of sustainability, hence it has already been subsumed earlier. We cannot see how food and agriculture authorities may intervene in conflict resolution as surgical use of force and skilled diplomacy are not within their range and scope.
4. Revitalizing climate policies for FSN.
A salubrious climate is one of the three requirements for sustainability, an adequate water supply and soil fertility are the others. Agriculture could act prudently with respect to all three, but the biggest adverse influence on them come from trade and industry. We have already outlined what contribution food production could make as a component of an integrated action to enhance its sustainability.
5. Recognizing the role and rights of food system workers.
We have used system analysis to place them and end-users as a necessary condition for setting up and using food systems. We have also identified their training and income as critical for FSN.
6. Building a meaningful interface for diverse knowledges and practices for FSN.
Please see enduring obstacle 3 above.
7. Emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases challenging FSN.
Food and agriculture authorities can only mitigate this problem by the establishment of strategic food reserves. We have already dealt with this problem as one subsumable under sustainability. We recall a television programme just before Corona pandemic when an ‘expert’ from the most affluent European country publicly ridiculed the idea of such a food reserve. Wrong interface for that expert?
We will conclude our remarks with an observation for the consideration of the panel. Apart from the biological activities of plants and animals involved in agriculture, we believe that everybody would agree on the fact that all human actions in food systems are motivated by an intention. While genetic and environmental factors ‘drive’ the behaviour of those plants and animals, people still have the capacity to decide what to do. Therefore, it ill becomes us to talk about drivers in connection with something man-made like modern food systems which are manned by sentient beings. Let us not turn ourselves into things wittingly or unwittingly. Perhaps, ingrained greed for profit and power may turn some into driven things.
On An Effective Way of Channelling Remittances from Migrant Workers into Gainful Food Production and Sale in their Home Countries
In order to enhance its clarity, we have paraphrased the topic of this discussion. This contribution comes in two parts; in the first, we will establish a clear goal and then identify the various difficulties we need to overcome to attain it. In the second, we will propose an approach that may surmount some of those difficulties and propose concrete ways and means of achieving our objective. It also assumes that the term ‘migrant workers’ refers to those who are employed in foreign countries.
Section 1: The goal.
It would be reasonable to suggest that our aim would be to serve two logically inseparable purposes viz., to make a useful contribution to the national food production and to enable our target group to earn a decent livelihood through food production and sale. As it will be seen later, there are excellent reasons for us to limit our goal to this end.
Section 2: General feasibility.
Let us first consider some elementary criteria of feasibility:
Section 3: Specific feasibility.
Here, we are concerned with two very different factors viz., the willingness and the ability of a proposed group fruitfully to participate in a programme. Irrespective of the availability of technical expertise and every other requisite resource, no target group would engage in a programme unless it is willing to do so. Their willingness depends on their belief that it is desirable as it serves their interest. When a target group believes that the current programme does so, its members would be willing to participate in the programme. This willingness cannot be taken for granted.
Those who are willing to participate in the programme, would be able to do so only if they possess the required knowledge of what should be done and how. But their successful carrying out of the programme depends on their possession of an adequate skill to do so. This knowledge and skill constitutes the competence the participants of the programme should have.
Section 4: Desires of migrant workers.
Let us now consider what impact the real desires and abilities of the target group would have on their actual willingness to join the proposed programme. This requires us to place the migrant workers in four broad groups whose aspirations and abilities vary widely:
The abilities and the limitations in those four groups may seem to pose a considerable challenge to the success of the proposed project. However, it pales into insignificance if we should look at the reality of their desires and aspirations with respect to their willingness to invest their earnings in food production and sale. Based on our own observations and others who are not blind to the harsh realities of life, the following list represents what the majority of migrant workers in the last three groups and their dependents desire to achieve with their earnings:
We mention these in order to emphasise that it is not so easy to secure the willingness of a considerable number of migrant workers and their dependents, especially in areas where their participation in the programme would be of the greatest personal and public utility. We will discuss how this may be achieved later on.
Consider on the other hand the reasonably successful results that obtained in Calabria and Sicily a little over a century ago. Some of the migrants from those areas to Argentina and United States of North America returned to their villages with sufficient funds to purchase land and engage in agriculture or start small family-run businesses. Notice that in all these instances, they were contadini who were familiar with cultivation of land, which mirrors the current situation in Tajikistan.
Moreover, in both instances the people involved were more or less firmly anchored to their local culture. This cultural anchor is often very lose among most migrant workers especially those who come from less affluent countries whose independence is of a recent date. Such people are all too often prone to absorb the thoughtless consumerism prevalent in their host countries.
Provided such willingness and competence obtain, success of each programme depends on deciding on an achievable goal as its objective.
Section 5: National goal.
Making a useful contribution to national food production would entail:
Section 6: Identifying a project specific goal.
In identifying a project specific goal in food production, we need to consider the following:
Section 7: Participant competence.
The competence required by the participants can be placed in three categories:
A participant may acquire competence in any one or more of these according to one’s aptitude for the task one intends to undertake. The challenge here is how to impart this competence to those who wish to participate in the programme.
Section 8: Demography of the migrant workers.
A careful survey of the demographic distribution of migrant workers in their homelands will show that a significant majority of them come from deprived areas of cities or towns. This makes it rather difficult for many potential participants to engage in food production to a worthwile extent. Moreover, arable land in such countries is already owned by cultivators or agri-businesses and land value is at a premium. Moreover, the migrant workers may not be willing to move out of their home areas.
Section 9: Financing mechanism.
Even though its details are not very clear, the pilot programme seems to have deviced an adequate financing mechanism. However, in our view, it appears to channel an inordinate portion of the funds on infra-structural improvements, which ought to be addressed by the host governments involved.
The question then, is how to resolve the difficulties outlined in previous sections in a realistic manner, so that we may device a flexible generic programme framework that could be fleshed out to suit a wide variety of circumstances. While the criteria described in section 5 should be always met, we may allow a certain degree of flexibility in some other areas as long as they are not at the expense of the remitters of foreign exchange and the end-users.
In the following sections we will propose a more or less simultaneous sets of actions, each designed to deal with the challenges we have already outlined. Readers may notice that when a course of action is not necessary, one may skip it and proceed to the next. Every attempt has been made to ensure the completeness of both the analytical and the synthetical parts of this proposal.
In order to ascertain the general feasibility of launching the programme in an area, the information pertinent to the requirements given in section 2 should be collected. It is often advisable to gather this information by personal inspection rather than relying on public or the official sources.
Section 12: Participant willingness.
The pilot programme does not describe how it ensured the participant willingness; perhaps, in the area it was launched, it was not a concern. However, if one looks at the distribution of the migrant workers on a world map, it will be clear that most of them come from areas we have pointed out in section 3. Their willingness to participate would be frequently limited to sale of food owing to their location, current aspirations and lack of competence. Most of them may meanwhile show some interest in sale of food if they could be convinced of its long-term feasibility and profit.
On the other hand, in places where socio-economic and cultural conditions akin to those of the pilot project area obtain, a generically similar projects may be successfully carried out. In order to ensure that it meets the conditions given in section 5, following information should be gathered from reliable local sources. Please note we do not mean ‘research’ or ‘data collection’ here. Every effort should be made to consult local cultivators, fishermen, keepers of household animals, etc.
I. Preservation and packing of the project output.
II. Its transport.
III. Its sale to local/distant consumers.
Section 13: Urban migrant workers.
In the previous section, we hinted at a modified version of the pilot project in which this group may gainfully participate. Further, an examination of migrant worker demography in their home countries would show that a considerable number of them live in towns and cities where it would be very difficult to secure arable land at an affordable price. Therefore, we propose that such potential participants are incorporated into the programme in any one or more of the following ways:
I. Sell fresh or preserved produce.
II. Family-run small restaurant or a cash and carry place. In most countries in which migrant workers live, school feeding programmes are unknown. However, employees in public offices and private companies often purchase their meals from the cheapest places as their salaries are not high. They will provide a dependable market to the proposed establishments.
Section 14: Where to buy food for sale.
Urban food sales outlets described in the previous section could purchase their supplies from two sources depending on the availability of what is required.
This linkage of food producers and sellers has several major advantages:
Section 15: Ways and means 1.
We shall here consider food production cooperatives. It assumes that the following has been ascertained with reference to the relevant sections above.
If this screening proves satisfactory, then we may proceed to the next step.
Section 16: Establishment of farm cooperatives.
We think that association with already practising family farmers and small holders in the area is indispensible for the success of the programme. Their guidance and support would be essential to avoid long and non-productive agricultural training .
FAO and the local extention services could undertake to establish the following:
Section 17: Incorporation of urban migrant workers.
Vast majority of today’s migrant workers constitute this group whose members have very few opportunities to engage in food production in order to earn a decent living. However, by linking them with the food producing participants of the current programme, family farms and other small holders to be their salesmen, we may attain a mutually beneficial goal.
They could purchase their produce at a reasonable price and sell it either as it is or as ready-to-eat food. As has been mentioned earlier, this ought to be done on a cooperative basis where several migrant workers could engage in it as a joint venture. A single family may not have sufficient capital, personnel or competence to undertake this. This programme variant has the additional advantage of supporting family farms and small holders at no extra cost.
Section 18: Ways and means 2.
FAO and the local authorities should work together to make the goal of section 17 achievable by undertaking the following:
Section 19: Ensuring participants’ willingness and finance.
We are convinced that much remains to be done before a significant number of migrant workers would be willing to invest their earnings in the proposed programme. We do not question its worth, but public conception of agricultural pursuits being what it is, we cannot remain complaisant and hope for the best. We recommend a pro-active action by FAO and national authorities to underline the importance of agriculture and cooperative food systems by every means at their disposal.
A wide-spread and continued publicity campaign would be needed to achieve this objective. At the same time, it would be worthwhile to explore the possibility of establishing a fund to which migrant workers may contribute while working. When they return home, this fund may be used for the proposed programme. As it would be completely voluntary, one can be fairly certain that only those who are motivated and competent would join it.
Section 20: Conclusion.
We have carefully assessed the pilot programme in Tajikistan, and find that its success reflects the results that obtained around a century ago in some parts of Southern Europe. In both instances, people involved tenaciously held onto their traditional values. Unfortunately, vast majority of migrant workers of today come from former colonial domains with a very different cultural background. Moreover, most of them come from densely populated urban centra.
If carefully screened as it has been described, it would be possible to set up the proposed programme in some areas. Inclusion of the urban migrant workers in it would be useful to sustain the food producing part of the programme. Further, participation of the former would lend support not only to themselves, but also to family farmers and small holder who are constantly under threat. A ‘save for the future’ plan proposed may prove useful not only in financing the programme, but also in ensuring the commitment of the participants.
Reducing Inequalities in Food Security and Nutrition
Before we can make a reasonable comment on the subject, a correction is required on the use of an English preposition, then we will proceed to discuss what may justifiably constitute ‘inequalities in food security and nutrition, how to ameliorate them and their relationship to inequity.’ The first has already been done, so let us continue to the next. As it is implied in the descriptive note, those inequalities are seen in terms of quality and quantity. However, the difficulty here is that no attempt has been made to integrate quality and quantity of food as indicators of inequality either in food security or nutrition.
This obviously requires a reasonable description of what would constitute the opposite of inequality here; avoiding the morass of jargon, we cannot see how food security may be understood without having a clear grasp of what would represent adequate nutrition. We hasten to add that we cannot see any scientifically or culturally justifiable reason to accept the so-called world-wide calorie and nutrient standards recommended by the WHO. Based on openly reductive reasoning, such standards may be applied to machines made to certain specifications, but not to live human beings whose nutritional needs are governed by climatic, cultural and physical factors that vary widely.
Moreover, such reductive standards are oblivious to human culinary enjoyment. Most cultures have long culinary traditions which are a part of their cultural patrimony. This stems from the simple fact that in addition to nutrition, people derive pleasure from their meals as well as using them to cement social relationships. This is the reason for the emergence of our culinary traditions and valuing them as social goods. Thus, adequate nutrition and culinary enjoyment represent a crucial indicator of quality of life.
So far, we have spoken of the output of food systems. Its qualitative and quantitative adequacy may be positively or negatively influenced by the attributes of a food system or how appropriately it is used by its operators and its end-users i.e., all of us. After air and water, food is essential to sustain life, hence its value. Therefore, appropriate use of a food system involves producing for the use of end-users food having the attributes discussed below.
Section 1: Attributes of adequate nutrition.
Other things being equal, the necessary conditions for adequate nutrition are as follows:
We all are end-users of food systems of varying sophistication. Most of us have to purchase our food from the last sub-system of a food system viz., its trade sub-system. Therefore, the availability of a sufficient quantity of food of adequate quality does not guarantee either food security or acceptable nutrition to everybody in a given area unless wholesome food they need for a varied and balanced diet is affordable to everybody.
Even if the previous four criteria are met, viz. the availability of of food of sufficient quality and quantity, adequacy of its culinary quality , its wholesomeness and affordability, we cannot envisage universal food security and adequate nutrition unless people are willing and able to make use of it. The fact that this willingness cannot be taken for granted is shown by obesity, diabetes and other nutrition related diseases prevalent among the middle class in affluent countries where the food needed for a varied and balanced diet is often affordable to a majority.
Frequently, people’s willingness to partake a varied and balanced diet is undermined by targeted promotion of industrial comestibles and deficient or the lack of dietary education. Such an education would impart to one the knowledge and skill required to procure, prepare and partake a wholesome and varied balanced diet. This knowledge and skill constitutes one’s dietary competence. However, craving for ease is also a potent factor that compel some to use industrial comestibles even when they could afford an appropriate diet.
Section 2: Negative external influences on end-users.
Sometimes, even when possessing sufficient funds and dietary competence, end-users may find it difficult to procure the required food owing to its lack of physical availability. Often, this is due to the flaws in a country’s infra-structure. However, unemployment and under-employment happen to be the most important reasons which prevent them from procuring food necessary for adequate nutrition and culinary enjoyment.
We may now outline the origins of some external influences that reduces many end-users’ ability to procure food. Inappropriateness of the following policies would be responsible for this state of affairs:
Although the above list of policy domains is not exhaustive, the perspicacious reader would have noticed at once while the first and last of the above would result in a serious loss of eco-system services owing to environmental degradation, soil salination and/or pollution, inappropriateness in the others would reduce the ability of an ever-increasing population’s ability to earn a decent income. Collectively, those will increase the inequalities both in food security and nutrition.
Thus far, we have assumed the existence of adequate food systems and their output and focused our attention on end-users. Under those conditions, the possibility of adequate nutrition and culinary enjoyment depend on the following:
Section 3: What is food security?
When the foregoing specifications concerning the produce of its food systems, end-user willingness and dietary competence obtain in an area, food security exists there if its food systems are capable of a sustained output of such food. Like all biological events, food production is subject to unavoidable variations. Moreover, its operators and end-users may suffer from ill health to a degree that would adversely affect the operation and end-use of food systems as is the case in present Corona pandemic.
At this point, we must take into account lowering of food security and impairment of nutrition owing to natural and man-made disasters. Under such circumstances, allowances would have to be made as to the extent of the possible dietary diversity, quality and quantity of food available to the people. This pragmatic sanction of lowered standards should be seen as a temporary measure that is to be revoked as soon as circumstances permit.
Making allowances for the adverse effects on food security by the phenomena outlined above, we can now identify the necessary conditions for food security when the operation of food systems and use of their output are appropriate:
In view of the foregoing, we do not advocate considering inequalities in food security and nutrition an object of research and/or data collection, for FAO already possesses enough information on the subject to show that they exist beyond any reasonable doubt. Meanwhile, understanding their origin does not require further studies; what is needed is the willingness and ability boldly to look at the obvious facts with a view to designing a pro-active plan of action to ameliorate the problem.
Section 4: Inequity and inequality.
Before proceeding to the practical side of the issue, we may now examine the connection between social inequity and inequalities in general. Existence of inequity in a social group is indicated by a significant number of its members being unable to enjoy the same quality of life as the others in it. This is ascertained relative to the cultural norms of social group involved. Such a group may constitute a nation, province, district etc. Here, we run into a fresh challenge viz., what may be justifiably considered to be essential to experience an adequate quality of life.
More than once, we have stated on this forum that the quality of our lives depends on our ability adequately to satisfy the six fundamental human needs necessary to sustain a life of sufficient quality with reference to the cultural norms of the society involved. Recall that we loudly proclaim that each individual has a right to one’s own culture. Irrespective of one’s culture, all of us have the following fundamental needs:
However, most of us are compelled by the current ecomomy to spend money in order to satisfy our fundamental needs. To complicate matters further, advances in human civilisation has made it necessary for us to meet a variety of secondary needs in order to meet our fundamental needs. Consider now nutrition; often one has to travel to a shop and back to purchase food before one could prepare and consume it. This transport and preparation often require consumption of energy.
Thus, one needs to satisfy the secondary needs of transport and energy before one could meet one’s nutritional needs. The reader would perceive that this applies to the satisfaction of all fundamental needs. Since the advent of commercialisation of our means of meeting our fundamental and secondary needs, a tertiary need has emerged viz., need for money. A pseudo-scientific veil of jargon has been used to obscure the true nature of current economy which is a mere tertiary need, but its logical status remains an artificial value token system open to exploitation.
We have already outlined some of the policy domains whose flaws would result in a lowered quality of life for some members of a society. As they promote under- and unemployment, they would adversely influence people’s ability to meet the ever-growing number of secondary needs we now have to satisfy before we are able to meet our fundamental needs. Progress as it is believed by the majority, represents an increase in the number of a few justifiable secondary needs and a vast array of trivial ones intended to raise profits through the promotion of competitive trade and consumerism.
To sum up then, inequity is present when some members of a social group are deprived of the opportunity to acquire or to use the competence necessary to gain the ways and means required to satisfy one or more of our fundamental needs. While the former brings about unemployment, the latter is responsible for under-employment. This would obviously result in qualitative and quantitative inequalities in the adequacy with which those deprived people may satisfy their fundamental needs including nutrition.
As we have become dependent on money to meet the secondary needs subsumed by our fundamental needs, the possibility of earning a decent living has become a necessary condition for an adequate quality of life. The flaws in the policy domains noted earlier reduce opportunities open to one to acquire or use such competence. Policies are the responsibility of political authorities; when inequity and inequalities are present, political authorities involved display one or more of the following attributes regardless of the political ‘ism’ they claim to profess:
Therefore, it would be reasonable to suggest the the amelioration of the present inequities and their corollary would require a two-pronged approach; as its causes can be easily traced into multiple policy domains, its solution calls for an integrated distributed policy approach we have often advocated on this forum. The principles on which it is based and how they may be implemented at a super-ordinate level have been already outlined, hence not repeated here.
Section 5: Inequity and inequalities in food security and nutrition.
Understanding the origins of inequity and inequalities in food security and nutrition requires one to have a sound knowledge of what may justifiably constitute a food system. First of all, our food systems are not something new; man as we know him, appeared into it. In order of its emergence into the real world, a food system consists of the following sub-systems:
We now have the pragmatic conceptual tools needed to identify the causes of inequity in food security and nutrition as well as inequalities in them. However, what may seem a very complex set of causes will appear clear and simple if we do not allow us to be mislead by redundant jargon and irrelevant rhetoric. Let us look at the forest as a whole, and not at each bush and shrub that has taken someone’s fancy.
At the end of the section 4, we have outlined the source of social inequity and inequalities. It deprives one from earning a decent income. An adequate quality of life depends onsufficiently satisfying our fundamental needs including nutrition. Today, such an income is necessary to satisfy those. Thus, political deficiencies may be said to cause first order inequity and inequalities across the board which filter down a society whose effect is felt unevenly depending on one’s wealth, power, contacts etc.
Readers may consider this state of affairs to be wholely unacceptable; but their response to it is often academic and reactive. Unless our response to it is pragmatic and pro-active, its victims would continue to endure the inequity of being thwarted in acquiring or using an appropriate competence required to earn a decent income sufficient to satisfy their fundamental needs. Even if the output of food systems in such an area should meet all its qualitative, quantitative and culinary requirements and is physically available to all, it would not enhance universal food security and nutrition there until the question of a decent income is answered.
Further, the attempts to mitigate the first order inequity and inequalities by concentrating on the deprivations of a single social group may be fashionable or serve the self-interest of some, but it would inevitably result in undesirable social disruptions that would only exacerbate the sufferings of the remaining majority. Moreover, it would create unpleasant divisions among the deprived, hence, a non-reductive holistic solution that includes all the disadvantaged it to be preferred.
It is difficult to envisage how food and agriculture authorities could deal with first order inequity and inequalities unless they and the heads of other relevant policy domains are willing and able to undertake a set of appropriate coordinated actions. Put briefly, each policy should embody in it an element that would facilitate the success of the others. For instance, a trade policy that promotes food export from a country where malnutrition obtains, does not facilitate either food security and nutrition or health of the people.
Section 6: Isolation of inequity and inequalities in food security and nutrition.
While the first order inequity and inequalities seep down into all domains from the top, their second order counterpart arises from structural flaws in tools used in a domain or how appropriately they or their output is used. A food system is the tool used in the domain of food and agriculture, and this domain in a country may involved more than one food system, linked or otherwise. Thus, our problem of inequity and inequalities in food security and nutrition may arise from any one or more of the following:
So, we are faced with three basic challenges:
At this point, it is necessary to deal with two distractive point, the first of which repays attention while the second has no practical relevance whatsoever to the hungry and malnourished, nor yet to the poor farmers and fishermen. Food waste occurs in every sub-system of most food systems and it seriously reduces the quality, quantity and culinary variety of what ought to be available for consumption.
However, it is reasonable to suggest that food waste arises from structural defects in food systems or their incompetent operation and dietary incompetence of end-users. Sometimes, first order causes like inadequate infra-structure would result in food waste due to lack of transport, while structural faults like poor storage brings about significant food losses. Therefore, we can subsume food losses under the already described generic causes of inequity and inequalities in food security and nutrition without creatin an independent field for it.
We have frequently expressed our disquiet about the so-called ‘right to food’ in this forum. It would be difficult for a person to survive without food for much longer than a month even if one lives in a country where one has a ‘right to food.’ The question then is, how does one make use of this right? We cannot envisage any other possibilities than those listed below:
As far as we know, III seems to be the limit to which ‘right to food implementers’ could go. Meanwhile, it provides academics and ‘researchers’ ample scope for publication, conferences, seminars etc. These may be fruitful for those already employed and have no difficulty in purchasing food, but to the hungry and ill-nourished, ‘right to food’ seems to add insult to a long-endured injury. Let us act to mitigate an injustice that has lasted long rather than pontificate on a nebulous right.
Section 7: Effect of first order causes on food systems.
Their adverse effects on a food system fall into two categories; first, they may force an inappropriate design of one or more of them, and secondly override the proper functioning of them. Some examples from real life may help to illustrate these. In a South Asian country that shall remain nameless, output from the local food systems has remained insufficient for decades. In its attempt to increase agricultural production, emphasis was given to an undue production of low-land tea in order to increase personal and national income.
This inappropriate re-design of its yielder system led to an actual reduction of arable land previously used for food crops as well as to a reduction of land potentially available to an increased food production. Meanwhile, some cultivators became affluent, but hunger and malnutrition in the country increased in spite of a higher GDP. It is easy to see that this is due to the defects in development, trade, food and agriculture policies as well as its legal policy that was guided by them.
We have to go back a little while for an example of how a flawed development policy required by the World Bank and IMF overrode the appropriate use of a food system output resulting in protein malnutrition in West Africa. In two countries there, pea nuts were a part of daily diet, especially liked by the children. It was the principal source of protein particularly among the less affluent. On ‘expert’ advice, a large portion of the pea nuts was exported to Europe in order to increase their GDP’s. As those wisemen predicted it did, but many children began to suffer from serious protein malnutrition, because now they could not afford to buy pea nuts.
We have touched upon the unwise allocation of funds to ‘defence, and various prestige projects, which exacerbates the difficulties food and agriculture policy faces in making suitable arrangements to promote optimisation of the national food systems. Such a flawed finance policy would also have a deleterious influence on country’s transport which is often a serious cause of food spoilage. Military conflict is a major threat to food security and nutrition. However, it is difficult to see how food and agriculture authorities may fruitfully intervene here, especially as it is the domain of skilful diplomacy which seems to be a vanishing art.
By far the greatest inequity and inequalities in food security and nutrition stem from its trade sub-system which is an integral part of a national trade system. Moreover, national trade systems are all too often internationally linked. Therefore, unless international and national trade is rigourously revised, such inequity and inequalities would have to be content with a few cosmetic remedies. Although fully aware of the resistance our views would meet, we shall nevertheless outline how trade could revert to performing a useful social function rather than binding the gullible in their supply and value chains.
Section 8: Revision of trade.
We consider the following theses to be indubitably fair and reasonable:
Leaving aside for the moment the problems end-users face, it is self-evident that a more equitable distribution of rewards among the actual workers in food systems is necessary. It is difficult to envisage a fairer means of achieving this objective than empowering those low income workers by giving themfull control of how food is disposed through their food systems in a manner equitable to them and the end-users. Cooperative food systems free of third order trade seems to be an eminently just solution to this problem.
Let us now examine the impact of current trade sub-systems on the attributes of the output of food systems that are necessary for food security and nutrition. None who is aware of economic reality would deny that the trade sub-system is motivated by a desire for maximum profit. Two simple strategies are used to achieve this objective viz., cut production costs then increase output and sales.
Cutting cost is implemented by any one or more of the following ways:
In its constant search for cost cutting and maximising the profits for the top tier of the trade sub-system, end-users throughout the world have noticed the following alarming trends:
Section 9: Trade sub-system and sustainability of food supply.
We have discussed the consequences to the end-user of food systems placed under the control of its trade sub-system. Maximising profit leads to loss of agricultural bio-diversity, hence to increased vulnerability of yielder sub-system and loss of culinary diversity. As world population grows, the need for food increases, and the trade dominated food systems respond to it by offering relatively cheap industrial comestibles whose production only requires a limited number of food species. Thus, population growth is accompanied by a proportionate growth in monoculture.
Available evidence indicates that reduced bio-diversity in agriculture makes yielder sub-systems more and more dependent on irrigation, fertilisers and biocides. Currently, it is estimated that at least 2 billion people are not adequately nourished. Already, vast tracts of formerly arable land have been rendered useless owing to such industrial scale monoculture. If this food production method were to expand in order to meet the needs of those 2 billions, the resulting loss of soil fertility would be nothing short of catastrophic as was shown by Aral Sea disaster.
Sustainable yielder sub-systems depend on the availability of adequate eco-system services. Use of agriculture for millennia, great global deforestation, loss of bio-diversity and great increase in human population has vastly reduced the availability of those services. However in spite of our scientific advances, we have adopted a profit-driven use of excessive supplementation to make up their loss which has resulted in a further loss of eco-system services and loss of arable land owing to soil salination.
It must be underlined that we do not deprecate rational supplementation when necessary. Even now, when food systems are put into their appropriate use i.e., as a tool to meet our nutritional needs providing a decent income to all its workers and food at an affordable cost to its end-users, its rational supplementation would suffice to ensure food security and nutrition. This is a very different objective from maximising profits and clanking of value chains that bind the hungry to its tyranny.
Section 10: The unholy bovine.
In spite of the current terror of heavy metals, we shall bite the bullet and talk of this beast of the Apocalypse. In other words, human population increase. We cannot speak sensibly about the sustainability of anything without undertaking suitable action to ensure a continued availability of eco-system services. Let us mention some of the most important of them for our continued survival:
The reader will note that while the first two of those are essential for our immediate survival, all three are necessary for a sustainable supply of food. We shall not break up the above into fashionable global warming, emission of green-house gases etc., for a salubrious climate embraces them all. Nor shall we mention the minerals and hydrocarbons used in industry etc., because we are only concerned with renewable eco-system services, for they are vital for nutrition and food security.
Availability of the renewable eco-system services depends on the equilibrium between the rate at which they are used and are returned to earth for their re-use. This return is brought about by bio-degradation of organisms including man and certain physio-chemical phenomena like nitrogen and water cycles. Bio-degradation follows death and excretion. Death may be due to old age, disease or predation. Predation as used here may include feeding on living plants or animals. Saprophytism involves securing nutrition from the dead tissue.
This equilibrium between the use and the replenishment of eco-system services depends on the equilibrium between the types of organisms and their individual populations. There are no scientifically supportable exemptions to this requirement. Thus, we depend on both bio-diversity and a supportable population of each species for the continued availability of eco-system services.
A greater diversity among species permits a greater number of diverse interactions among them. Greater the number of such interactions, higher will be the number of pathways to replenish the eco-systems services. When the optimal population of these interacting species is maintained, optimal qualitative and quantitative replenishment of eco-system services is attained. Human population has not only exceeded its supportable limit, but has also made a huge number of species extinct.
Therefore, curbing the population growth is a necessary condition for global food security and nutrition. We know the proponents of scientism would claim that human ingenuity could easily solve the problem by inventing ‘novel foods.’ They seem to be oblivious to the obvious i.e., we are not talking about human machines to be fed with a certain amount of factory-made nutrients per diem, but about people with culinary traditions who should not be deprived ofthem.
In many countries, only the affluent could afford to prepare what was common daily food not long ago. Moreover, such meals cost a considerable amount in restaurants. Thus, advocates of novel foods seem to believe while the affluent may experience adequate nutrition, dietary variation and culinary enjoyment, the rest ought to be content with adequate nutrition from novel sources. Unless we promptly deal with the problem of population, scientism would turn most of humanity into a better sort of domestic beast on novel feed.
Section 11: The way forward.
We highly regret that FAO still continues to consider the inequalities in food security and nutrition to be solvable by an even greater expansion of the trade sub-system of food systems, insists on using a reactive and a reductive approach. Further, it seems to value what is known as an academic method, which by necessity, is at some distance from reality. It would repay FAO to look at food systems as a tool we use to achieve food security and nutrition for people and the value of food stems from its necessity for survival.
We will begin with the first order causes of inequity and inequalities in food security and nutrition. These require the following carefully coordinated and simultaneous global and national policy formulation and implementation:
We have not mentioned increasing the agricultural competence of those who run yielder sub-systems. Although this is very important, in our view, this is a national concern with varying requirements hence, a generalisation here would be inadvisable. In increasing this competence, assistance may be sought from appropriate external sources. Moreover, many suggestions on this subject have been made by the others.
Section 12: Concluding remarks.
Much criticism has been directed at top-down approach. Most of it is based on two problems arising from its less than competent use. First, it is directed from the point of view of some authority or a group of experts, and secondly, it is based on some academic notion. Both of these are errors of usage. We find it hard to understand why the method is not applied to the real top of a food system viz. its justifiable purpose, i.e., its application as a tool to provide appropriate food to its end-users.
Instead, we are constantly regaled with highly inedible value chains and supply chains which seem firmly to anchor two billions to hunger and malnutrition. Value of food is intrinsic insofar as it is the third essential item to life. Its value has nothing to do with the enrichment of traders of any sort. Nor yet with the abstract notion of ‘national economy.’. We agree that food traders may serve a useful function as intermediaries between the operators of yielder systems and end-users, and their services should be commensurably rewarded.
But, this commensurability between their services and the reward does not obtain. Disparity of income between higher echelons of food systems and their workers as well as the plight of end-users bear ample testimony to this unfair state of affairs. Unless food has its independent value, food traders would not be able to create a demand for it. In spite of this obvious fact, economic jargon speaks of value chains and added values; we would rather believe in Father Zeus, Dionysus and their merry divine minions.
The trouble is, since that old reductivist Smith and his ‘Wealth of Nations’ people seem accept that economy has an independent existence. It does not; it is merely an artefact created by man to serve a purpose. Its purpose is equitably to direct the usage of a value token system required adequately to satisfy those secondary needs which is a necessary condition for the satisfaction of our fundamental needs.
Untrammelled desire for wealth thence power and influence has become institutionalised in most cultures. Instead of using it as a tool to meet our fundamental needs equitably, economy is now used to gain wealth and its corollaries. Competition in economy is an essential attribute of this state of affairs. Its obvious consequence is inequity and inequalities in the satisfaction of our fundamental needs. Unfortunately, our views represent a secular heresy even more violently opposed by the economists than the response of clergy when heliocentricity was propounded.
True, earth’s rotation around the sun was finally acknowledged even by the cloth. But the problem is that if the present secular faith in competitive economy should last as long as the old belief in the sun going around the earth, neither many of its present inhabitant species would survive nor would most humans find it possible to exist as sentient and civilised beings. Conditioned by competitive economy and nourished on novel feed, the majority would be transformed by formication i.e., , the process that turns humans into programmable, unthinking forms living in high-rise concrete anthills.
Guidelines on the Empowerment of Women and girls in Nutrition and Food Security
We do not propose to comment on the draft provided or suggest additions to it. However, we intend to examine the problem with respect to its causes with a view to outlining some ways by which the inequities in the area may be alleviated. First of all, we need to make certain that the words we use are clearly defined and their meanings are reasonable and not merely rhetorical.
‘Empowerment’ may sound ‘obvious’, ‘self-evident’ etc. But is it in this context? Consider nutrition; we used the word to include both food production and individual consumption. After all, if food is not produced, its consumption becomes purely academic. This would raise the question, does this empowerment applies to food production, its consumption or both?
As to the empowerment between sexes in food security, the two previously mentioned components are equally important, for there cannot be food security without its appropriate production and consumption. Just producing food and stockpiling it does not constitute food security unless people are able to consume adequate quantities of it. Therefore, it would be reasonable to suggest that we ought to direct our attention to ‘empowerment’ in food production and consumption as well as ensuring their sustainability and resilience. Neglect of any one of those four aspects would make such empowerment useless.
What does this ‘empowerment’ mean? Taking food producton first, do we mean that both sexes who are engaged in it should be free to do any one or more of the following:
Let us remind ourselves that food security depends on possessing an adequate, resilient and appropriate food production that is environmentally sustainable whose output is consumed in appropriate quantities with minimal waste. If the argument thus far is accepted, we might propose the following:
True, this statement is too simple, it lacks the high-soundning verbiage beloved by those who plough the paper with their pen. But is it not what is desired? Well then, let us consider what basic obstacles would have to be overcome to achieve our objective.
En passant, let us look at the fashionable current proposals aimed at attaining the present goal. Irrespective of their exact wording, they fall into three categories:
Please note that legislation would promulgate laws that require women and girls access to ‘education,’ ‘training’ etc., as recommended by local expertise which often remains ignorant of the prevailing conditions in their own countryside. We will remain silent on people’s belief in declared rights because we do not with to engage in religious debates.
Perhaps, a rare reader might ask, “what on earth is he talking about?” It is a fair question; before one acts, one needs to know what is desirable to achieve and how much of it is possible to achieve. Would not one think this reasonable?
In this context, have we ascertained any of the following:
Let us assume that everything listed just above obtains to some degree, for it cannot be found in a perfect state anywhere in the real world. Then, how may one explain the need for the present empowerment only in some areas?
We hold that the birth of regulations and rest of the legal machinery is greately posterior to social norms; some of which were concerned with ethics both secular and religious. For instance, nobody would deny that stealing has been condemned even in the most ‘primitive’ societies. And two hundred years ago, in some highly civilised lands, children were hanged for stealing a loaf of bread. Even there, it took a long time to make this legal norm milder and perhaps, a little less civilised.
Discrimination against females has taken a long time to ameliorate even in countries it is virtually absent now. Meanwhile in some others, their belief systems inculcate into people the notion that women are somehow inferior and ought to be treated as such. In some cases, this is done in a covert fashion while in others, it is overt and even extreme.
We cannot hope to attain our goal if we pretend not to see what is glaringly obvious. Neither screamed rhetoric nor loud abuse could pave the way either. Most belief systems seem to have some shared norms of common decency. It may be possible to base them as a point of departure for honest diplomatic exchanges with a view to modifying the undesirable social norms.
Comments on the Priorities in Nutrition for the Next Five Years
The tentative suggestions offered seem to have some undesirable attributes. Vagueness and the more or less explicit inclusion of at least four domains without an apt liaising mechanism to ensure an effective coordination of their actions appear to be the most significant. Although very worthy as an intention, role assigned to health services as related to nutrition, does not reflect an awareness of the reality as it is. Perhaps, these comments might induce some to decide on actions with a greater sense of proportion.
The first three proposals under the first section are well taken. They could have been of real benefit had they specified the following means of achieving them:
Mr. Claudio Schuftan in his second contribution and M. Anthony Fardet have already suggested several other significant measures which will not be repeated here. Instead, vagueness of the tentative suggestions will be considered:
Emphasis on the use of health personnel for dietary education has two major disadvantages. First, it would be impractical in a considerable number of areas where even primary health care is scant or inadequate while the number of people seeking health care is very great. There the health personnel are overwhelmed by the number of patients that they hardly have time to under take discourses on nutrition. This is not to deprecate the link between nutrition and good health, but rather a criticism of the proposed method.
Secondly, even under ideal conditions, their reach is limited to the number of patients. Even in affluent countries, health personnel are overloaded with ‘paper work’ resulting in fairly long waiting periods to those who want to consult their GP’s. This proposal would exacerbate the situation, and is seen with disfavour by most health personnel. Moreover, the present education of the health personnel does not qualify them for this task.
It is curious that the drafters of the tentative proposals have overlooked the obvious; until not so long ago, school education in many countries included basic health and hygiene, which could be carried out further. Re-introduction of this subject with chapters on balanced diet, food and beverages injurious to health, etc., is a more effective action that the education authorities could undertake. This must accord with the local food culture, and does not require specialist teachers, for they could learn from the books they will use.
Environment, legal, trade and industry, finance and labour are some of the other domains whose cooperation at international and national levels would be essential to achieve not only SDG-2, but also all the others. One of the key roles education could play has been already noted. Dietary education is not concerned with mechanical calorie and micro-nutrient count in food eaten like number of litres of petrol pumped into a car, for civilised humans derive a culinary enjoyment from their meals as multifarious traditions of cuisine illustrate.
The proposed plan would be much benefited by appropriate action in the following areas:
Supplementary Comments on Addressing Child Labour in Food Systems
Often, it has been pointed out that child labour occurs in several areas closely connected with agriculture. Therefore, it would be reasonable to include those in the current discussion. However, addressing the problem of child labour in agriculture and related pursuits requires one to look at the challenge from a food system perspective. This would enable one to approach the problem in an inclusive and holistic way.
These comments outline some of the difficulties that would have to be overcome before the successful field implementation of any programme/project could be carried out. Unless this is done, it is difficult to envisage how one may make significant inroads into a social inequity that has blighted many a young life. The following are the sub-systems constitutive of a food system in order of their emergence; their diversity arises purely from the technological differences among them.
Observation reveals that child-labour occurs in every sub-system except in IV above. In affluent countries, children appear in advertisements included in III, which some may claim to be a benign form of child-labour to promote items less than benign to their consumers. Many contributors have described child-labour as it is found in those sub-systems of a food system.
Here, addressing the present problem faces two distinct challenges:
It may seem easy to answer the first question by limiting oneself to food systems. Meanwhile, the justifiable purpose of a food system is to enable the end-users to procure a sustainable supply of affordable and wholesome food needed for a balanced diet. Should one avoid emotional reactions to the phenomenon, exclusion of child-labour from food systems is a question of ethics and social equity, and as such calls for the intervention of other domains.
Some may argue that food and agriculture authorities could ban child-labour in food systems. But, the legislation required to make this law of the land calls for a majority in a country’s legislature which does not seem to be the easiest of tasks, for it involves protracted negotiations among diverse interests. These include political groupings representing trade and industry, transportation etc.
Moreover, confining one’s efforts to agriculture could not deal with child-labour, because it occurs in most sub-systems in a food system. In addition to poverty and hunger, the unscrupulous prefer child-labour in food systems in order to increase their profits. This requires unequivocal and prompt legal action. Although not exhaustive, these are some of the difficulties associated with the first challenge.
As for the second, the necessity of involving the judiciary has already been mentioned. Dealing with poverty among the employees of a food system calls for a devolved and cooperative operation of food systems while it would also ameliorate hunger and inappropriate nutrition. But such a change in food systems can hardly be undertaken without the involvement of the domains like trade and industry, finance etc.
These comments must not be construed as a prediction of futility; they merely point out some crucial aspects of the problem that would repay careful attention. In his first contribution to this discussion, the present writer has described them in greater detail. It differs from other suggestions in that it provides a template into which all elements of a food system may seamlessly fit at national, regional and most importantly, at local level.
A Holistic Approach to Deal with Child Labour in Food Systems
Child Labour has been observed in every sub-system of some food systems, especially those in less affluent countries. These include food production, harvesting, transport, preservation and selling sub-systems. Meanwhile, the highest percentage of child labour seems to be in the food production or the agriculture sector. This contribution suggests a holistic means of addressing this problem.
The first difficulty one encounters here has two logically inseparable dimensions. First, in what politico-geographic area it would be feasible to undertake the proposed action, and secondly, would it be possible to carry it out there with success? Everybody may agree that the answer to the first question is world-wide, but as there is no global politico-legal authority, pragmatic necessity requires one to address the challenge on a nation by nation basis.
Even though the national authorities may not be sufficiently efficient or even indifferent to the present challenge, apart from them, there does not seem to exist any other agency with enough authority to ensure the type of coordinated appropriate action needed to resolve the present problem. One’s next task is to determine what those actions are, which calls for the identification of the causes of child labour in a food system.
Until fairly recent times in human history, whole families laboured day long to procure food, therefore, its current unacceptability reflects a slow evolution of social values in a very uneven way throughout the world. Those who are interested in the matter are kindly referred to the discussion indicated by the link at the end of this contribution. In their historical order of appearance, causes of child labour in food systems may be described thus:
The post-industrial social development more or less justifiably recognised that it is incumbent upon the national authorities to enable the people of a country to enjoy a life of adequate quality. The possibility of their doing so, depends on their ability to adequately satisfy their six fundamental needs. While the failure to meet the first three of them may be fatal, the remaining three are important in distinguishing man from an instinct-driven brute:
Evolution of the human intellectual and practical skills resulted in an enhancement in social values. However, neither of these developments were evenly distributed throughout the globe. For better or for worse, some of those values like competitive economy driven by the desire for personal gain and its adaptation have become universal. Consequently in most countries, satisfaction of man’s fundamental needs seem to require having a sufficient income.
Even among the farmers and pastoralists, the possibility of procuring a wholesome and balanced diet seem to require buying some food items they cannot produce. Meanwhile, the current competitive economy increasingly permeates the food systems of even the less affluent countries. Thus, it is self-evident that the need for an adequate income to meet one’s fundamental needs has reached a critical state in many areas of such countries forcing children into labour in order to ameliorate family earnings. The highest incidence of child labour has been observed in such areas.
Before competitive economy reached its modern level, emerging social values recognised that the child labour as practised in the olden days is deleterious to the quality of children’s life. Leaving aside the emotions child labour may evoke, this new social value arises from the following considerations:
To sum up then, there seems to be a universal need for an income to satisfy man’s six fundamental needs; satisfaction of each of these became more and more dependent on the prior satisfaction of secondary needs they subsume. For instance, a city dweller may have to go to a shop, purchase the food needed, etc., before it may be cooked at eaten. Those secondary needs like going to and from a shop may require rail or motor transport. Socio-industrial development has resulted in an ever-growing number of such secondary needs.
In less affluent countries where the incidence of child labour is high, the degree of adequacy to which one’s fundamental needs are generally satisfied may be described thus:
• Nutrition; general malnutrition or excessive intake of a principal nutrient like carbohydrates is prevalent. These result in reduced physical and cognitive development and in some instances, may be accompanied by some degree of obesity. This impairs one’s ability to acquire useful knowledge and skills. Moreover, it reduces one’s capacity to work, may cause deficiency diseases and makes one more susceptible to infectious diseases.
The Question of Responsibility
The perceptive reader would have noticed the following causal sequence:
Towards a Way Forward
The final challenge one faces here is how a national government may legitimately direct appropriate action to deal with child labour. The self-evident answer is by the implementation of appropriate set of policies designed to ensure that it excludes those undertakings that would or could bring about child labour in the country in general and in food systems in particular. Design and implementation of such a policy set represents a holistic approach to the resolution of the problem.
It has been mentioned earlier that inappropriate undertakings in any domain may lead to child labour in it or in some other. It would be generally agreed that closing food systems to child labour may be insufficient, for it might easily overflow into some other domain with even more disastrous results for the children involved. Hence, it is vital to ensure that the present approach is holistic i.e., inclusive of all domains that may potentially trigger child labour. Thus, the present suggestion is both remedial and pro-active.
Before proceeding any further, it is necessary to identify what makes the required policy set suitable for the purpose. First, each policy in it ought to be relevant as a means of resolving a given problem. Secondly, every one of them ought to be appropriate as a means to be used under the existing conditions of the country concerned i.e., it ought to be a pragmatic solution.
The importance of relevance in policies is often overlooked with disastrous results for the people. It can be easily determined by asking the question “does it contribute to the quality of life of the majority in real life?” It may be remembered that one’s quality of life depends on the facility with which one may satisfy one’s six fundamental needs. An industrial policy that promotes rapid automation resulting in unemployment could hardly be called a contributor to the quality of life of the majority.
This should not be construed as an attack on new technology, rather as a recommendation to be gradual in making use of new methods in order to avoid the human misery consequent to redundancy which has been seen in affluent countries. In less affluent ones, this may bring about catastrophic results including child labour. Thus, relevance of a national policy set is determined relative to its contribution to the quality of life of the majority.
This implies that policy relevance can never be justifiably ascertained with respect to national GDP or in any other monetary indicator, for money is a tertiary need required to meet a number of secondary needs whose satisfaction is a prior condition for meeting man’s six fundamental needs. Although necessary owing to man’s socio-technological advances, using income as a measure of quality of life is akin to using the value of a bus ticket as an indicator of how balanced is the meal one bought at the shop near the end of a bus trip to make one’s purchases.
It has been emphasised that the socio-ethics and social complexity demand that children should have the required time and support to acquire appropriate knowledge and skills as well as to satisfy the other fundamental needs as applicable to them. As child labour is a grave obstacle to this, it seriously lowers their present and future quality of life. Hence, a holistic and a relevant policy set is essential to resolve this problem. When a national policy set as a whole displays this quality, it embodies an inter-policy harmony, for each of its elements strives towards an enhanced quality of life of the people.
Appropriateness of a policy is a matter internal to it. It is indicated by the suitability of the means used in its implementation. When such means may be deemed suitable with respect to the actual conditions existing in a country, a policy embodies an intra-policy harmony with respect to the goal it is intended to attain. Therefore, inter-policy harmony in a policy set entails an intra-policy harmony in all its components.
A national policy may have four different degrees of success depending on the level of intra- and inter-policy harmony in and among its constituents. Some examples may help to clarify this point. First, the success of an appropriate and an inappropriate food and agriculture policy will be ascertained after their separate introduction into a policy ambience where inter-policy harmony already exists. Next, the success of the same food and agriculture policies in a policy ambience that lacks inter-policy harmony will be discussed.
In the first case, a relevant food and agriculture policy is appropriately implemented while all the other national policies do likewise in their own domains. Although not exhaustive, its implementation embodies the following features:
In the second case, while rest of the national policies are appropriately trying to enhance the national quality of life, the food and agriculture policy will be doing the opposite owing to the inappropriateness of one or more of its implementation strategies some of which are listed below:
In the third possible case, a relevant food and agriculture policy embodying intra-policy harmony is introduced into a policy ambience that lacks inter-policy harmony. Here, the former may use the the appropriate strategies having the attributes described in the first example case above as well as other apt ones. However, the inter-policy disharmony in its policy ambience would not only hinder its ability to satisfy the nutritional needs of a country adequately, but it would also obstruct its efforts to deal with child labour. Some examples of how this may happen in a country are given below:
In the last case, a food and agriculture policy displaying intra-policy disharmony is introduced into a national policy set where inter-policy harmony does not obtain. In the second case discussed, some attributes of the former have been already outlined while the third case describes some features of a few other policies which imparts inter-policy disharmony into a policy ambience. Here one may expect the worst possible result. Therefore, the optimal approach to address child labour requires a sound food and agriculture policy in an ambience which embodies inter-policy harmony.
The Way Forward
It would be generally agreed that child labour at the expense of time required for children’s education, games, sports, aesthetic activities, and which may compromise their safety, security and health would be unacceptable in any area. However, a food system contains some essential sub-systems which belong to domains other than agriculture. Sorting and packing form two sub-systems of some selling sub-systems. Likewise, child waiters, crockery and cutlery washers not an uncommon site in many a non affluent country.
Parental poverty is often cited as a cause of child labour. Sometimes, the former is attributed to the tenuousness of farmers’ land tenure. Surely, one needs to resort to the judiciary domain to remedy this difficulty. Therefore it seems impossible not to involve the other relevant domains for a successful solution to the current problem. A few suggestions on how those domains may participate are outlined in the discussion which the link below indicates:
Before one describes a food and agriculture policy whose adequate implementation would bring about the elimination of child labour from the food systems involved, it is necessary to map out what changes in their sub-systems would be necessary to achieve this objective. Such changes would naturally vary from country to country as well as from central to regional and local levels.
In order of their causal importance, child labour in a food system arises from the following:
An appropriate food and agriculture policy is intended to enable a country’s population to procure a varied and a balanced diet in a sustainable way. But vast majority of the people including producers of comestibles need to purchase some of their food. Meanwhile, everybody needs to buy a number of other necessities in order to satisfy one’s remaining fundamental needs.
The question then, is two fold. How to enable the adults manning a food system earn an adequate income so that their children will not have to work? Next, what could those children then do, or to put it differently, what facilities should be provided for them? Meanwhile it should be borne in mind that an appropriate food and agriculture policy ensures adequate nutrition to the people. Here, an unwary planner is likely to run into some practical difficulties and inter-institutional conflicts.
The present approach attempts to avoid this difficulty through a twin strategy viz. By distinguishing between the justifiable purpose of a food system and other domains whose contribution is an necessary adjunct to deal with child labour in food systems. Suggestions that follow will reflect this distinction, for it first outlines changes needed in food systems then by adjunctive measures required in other domains which are in Roman numerals.
As a sufficient parental income is essential to resolve the problem, it would be appropriate to begin with the selling sub-system. It includes vending of ready-to-eat food or food in any other stage of preparation. In order to bring about financial equity to the adult workers of a food system, one needs to ensure that a major portion of the gains it makes are shared by those who actually produce food. A selling sub-system is a doubled exchange i.e., food producers selling their produce to vendors and the latter re-selling it indirectly (through retailers, etc.) or directly to the end-users.
Changes needed in a selling sub-system:
Transport and storage sub-systems:
Although non-exhaustive, the foregoing strategies respectively in food and agriculture and adjunctive policies may be easily revised to suit the needs of an individual case. Rather than presenting a single strategy set for a food and agriculture policy, it has been distributed among the relevant elements of a food system in order to ensure the logical cohesion of the present proposal. The same applies to the requisite strategies in adjunctive domains.
It may be objected that in spite of its importance, security in its present sense has not been included among the adjunctive policies. There are two good reasons for this omission; a food and agriculture authorities are not competent to engage in diplomacy or use force which may be needed to resolve armed conflicts. Neither do they have a mechanism to legislate against other causes of insecurity nor enforce the resulting regulations.
The next challenge is to identify how the international, national and regional/local institutions may contribute to the implementation of the suggested strategies. This requires one to take into account its individual variations and limits of institutional jurisdiction:
One’s quality of life depends on the adequacy with which one’s nutritional needs are satisfied with culinary enjoyment. Greater complexity of how man may satisfy his fundamental needs has made an appropriate education an imperative necessity. Hence, child labour has emerged as a socially unacceptable state of affairs. Owing to the intricate logical relationship among man’s fundamental needs, addressing child-labour in agriculture necessaryily involves satisfying those needs as applicable to them.
The proposal attempts to outline such a solution and takes into account the importance of enhancing the parental income of the child victims of competitive economy and political turpitude. Stating the obvious, other things being equal, competition inevitably leaves behind losers. And where child labour is seen, other things are not equal. Therefore, the introduction of cooperative food systems is of crucial importance.
Although the nuts and bolts of how this proposal may be carried out are omitted, its adjustment to suit real conditions in a country is not difficult. Moreover, the value of the dialogue between various local groups and the authorities in policy formulation has been emphasised. Ample room has been left to diverse expertise to appropriately expand on the implementation details at various levels.
However, gaining the consent of various international and national institutions to act in unison to enhance the quality of people’s life poses an imposing difficulty. An unshakable belief in what each of them do is the ‘way’ and limited competence in undertaking holistic action remains the two most formidable problems to be overcome. Nothing short of wide-spread, clearly articulated public action would be effective in arousing the institutions from the lethargy into which centruries of reductive thought has lulled them.
What is often overlooked is that at the field level of every sub-system in a food system, there is a large body of expertise whose relevance and appropriateness has only been ascertained relative to two dangerously reductive criteria viz., newness and personal gain through competition. Inadvisability of this approach has been stressed here, for it leads to results that promote child labour. Meanwhile, recent interest in family farms and small holdings seems to point food production in an environmentally and socially benign direction.
On the Indicators of Contribution by Private Sector in Food and Agriculture to the Achievement of SDG’s
The descriptive framework provided for this discussion, seem to suffer from two major inadequacies. Their coherence with respect to the SDG’s appears questionable while as one contributor has already pointed out, they lack inclusivity. This contribution suggests a holistic approach to indicator design. It is based on the tenet that an indicator ought to show the extent to which a given set of actions has enabled a certain group of people achieve a specified objective.
The purpose of attempting to achieve the SDG’s is to enhance the quality of life of everybody. As it has been described in the parallel discussion on child labour, this requires that everybody should be able adequately to satisfy their six fundamental needs:
The justifiable purpose of engaging in pursuits connected with food and agriculture is enabling people to obtain a sustainable, wholesome and adequate nutrition, for its value stems from the fact that after air and water, food is the most important thing needed to sustain life. Further, people derive a personal pleasure or a culinary enjoyment from their meals which is an established cultural good. Therefore, it is reasonable to suggest that the direct indicators involved here, are those concerned with ascertaining the private sector’s contribution to these.
There seems to be some confusion around what may justifiably termed indirect indicators which are applicable here. They are indirect because they influence how one satisfies some other need in a positive or a negative way. When negative, it may impinge directly or indirectly on how well one is able to meet any one or more other needs. A brief explanation is given below to facilitate the understanding of this notion.
Emergence of agriculture was followed by that of division of labour and the barter system. Even at this early stage of human development, it is possible to distinguish between fundamental and secondary needs. Consider now two people; one is a skilled farmer while the other is a maker of good agricultural implements. Neither of them have the time nor the skill to do each other’s work satisfactorily. Barter system enables the former to meet his secondary need for farm tools by exchanging food for them.
It is important to grasp that here both farming and tools are secondary needs the farmer must meet in order to satisfy his fundamental need for nutrition. The tool maker’s secondary need to make tools is motivated by his desire to satisfy his nutritional needs through an exchange of his product for food. It will be easy to see how need for transport and energy become more and more important as human intellectual and technical advances proceed.
However, the barter system is rather clumsy. Therefore, value tokens of various forms ranging from coins to intangible credit were introduced. This enabled trade on an ever expanding basis, hence the tertiary need for money. Unfortunately, in spite of the emergence of non-secular and secular ethics, the introduction of value tokens accelerated the acceptance of the desire for power and unlimited wealth as an institutionalised social value by the majority.
Now, the reader will be able to trace the development of two networks of needs; one justifiable and the other not. Regardless of the political ‘ism’ it may profess, they co-exist in every society. In the first, the six fundamental needs subsume a varied and increasing array of secondary needs whose prior satisfaction is a necessary condition for the satisfaction of the former. Satisfaction of those secondary needs often depends on satisfying the tertiary need for an income.
Second network of needs are subsumed by institutionalised value of unlimited personal gain, desire for power, prestige, publicity, etc. It cannot be justified by any civilised standard of common decency. Their existence has promoted the modern competitive economy which is essential to those who seek unlimited gain. Too often it is often overlooked that other things being equal, had it not been for cooperation, man would have remained what he was, viz., a mere mute brute, for emergence of language and education are impossible without it.
The foregoing makes clear two common confusions, viz., paying undue attention to what are secondary and tertiary needs instead of letting them branch out from fundamental needs in a logically cohesive manner and allowing a set of unjustifiable needs to promote the tertiary need for value tokens into a position of an unjustifiable primacy. For instance, one may have to travel some distance to buy food from a shop before it can be prepared and eaten which requires some means of transport, hence the need for money and not vice versa.
Another confusion seen in the present discussion is its failure to distinguish between two logically different categories and their sub-categories. They are food and and its mode of production. What is relevant to SDG-2 is the sustained availability and affordability of adequate amount of wholesome food. What is meaningful to ascertain is whether such an amount would be sufficient for a given group of people.
Naturally, what food is required for the purpose depends on a given group’s dietary habits as determined by their food culture. Food items needed here will vary widely; generally speaking, some staple item will be required in a larger quantity than others. Therefore, ascertaining the output from one or another food production method does not seem to serve a useful purpose.
Mode of food production has two elements; the methods in use and the people using them. The former are of crucial importance to the sustainability of food systems, hence their effect on the environment should be ascertained. However, despite the emotional reactions some groups in the second sub-category seems to evoke, their inclusion cannot be justified with reference to the achievement of SDG-2. It would be wiser to leave those issues to those best able to deal with them.
Meanwhile, man’s primitive food system consisted only of a harvesting system viz., hunting or gathering and consuming the harvest on the spot as the other primates do. As agriculture emerged, his environment was more or less replaced as his primary yielder sub-system by cultivation and animal husbandry. Fishery and collecting forest produce represent harvesting man’s oldest yielder sub-system. To day, a typical food system has the following sub-systems which often display a wide technological variation:
It will be noticed that large scale commercialisation continues to intrude into every sub-system of food systems. However, family farms and small holders still play a vital role in nutrition. Even though they are essential elements of a food system, some of its sub-systems like transport, storage and selling are common to many other fields. Thus, the present task would be to identify what could accurately indicate the direct and indirect contribution to the SDG’s made by food systems run by the private sector.
It would be irresponsible to ignore the reality of food production; apart from those few places like Northern Russia, communcal food production rose and fell with the Bolshevik regime. True, a little of still lingers in afew places, but majority of food producing units are privately owned. The same applies to the other sub-systems in food systems. Therefore, use of the term ‘private’ in the current discussion appears to be redundant.
One can now expand on the direct and indirect indicators. However, it is necessary to examine the soundness of distinguishing between qualitative and quantitative indicators. Under unusual circumstances when the need for nutrition is acute, a temporary emphasis on quantitative aspect may be justified. This should not blind one to the danger of it being given a permanent emphasis in order to maximise profits. Hence, a pragmatic coalition between these in a double-faceted indicator is desirable.
These will reveal the private food systems’ positive or negative contribution to nutrition. They have several dimensions all of which are crucial to the SDG-2. The indicators pertinent to each are given under the heading which describes it. Moreover, an indicator represents a relative increase or a decrease given as a percentage.
Sustainability; unless this is ensured, disastrous results may obtain.
1. Biodiversity in yielder sub-system; its increase reduces the vulnerability of agriculture and animal husbandry to diseases. Promotion of the local food culture seems to be an appropriate way of achieving this.
2 .The extent of food wastage in food systems; this may occur in every sub-system of it.
3. Loss of soil fertility, erosion, pollution and salination; one may look up the Aral Sea disaster resulting from agro-industry which turned a huge area salinated and barren which left tens of thousands helpless.
4. Promotion of ecologically sound agriculture.
5. Use of the most energy efficient methods including modes of transport; priority ought to be given to water and rail transport as much as possible.
6. Effect on local pollinators; their presence is said to increase yields by as much as 25%.
7. The extent of over harvesting from the environment; this is most concerned with over fishing but in some cases, it may involve forest products as in felling sago palms to extract the starch they contain.
8. The extent of mixed cultivation; its benefits to the environment are many.
9. Emission of so-called ‘green house’ gases.
10. Water conservation; this is very relevant in some areas. Selection of crops suited to the degree of aridity of an area, harvesting rain and use of covered irrigation channels are among the solutions proposed.
Availability; this dimension has six aspects on which its indicators are based. Although food wastage affects availability, sustainability has a logically prior claim on it.
11. The extent to which the available food items enable the people of an area to partake of a wholesome, varied and balanced diet. It reflects the food diversity of an area. It is logically impossible to determine this with reference to any universal standard, it should rather be determined relative to the local food culture. However, if that should prove to be nutritionally deficient, appropriate additions may be made.
12. Quantitative sufficiency of the food items in 11 for the people in the area concerned. Surplus food may be disposed of either through trade or laying it aside as a reserve.
13. Quality of the above items with reference not only to their nutritive value, but also to their ability to enhance people’s culinary enjoyment which depends on their freshness and flavour and not to cosmetic properties like colour and large, uniform size.
14. Adequacy of the transport system and its cost between food producers and end-users.
15. Distribution, adequacy and the cost of storage facilities of the food systems concerned.
16. Accessibility which depends on the number of outlet locations from where food may be conveniently procured by all the people of the area concerned. These may include shops, stalls, restaurants, etc. Their aggregation in a few places would not make food easily accessible to some who reside in remoter parts, especially where transport is difficult. Therefore, this should be ascertained with reference to the total population of the area.
17. Export of key food items; selling sub-systems may export food to increase profits cutting down the supply of food available for local use.
18. Amount of food from a local food system in storage that is not released into the outlets in the area. This is done to increase profits and causes an artificial shortage as well as a price increase.
19. Replacement of food crops by cash crops.
Affordability; this is a crucial indicator when taken in conjunction with indicators 11 to 17. High prices may often result in a pseudo-surplus which merely benefits the operators of the selling sub-system.
20. Price change in food items caused by the relevant indicators above.
The purpose of the indirect indicators is to ascertain what adverse effects food systems run by private sector may have on the people, which in turn may influence the availability and affordability of food.
21. The extent of job losses/redundancies in food systems owing to changes in them, purportedly undertaken to increase their efficiency. This would lead to an obvious reduction in affordability.
22. The incidence of the so-called NCD’s; beverages with a high sugar content, factory-made ready-to-eat comestibles and colourfully packaged sweets are thought to play a significant role here. These may reduce one’s earning capacity which could have an adverse impact on affordability.
The foregoing is based on the assumption that a set of indicators are needed in order to decide on and guide some suitable actions to enhance people’s nutrition. Serving this purpose requires the indicators to be as comprehensive as possible. Looking at what is needed from a food system perspective seems to be a suitable approach to achieve such completeness. However, it will make statistical analysis difficult.
This is because some of the factors that adversely affect the availability and affordability of food originate from different sub-systems in the food system. Not only does the profit motive of the competitive economy plays a part here, so does also the variations in the ownership of transport sub-system. In many less affluent countries, the state-run communications remain inadequate. Resolution of these problems is beyond the scope of food and agriculture authorities.
Some may argue that weather conditions are critical for food production especially the snows for winter wheat and monsoon rains in tropics, and therefore, they ought to be included. The difficulty here is that it is still impossible to predict them with any significant degree of reliability. Even if it does, one can hardly do anything to directly influence them. It seems that undertaking steps to enhance those ecosystems services is a sounder alternative.
The notion of core-food items may make statistical work manageable, but this reductive notion would result in a set of indicators that could hardly guide one towards remedial action enabling the people procure a balanced diet, not to mention culinary enjoyment. In a world where the incidence of NCD’s is described as an ‘epidemic’, this limitation is a cause for concern.
An Early Warning Mechanism to Identify Emerging Threats to Adequate Nutrition and Food Security
In this discussion, we will propose a holistic way to detect emerging threats to FSN as early as possible, so that an appropriate rapid response to such a crisis may be undertaken by the authorities at national, regional and global levels as indicated. However, what is constitutive of this response would be beyond the scope of our present brief. Therefore, we will assume that a suitable inter-institutional plan to manage such an emergency has already been made by the responsible authorities.
Our suggestion comes in two parts; first, we will identify the possible generic threats to FSN that may make a sudden appearance and their impact on it. Secondly, we will describe what may best indicate their more or less immediate onset with a view to undertaking a rapid pre-emptive response to those threats. The present approach represents a holistic analysis of the problem and a synthetic solution. Every effort has been made to make the present discussion pragmatic and free of jargon.
The impact of such threats may manifest themselves recursively at three levels:
We will now identify the various points of impact a threat to FSN may strike. These may occur singly or in some combination:
Let us next identify what kind of threat may bring about those two disruptions of FSN:
We will not take up civil unrest and armed conflict even though it could have grave consequences for the national FSN as the wars in Ethiopia and Biafra have shown. Resolution of such threats to FSN are the domains of diplomacy and/or the military. Early detection of such evantualities are delegated to diplomatic and intelligence services.
Thus, what we have to monitor and interpret as potential threats to FSN are linked to four phenomena:
Some previous contributors to this discussion have proposed specific monitoring techniques which will not be repeated here. However, we will mentions a few possible monitoring methods which may be directed at the global, regional and national levels. It is assumed that the ground work has already been done to coordinate such efforts from one level to the other. Further, we presume that standardised interpretation of monitored data is in place.
Impending adverse weather conditions can be predicted with increasing reliability with the help of satellite data, air sampling (for dust particles that determine the quantity of winter snows), local monitoring of weather data, etc. The usefulness of the former depends on the degree of cooperation between the nations that own the weather satellites and those who do not. However, it is difficult to see how this fore knowledge might help to avert a disaster unless appropriate long-term plans are implemented in advance. Once it has taken place, international help may offer its temporary amelioration.
There is no conceivable way to avoid natural disasters. Advanced geological survey techniques may offer fairly reliable predictions of them. At present, we do not seem to have a comprehensive understanding of such phenomena even though they have been known since antiquity. We appear to have little choce in averting them, hence, what we can do is to make our food systems as resilient as possible so that and adequate FSN is restored as soon as possible.
As for the health threats that may adversely affect the FSN, their monitoring is obviously the domain of WHO, regional and national health authorities. The current Corona outbreak amply demonstrates their inadequacy. Food shortages due to this problem could have been avoided with comparative ease if the national authorities had in place a sutable plan to deal with all the aspects of such an emergency including food production and supply.
Monitoring of food trade in general and commodity futures in particular can warn the authorities of potential artificial food shortages. It is difficult to see how to counter this threat to FSN except by introducing and enforcing unequivocal food legislation based on the natural value of food. This value differs from the artificial value attributed to it by tradesmen in that its natural value stems from it being essential to life. And human life is supposed to be invaluable!
We have not said much about the actual modes of monitoring the indicators of impending threats to FSN. In our view, knowing about the threats from the described categories does not help us much to avoid them. Rather, we think that those indicators provide us some guidance for changing the structure of our current food systems in order to make them rational by being sustainable, really equitable, resilient, adequate and an integral part of our environment.
Use of Policies to Promote Family Farming with the Involvement of other Relevant Sectors
Promotion of family farming seems to require the same generic steps regardless of where this is to be undertaken. However, how urgent this is depends on the food production and general economy of the area in question. Moreover, there seems to be a categorical difference between why family farming ought to be promoted in those two areas. This note discusses both of those reasons and suggests how policies may be used to achieve the present objective.
Immediate action is needed in countries where a greater portion of the population is engaged in agricultural pursuits owing to the following reasons:
• Incidence of inadequate and/or inappropriate nutrition is high in those countries.
• High unemployment and/or under employment rates are a chronic social problem there.
• Considerable number of children and youth do not have access to adequate and appropriate education, health care or social security. Hence, there ability to acquire modern technological skills is very limited.
• Owing to the permissive trade policies and defective national laws, national and multi-national monopolies are making alarming inroads into the already fragile local agriculture and food trade causing the following;
• Weaknesses in national infra-structure adversely affect the critical transport sub-system of the national food system. Furthermore, lack of adequate irrigation facilities i.e., inadequate supplementation sub-system of a food system may also be a problem.
• Secure land tenure is often a major problem family farmer’s face. Urgent and effective legal measures should be taken to deal with this challenge.
• Aging adults and youth migration into cities often give rise to a critical shortage of man-power. We do not propose the reductive solution of mechanisation as a solution for it will often exclude the present day farmers as they lack the necessary skills nor are they educated enough to acquire them in a timely fashion. Furthermore, their children are frequently not educated enough to carry out anything other than temporary unskilled labour and are a burden on cities where there are few or no social services. What is needed is a mechanism to attract them back to farming with a clear prospect of earning a decent livelihood.
• In some instances, armed conflict makes it difficult to provide the services taken for granted in affluent countries.
We have included lack of security for the sake of completeness even though the problem of peace making is one of the thorniest to resolve. The argument this far illustrates what non-agricultural hindrances we will have to surmount before we can begin to direct our attention to family farming. But before we proceed to specific policies, let us consider what we want to achieve by promoting family farming:
• Family farming should contribute to family and local food security and adequate nutrition, and should there be a surplus production, it should be used to help one’s neighbouring areas achieve the same objective. This is very different from the pseudo altruism of growing ‘ecological food’ to be sold in cities for high profit for personal gain without addressing the question of family and local nutrition.
• It should enable the farming families to earn a decent livelihood or at least make a significant contribution towards it.
• It should promote the local biodiversity in food species and the well-being of the environment.
• Whenever possible, it should help to sustain and popularise the local food culture.
• It will encourage the rural youth to take up family farming as an attractive profession and will do everything possible to attract some of the young people who have left home to return and take up agricultural or related pursuits.
We may be asked, why talk about policies instead of giving examples of successful actions or refer to a long list of international resolutions or authorities? There are several very good reasons for our approach:
• However successful a project/scheme may have been at a specific location, its success in other locations is not thereby guaranteed owing to the changes in geographical, climatic and Soil conditions within a country.
• The obstacles to family farming with which we began our discussion cannot be surmounted by best practices in family farming, resolutions or by scientific articles about it.
• It is generally agreed that in spite of the successful efforts of trade and industry to gravely undermine democracy, a national government can still play an important role in determining a country’s future. One of the implications of this is that the government has the will and ability to undertake actions to achieve national food security and nutrition. This involves taking the necessary steps to remove those obstacles to successful family farming. Both sets of action are undertaken with reference to a set of suitable policies and not specific examples.
Such policies when appropriately implemented will coordinate individual local efforts so that they will benefit the individual family farmer, the locality where he works, region and the country as a whole in attaining food security and adequate nutrition. This can never be achieved by isolated projects/schemes however successful they may have been in local terms. National involvement is essential here in order to ensure an adequate infra-structure and land tenure, deal with the threat of monopolies, etc.
• It is undesirable to have non-governmental sectors to participate in promoting family farming for two main reasons. Pseudo altruism of ‘ecological food production’ has already been mentioned. The second problem is that unless they are carefully integrated into a holistic endeavour directed at the goals listed earlier, there is a great danger of family farming turning into being a tool of various vested interests. We ought to keep in mind that the rewards of family farming should first go to the family involved, after that to the immediate area and then to the country as a whole. We are not interested in using family farming to boost export trade, but rather in helping the family farmers to earn a decent living while procuring sufficient food for their adequate nutrition, etc.
• We do not claim good policies to be a panacea, but if they are followed up with appropriate implementation at strategic and operational levels much would be done towards attaining our objective. Moreover, it would be inclusive of governmental, non-governmental and individual efforts provided they do not serve some partisan interest.
• Another problem in carrying out projects/schemes outside the auspices of the relevant policy is that they may pull in a variety of directions. This will make the total effect of the endeavour unpredictable with respect to what we intend to achieve.
So far, we have refrained from discussing one important aspect of family farming viz.; how to ensure that it would go a significant way in enabling family farmers earn a decent living. First, let us recall that after air and water, food is the third essential thing to life. Unless adequately nourished, neither the adults nor the youngsters will be able to acquire new skills needed to make worthwhile and appropriate improvements in farming. Therefore, adequate nutrition of family farmers has a logical priority above everything else. However, later in this discussion, we will address this issue.
The Way Forward
The keen reader will have perceived by now that promoting family farming requires not just a food and agriculture policy, but a set of them. While the former will focus on family farming per se, the others will support and sustain it by removing the obstacles it faces. Now, we face the challenge of how do we go about designing and implementing such a policy set.
Here, we need to make sure that two practical matters can be settled:
• Institutions of the national government are sincerely will and able to coordinate their actions towards the same objectives we have identified as the aims of family farming. We must not overlook the inter-departmental jealousies, reluctance to cooperate with other departments, etc. It is time those bodies understood that isolated efforts do not solve even the simplest of problems. Not only do we need to think outside silos, but we need to act from there.
• International organisations should direct their cooperation with reference to the goal a given policy set is intended to attain. In the present instance, family farming, but they should bear in mind its emphasis is first and foremost on family nutrition and income and then local and eventually national food security and nutrition. Unless the non-governmental bodies are willing to meet this requirement, their involvement would prove rather detrimental.
Our next step is to design a policy set to whose implementation international organisations and local non-governmental bodies may fruitfully contribute. As we have seen earlier, revision of a number of policies other than that on food and agriculture is required to pave the way for the latter. We shall call those adjunctive policies because their help is necessary.
But it is critical that the adjunctive policies and the food and agriculture policy should display in inter-policy harmony with respect to the objectives the latter is intended to attain. For instance, assume that we have the optimal food and agriculture policy needed to promote family farming, but if the national trade and legal policies allow huge factory farms where monoculture is in use and manufacture and/or import of factory food and drink, and their promotion, family farming will fail for reasons we have already discussed.
Likewise, our food and agriculture policy will not succeed if it does not display an intra-policy harmony. It will lack this quality its implementation included support for the production of ‘ecological food’ to be sold for a high price in distant big cities. True, this will earn a farmer an income, but it does not make wholesome food available to him. Moreover, most family farmers are not familiar with ‘ecological foods’ and selling techniques.
So, what really happens is that people from cities with ‘advanced agriculture education’ will purchase family farms to produce such items using a few locals as labourers. This neither helps with the nutrition of farming families nor the locale where they live. Indeed, it will provide food of better quality to the urban affluent, but paraphrasing an old adage “nutrition begins at home.” Another reason for intra-policy disharmony is the use of farm machinery, seeds, and animals etc., which require capital-intensive methods.
We emphasise here that we do not deprecate the use of modern methods; some of them are quite appropriate with respect to the well-being of the environment as well as the farmers’ ability to master them in a short time. The greatest mistake many ‘experts’ make is to ignore the current learning ability of family farmers, the time it takes, and the resources needed to maintain farm implements and not to mention their climate tolerance.
Thus, the success of the food and agriculture policy required to achieve our aims depends on the following:
• An inter-policy harmony exists among its adjunctive policies and between them and itself.
• Our food and agriculture policy displays an intra-policy harmony among the means used to implement it.
One may now quite reasonably object that it would be impossible to ascertain whether those harmonies obtain unless we have already formulated our policies. This is correct, but we believe that keeping these requirements in mind before we begin on the necessary policies would be useful to avoid them. We will present some of the features the adjunctive policies should embody in order to ensure the success of our food and agriculture policy. Although they are far from being exhaustive, it is hoped that they would be useful as a general guide on their subsequent expansion.
Revision of Adjunctive Policies
We will list some of the most relevant policies and their proposed implementation strategies will be given in Roman numerals. Whenever applicable, those strategies will be placed in two categories, viz., international and national. For the sake of brevity, regional policies are subsumed under international ones.
• Regardless of the source, funding for promoting family farming should be channelled through the organisation most fitted for the purpose in order to avoid wasteful replication, policy disharmony, unnecessary administrative costs, etc. Here, FAO with its world-wide representation and high competence in the field ought to be employed as this channel. It is hoped that donor organisations including NGO’s will be able to see the rationality of this policy proposal.
I. UN and FAO ought to act vigorously to persuade international donors to consent to this arrangement. Suitable tactical measures such as national conferences, publicity, etc., ought to be undertaken to promote national willingness to accept the proposed arrangement.
II. Inter-organisational conferences with relevant donor organisations in order to persuade them to agree to this step are very important. Diplomacy and reasoned persuasion may be some use here even though the undesirable ploy of using organisational autonomy may still raise its Gorgon head.
III. Stoppage or at least a drastic reduction of loans to national and international food and agricultural monopolies. Much advocacy and legal measures may be needed to achieve this objective.
• As countries where a greater proportion of the population is engaged in agricultural pursuits, suffer from chronic shortages of wholesome food, their finance policy should give priority to the promotion of family farming both to deal with that problem and enable a significant numbers of people to be gainfully employed. In order to compensate for their shortage of financial resources, some ways forwards have also been included here.
• Encourage safe labour-intensive methods in countries where rate of unemployment is high.
I. Disseminate information on appropriateness of the methodology in use i.e., it should be benign to environment, safe to the people, suitable for use under given climatic conditions, potential users have the capacity to acquire within a reasonable time the knowledge and skill needed to use and maintain the tools involved.
• It is important to understand that unemployment poses the greatest real threat to national security. Actively support the labour-intensive occupations and remember those who describe some work as ‘monotonous’ or ‘boring’ are highly paid ‘experts’ writing while firmly seated in comfortable offices; they have no idea of the difference between having a ‘boring’ job and being penniless in a country with scarce social services.
• An appropriate global trade policy is vital to the success of family farming. Fully aware that vested interests of trade and industry more than ably supported by the WTO, it will require great moral courage and clarity of thought in that organisation to admit national and international food and agriculture monopolies pose the greatest threat to sustainable and equitable global food security and adequate nutrition, cause adverse climatic changes, loss of soil fertility, etc. In view of this, it is incumbent upon the FAO and the UN to persuade WTO to re-negotiate food and agriculture trade and industry policies. WTO should revoke the privileges such trade and industry now enjoy while granting them to smaller cooperative endeavours that demonstrably promote sustainable, varied, wholesome and balanced nutrition through out the world.
I. There seems to be no alternative except for the FAO, UN, ILO and other international NGO’s to rally around and persuade WTO to undertake a radical change in its global trade policy as it affects food and agriculture trade and industry.
• Gradual revocation of privileges granted to existing national and international food and agriculture trade and industry in a country should be carried out. Establishment of such new entities should be rigorously prevented.
• New production and trade in cash crops replacing food crops should be strictly prevented. The existing production and trade in such items should be carefully reviewed with a view to enhancing the national FSN.
• Emphasis should be placed on a trade policy that facilitates family farming and cooperative disposal of food with a view to its concentric expansion.
• Success of family farming is incumbent upon adequate transport from farms/fishing ports or villages to the nearest populated areas. At present, we are not concerned with distant cities or exports, for our aim is to ensure the adequate nutrition of those nearest to production centra while enabling food producers to earn a decent income. This will be gradually expanded in a concentric fashion as food production increases. Therefore, the relevant transport policy would be to improve local and/regional transport rather than the whole. Not only is this less expensive, but it would help the bottom-up improvements in farmer/fisherman income and local nutrition. This may seem counter to traditional ‘development’ theories, but they all show very meagre results when administered from the distant top.
Improvements in local ports should be undertaken. Small vessels suited for the purpose can often be made out of the available local materials. What we need is adequate functionality in transporters and not sleek ‘cutting edge’ stuff that is difficult to maintain locally and besides, very expensive.
• FAO ought to work in closer collaboration with WHOM and the national health authorities to establish adequate primary health care especially in food producing areas. It is self-evident that ill health will make family farmers much less productive and may impair children’s ability to acquire the relevant and appropriate skills. This should receive highest priority at the highest level.
• Arms and ammunition used in countries we have described earlier come from affluent nations as defence aid or purchase on credit. Such affluent nations should seriously consider donating a significant portion of such aid to promote food production. They should display statesmanship rather than short-term strategic interest here.
• UNICEF and other international organisations involved in child welfare should do their utmost to establish and continue dietary education in schools so that they will be able to acquire the relevant dietary competence from a young age.
• Appropriate dietary education that embraces the local food culture and personal hygiene should be made an integral part of school curriculum. This should be accompanied by education concerning the local environment and its importance.
• Public education designed to increase people’s dietary competence.
Involvement of news providers and national non-governmental organisations to facilitate public education.
• Donors should ensure that they do not support activities detrimental to the environment of a target nation even though those may yield ‘economic growth’ in the short run.
• A holistic international policy on environment is an urgent necessity. Paris agreement has not been a resounding success with respect to its implementation. Besides, it lacks the specificity the matter requires For instance, commercial deforestation, marine pollution, dumping of dangerous materials, etc., require attention.
• Introduce birth control as a national priority essential for survival and an adequate quality of life for all.
• Prevent foreign industries from ‘relocating’ to the country because of lax laws pertaining to labour safety and protection, factory safety, protection of environment and cheaper labour.
• Energy efficiency should be made compulsory in every sector.
• The relevant international organisations should actively deprecate the establishment and operation of national and multi-national food and agriculture monopolies of every size.
• Introduction of international laws to devolve food economy in favour of cooperative operations. We know that this may appear strange to the traditionalists just like heliocentric view of solar system did to the clergy, but when it is widely accepted that political power should be devolved, there is no rational reason to exclude economic power from becoming decentralised, i.e., devolved into smaller cooperative national units.
• Support every national effort to preserve and regenerate the environment.
• Legislative measures needed to require the policies and strategies listed here to become the law of the land.
We have included a large number of legal strategies even though we are fully aware of the uneven distribution of effective law enforcement throughout the globe. Moreover, reasoned necessity is seldom compatible with political opportunism, incompetence, superstition, corruption etc. that are wide-spread in spite of the much vaunted broad access to information. Further, scientism and belief in so-called ‘theories often blind the educated just as religion has done and still does. It seems impossible to make one grasp the simple ontological fallacy of regarding human behaviour as a phenomenon only involving non-living objects, hence, the current theorising.
Let us now take up the food and agriculture policy required to promote family farming. Leaving aside its preamble, it will be generally agreed that it would be the following:
• Goal of the food and agriculture policy is to achieve global/national food security and adequate public nutrition. On elaboration, it will observe the qualitative and quantitative aspects of food security, whose sustainability depends on the availability of the ecosystems services, hence the well-being of the environment. We have described elsewhere why human birth control is an essential element of a sound environment policy.
The perspicuous reader would have understood by now that promotion of family farming is a strategic measure appropriate to achieve our main objective described immediately above. We have also pointed out the immense difficulties it faces from many other policy domains and have proposed some ways of overcoming them. Thus, placed within the context of the present food and agriculture policy, it would be reasonable to delegate the following purposes to family farming:
• Enhancing nutrition and food security of the family involved.
• Contributing to improved nutrition and food security of the locale.
These may seem too modest to those advocates of scientism who ignore dietary enjoyment of the people, their actual capacity to acquire new skills, the value of food culture and agricultural biodiversity, etc. We are only interested in helping living people whose dietary needs are urgent. Once the number of areas where family farming thrives increase, their surplus food can be made available to a wider circle and the process can be repeated as a food system is progressively devolved.
While FAO and other international and national entities do their utmost to overcome the shortcomings in adjunctive policies, we can now consider how to ensure intra-policy harmony within food and agriculture policy at international and national levels. Afterwards, we will take a brief look at the tactical measures that may be taken to promote family farming in the field.
At the country level, our food and agriculture policy remains the same while its implementation will be confined within the national boarders. This proposal differs from the traditional approach in that it does not require or recommend a nation-wide effort undertaken with great deal of fan fare. What we require however, is that the government together with international organisation do its utmost to deal with the problems the adjunctive policies pose to the national food security and adequate nutrition and refrain from assessing the value of food in purely commercial terms.
In addition, it would be highly desirable that the efforts to promote family farming embody the strategies given below. There is no reason that NGO’s should not participate in this endeavour as long as their involvement follows the dos and don’ts listed throughout this contribution. Owing to shortage of finances, other material resources or the appropriate know-how, the implementation of these strategies may be unevenly distributed in a country. Though regrettable, continuation of even that would help its wider distribution in the long run.
The reader will notice that we have not shown conclusively that human birth control is an integral part of a sustainable future for the living, for we have done it extensively in this forum. Instead of talking about ‘not thinking in silos’ which is really re-inventing the steam engine under a different and longer name, we have done it by pointing out how easily the adjunctive policies may become the greatest obstacles to the success of family farming.
Therefore, it is incumbent upon the FAO, NGO’s and the general public to do their utmost to induce the decision-makers to make the necessary changes in adjunctive policies. If we should neglect this and focus only on food and agriculture in isolation, it would be analogous to laying asphalt on a long strip of wilderness hoping it would somehow become a road. Hope is not a strategy; it is something that may make suffering tolerable.
We have been critical of the so-called ‘better types’, ‘cutting edge technology’ etc. If we impartially examine world’s food production, it will be clear that we have more than enough food to go around. So, we do not need technology to get higher yields of progressively less flavour, we need it to devise better harvesting, preservation, storage and environmentally benign transport.
But that will not be enough. We waste great deal of food in other ways. Restaurants and cafes, customers who do not finish their meals, domestic dietary incompetence account for a very significant food loss. It is only recently that this problem has been acknowledged. This is not a problem amenable to any research, for it is a flaw in our behaviour. Dealing with it requires a change in personal attitude to food.
Even if we should succeed in solving those technical and attitudinal problems, a far greater challenge remains to be overcome. We have more than hinted at it in these pages, viz., and invasive commercialisation of the world’s food systems. This has gone so far as to make it a roller coaster ride to a dreadful disaster. A cursory look at the number of food species used to provide our food, the very few companies who monopolise seed and livestock breeding should give everyone a grave cause for concern.
Furthermore, proliferation of ‘groups’ i.e., huge conglomerates of companies that own and run wholesale and retail chains as monopolies, not to mention the chains of dubious eating places makes the picture even more grim. All of them are mere middlemen who earn enormous profits at the expense of the actual food producers and the gullible end-users who believe in advertisements and other modes of promotion.
What they sell is neither nutritious, healthy, nor yet do we know what long-term effects the additives they use may have on our health. Moreover, to maximise their profits, they resort to extensive monoculture of crops and factory farming of livestock, which are highly detrimental to the environment and inhumane to the animals. Further, it deprives people of their culinary enjoyment which is a part of human cultural patrimony.
Every impartial end-user will agree meat, fruit and vegetables that are ‘improved’ do not have the same attractive flavour. They are invariably insipid, but they are all of the same size and colour. In other words, they look good, but have no taste, another example of eye-candy. We personally know of bunches of ‘improved’ tomatoes which are common in Scandinavia. They have a uniform size, fine red colour, but free of detectable tomato taste. Their stalks are very aromatic, but the edible parts have no smell whatsoever! This is a cutting edge tomato.
Family farming will thus bring back to more people food enjoyable as food and not human fuel. It is benign to the environment and enables the farming families to meet their nutritional needs with culinary enjoyment and eventually, his neighbours and the people in the country. At the same time, those families will be able to earn an income which may soon be sufficient to meet their other needs. We hope this note will make some contribution towards achieving that objective.
Duration of the Current Corona Infection and Emergency Preparedness Policy Pertaining to Food and Agriculture
In our previous contribution to the present discussion, we assumed that all of us were adequately and scientifically informed about the possible duration of the present pandemic. Unfortunately, this does not seem to be the case. Its possible duration is critically important to an effective policy formulation and implementation. This supplementary note addresses this aspect of the issue we have covered in our previous contribution.
It is with much regret that we have to report that the ‘media’ in the ‘most advanced’ countries have made claims on the duration of the present Corona infection based purely on the assertions of ‘newspaper and television pundits’. These individuals as a group lack any professional training in virology; general physicians and specialists in other medical fields are not professionally competent to make sweeping statements on the possible duration of the present crisis. Needless to say that the comments from those engaged in other disciplines are irrelevant to our discussion.
We have now identified whose views we have to take into account and whose claims we may dismiss with profit. Let us now consider the possible duration of the present health emergency with reference to fundamental principals governing the behaviour of pathogens in general, and Corona virus in particular.
Strategy of every pathogen is governed by two principals:
These principals apply with undiminished force to Corona infection. Therefore, it is virologically unlikely that the present health problem would last for years. We have heard this claim from local TV pundits who have no background in infectious disease. Such spurious claims are not only irresponsible, but contribute also to the exacerbation of the current situation. Freedom of speech exercised by those free of relevant knowledge is to be deprecated.
Consider now the situation in Sweden. Counter-measures against Corona infection there were determined by an epidemiologist. These are statistician of diseases with no particular training in infectious diseases. Unfortunately, an anti-Corona strategy based on statistics can lead to disastrous results for some vulnerable groups unless a holistic approach is adopted. Indeed, this has taken place as the widely available figures show with respect to other Nordic countries.
In Sweden, the following errors of judgement have been made:
We are afraid that we have allowed us to be carried away, a common fault among those who begin to talk about their subject. Our intention is to reassure the readers that combined with the common precautions like good personal hygiene, keeping a fair distance from others, self-quarantine, avoiding crowds, etc., will soon enable us to defeat the threat posed by Corona virus. We think it is reasonable to be optimistic even though one can never know whether the really useful lessons we could have learnt from it will be learned.
Does Free Food Trade Enhance Global Food Security?
According to Mr. Christian Häberli, the answer to our question seems to be resounding “yes!” We quote below the relevant part of his contribution to the present discussion:
“Other news is less good, under a global welfare enhancement free-trader philosophy – and in a poor and mainly importing
Developing country perspective. “Go local” is not only a necessity, or a simple “confined consumer” preference; it now comes under the ominous name of “shortening supply chains” and is actively promoted by governments wanting to add local value, at the expense of their consumers and of more efficient producers abroad. This rings a bell for those having to reckon with, for example, “America first” or “strategic sovereignty for facemasks” politicians. For staple food, and regardless of their WTO-compatibility or impact on foreign suppliers, such trade and investment measures may well increase what some other idealists call “food sovereignty” but which, in more sober terms, might well end the vital contribution of trade to global food security.”
We note with some disquiet two terms he has used here, “ominous” and “vital contribution.” There are two points we need to clarify before we can ascertain whether Mr. Häberli’s claims are justified. We shall now take them up in turn.
First, what do we mean by global food security? Obviously, it is the presence in the real world certain state of affairs pertaining to food. When it obtains, people in the world are enjoying a sustainable supply of wholesome food they require for a varied and balanced diet at “an affordable price”in accordance with their own food culture.
As we have said time after time, all human cultures have developed their own food culture in accordance with the climatic, geographic and soil conditions of where they live. Furthermore, even animals display food preferences; for instance, camels in South Central Arabia used to display a distinct preference to thorn bushes rather than gorging themselves on more nutritious Lucerne.
Most humans derive pleasure and enjoyment from their food, and meal times are often social occasions. Of course, there are aberrations like drunkenness and ‘working lunches’, but these are in a disagreeable minority. Many cultures are proud of their culinary traditions, and food culture includes the most suitable crops and animals to a given area.
Food culture and culinary enjoyment are an integral part of the culture of a people; hence, it is a part of their cultural patrimony and nobody has any right to traduce it for spurious reasons motivated by personal gain.
Secondly, throughout the world, vast majority of the people need to buy their food; this requires them to have a sufficient income for the purpose. If they do not, “free trade in food” may make the food “accessible” to them in shops in large enough quantities, but food in the shop and no money in the pocket will hardly contribute to food security.
In most poor countries and in the poor areas of those countries where some social groups are affluent and others not, the following conditions obtain:
Thus, “free food trade” as it is practised today does not contribute to an enhanced food security to the already deprived, nor does it contribute to public health with respect to rising NCD’s. Moreover, it contributes to the already serious environmental degradation. Hence, “free food trade” as it is practised today is to be deprecated, and opposition to it encouraged.
Enhancement of Food System Logistics in Response to Medical Emergencies
This contribution consists of three integral parts. The first outlines the purpose of the suggested enhancement and what that objective entails, and they represent the necessary conditions for achieving our objective. In the second part, we discuss the concrete steps needed and emphasise the importance of a rapid response. The contribution concludes with some notes on its implementation.
It will be obvious that the kind of enhanced logistics in a food system needed to cope with the food requirements of the public under any medical emergency such as the present Corona infection are identical in their characteristics. It is necessary to understand that what may differ in their nature is only the type of precautions the personnel who run the food system logistics ought to take. Since such measures are best prescribed by competent medical microbiologists, we need not take up that problem here.
Even if we should limit ourselves to food system logistics, we cannot overlook several logical facts we have to bear in mind:
Therefore, we need a holistic, pragmatic approach here to ensure the best possible solution under the present circumstances. It is tempting to point out the obvious, viz., that such measures are difficult to undertake under a crisis, and we should have had them in place before such has arisen. However, this is of little use; so, let us see what the best we can do now. The first step we need is to determine how best we may ensure an adequate food supply to the public as soon as possible.
No government seem to have in place a food and agriculture policy segment to be activated under a medical emergency for rapid response. As a rapid response is essential, implementation of such a policy segment should be the responsibility of a central directing authority that may delegate the relevant logistic functions to a set of operators chosen for their efficiency, willingness and ability to undertake coordinated quick action.
These operators may include a variety of civilian and military operators who will act in unison under the direction of a central authority and/or its regional representatives. In situations like the present one, central government seem to be the most appropriate for the purpose. It and the operators it may chose should bear the following critical factors in mind:
So far, we have discussed two aspects of the logistics involved in the selling sub-system of a food system. However, as we have noted earlier, this part of food system can operate only as long as food is produced by its yielder/harvesting sub-system. Fisheries represent a harvesting sub-system operating in nature i.e., sea and bodies of fresh water. Yielder sub-system often depends on a supplementation sub-system that provides fertiliser, biocides, irrigation, etc., which supplements the deficits in ecosystems services on which agriculture depends.
Therefore, in order to ensure the usefulness of the enhancements in logistics we have discussed so far, it is also necessary to improve the logistics as they are required by the yielder/harvester and supplementation sub-systems of a food system. The very first contributor to this discussion has pointed out the problems caused by its neglect. We must now look at how to enhance the logistics of food production/harvesting:
Successful implementation of the proposed strategy viz., enhancement of food system logistics as an important aspect of the policy of ensuring the best availability of essential food items at an affordable price during the present crisis has to meet the following requirements:
In conclusion, we must emphasise once more the urgent necessity of undertaking these enhancements of food system logistics as soon as possible in order to avert a looming disaster; it is not just a matter of nutrition, for we should never underestimate the power of mass hunger to override our moral and social scruples. The resultant behaviour would tear the current social fabric fragile as it is in many places, plunging the world into another dark age. Its progress would be rapid, for it would escalate geometrically. Hence the urgent need for action now and debate can be safely left to the posterity.
We have not sketched nuts and bolts of implementation because there are too many variations in logistical needs. Even in the affluent countries, where the tools needed for logistics are in place, their current deployment is far from being optimal. In less affluent countries, suitable vehicles, storage facilities and of course, the whole of food production may have to be supplemented. Thus, nobody can afford to be complaisant, and need to act. Here, a well coordinated international action to fill the short falls in food supplies and equipment in many countries will be necessary. It is hoped such assistance will be forthcoming without time being wasted in fruitless and acrimonious discussions and/or inept waste of time in data collection, analysis and research. Critical times call for prompt and appropriate action, and these can only spring from a holistic synthetic approach.
Is the Purpose of Communication Just to do something or to Get Something Useful Done by those who can do so?
Some may dismiss this question as an irresponsible one when the world is facing the crisis of resistance to antimicrobials (RAM). In our previous contribution, we have explained why we suggest the use of the abbreviation RAM rather than the so-called AMR. However, we are aware that it took a long time for many to accept that the earth went around the sun even after it has been accepted even by the church. Today, ‘experts’ of every ilk are analogous to the ‘infallible’ clergy of the past.
It is with some regret we note that the two critical questions posed above have been completely ignored by the contributors. Perhaps, this may be due to the fact that they have no time to read what the others have said before them. It is unfortunate, but one has only a little hope in changing this common tendency. So, we shall now try to point out the importance of the questions we have raised here.
Let us assume that the FAO should communicate to the public ‘about RAM’. What do the contributors expect to happen then?
Those who have read this contribution this far, will now begin to see how one may do a great deal without contributing anything to solve a problem. True, it will cost a considerable amount of time and money which might give some a sense of having done something. But is that something useful? It is clear that it would have no effect on the problem of RAM.
In our previous contribution, we have included all types of living pathogen ranging from liver flukes and tape worms, protozoans, fungi, bacteria and viruses. However, we did not think that it would be relevant to give an exhaustive list of pathogens in each category. A longer list of bacteria was given to illustrate some of those pathogens that could thrive in nature when the conditions are favourable to them, hence, they cannot be eliminated from earth.
Those and some others will be spread throughout the world carried from land to land by trade and travel just as the Corona virus did. Therefore, it is a global problem that requires a concerted international effort. No country or a continent can solve this global crisis by its own actions. We have explained what international steps may be useful, and individual nations ought to contribute to that endeavour if we really wish to deal with this daunting challenge.
Therefore, we will reiterate here in general terms what communication could do at global and national levels. Its content is communicated to a specific target audience in order to encourage its members to undertake appropriate action to solve the problem. These audiences fall into two groups; those who have the authority to undertake appropriate action against RAM and those who can compel the former to act. Those in the first group are the authorities both global and national while the latter group embraces the general public.
Thus we propose the following two sets of communication, each directed at a particular audience with respect to what each of them are willing and able to do in real life:
What precisely each audience ought to do has been fully described in our previous contribution and will not be repeated here. We shall not speculate on the ability of the electronic personal exchange platforms which has been named by some previous contributors. The complexity of the problem of RAM and what each group ought to do can hardly be compressed into a few lines of electronic text. Therefore, we are sceptical about its efficacy. But, one could always hope for the impossible i.e., reason and fundamental scientific principals may win over reductive eye-candy.
Why Should Someone Learn about and Understand Resistance to Antimicrobials?
Before we begin, it is reasonable to ask ourselves the question embodied in the title of this contribution. One might respond by saying, the purpose of communicating information on resistance to antimicrobials is to enable the public to understand the phenomenon. But, why should they do so?
Everybody seems to think the answer to this question is so obvious; therefore, one may dismiss it as trivial. However, let us consider the commonest response to it, i.e., “everybody should learn about and understand it in order to address the problem.” Here, we run into several difficulties. One of the most important among them is who exactly is able to address it and precisely how. Let us deal with these two questions in turn.
We cannot determine which public group could do something practical about resistance to antimicrobials unless we know what to do about it. We have looked at many a learned suggestion, but none seem to have troubled to distinguish between these two logically linked categories before they were put forward. We cannot think of communication without making sure that each group is informed of what exactly it ought to do to resolve the current problem. Otherwise it would be a vain endeavour.
In order to place the discussion in the real world, let us first look at public behaviour associated with the use of antimicrobials. Most of them use today has been prescribed by authorised medical or veterinary professionals to lay people. In most countries, should the latter try to discuss the prudence of a prescription with the professional, one can nearly always expect a less than cordial response. This type of real life data is not within the domain of either ‘the big data’ or ‘research.’ So, even if the lay people should know about and understand resistence to antimicrobials, it does not seem to have a practical significance.
Even in affluent countries where the relationship between the professional and the seeker of help is cordial, wider implications of a prescribed treatment hardly enters the exchanges between them. Belief that one needs medical or veterinary help often precludes one from taking a wider view. It would be unrealistic to expect anything else. Worried people are very different from the theoretical ones, and hardly anybody remains coldly objective when one believes that one requires medical or veterinary help.
It is true that in some countries antimicrobials are available over the counter. Likewise the free trade in adulterated antimicrobials is a promoter of resistance to antimicrobials as well as serious ill health. Unfortunately, it is unrealistic to believe better information on the consequences of their dubious practise would have much influence on the public behaviour where these occur.
We may be charged being too pessimistic about the efficacy of better communications about the problem. This would be quite wrong; what we question here is the wisdom of directing one’s efforts at an enormous, vague target group hoping for the best. En passant, we should like to underline those efforts if appropriately targeted, would prove very useful, and they would be of universal applicability.
In his contribution, Prof. Moya has taken an important step in the right direction when he chooses health personnel as an appropriate target for the proposed communications strategy. However, this would entail a non-stop cycle of communication as new batches of health personnel are employed. We find this approach a partial solution at best.
We were personally involved in basic research on resistance to antimicrobials in early 1970’ies, albeit in a modest capacity. At that time, the problem was clearly understood by the medical microbiologists and they were investigating the extent of inter- and intra species plasmid transfer of such resistance. Quite a number of pharmacologists were collaborating with microbiologists, and the problem has been communicated to surgeons and clinicians via many a medical journal.
At this point, the perceptive reader would ask, “why wasn’t anything done then? Weren’t the health ministries informed of this?” The answer to both questions is the age-old one. First, word of a person investigating the basic principals is often ignored because it is not ‘glamorous’ as that of technologists who make use of basic research to make ‘novel’ inventions. Secondly, it is very rare for a health ministry to be headed by a medical professional or it to have officials with relevant medical competence in its higher echelons. This defect is universal, and now it seems to be worse.
We shall take Prof. Moya’s proposal a step further; the authorities should make teaching of appropriate use of antimicrobials a compulsory part of medical and veterinary syllabi. Once this is in place, effective communications may be directed at the established health personnel. It must be noted that the first part is the responsibility of the national authorities in consultation with competent medical microbiologists, pharmacologists, surgeons and clinicians.
One may now ask, “Shouldn’t the public be informed of this serious problem?” The answer to this depends on what one wishes to achieve by informing the general public. If it should cause undue alarm, then the answer is a firm “no!” On the other hand, if the purpose is to encourage the public to compel the authorities to take rapid, appropriate action, then the answer is a resounding “yes!”
Assuming our mythical reader has persisted in reading this far, he may now ask, “well, do you propose to communicate anything more to the authorities, and what would you like to say to the general public?” This indeed is the challenge, and its resolution is complex. We will look at what to say to the authorities first, and then direct our attention to the general public.
The authorities should require the relevant syllabi to embody the appropriate use of antimicrobials. What is appropriate use of antimicrobials? This seems to be easy as it is concerned with medical appropriateness. Hence, it would be appropriate to use antimicrobials when it is clinically indicated. This applies with equal force to human and animal patients as well as to the crops.
We are sceptical about blanket recommendations based on case numbers, for we hold that each living entity of a given species has a certain degree of singularity which can also vary with circumstances. This somatic variability makes statistical recommendations on antimicrobial use nothing short of being mischievous. Hence it should be left to the surgeon or the clinician to determine the appropriate treatment on a case by case basis.
But this recommendation is too general, for it does not indicate how one may determine medical appropriateness. Once again, this would have to be determined by the competent professionals in medical microbiology, pharmacology, clinical practice, etc., which would have to be supplemented by the experience to be acquired by every newly qualified practitioner. This then is what the authorities should be made to understand and take steps to implement.
Up to this point, the task may seem feasible given the seriousness of the current situation with respect to the antimicrobials. Unfortunately however, there are already in our environment a vast number of pathogenic organisms that are resistant to a variety of antimicrobials. Even scrupulous personal hygiene is no guarantee against them. For instance, all it takes is an unforeseen minor accident out of doors leading to an injury that might be infected by an organism resistant to some common antimicrobials. This also applies to domestic animals and crops
Thus, nothing short of creating some fictional gnotobiotic environment where people, can live raising domestic animals and crops, there is no way to totally safeguard ourselves and our food sources from microbes resistant to antimicrobials. It must be noted that higher the population density around one’s residence, greater the one’s chances of being threatened by such microbial pathogens. Birth control is necessary to diminish this problem, but efforts to achieve this objective have shown meagre results.
Another great stumbling block is our unwillingness to take sufficient responsibility for our own good health. An impartial pharmacologist would recommend intake of smaller doses of antimicrobials at shorter intervals. Indeed, this has been the case previously. But, patients’ reluctance to wake up at night and take one’s medicine made them skip a dose, which results in the development of resistance to antimicrobials. Sadly, nobody dares to talk of prudence among the patients.
In order to deal with this patient lethargy, a dubious change in treatment regimen was undertaken. It simply involved oral administration of higher doses of antimicrobials at longer intervals. So, previous 6 hourly smaller doses were ‘revised’ to 8 hourly high doses, and even to 12 hourly massive doses. We know of some northern holiday makers who visited the ‘sunny south’ armed with such prescriptions for potential tourist diarrhoea and use them. They found that the resultant extermination of gut flora gave them greater discomfort and required treatment.
Therefore, we think it is important to communicate to the professionals and the public that the optimal dose should be taken at proper intervals and this should override their reluctance to be responsible for their own health. Their ease must not prevail over medical appropriateness. This should be impressed on the general public. In affluent countries with adequate primary and specialist care this is difficult enough, but how about the situation elsewhere.
It is precisely in countries where even primary health care is either absent in most areas or when available, a service of indifferent quality, one encounters hawking of adulterated antimicrobials and their over the counter sales respectively. It is unlikely that public communications would deter those unscrupulous sellers or their helpless victims from continuing these practices. When one has what one believes to be a health problem and when there are no really competent people to help them, they will resort to any means supposed to offer relief.
A survey of the distribution of indifferent primary health care and its absence will show a remarkable one to one correspondence between those two and the two problems just discussed. Do consider now how many ‘patent medicines’ and useless ‘health supplements’ are sold even in the most affluent countries where the authorities proudly claim high levels of public education and health care. The plain fact is that one knowing something does not necessarily mean one is going to act in accordance with what one knows.
Therefore, we think that rapid improvements in the quality and the availability of primary health care combined with stricter control of the antimicrobial sales are necessary. So, communications should encourage the public to demand the authorities to do so while simultaneously requesting powers that be to undertake those actions. Judging by the evident laxity in personal hygiene noticeable everywhere, we think a vigorous global advocacy to counter this challenge is long overdue.
We have identified two target groups for a communications strategy viz., authorities and the public as well as two types of content, each specific for a target group. Further, we have recommended a global action to promote better personal hygiene everywhere as an adjunct to reduce the risk of infection and infestations. At this point, every competent biologist would raise an objection which has been blissfully ignored by various fraternities of experts on resistance to antimicrobials.
It is an elementary fact of biology viz., viruses and all other things identified as living tend to adapt to adverse variations in their environment. Those who fail to do so become extinct like the dinosaurs and the mammoth. We have failed to take into account the consequences of this primeval biological tendency. We would happily defer to what competent professionals know about whether the Trematodes (liver flukes) and Cestodes (tape worms) have developed resistance to drugs used against them. These are considerable health problems in South East Asia and Africa respectively.
Going over to protozoan pathogens, it is well known that Plasmodium sp., (Malaria), Trypanasoma sp., (Sleeping sickness) etc., have developed resistance to some of the commonest substances used against them. Further, Leishmania sp., have been difficult and expensive to treat while global warming has triggered its entry into previously cooler northern areas like Southern Europe and the upper regions of the United States. These and several more pathogens will remain, and we cannot ignore the threat they pose.
Bacterial pathogens resistant to antimicrobials are legion, and need no elaboration. A large number of them for instance, Staph. Aureus, Esch. Coli, Psd. Aëruginosa, Kleb. Aërogenes, Proteus sp., Vibrio cholarae etc., can live in a moist ambience outside the human body. And they will multiply outside as long as sufficient nutrients are available to them. Human and animal waste is quite adequate for this purpose.
Thus, while the protozoans resistant to antimicrobials will remain and multiply at a relatively slow rate, similar bacteria will not only multiply more quickly, but will continue to spread owing to international travel and trade. We maintain that every rational and practical effort to deal with the problem should take this into account, and the communicators should bear this in mind.
Now a few facts which may ruffle quite a few feathers soon. As any competent medical microbiologist with an adequate knowledge of basic facts would testify, a bacterium exposed to anything equal or lesser than the so-called minimal inhibitory concentration of an antimicrobial may develop a resistance to it. This amount is very small, no more than a few micrograms of it per millilitre. At the same time, any competent pharmacologist would tell one most antimicrobials are excreted in urine and faeces whether the patient follows the most prudent regimen of treatment or not. Since the use of Penicillin became wide-spread, antimicrobials have been in use for over 70 years.
Now even in the most affluent countries, sewage including domestic waste has been discharged into the sea and rivers in its raw state even as late as in the 1980’ies. This included a considerable quantity of human excretion products containing antimicrobials at low concentrations in an environment containing many a potential pathogen.
This provided those microbes a nutrient environment where they could develop resistance to the antimicrobials involved. One does not need further elaboration of the point to grasp the simple fact that this has done much to spread microbes resistant to antimicrobials.
True, it has been done unwittingly, but it makes placing the onus of responsibility for the current situation entirely on physicians unjust and contrary to basic biological facts. Furthermore, in the sewage mentioned here, the microbes that have developed resistance to an antimicrobial could transfer it not only to others of the same species, but also to some others through plasmid transfer of such resistance.
Moreover, according to statistics from the UN, 2 billions of people in the world do not have access to a sanitary latrine. It is unlikely that none among them have been on an antimicrobial therapy when they relived themselves out of doors. This provides the faecal bacterial flora an ideal opportunity to develop antimicrobial resistance and remain in nature. In this case, ‘prudent’ use of an antimicrobial by a physician or a patient becomes academic with no practical significance.
The perceptive reader who has persisted in reading this far, would have now realised that this applies with equal force to the veterinary use of antimicrobials. There are no provisions in animal husbandry to prevent the development of resistance to antimicrobials in waste from animals on them. Further, Tetracycline derivative has been used as a ‘growth accelerator’ for many years, and this has rendered it almost useless owing to many species of bacteria developing resistance to it. These bacteria remain with us.
As the space at our disposal is limited, we have not dealt in depth with the subject. However, a clear thinking person with no vested interests will freely admit to points; the balance sheet is grim indeed and the experts have overlooked the importance of human and animal waste disposal as a major cause of the problem which could not have been avoided by the so-called prudent use of antimicrobials. Nor yet can we expect microbes not to evolve a counter strategy to deal with antimicrobials.
Both the competent medical microbiologists and the pharmacologists understood this when they observed the emergence of the so-called L-forms of bacteria in response to Penicillin and its derivatives. As Penicillins act by interfering with bacterial cell wall synthesis prior to cell division, the bacterial simply evolved into a cell wall-less organisms known as L-forms, making Penicillins useless against them.
Pathogenic fungi like Candida sp., Cryptococcus sp., etc also have developed resistance to several antimicrobials used against them. Nor have we tried here to give a complete list of protozoan, fungal, bacterial and viral pathogens that have already developed resistance to the medicines commonly used to deal with them. What is important here is to understand clearly the influence of the following biological and social facts on resistance to antimicrobials.:
One may now ask, “Do you maintain that what has been done so far is futile? Do you say that all the recognised experts who have been working on the problem are incompetent?” And it is a short step from such question to the well-known ploy, “ah, you think you are the only one who knows what to do!” Perhaps, such candid statements will remain unspoken.
We would like the impartial reader to consider the three facts listed above. Their factual soundness is obvious to anyone versed in biology, medical microbiology and social conditions in less affluent countries. True, lack of proper latrines and their biological consequences may be beneath the dignity of academic debate, but it is nevertheless a real world problem.
It is in this light we propose to outline a set of strategies to address the problem of resistance to antimicrobials. We do not use the common abbreviation AMr in deference to Standard English grammar and semantic correctness. It will be noted that we do not ignore any one of the above facts and understand the enormous difficulties one would have to overcome to resolve the present problem.
We do not claim that this list of strategic steps is exhaustive, but they represent the essential practical things we can do to address a problem that has not received the attention it deserves until now. The other virtue of the proposed approach is that it openly admits two biological facts; living pathogens will continue to develop counter measures against the chemicals we use against them and it is impossible to eradicate from the world those pathogens that have succeeded in doing so.
We shall next describe some of the ways and means we may use to implement those strategies. These can be placed in two broad categories. In the first, we have the real world actions various groups should undertake while the second contains the acts of communication that would prod the decision-makers to respond rapidly and appropriately. Moreover, it would inform the public of the seriousness of the problem with a view to inducing it to encourage the authorities to act promptly.
Naturally, the decision to undertake the requisite strategic actions will have to be taken at the cabinet level, and they should seek advice only from the professional groups mentioned below. Authorities should understand the problem in terms of misery that accompanies infectious disease. It would be irresponsible to view the problem primarily in monetary or sociological terms, for it would be putting the cart before the horse. Obviously, potential financial loss or social disruption comes as a consequence of pain, discomfort and dysfunction from infection. So, let us deal with the cause rather than drowning in secondary issues.
A note of caution must be sounded at this point. On implementing the strategies listed here, one requires tactical/field support on an inter-disciplinary basis. But, this coordinated support only involves competent medical microbiologist, pharmacologists, surgeons, physicians and teachers in medical, veterinary and the agriculture schools. In communication, personnel with competence in medical and biological sciences are to be preferred.
We have not gone into the tactical implementation of the strategy suggested here because it has little to do with communication. We have discussed the problem somewhat at length in order to illustrate two important points:
At the outset, we were aware of two critical issues the present forum discussion appears to have overlooked, viz., why one should communicate to the public information on the problem and for what purpose. Unless the public acted on such information in a suitable way that would facilitate its resolution, such communication would serve no purpose. Therefore, it becomes necessary to understand not only the full implications of resistance to antimicrobials, but also what biological and social factors that influences it.
An understanding of those factors is crucial for determining what we need to communicate and to whom it should be directed. In this submission, we were compelled to identify those factors in order to distinguish between our principal target audiences i.e., the decision-makers, relevant advisors and the general public. As their contributions to the resolution of the current problem are very different in kind, information that would motivate them to act appropriately would also differ significantly.
We have given a general description of the information each target group ought to consider carefully. How it may be most effectively disseminated remains a problem. We do not believe that a few disjointed sentences widely publicised will have greater effect than a shrug and an expletive or two. We believe public meetings where articulate speakers who have a thorough understanding of the problem would be of greater use. Their speeches can be followed by the distribution of lucid explanations of the problem adopted for lay readers but not deviating from the facts.
Our approach here has been pragmatic, but we have always kept in mind that it is vital that the decision-makers respond appropriately and speedily while the general public can only demand such action. Every realistic communicator should bear these two things in mind. We can easily deceive ourselves into thinking that we have done a great deal even if we have achieved very little.
Another great danger is the belief that inter-disciplinary action is a panacea for all our ills. Nothing can be farther from the truth. Yes, it is a must, but only when it involves disciplines relevant to the issue under discussion. We do not believe anyone would propose to include a famous literary critic, a well-known novelist, archaeologist, an actor, a barber, or a linguist in a committee to decide on what to say to the public about resistance to antimicrobials. Let us never forget the relevance at all times.
We have not touched on the consequences of not responding to the problem in a timely manner because they are well established. Competent relevant professionals involved have known about them, and have issued many unheeded warnings. We hope the actions stemming from this discussion would make the authorities and the public to shake off their tendency to indulge in masterly inaction.
Could Lack of funding Justify Deprecating the Use of Policies and Strategies to Address Child Labour in Agricultural Pursuits?
In his second contribution to this discussion, Mr. Dick Tinsley maintains that the shortage of funds would make the use of appropriate policies and strategies ineffective in resolving the problem of child labour. However, we find this view untenable on several grounds. It is quite true that governments most concerned with child labour do not have sufficient financial resources to implement the policies required for the purpose.
However, in our previous contribution, we took ample account of this fact and suggested several ways of dealing with it:
Its advantages do not diminish even though one may not be able to apply it throughout a country. First, in the approach we have suggested, its principal aim is to ensure an adequate and wholesome public nutrition which also includes addressing child labour. This is justifiable and necessary, for hunger is an established motivator of child labour. It is impossible to ameliorate the latter without adequately dealing with the former.
Secondly, it is likely that the success of the proposed regional/local implementations would compel its wide-spread emulation. This would become easier as good result from a few areas could significantly ease the burden of implementing such tactics elsewhere in the country. It may even evoke public support for such action nationally and internationally.
It avoids two serious pitfalls into which many a development project has stumbled. First, unless such projects do not constitute the final step in the implementation of an appropriate policy, they will merely form disjointed actions that cannot fit into anything that resemble a cohesive and coherent food and agricultural policy. Unless a policy possesses those two attributes, it would be difficult to see what purpose it is intended to serve. We have already outlined that purpose in our previous contribution.
Thus, our proposed approach has the added advantage of policy cohesion and coherence. Such a policy clearly indicates where we intend to go and how. In short, it eliminates the need for ad hoc solutions of dubious benefit, which indeed entails a considerable saving. Stating the obvious, what we have proposed for pragmatic reasons, is a bottom-up implementation of an overall plan aimed at enabling the public to adequately satisfy its six fundamental needs so that it may enjoy a life of greater quality.
On the other hand, should we reject the present approach; our efforts will result in a collection of field implementations that cannot be subsumed by any cohesive and coherent food and agriculture policy. As such it will be full of intra-policy disharmonies that will pull it in different directions rather than a unified goal viz., ensuring sustainable, adequate and wholesome public nutrition and addresses the problem of child labour. Further, it underlines the necessity of harmonising the other national policies as an essential adjunctive measure without which the problem cannot be resolved.
We are fully aware of a real difficulty one would face in adopting this way forward. It is a question of competence and willingness to undertake the type of policy and strategy described here. World-wide environmental degradation and social inequities testify to this. Inadequate competence in holistic policy making is not surprising, for we have continued to solve our problems on a reductive basis for millennia. We may have an inkling of this inadequacy, hence the recent phrase ‘thinking in silos’, but we are yet to master how to act out of silos.
Unwillingness to undertake holistic action is not surprising either. Reasons for it include inter-institutional jealousies hidden behind the well-known ‘institutional autonomy’, other vested interests, institutional lethargy, desire to ‘pass the buck’ and guard one’s posterior, etc. Dealing with this difficulty is beyond any policy, and we can only appeal to what still remains of common decency and fairness in decision-makers and administrators.
Use of Policies and Strategies to Address Child Labour in Agriculture
Unlike the conventional approaches to deal with this issue, this contribution will take a close look at the causes of it because a practical solution to it will have to be directed at what brings it about. It will be shown that those causes are concerned with complex socio-cultural aspects whose distribution has been far wider than some modern humanists in affluent societies might presume. Hence, the present approach is holistic and pragmatic.
Let us recall that until just a few decades ago, the autumn school holidays in Scandinavia were called ‘potato holidays’, because the school children were needed to harvest potatoes. Theoretically this is child labour, and most of those children successfully finished their education and now hold responsible positions in their countries. The point is that it is not child labour per se that leads to problems, but its duration, nature and the other background details. Other things being equal, it might be argued reasonably that safe child labour may indeed be beneficial, for it provides gainful physical activity and induces in the youngsters a feeling of achievement and will contribute to family cohesion. Moreover, it entrusts them with some sense of being responsible, which is important for their development into adults.
Unfortunately however, this discussion seems to be aimed exclusively at poorer segments of agrarian societies where children have very little chance of securing an adequate education, health care, general security and their parents have little or no means of procuring their daily needs. Under those circumstances, both children and their parents are driven to do what they may in order to live albeit in abject poverty.
Thus, it would be irresponsible to begin a universal condemnation of child labour in agriculture because it does not reflect the reality. Judicious and reasonable child participation in agriculture is commendable when it does not deprive children from procuring an appropriate education, have access to health care, are secure and have ample opportunities to engage in games, sports and other cultural activities. What is a blot on humanity is that children are not only forced to engage in heavy labour for many hours daily, but are also deprived of all those other necessities.
Hence, it is clear that penalising legislation is the last thing that could succeed in offering millions of labouring children any glimmer of hope. Indeed, if such legislation is effectively enforced, one can anticipate an incredible rise in juvenile crime in both cities and villages. Anyone who is even slightly au courant with the reality as it is and not through a window in a comfortable office will know how many children are sold by poor parents in villages to city procurers to be ‘employed’ as child prostitutes. A short walk in any south or south Asian city would provide any open-eyed researcher indisputable evidence/reference on this subject even though most academics might reject it out of hand because it is not in print.
Furthermore, such legislative action or signing of signatures to an international convention on the issue will automatically condemn the beneficial child participation in agriculture. Even if effective law enforcement is able to keep children from working in agriculture or in other field, one has to ask the simple question how are they going to live then? After air and water, food is the most essential thing we need. Without it, all the rest is well, academic.
I think the foregoing introductory remarks are essential to inculcate in the potential reader a sense of proportion and reality as it is, rather than as it is perceived through some popular theoretical and reductive perspective. The problem is real and it adversely affects millions of children in the poorest areas of the globe. True, a large proportion of child labour in use is absorbed by agricultural pursuits, but many other areas some of which involve handling dangerous materials also employ child labour. As a result, any punitive legislation restricted to agriculture could only induce those children to take up some even more dangerous or unsavoury means of existence. Therefore, punitive legislation should be rejected not only as counterproductive, but as positively dangerous. Besides, law enforcement is well-known for being extremely ponderous since the time of Dickens. Child hunger has lasting consequences within a very short time. Thus, our approach would have to involve policies and strategies that may eliminate harmful child labour in general and from agricultural pursuits in particular.
At a minimum, it is necessary simultaneously to concentrate on several policy domains. These include agriculture, health, education, communications i.e., transport and other related infra-structure, trade and finally finance needed to establish/up-grade and run those. Even though it is necessary, I shall not include security here because it will only result in lengthy discussions leading to very meagre results while more critical issues are left unresolved. Thus, this partial completeness of the present submission is intentional.
I intend to use legal policy as an adjunctive tool owing to its limited usefulness, but hope what is proposed here will be enforced as rigorously as possible. Legal tools will be used to ensure that policy and strategic actions proposed here will be carried out as efficiently as possible. Before we look at any strategic action within those policy domains, we need to ensure two general requirements obtain.
First of those is that an inter-policy harmony obtains among all the policy domains of a country with reference to their common goal which is not only to avoid harmful child labour in agricultural pursuits, but also to enable their parents/guardians to earn enough to support those children and allow them to lead more or less normal lives. At this point, let us firmly remember those adults are poor and hardly well-educated, and are thus comparatively unskilled.
Consider an appropriate agriculture policy and its implementation. It does not operate in isolation, rather in an environment of diverse other policy domains. Now suppose it is accompanied by a trade policy supported by the country’s legal system that allows the establishment of very large scale farming operations. Regardless of their ownership, such farms are capital-intensive and use extensive monoculture to ‘maximise profits’. Obviously, this would lead to unemployment among semi-skilled farmers and leave their children even more helpless than they were before. This is a clear case of inter-policy disharmony which leaves even a good agriculture policy ineffective.
I have intentionally avoided the use of currently fashionable ‘policy congruence’, for it is all too general as it emphasises what is called ‘the economic progress’ i.e., increasing personal incomes without clearly specifying how that could help unless what one needs for sustenance like food for a balanced wholesome diet is also available and affordable. Increase in personal income does not entail a simultaneous increase in the availability of a sustained, affordable supply of wholesome and varied food needed for a balanced diet. This is an uncomfortable logical fact; hence it is liable to be ignored.
Before we look at the next pitfall, it is necessary to re-introduce a term I have often used in this forum viz., appropriateness. Appropriateness has two logically inseparable elements; an appropriate means or a method can be comparatively rapidly mastered by its future users i.e., it is within their present knowledge and skill set, thus it is adequately acquirable by a given target group more or less quickly. After all, one cannot wait for 2 years while potential users are learning their new skills without being fed, and shortage of food is a powerful creator of child labour.
The second element of appropriateness involves the physical materials necessary to implement a plan by a chosen method. In agriculture, this may involve seeds, breeding animals, feed, fertiliser, farm implements and machinery, fishing gear etc. It is often here great deal of resources is wasted due to the use of inappropriate methods under the cover names ‘modernisation’ and ‘innovation’. Let us briefly consider how this happens:
Now we can easily understand the second condition a policy domain must obtain to ensure its success. When for example, agriculture policy displays intra-policy harmony it would be the most suitable for the area to which it applies. In other words, all strategies of its implementation will be in harmony with the end the policy is intended to achieve, in the present case, addressing the problem of child labour in agricultural pursuits.
Consider now the case where an agriculture policy requires wide spread mechanisation of cultivation in an area of high unemployment and the level of public education is limited. In such areas one often encounters a high incidence of child labour. This action may increase the food output provided that appropriate crops have been chosen, but it could easily make more farm labourers redundant and thus exacerbating our problem. This undesirable result arises from the evident internal disharmony in the agricultural policy in question.
To anyone who has read this contribution thus far, it may seem that we face a hopeless task. It is because we have concentrated our efforts in a reductive fashion, which we condemn elsewhere as ‘thinking/acting in silos’. True, FAO cannot take on the role of advisor in formulating every other national policy, nor yet provide technical support thereto. The inevitable conclusions from the argument thus far are the following:
Addressing the problem of child labour cannot be successful unless all other national policies are effectively coordinate towards its mitigation. Confining such mitigation to one policy domain may result in an undesirable increase in the incidence of child labour in other areas like building, textile, leather goods manufacturing industries etc. Moreover it may increase child migration into nearby urban centra.
Punitive legal measures would require the investment of considerable financial resources that would prove unrealistic to most regimes in view of the other pressing needs they face. Further, finding and training the requisite personnel for the purpose may prove very difficult. Most importantly, this reductive solution may make lives even more precarious for ‘working ‘children should they be deprived of their meagre incomes.
Education with financial support is often suggested as a solution in conjunction with punitive legislation. Examples of short-term success from some areas of the world have been presented as evidence of its universal applicability. However, a careful examination of some important aspects of such an approach remains to be undertaken:
A Way Forward:
The way forward presented here comes in two parts; first, it outlines the minimal inter-policy harmonisations which will have to be undertaken in a set of national policy domains. Secondly, it proposes some strategies to implement an appropriate food and agriculture policy that would serve the twin goals of enhanced sustainable public nutrition and elimination of child labour from the domain. It must be borne in mind that specific implementation of certain strategies at the field level may vary according to the geographic, climatic and food cultural considerations. For instance, dairy farming may prove inappropriate in high Andes while raising Cavia is not.
Should the world population continue to increase at any rate, this becomes physically impossible. Even with zero population growth, it is difficult to see how one may reduce the mentally and physically unhealthy high population densities one sees in nearly all cities.
As for nutrition, ‘novel foods’ have been advocated by some as the ‘way of the future’. However, they have not consulted those who are supposed to live on such stuff about their preferences. This seems suspiciously similar to old religion-dictated press codes prescribed by the clergy to the ‘natives’ in the past.
Recall that every culture has spent centuries to evolve their own culinary tradition, and eating is not just re-fuelling the body, but it provides culinary pleasure as well as enjoyable social interaction. Indeed, food culture as a part of a national culture is a priced social good and a part of one’s cultural patrimony. No innovator has a right to deprive people of this and offer them some insipid substitute as a ‘novel food’.
Therefore, a serious and effective population policy is an essential need; high birth rates seem to be endemic to poor countries where the incidence of child labour is the highest. It is hoped the decision-makers everywhere would recognise population growth as the greatest current danger to mankind, and in a world with fewer and fewer available resources, competition for them may rapidly lead to a world-wide loss of the values and standards of civilised existence.
Devolution of trade in general and food in particular is an absolute necessity. Contrary to anti-trust rhetoric which has now become a stale joke, in most affluent countries, a few retail chains have a monopoly on food sales and purchase. Through Byzantine legal machinations, those chains arrange what food stuffs to buy at which price, thus leaving the food producers poorer, and end-users with a symbolic choice. This is why that in many affluent countries, domestic farmers receive massive annual monetary subsidies.
A really transparent devolution of food trade would create many employment opportunities in agriculture, small retailers, family-run restaurants, etc., as well as enhance the food producer’s income and provide the end-user a real choice and lower prices. This requires a trade policy that deprecates both the dictatorship of the ‘market place’ and that of the legendary ‘proletariat’ where some comrades were very much more equal than the others. Instead, what is needed is a cooperative exchange of goods and services, and value tokens where gain is dictated by a sense of common decency and fairness.
It is high time a simple fact is recognised; every competition results in losers, and in economic activities, this manifests itself as rich and poor with some in the middle.
At the emergence of life, the possibility of any living thing remaining alive on earth depended on its having an adequate access to certain mineral resources. As reproduction is an attribute of life, multiplication of the original species led to a diminution of those mineral resources. In order to sustain life on earth, nature introduced a dual strategy to overcome this threat to the continued existence of life; there are death and saprophitism i.e., subsistence on the dead.
However, these strategies alone could not cope with the unpredictable periodic changes of earth’s climate and geography. Thus, the secondary survival strategies of adaptation to the environment and predation became necessary. There are logical reasons to believe that predation was subsequent to the former as plant species have comparatively free access to energy and generally live long. It is reasonable to postulate that the herbivores emerged first while carnivores and omnivores came later on.
Thus, existence of life on earth today depends on the equilibrium between the availability of certain essential mineral resources and the living species. This equilibrium depends on the balance between the rate at which those minerals are taken up and the rate at which they are made available for re-use. Their total amount is finite. This balance depends on the equilibrium among all the living species.
The equilibrium among the living species depends on the number of individual species and the sustainable number of each individual species. These respectively indicate the qualitative and the quantitative aspects of biodiversity on earth. No species is exempt from this requirement; hence the urgent need for zero human population growth, an immediate halt to environmental destruction and its regeneration with endemic species. Therefore, we urgently need an environment policy embodying strategies to achieve these three objectives. Range and scope of those three strategies may show a wide variation owing to the differences in the size of population, economic activities, climate and geography of the countries involved; thus, it is impossible to generalise at this level of decision-making.
A food and Agriculture Policy to Address Child Labour:
I hope that I may be pardoned for the preceding introductory remarks. I am convinced that they are necessary for the reasons given there. Moreover, it is my intention to offer a holistic policy approach, which entails the inclusion of all the policy domains which may influence the incidence of child labour. However, it must be underlined that I do not claim the list of adjunctive policies mentioned here to be complete, nor yet are those included explored comprehensively. The interested reader may add to them in any relevant way to suit the conditions he faces.
Let us remind ourselves that the main purpose of a sound food and agriculture policy is to ensure the sustainable availability of victuals a country’s or any other political entity’s people need for a diverse, wholesome, balanced diet at an affordable cost. At least, this is the ideal many claims it should be. As the majority will have to purchase their food, Success of our policy would depend at least in part, the employment policy of a country. However, labour-intensive, cooperative agricultural pursuits could go some way to serves as a source of decent income to a significant segment of world’s rural population where child-labour obtains.
Therefore, the term ‘food’ will henceforth refer not only to comestibles but how they are made available to end-users of it. Some of the actions needed here are best undertaken by trade, industry, health and education policies and have been briefly noted. The following strategic elements concerning food may be easily incorporated into an agriculture policy:
These strategic necessities are embodied in the following tactical approaches:
The above tactical actions concerning food are by no means exhaustive. The interested policy maker should use his discretion to determine what actions are appropriate and must pay due attention to cultural sensibilities of the target group. He must constantly bear in mind that what one wants to achieve is to successfully combat child labour and not reforming social norms. Even in financially Poor societies, child labour is seldom the norm; hence, one should resist bringing in other social issues to cloud the picture. It is very easy to forget that what constitutes norms in industrialised world took centuries to evolve and it is unrealistic to impose them on societies where they are not. A holistic approach does not entail achieving everything; rather it strives to achieve what is possible through a joint action by all those who may contribute to its success.
The six strategies given earlier also apply to an agriculture policy needed to weed out child labour from its domain. Once again, health, education, trade, industry, financial and other policy adjuncts play a key role in its success. Their part here may be envisaged as their necessary intersections with our trade and agriculture policy in a Venn diagrammed. Thus, it represents a distributed policy cluster where food and agriculture policy occupies its centre intersected by the relevant portions of the adjunctive policies.
It must be stressed that the implementation of the following tactics will have to be undertaken more or less simultaneously in order to achieve our objective. I have emphasised a labour-intensive approach at present, which may be gradually made more technically advanced in an appropriate, gradual manner. Greatest good of all the needy children is our aim, and not that of any vested interests.
The most useful points to emerge from this discussion seem to be obvious. First, A given relevant policy domain will only achieve a partial success in its efforts to address child labour even under the best of circumstances. Unless some pressure can be brought to bear on other involved policy domains to undertake some necessary changes in them, eradication of child labour seems to be an untenable goal. However, an appropriate food and agriculture policy implemented at a regional or a local level may have a greater chance of success.
This appears to be the case in the example from Brazil sent to this forum, which has then been integrated into a greater programme well-known for its progress. However, Brazil has enormous resources both in human skills and material as well as a considerable number of concerned people. Not many of the countries where child labour obtains have these advantages.
Population growth is not only a generator of child labour but an open threat to civilised life on earth. It is essential that concrete action is undertaken to deal with this problem without delay. Thus far, most efforts have been directed at the top to act so that it may work down to the ground level. As they seem to have yielded but indifferent result, we need the reverse strategy viz., initiate local and regional action with reference to a holistic policy framework.
What this means in practice is simple. It is easy to draw up such a national policy framework to suit the conditions of a given country, and then determine the region/locale where the relevant food and agriculture policy is to be implemented. Then, one may select the tactical measures required for the purpose with reference to the strategic considerations listed earlier. When successfully completed, it will resemble the Brazilian example.
Finally, cooperation should replace the current notion of competitive approaches while the need for rapid economic devolution has become a vital necessity. If we are to come anywhere near achieving SDG-2 in time or ever for that matter, food production and disposal should be fully devolved. I hope the current discussion would lead to action that could soon ameliorate the lives of children forced into labour.
Many thanks for giving me this oppertunity to offer a set of suggestions on how we may change various food systems in use today in order to ensure a sustainable supply of wholesome food the present and future generations. It is heartening to note that there is now a growing awareness that changing the current food systems is the key to dealing with all forms of malnutrition, hunger, NCD's, not to mention the great human misery they entail.
However, some crucial points still remain unnoticed or ignored; first we must understand the difference between a food system as a thing, and then a food system in actual use. Secondly, in all academic and/expert discussions, attention has been solely directed at physio-chemical aspects of food, i.e., energy it contains in Calories or Joules, and the ingredients contained in an 'idel' diet of universal applicability. I have disagreed with these two ideas on purely scientific grounds, and it has been included here.
I for one derive a certain pleasure from the taste, flavour, colour, texture, temperature, etc., of my food. Very often, eating is a pleasurable social/family occasion. I have collectively called tem dietary enjoyment. There is strong evidence to show that this is so in nearly all documented societies. Let us not turn nutrition into a sterile intake of fuel like putting petrol into a car, for dietary enjoyment is a valued part of the human heritage.
My policy suggestions arise from the distinction between a food system as a 'thing' and a food system as a 'thing in active use'. Then, it is clear that the form of a food system would have to conform to the purpose into which it would be put.
Is it used today to provide people a sustainable, varied, wholesome and balanced diet? Prevelance of obesity, deficiency diseases, NCD's, not to mention millions of the hungry speak either of a tool badly misused, incompetently used, ill designed, or any combination of those. Recall that food systems are not, I repeat not, a new invention. It was used by the precursors of our Stone-Age ancestors, otherwise, we would not have managed to evolve into H. sapiens sapiens.
These are very obvious things; unfortunately the current usage of food systems fails to appreciate it principal function, the goal we now strive to achieve. The sole justifiable function of a food system is to enable us to satisfy one of our fundamental needs viz., nutrition. Food systems have failed to serve this purpose adequately. If we should fail to take remedial action as soon as possible, one would be justified in wondering whether justice and fairness are also on the market.
Towards a World of Sustainable and Adequate FSN
Here is a more of a questionair with a scattering of some suggestions that seem to have been overlooked by most people. I think something critical is lacking in our efforts so far, viz., a unified means of ensuring the sustainability of our endeavours. I hope this would be of some use.
Addressing the Challenges Migration Poses to Nutrition and Food Security
At the first glance, this challenge seems to be of such complexity its solution might appear to baffle even the most esoteric expertise. However, a careful analysis of the problem would reveal that all we have to do to come by a solution, is to leave behind theoretical notions impressive on paper and look at the actual behavior of the people, their individual nutritional needs and how may they best meet them as migrants in entirely new surroundings, and what impact their movement will have on the demand and production of food. I shall try to look at these issues as realistically as possible.
First of all, I shall not place any emphasis on examples of ‘best practises’, for they are totally isolated from the rest of the society, they are of limited duration, and their sustainability has not been shown. Moreover, their wide applicability is highly dubious as agriculture has to conform to geographic, climatic and food cultural considerations if they are to be acceptable and sustainable. Furthermore, it has never been shown that such methods are applicable when one takes into account the amount of resources and skills their proposed users do actually possess. I am happy to note that the myth of funds migrants remit somehow would re-vitalise the local food production has been rejected.
As I have once postulated on FSN forum on the same subject, migration is motivated by a belief in a person that some other location would be more conducive to one’s well-being than the current one. Therefore, migration may be defined as the movement of people motivated by the above belief. It will be noted that this definition can subsume every known modern instances of the phenomenon.
It would be tedious to list why someone should consider another location would be more conducive to one’s well-being. A brief list might include better employment prospects real or imagined, desire for ‘high living’ championed by the tabloids and ‘media’, hunger, threat to life posed by armed conflicts, hunger, natural disasters, etc. I shall not include here the highly questionable notion of ‘family re-union, especially when the original familily separation is a purely voluntary matter.
Consequences of Migration for FSN:
A clear understanding of these requires us to look at food production and its consumption at two locations. However, it should be borne in mind that regardless of whether it is internal or external, migrants who have not involved in food production put a strain on food production by increased food consumption rather than depriving it of man-power available for the task.
Both migrant types, viz., potential rural food producers (for the sake of brevity, I shall include fishermen in this group) and non-agriculturalists would create an increase in the need of food in a given location. In some instances, it may be so acute to be felt nationally, but such events are not common.
However, migration of potential rural agriculturalists could bring about a nation-wide food shortages on the following grounds:
It will be noted that I have refrained from taking up the serious social consequences of migration known to prevail in many urban centras since it is beyond the scope of FSN. Even so, it should be remembered that those could adversely affect distribution and sale of food in towns and cities, thus posing an indirect threat to FSN.
Now, according to FAO statistics, the number of the hungry and the inappropriately nourished (this includes nutritional deficiencies and obesity) is on the increase, while government statistics from many countries note the continued migration of peoples within and without. Moreover, a considerable number of a sub-category i.e., refugees are still living in camps in the Middle-East and Europe.
The Challenges to FSN:
Before we can resolve those challenges, we need to face an issue that has been avoided by the many by the skilled use of rhetoric of various kinds. It is, is migration into urban centres or into other countries in numbers sustainable? Let us not think of human beings as caged specimens that may be happily housed in concrete boxes stacked atop each other as in ‘developed’ Hong Kong and Singapore. Nor yet as the millions of slum dwellers that eke out a precarious living out of the ‘ economic miracles’ of Bombay, or the ‘rogue aid’ replete Angolan capital and its South African counterparts. Even though the situation of most of the migrants is squalid and miserable in North and South America as well as in Europe, this migration in Asia and Africa has a greater adverse impact on FSN.
The current trend in national and urban budgets is, ‘save’ money. The ax always falls on those services that the migrants need most, viz., decent housing, health care, social services, etc. When one looks at the deficit spending both the affluent and developing countries have carried on for the past few decades, one finds it hard to reject this policy out of hand.
Even if the necessary resources are available, it is questionable whether life in ever expanding cities would be conducive to human well-being, particularly to their mental health. Moreover, the cost of services needed to meet all the fundamental needs of large populations seem to get prohibitive when their numbers exceed a certain critical level. Most capital cities and other metropolitan centres have already reached this stage even in the most affluent countries.
So, I think it is time for us to take a realistic view of ‘right to free movement of people’ when it comes to migration. True, migration is a movement of people, but it is not at all certain that this is the kind of right to movement its good formulators envisaged. If they did, it is unrealistic and impractical in every respect, and it is time we began to talk about managing the phenomenon that would benefit the migrants and their unwilling hosts. Certainly, highly vocal supporters of unlimited migration get the headlines, but it would be highly unwise to ignore the wishes of the great majority who find the current state of migration more than very undesirable.
Moreover, let us not dwell on the futile task of ‘teaching the host populations to be tolerant’ while the new arrivals’ obligation to respect the sensibilities of their hosts is completely ignored. This attempt reminds one of a man trying to clap with one hand by bashing the air about him. Let us also recall that some cultures tend to produce mental states too intransigent to accommodate the others to a significant degree. I think the foregoing should convince the impartial reader with his feet firmly planted in hard reality that it is essential to manage migration in a way that ameliorates the living conditions of everybody concerned, viz., host and the migrant.
Therefore, I propose we begin to think seriously on how to manage migration in a way that would enhance FSN. Here, two possibilities present themselves; first inducing the rural populations to remain at home and to engage in agricultural pursuits, and secondly, attracting as many of the migrants back to land in order to engage in them. The second is not easy, nevertheless, it is necessary. It will be noticed that I do not resort to any pseudo-humanitarian jargon to blind the reader to a stark reality where many millions of migrants live in utter misery and squalor.
At the risk of stating the obvious, let me emphasise that the class of migrants directly involved here are either previously connected with food production in some way, or have the capacity to effectively engage in such activities. Migrants with some professional qualifications/skills can be incorporated into the present scheme of management only after the principal target group has been well established in thriving communities. Otherwise, remaining at home or return there would not be to their advantage.
What I have attempted to do thus far is to define the challenges relevant to FSN due to migration as well as excluding those aspects of the phenomenon that have no relevance to the task at hand. Unfortunately, these often intrude into the present debate rendering progress that can be experienced by our target group into one that is confined to print.
A Practical Way Forward:
Many discussions have been undertaken to find a sound way of managing that aspect of migration that could have a positive impact on the current FSN and enhance the living conditions of those prone to, or have already migrated but are capable in engaging in agricultural pursuits. I have clearly defined my target group to avoid any misunderstanding, and to exclude the impractical and/irrelevant. Those who are interested in a more detailed discussion of how our twin objectives may be achieved might like to visit the link below:
It is important to note the suggestions made in the article to which the link points, would have to be adapted to suit the local geographic, climatic conditions, and food culture there.
Решение проблем, которые миграция представляет в отношении питания и продовольственной безопасности
На первый взгляд эта задача кажется настолько сложной, что ее решение может поставить в тупик даже людей, обладающих самым богатым опытом и знаниями. Тем не менее, тщательный анализ проблемы показывает, что все, что нам нужно сделать, чтобы прийти к решению, заключается в том, чтобы отложить в сторону теоретические понятия, которые выглядят впечатляющими на бумаге, и обратить внимание на фактическое поведение людей, их индивидуальные потребности в питании и на то, как эти люди, будучи мигрантами, могут удовлетворять свои потребности в питании в совершенно новых условиях, и какое влияние их миграция будет оказывать на спрос и производство продуктов питания. Я постараюсь как можно более реалистично рассмотреть эти вопросы.
Прежде всего, я не стану акцентировать внимание на примерах «лучших практик», поскольку они полностью изолированы от остальной части общества, они имеют ограниченную продолжительность, и их устойчивость не была продемонстрирована. Более того, их широкое применение весьма сомнительно, поскольку сельское хозяйство должно соответствовать географическим, климатическим, продовольственным и культурным соображениям, если мы желаем, чтобы эти практики были приемлемыми и устойчивыми. Кроме того, никогда не было доказано, что такие методы применимы, когда вы учтете количество ресурсов и навыков, которыми фактически обладают предполагаемые пользователи. Я рад отметить, что миф о том, что денежные переводы мигрантов каким-то образом возродят местное производство продуктов питания, был отвергнут.
Как я однажды уже выступал с постулатами на Форуме FSN по данному вопросу, миграция мотивирована убеждением в том, что какое-то другое место будет более благоприятным для благополучия человека, чем нынешнее. Поэтому миграция может быть определена как движение людей, мотивированных вышеуказанным убеждением. Следует отметить, что это определение может охватывать все известные современные случаи данного явления.
Было бы утомительно перечислять, почему кто-то должен задуматься над тем, чтобы уехать в другое место, которое будет более благоприятным для их благополучия. Краткий список причин может включать в себя лучшие перспективы трудоустройства - реальные или воображаемые, пропагандируемые таблоидами и «средствами массовой информации», стремление к «жизни на широкую ногу (т.е. к богатой жизни)», голод, угрозу жизни, создаваемые вооруженными конфликтами, голодом, стихийными бедствиями и т. д. Я не буду включать здесь весьма сомнительное понятие «воссоединения семьи», особенно когда первоначальное разделение семьи было чисто добровольным делом.
Последствия миграции для продовольственной безопасности и питания:
Четкое понимание этого вопроса требует от нас рассмотреть вопросы производства продуктов питания и их потребления в двух местах. Однако следует иметь в виду, что независимо от того, являются ли они внутренними или внешними, мигранты, которые не участвовали в производстве продуктов питания, создают давление на производство продуктов питания за счет увеличения потребления продовольствия, а не лишают его рабочей силы, необходимой для достижения этой цели.
Оба типа мигрантов, то есть потенциальные производители продовольствия в сельской местности (для краткости, я буду включать и рыбаков в эту группу), как и занимающиеся несельскохозяйственной деятельностью, будут создавать увеличение потребности в продовольствии в определенном месте. В некоторых случаях это может быть настолько остро, что будет ощущаться на национальном уровне, но такие события не являются частыми.
Однако миграция потенциальных сельских земледельцев может привести к общенациональной нехватке продовольствия по следующим причинам:
Следует отметить, что я воздержался от упоминания серьезных социальных последствий миграции, которые, как известно, преобладают во многих городских центрах, поскольку они выходят за рамки продовольственной безопасности и питания. Несмотря на это, следует помнить, что миграция может отрицательно повлиять на распространение и продажу продуктов питания в крупных и малых городах, что создает косвенную угрозу для продовольственной безопасности и питания.
Теперь, согласно статистике ФАО, число голодающих и получающих ненадлежащее питание (это включает недостаточность питания и ожирение) растет, в то время как правительственные статистические данные многих стран отмечают продолжающуюся миграцию людей внутри страны и за границу. Кроме того, значительное число подкатегорий, то есть беженцев, все еще живет в лагерях на Ближнем Востоке и в Европе.
Проблемы, которые предстоит решить по продовольственной безопасности и питанию:
Прежде чем мы сможем решить эти проблемы, нам нужно ближе изучить вопрос, который многие избегают, используя умелую разнообразную риторику. Это, например, вопрос о том, представлена ли миграция в городские центры или в другие страны устойчивой численностью? Давайте не будем думать о людях, как об особях, которые могут быть счастливо размещены в бетонных коробках, уложенных друг на друга, как в «развитых» Гонконге и Сингапуре. Нет, поскольку миллионы обитателей трущоб перебиваются с хлеба на воду, проживая в «экономических чудесах» Бомбея или «изгоев», наполняющих ангольскую столицу и столицы южноафриканских стран. Несмотря на то, что положение большинства мигрантов является убогим и несчастным в Северной и Южной Америке, а также в Европе, эта миграция в Азии и Африке оказывает еще большее отрицательное влияние на продовольственную безопасность и питание.
Нынешняя тенденция в национальных и городских бюджетах заключается в «сбережении» денег. «Топор» всегда падает на те услуги, в которых мигранты нуждаются больше всего, а именно: достойное жилье, здравоохранение, социальные услуги и т. д. Когда вы смотрите на дефицитное расходование, когда расходы превышают доходы, которое как богатые, так и развивающиеся страны продолжали в течение последних нескольких десятилетий, трудно сразу отказаться от этой политики.
Даже если имеются необходимые ресурсы, сомнительно, будет ли жизнь в постоянно расширяющихся городах способствовать благосостоянию людей, особенно их психическому здоровью. Кроме того, стоимость услуг, необходимых для удовлетворения всех основных потребностей крупных групп населения, кажется, становится непомерно высокой, когда численность этих групп превышает определенный критический уровень. Большинство столичных городов и других столичных центров уже достигли этой стадии даже в самых богатых странах.
Поэтому я считаю, что настало время для нас взглянуть реалистично на «право на свободное передвижение людей», когда речь заходит о миграции. Это правда, что миграция - это движение людей, но совершенно не обязательно, что это тот вид права на передвижение, который подразумевался теми, кто формулировал это право с хорошими намерениями. Хотя они его сформулировали, оно (право) нереально и непрактично во всех отношениях, и настало время поговорить об управлении данным явлением, которое принесет пользу мигрантам и странам, так неохотно их принимающим. Конечно, очень громкие сторонники неограниченной миграции получают известность благодаря газетным заголовкам, но было бы крайне неразумно игнорировать пожелания подавляющего большинства, которые считают текущее состояние миграции более чем нежелательным.
Кроме того, не будем останавливаться на тщетной задаче "обучения населения принимающей страны терпимости», в то время как обязательство вновь прибывших мигрантов уважать традиции и культуру, чувства граждан принимающей страны полностью игнорируется. Эта попытка напоминает одного из людей, пытающихся хлопать одной рукой, сотрясая ею воздух.
Поэтому я предлагаю начать серьезно подумать о том, как управлять миграцией таким образом, чтобы укрепить продовольственную безопасность и улучшить питание. Здесь две возможности говорят сами за себя: во-первых необходимо побуждать сельское население оставаться дома и заниматься сельскохозяйственной деятельностью, а во-вторых, привлекать как можно больше мигрантов к земле, с тем чтобы они занимались сельскохозяйственной деятельностью. Вторая задача нелегкая, тем не менее, решать ее необходимо. Вы заметили, что я не прибегаю к псевдо-гуманитарному жаргону, чтобы ослепить читателя суровой реальностью, в которой многие миллионы мигрантов живут в крайних страданиях и неустроенности.
Рискуя сказать очевидное, позвольте мне подчеркнуть, что класс мигрантов, которые непосредственно участвуют в этом, либо ранее были связаны каким-либо образом с производством продовольствия, либо имеют потенциал для того, чтобы эффективно заниматься такой деятельностью. Мигранты, обладающие некоторой профессиональной квалификацией / навыками, могут быть включены в настоящую схему управления только после того, как основная целевая группа хорошо зарекомендовала себя и достигла успеха в процветающих сообществах. В противном случае, не в их интересах будет оставаться дома или возвращаться домой.
Что я пытался сделать до сих пор - это определить проблемы, связанные с продовольственной безопасностью и питанием из-за миграции, а также исключить те аспекты данного явления, которые не имеют отношения к рассматриваемой нами задаче. К сожалению, они (данные аспекты) часто вторгаются в данное обсуждение, сводя прогресс, который может достичь наша целевая группа, к тому, что ограничивается только печатью.
Практический путь вперед:
Было проведено много дискуссий, чтобы найти правильный способ управления этим аспектом миграции, который мог бы оказать положительное влияние на текущее состояние продовольственной безопасности и питания, и улучшить условия жизни тех, кто собирается мигрировать или уже мигрировал, но способен заниматься сельскохозяйственной деятельностью. Я четко определил свою целевую группу, чтобы избежать какое-либо недопонимание и чтобы исключить те группы, рассматривать которые непрактично и / или неактуально. Те, кто заинтересован в более детальном обсуждении того, как могут быть достигнуты наши двойные цели, могут посетить сайт по приведенной ниже ссылке:
Важно отметить то, что предложения, которые вы найдете в статьях, на которые указывают ссылки, необходимо адаптировать к местным географическим, климатическим условиям, а также к культуре питания.
С наилучшими пожеланиями!
A Few Clarifying Comments
I cannot agree more on the matters of principle Ms. Emilia Venetsanou
Has raised in her second contribution.
However, I think we have failed to addressed the brief as it is presented to us, viz., coming to a common understanding of what might constitute a food system. Obviously, unless it is a generic food system free from specific details, it will hardly be a common one.
We are requested as it were, to outline a food system which in its skeleton form common to those in use everywhere. Figuratively speaking, their actual manifestations may be obese, well-built, or skinny.
Let us not confuse two distinct things connect with a tool, viz., the structure of the tool, and how it is used. Knife is a useful tool in the kitchen, but in someone’s hand, it could also be a murder weapon. The problem here is in how a person uses a given tool. Thus it is in a food system.
Social ills Ms. Emilia Venetsanou describes arise from this cause. My description of a food system has indicated clearly that an unfair exchange of values became available since barter system was invented. Her examples are just a case of labour exchanged for an unfairly small quantity of food in return, a possibility I have not overlooked in my first contribution.
So, It is not the food system per se that is the root of social ills, rather the way it is used. Of course, looking at food systems as sure sources of profit and building them for that purpose will exacerbate FSN, which is how it is today. Hence, the need for a justifiable food system.
Ensuring against a vairiety of social ills, environmental damage, etc., That are attributable to unjustifiable food systems or their misuse, is in the hands of powers that be. If they are willing and able to undertake this step, then they will need a holistic governance that covers several areas, viz., agriculture, trade, labour regulations, etc., etc.
Best practices as such might be very useful when an ppropriate agriculture policy is implemented in an area where it is suitable, in other words, tactical implementation/operationalization or whatever the current word is.
I hope that the final draft of the present work will clearly distinguish between the tool and its appropriate use not forgetting that at present we are only asked to contribute to what might justifiably constitute that tool i.e., a food system.
Some Additional Remarks on the V0 Draft, Towards an Understanding of Food Systems
I have read some of the contributions to the current discussion with much interest. There are many sound suggestions on what the contributers believe to be the optimal ways of making our current food production sub-systems perform better. As I have described in my first contribution, this sub-system of a food system includes agriculture as defined by the FAO including animal husbandry, fish farming, etc.
I recall at least one contribution pointing out the importance of limiting food wastage, but surely this is the result of an operational ineptness rather than an attribute of a food system itself. Of course, it could also arise from the use of inappropriate or inefficient methods in any sub-system in a food system starting from a cultivated field, poultry farm, a fishing boat to how food is used at home. Would it not be a good idea to think about the best use of the system after we have agreed on its whole structure in a separate discussion?
At the risk of being misconstrued, may I kindly point out that unless we all can agree about the structure of what may justifiably constitute a food system, it would be exceedingly difficult for any of us to make a unified effort to eliminate hunger from the globe, and ensure a sustainable, wholesome and varied balanced diet to all.
My thoughts on the subject of food systems are sent here as an attachment. I think I have not omitted anything important even though I was a bit pressed for time.
Let me begin by identifying the justifiable areas of pragmatic action we may undertake under the ægis of FAO to address the issue. But before we can make our first move, we run into two very thorny problems. First, achieving a more or less common notion of poverty, and the second, what are the actual poverty-inducing mechanisms one may justifiably associate with climate change in our target area?
In many a discussion on this forum and elsewhere, I have emphasized the obvious unjustifiability of using any economic yardstick to measure poverty, for it is based on unstated assumption the human beings are mere numbers devoid of needs common to all people of flesh and blood. I have tried to bring about the awareness that all economic activities and value tokens like money have no value in vacuo, but they acquire a value commensurate with their instrumentality in enabling man to satisfy any one of his six fundamental needs.
Let me offer an extreme example. Imagine a man with sacks of gold coins marooned on a lush tropical island whose inhabitants have a superfluity of food and know nothing about gold coins, and are peaceful but not at all generous to strangers. On this mythical tropical paradise, our visitor will most likely perish of starvation, just like any other penniless waif in a big city during a harsh winter.
Why do not we consider the common cause of suffering and death of both, thwarted ability to satisfy the need for nutrition as a justifiable indicator of poverty? Clearly, having money alone could not have alleviated poverty in both cases. This may be rejected as based on an artificial example, but the assumption, having means to procure food ensures one an adequate nutrition is simply illogical. In addition to having the financial means, food will have to be available for purchase, and the purchaser will have to have the dietary and culinary competence needed to prepare it before one can address one’s need for nutrition.
Just a few more words on our remaining fundamental needs. They are health, education and security in their real general sense, procreation, and a set of non-material needs. The latter are so called, because their satisfaction does not involve any material gain whatsoever; æstetic enjoyment, taking part in games and sports, etc., are some of the means used to meet this need. Their importance to life is not equal in degree, but they all make a contribution to one’s quality of life as a human being.
Many navigators during the great era of exploration, and naturalists and anthropologists (Cook, Dampier, Malinowski, Bougainville, etc., etc.) have left us vivid descriptions of life on islands in the Pacific, while some mediaeval Islamic travelers like Ibn Battuta has given us a picture of life on the Maldives. Allowing for their individual bias (Malinowski was free of it); one cannot help but notice that those islanders enjoyed a higher quality of life during those pre-monetary days than they do now.
I postulate that this is because they cannot now satisfy those six needs as adequately as they did earlier, and it has nothing to do with economic wealth per se. Therefore, it is reasonable to postulate that poverty is one’s state of life when one is unable to adequately satisfy any one or more of our six fundamental needs. After all, many of us agree that there is such a thing as cultural poverty, not an uncommon state of affairs in many an affluent country.
However, FAO has a limited capacity to address all six manifestations of poverty, even though there is a complex link among them. For instance, lack of appropriate agricultural competence (derived from suitable education and training) may induce hunger induced poverty even when other necessary conditions to overcome it obtains. Likewise, a lack of proper health facilities may reduce both one’s ability to produce and/or procure an adequate supply of food. Hence, I will confine myself to poverty alleviation with respect to nutrition, particularly as it is affected by adverse climate change.
After narrowing down our efforts to the most relevant area of a possible way forward, let us look at some of the most important criteria any appropriate and successful action should meet. These criteria fall into two categories, viz., those that apply to non-producers of food, and those that their counterpart should meet. The former group includes politicians, administrators, traders, consumers as well as the food producers, while the second group only includes those who either produce or harvest (fishermen) food. Thus, the consumers overlap the producers, but the latter remains distinct.
From this it should be evident that unless both groups act in unison to achieve our common objective, use of no technological improvement in food production/harvesting per se could ever make a significant improvement in poverty manifesting as hunger or some form of malnutrition. And it will also be evident that appropriate action each group should undertake is distinct and different; while the first group undertakes enabling action, the latter ought to engage itself in actual food production.
Now I think this is our over-riding difficulty. Locally successful relevant projects are legion, but sadly, sustained nationally successful enabling efforts are hard to come by. Perhaps, FAO might begin to explore with greater vigour suitable ways of encouraging the national decision-makers to undertake sustained efforts to enable food producers to carry out their task with greater convenience and profit to themselves rather than to some middlemen.
After this necessary setting of the scene, let us get down to business, to be precise, dealing with the effects of adverse climate change on poverty that manifests itself as an inadequate ability to procure a varied and wholesome diet in a sustainable way. Here, we run into a bunch of variations. They fall into two distinct groups whose mutual dependence is somewhat one-sided. Let me explain this curious point.
While actions of the relevant decision-makers like politicians, administrators, etc., can easily have an enhancing or an adverse effect on mitigating the consequences of climate change on food production, even the most appropriate actions undertaken by the food producers or harvesters could alleviate poverty with respect to nutrition unless all the consumers in an island state are willing and able to act responsibly in unison. Also, it must be borne in mind that what constitute appropriate behavior on the part of general public shows a considerable variation. A non-exhaustive list of those will include the following reasons for this diversity:
Cultural variation; particularly with reference to food culture which can be ignored only at grave peril to the welfare of the inhabitants, for the bio-diversity on and around islands is highly vulnerable to the introduction of foreign species. This in turn, could only exacerbate the effects of climate change.
Water cycle that supplies its water and how it is retained is variable. For instance, Micronesia and Maldives depends on seasonal rains from a global weather system, which is retained in the ground by a stratum of lime stone. But islands like Tahiti and Pitcairn also receive water from rain through the interaction between mountains and moisture laden air resulting from the daily land and sea breeze.
In a considerable number of islands, fisheries are a vital source of food. But, the possibility of those edible fish living there depends on the health of the coral reefs on or around them. These have been criminally destroyed in several places through the use of Sodium Cyanide and dynamite, primarily to provide fish for markets in China and to a lesser extent, to aquaria in affluent homes in East and West.
Many fertile islands have been denuded of their trees turning them into semi-deserts, and when mountainous, rain water has carried away the top soil into the sea killing the corals around them. This has led to soil infertility on land and scarcity of fish on once rich waters. (examples: Madeira, Celebes now called Sulawesi, and all pacific islands where there are tourist hotels for Japanese now)
Danger of radio-active seepage from French and US nuclear tests, and still unremoved chemical weapons from the Second World War. Even though the focus of this threat is small, nobody can be certain of how living things will react to their long-term exposure even in small quantities.
Disproportionate non-native ownership of island property ostensibly to engage in activities to ‘boost’ the local economy. Unfortunately, many still believe in this modernish myth as GDP’s increase on glossy paper, while the local poor get poorer prey to alcohol, drugs, and lethargy losing the last of their possessions, viz., their dignity.
I hope that the foregoing will make it clear that it is difficult to recommend a simple set of best practices of universal applicability without doing more harm than good to our target groups. Obviously, this does not entitle us to remain inactive, and much can still be done. But, it is crucial to understand that our success depends on our willingness and ability to adopt a holistic approach that would embody simultaneous appropriate action by the various sub-groups in the two main groups, viz., the food consumers and producers.
Unfortunately for the islanders on some isles, it is not just the consumers on them who decide what they are able to do. International trade laws can often hamstring every suitable action towards greater resilience in food production and enhanced local nutrition. For instance, consider the case of Panguna copper mine on the island of Bougainville. A referendum is planned for 2019 to determine whether the island should become independent of Papua-New Guinea, and the inhabitants are now dependent on imported food purchased with money earned through the export of copper ore.
The rich flora and fauna on the island as described by the explorer after whom the island is named is no more. And gone are the traditional sources of food. So, nutritional dependence supported through ore export seems to be the only short-term solution. But, how adequate that nutrition would be, depends on international copper prices, and the willingness of the investors to put in money to the mine for the necessary maintenance and improvement. In view of the present politically unstable situation this remains dubious.
So, we need the real cooperation of consumer groups everywhere to help the islanders in two main directions. The reasons for this are very simple, for island climatic changes are mainly due to what happens elsewhere in the world. These events fall into two distinct categories; first, the natural cyclical changes in sun’s and earth’s movements, and fluctuations in solar activity, and secondly, human behavior throughout the globe.
Thus, nothing short of a coordinated and sincere global effort could halt the wide-spread suffering and degradation of island peoples, and help them on the way to regaining their dignity as human beings. Trade is certainly not the way there, for it has so far only led to exploitation and scarcely publicized cruelty and misery. It is not easy to remain unmoved if one is aware of the enormous injustices past and present, and how they are being glossed over even today. But, let us try to be objective lest we be labelled too unfashionable.
I will not go into the wide variety of measures each of us could take to improve our immediate environment, for they have been well publicized. But what we have failed to do is to mitigate some of the greatest hindrances to their wider application, which are beyond the power of the individual to overcome. After dealing with them in outline, I will try to make some general recommendations, which must be adapted to suit a given island’s climatic, geographic and food cultural norms. Under no circumstance should they be coloured by external trade considerations.
We are not born with even a trace of the knowledge and skills needed to enable us to live as civilized humans according to our cultural norms. These including those norms must be acquired through education in its inclusive sense as I have noted earlier in this discussion. At present, trend everywhere is to ‘tailor the individual’s education as dictated by trade and industry’.
This is called a ‘practical education’, but for whom it is most practical, obviously to the owners of industry and traders, is never emphasized. The poor student is made to believe that his interest and that of the trader or industrialist is the same, even though he is often no more than a mere hard-working automaton whose economic status is a far cry from that of his big boss. When you compare the proportional gains the two categories make, it is inevitable that the gap between the rich and poor will continue to increase even if other things remain equal.
But it is not in the mind set of traders and industrialists to keep the status quo. They are merely motivated by increasing their annual gains whether they are able to enjoy them within their life span or not. The principal tool used to achieve this desire for increasing gain is humourously called, “promoting economic growth” or “diversification of investment portfolios”, or even better, “re-location of production units”. The last wonder often leads to many job losses in the newly “de-located” country, and many a derelict factory.
Meanwhile, the country of ‘re-location’ (I will continue to use this semantic monstrosity, ‘re-location’ even though it needs only a vestigial intelligence to realise that one can only relocate something that has already been there and removed.) will begin to contribute even more to adverse climate change than the previous one for two reasons.
Building factories in otherwise virgin areas (country of re-location usually is.) leads to a greater imbalance in solar heat exchange between the ground and space than it did in the country of origin.
Owing to rather flexible standards of production often result in greater emissions of green-house gases and other toxic substances.
Recalling once more oft loudly supported ‘right to culture’, let us try to put into the test, for many a small island state, there seems to be no refuge from their current misery other than in reclaiming as much of their island norms as possible. Apart from a few unfortunate islands containing industrial raw materials like metal ore, petroleum, etc., there is no other practical choice. I wish to underline with greatest emphasis possible that turning them into artificial holiday resorts for the affluent foreigners is worse than the traditional colonialism. Turning islands into tourist camps of various kinds will make a few corrupt islanders, foreign food and drink suppliers, and foreign hotel owners rich, leaving the majority of the local people to work as minions for minimal wages to buy imported ‘food’. This horrid picture can be turned into impressive numbers showing economic boom! But for whom?
I hope that the discussion so far has made it amply clear that amelioration of adverse climate changes as they affects nutrition in small island states depends principally on the actions of the world outside, while some actions often undertaken by foreigners on them have a slightly less disruptive and land impoverishing effect. Let us now see what pragmatic actions might be carried out under FAO in order to mitigate them. These fall into two categories; first, the institutional endeavours that influence the various groups among the consumers, and secondly, field activities tailored to suit the conditions prevailing in specific locations.
Trade policies and legislation to halt further building of tourist facilities on small island states, particularly on beaches once covered by coconut palm, and encourage their gradual dismantling. Their effect on local solar heat exchange is dramatic, and its worst consequence is a greatly reduced monsoon rain fall on which islanders depend in many places. This change also affects sea temperature around coral reefs killing the coral with drastic results for local fisheries.
Institute policies and enforceable laws to ensure that the fishing fleets of technically advanced nations (especially Japan, China including Taiwan and Korea) adhere and respect the 200 Kn. Economic zones of the island states. Unfortunately sometimes, political corruption at home enables the technically but not ethically advanced nations to obtain permission to fish in those zones with the help of bribery. As far as I can see, continued media exposure seems to be the only way to elicit enough shame in the corrupting and corrupted nations to behave more responsibly.
World-wide checks and controls to ascertain and ensure that ‘re-located industries follow adequate guidelines on factory emissions especially when‘re-located’ in various categories of ‘developing countries’.
Instruments necessary to halt further global deforestation and initiate immediate environmental regeneration projects like planting native tree species in denuded areas, public spaces, along roads and highways, river banks; initiate research and development of roofing and external wall paint having similar thermal properties as grass or the tree canopy to achieve a solar heat exchange rate more or less similar to that of a natural habitat.
Encouragement of the use of appropriate technology that supports the full use of all renewable resources including human labour, and active discouragement of labour-saving methods for they benefit not the labour, but those who employ it. It is time the experts began to appreciate the simple fact that while labour-saving methods may boost the profits of the investors, it leaves fewer and fewer opportunities to the ever-growing global population for very few of them are able and willing to become experts or investors. Therefore, it would be wise to initiate family planning and economic devolution. One can make a start with some sound anti-trust legislation.
Empowerment of people everywhere through sound public education on the relationship between climate and our environment, and what each and every one of us could easily do.
Local actions to be adapted to suit specific needs:
Increase the local people’s awareness (especially among the younger generation) of how fragile is their environment owing to their limited natural biodiversity in flora and flora, and that of their marine resources despite its great diversity. Once this is understood, it would be easier for them to realise that some of the ‘old practices’ were based on sound scientific fact, and they were sustainable.
Refrain from introducing ‘improved strains’ for most islands (of course, there are some exceptions) has soil best suited for local cultivars that require no fertilisers, biocides etc. It is easier for the latter to be carried to the sea from islands causing great damage to fisheries.
Extensive replanting of local species of utility like coconut, sweet potato, yams, taro, some edible species of Pandanus (Papua New Guinea), etc.
Strict coast-line and coral reef protection and preservation for not only do the local fisheries, but also the safety of the coastal areas from marine erosion depend on them.
Use of the local building materials for housing and deprecating the use of corrugated iron and concrete for the purpose, for the latter entails the extra cost of cooling and the use of fossil fuel.
When a small island nation depends on mineral extraction as a main source of revenue as in Cyprus and Bougainville, it would be wise to establish some fund derived from the profits that may finance appropriate and sustainable agricultural projects with a view to the future.
I am sure that many other contributors will continue to offer many concrete projects while I have limited myself to the conditions they should meet, and to creating an atmosphere more receptive to what is good and sound in the past, and what is destructive and self-defeating in some of the highly advertised modern ways. Island youth might not know what price the affluent pay for their gleaming labour-saving machines and gadgets, but a short documentary on the incidence of obesity and consequent diseases, and money spent on ‘health studios’ and what they do there , should prove to be salutary.
I am afraid that I have been rather polemical here, but I am convinced that the plight of small island states is a problem they will never be able to address on their own, for it is a problem caused by the outsiders in the first place, and then, they were made dependent on outside powers. As most of them have little or no raw material needed by industry, this dependence is near total in some cases. On top of this, their environment is among the most fragile on earth, poor on land in diversity, but enormous in the surrounding seas.
So, one can only draw one logical conclusion; it is incumbent upon us to help, but not help to turn their shores into cheap tourist brochures while the once proud and independent islanders are left to perform menial tasks for tourists, but to help them to be independent from our interference, to make amends at least by supporting them to be once more free, and regain their dignity we deprived them for so long.
Even though some knowledge-gaps still exist in the area, a vast amount of useful information is already available on the current status of bio-diversity in agriculture, fisheries and forestry. Further, there is a general agreement on its direct and indirect importance for human well-being in general and adequate nutrition and food security in particular. In spite of this, it is beyond dispute that global bio-diversity continues to diminish.
My contribution to the present effort to incorporate ensuring an adequate and sustainable bio-diversity into agricultural pursuits, fishing and forestry will be to suggest a pragmatic action template to achieve our objective, into which the relevant and appropriate information, technologies and procedures could seamlessly fit. Such a framework would be holistic by definition, and it will consists of two logically inseparable parts.
The first might be called the overall mechanism designed to achieve our purpose. It contains the familiar pathways of action like policy design, deciding on strategies needed to implement it, and finally the tactical methods one may use to implement those strategies. At this point, let me emphasise that while policy and strategy may have certain elements in common among the members of some group of countries, their tactical implementation may often require methods appropriate for a limited geographic area.
Before we take up the second part of our framework, I would like to underline the importance of coordinated action in achieving our aim. Sometimes, praiseworthy enthusiasm may drive groups to undertake independent local projects whose success is expected to inspire and motivate similar action elsewhere. However, it is uncertain whether the enhanced bio-diversity of an area could remain sustainable when surrounded by places where it remains threatened. Let us call such differences in bio-diversity in contiguous areas their diversity deficits.
It will be agreed that enhanced and sustainable bio-diversity in our target areas implies that there would be minimal bio-diversity deficits among them and their contiguous surroundings. As far as I know, no research has been yet undertaken to ascertain the interaction between an area of adequate bio-diversity and its contiguous surroundings with a diversity deficit as far as its effect on the overall bio-diversity of the whole area. Indeed, this is a complex task, nevertheless, its importance ought not to be under-estimated.
Let us now look at what is necessary to design the first part of our framework, and make it appropriate and relevant. Stating the obvious, a comprehensive description of the bio-diversity depletion of an area, its causes, optimal means of its prevention and regeneration are essential technical information here. However, there are two entirely different considerations which alone imparts to the first part of our framework and this information their high value, viz., their necessity for sustainable food security and adequate nutrition.
After this value justification of the pressing need to undertake a significant restoration of bio-diversity in our three target areas, we are now ready to put together the second part of our framework. In its turn, it consists of three parts:
Let me inject a sense of proportion to our discussion by underlining some often overlooked facts. Even in an area where volunteer or supported projects may have achieved a remarkable success in restoring biodiversity in all three areas, viz., crops, fisheries/animal husbandry and forestry, authorities may initiate there mining, factory construction, large-scale road building, or even re-introduction of a monoculture for export on the advice of some expert economist. Recent history of nearly all country teems with examples of this. Moreover, for economic reasons, authorities are still supporting activities we have long known to threaten biodiversity.
As sustainable food security and adequate nutrition depend on a sustained and adequate ecosystem services, the vital importance of biodiversity hardly needs justification, for the possibility of having such services entirely depends on the balance between its qualitative and quantitative dimensions. All too often, this qualitative aspect of biodiversity i.e., number of diverse species receives all the attention while the quantitative, i.e., size of each species population seems to remain neglected.
After these preliminaries, let us look at the requirements a potentially successful policy to achieve our objective ought to meet. As no policy at any level exists in isolation, no policy could succeed however appropriate it is for its purpose unless the other policies in its operating ambience are in harmony with it as far as its objective is concerned. An example of lacking this inter-policy harmony would be economic and development policies that advocate monoculture with a view to export. Perhaps, the greatest threat to biodiversity and the future quality of human life is our consistent failure to acknowledge the untenability of our population growth.
Our next obstacle to success at the highest level is the internal lack of harmony in food and agriculture policy with respect to our goal. Unfortunately, examples of this lack of intra-policy harmony are legion. A non-exhaustive list of these disruptors of internal harmony are given below:
I have already implied that intra-policy disharmony with its own objectives results from the use of unsuitable strategies to implement it. Obviously, such usage becomes the norm when policy and strategy decisions are made on a reductive basis while professing to promote a holistic approach. In the example used here, all it would have required is to define as the goal of food and agriculture policy as increased production of diverse, appropriate food stuffs in a way that entail no environmental degradation.
This brings us back to the issue of coordination I have mentioned earlier. Inter-policy harmony for our purpose calls for inter-departmental coordination which seems to be easier said than done. However, we have no choice but to keep on trying even though this may sometimes seem hopeless to some of us. This requirement applies with even greater force when it comes to achieving intra policy harmony.
For instance, where one is trained and in what, combined with eagerness to embrace the latest technology have driven many designers of policy implementation strategies which are not only inappropriate for practical reasons, but are also in conflict with an area’s own food culture. The latter is often enough to guarantee an inevitable loss of local biodiversity while in extreme cases, it would lead to irredeemable eco-disasters like that in Aral Sea basin.
Therefore, it is crucial that strategy planners receive some suitable training to acquire a sense of proportion vis a vis the local reality as a whole by talking to the local people involved in our target areas, and by a thorough visual inspection of them. This cannot be achieved by any other means however high-sounding or colourful they might be. I cannot envisage any other effective way to encourage any open-minded strategist to adapt his approach to real life as it obtains in fields, fisheries, animal husbandry and in forests.
Once we have achieved a real willingness and ability to coordinate their efforts among the policy makers and strategy planners, we will be in a good position to undertake the next step, i.e., the second part of the action package as it were. It is concerned with defining the range and scope of actions required to prevent any further loss of biodiversity from our target areas, and to restore them as much as possible.
I have already refered to the importance of local food culture as the key benchmark in crops, animal husbandry and fisheries. Local folklore is often useful to ascertain the composition of flora and fauna in forests. Many older people still remember a larger number of local species and their approximate density while unhappily, younger local people are not as familiar with those as their elders. This is especially true in areas where there is large forest degtradation. No botanist or a zoologist however qualified can possess this locally valid empirical knowledge.
I do not suggest that policy and strategy formulation should wait until we have established locality-specific benchmarks of biodiversity restoration. The design of requisite policies and strategies can begin on the basis of what we already know of lost biodiversity by aiming to prevent its aggravation and restoration. However, part of its strategy should include simultaneous surveys to ascertain the following in order to revise those policies and strategies and to expand unified research on its prevention and restoration methods.
Now, the results of the above two undertakings should be the basis of local actions to prevent the loss of local biodiversity and its restoration. In other words, how the strategies to implement the policy involved are implemented locally. Thus, a continued dialogue between policy and strategy planners and the local authorities and the people is a necessary condition for our success.
Here, one may complain that I have not even touched upon how to secure the finances needed for such an endeavor, nor yet the legal instruments needed to enforce preventive measures. Being a realist, I can only make an oblique reply; there is an increasing tendency to seek funds for efforts like this from trade and industry motivated by gain. But ensuring gain entails reduction of costs, which inevitably requires mechanized food production, monoculture to increase yield …. I cannot see how entities embodying gain as their principal motive could really promote biodiversity regardless of their green guise.
As for the legal tools, it is not the lack of them that cripples us, rather the problem of their impartial and efficient enforcement. A carpenter may have world’s ‘cutting edge’ tools and finest seasoned wood. But if the man does not have the skill to use them well, or is not willing to do so, his mere possession of such splendid tools does not result in Chesterfield furniture.
With best wishes!
The Role of Agriculture in Eradicating Extreme Poverty
This is an attempt to offer a higher-level framework that may be freely fleshed out by different levels of authority to suit their particular conditions with respect to the available resources like people’s know-how, material and financial resources, political realities, and not the least, local soil and climatic conditions and their food culture.
First of all, it will be useful to look at what possibilities agriculture could offer in real life to alleviate extreme poverty among a given group, and to what extent they could be expected to succeed on the ground. At this point, another problem faces us at once, viz., can the extremely poor with their present skills successfully make use of the resources that may be made available to them to improve their lives?
Once again, our lack of consensus on a sound definition of poverty becomes the greatest stumbling block to progress. I have consistently rejected the untenable notion of ‘measuring’ poverty in monetary terms. It may seem facetious to say, “you can’t eat Dollars and hope to live.”, but this is the implied belief of every poverty measurer who uses the Dollar tape to measure human deprivation.
Let us admit the obvious at the expense of unjustifiable inherited notions of poverty, just as many a supernatural belief has been consigned to history books. Poverty represents deprivation of any one or more of our six fundamental needs, viz., nutrition, health, education and security in their inclusive sense, procreation, and a set of non-material needs. They are non-material, because satisfying them does not entail any material gain, æsthetic appreciation of literature, music, art, sports and games, entertainment, etc., are example of this.
Now, when one is extremely poor, it implies extreme derprivation with respect to any one or more fundamental needs. It is here that a major difficulty arises, for if faced with a great difficulty to meet any one of the first four needs, i.e., nutrition, health, education and security, its ill effects adversely affect one’s ability to meet the three remaining needs.
Let us begin with nutrition. A malnourished person is often predisposed to contracting a variety of diseases, finds it difficult to acquire know-how, and is both tempted to steal food thus threatening someone’s security, and is unable to do much to ensure the collective security of a social group. As one is increasingly deprived of the possibility of adequately satisfying one of those four needs, one becomes correspondingly unable to satisfy the remaining three needs. When this evil has happened, it is impossible to ascertain with any degree of tenability what deprivation triggered off the final state of misery and squalor.
Agriculture emerges here as one of the vital means of ameliorating not only nutritional deprivation, but becoming a useful tool to enable people to meet the three other crucial needs, viz., health, education and security. However, while good nutrition offers many health benefits, its impact on our ability to satisfy our educational and security needs are indirect. It is crucial to understand this and act accordingly, for adequate satisfaction of each of those four needs is a necessary condition for being able to satisfy the other three. This is a logical fact that cannot be questioned by justifiable argument.
Indirect satisfaction of a need involves mediation of an exchange of values like trade as an enabling method. For instance, one may sell some of one’s agricultural produce, catch in the case of a fisherman, etc., to get money to purchase what one needs to meet some of one’s health and educational needs. Tax from such income would enable some central authority to ensure general security while individual may take care of some security issues like that from inclemencies of the weather (shelter and clothing) at one’s own expense.
I have gone on about this to underline the unavoidable necessity of having to address at least four of our fundamental needs simultaneously if we are to make a significant impression on extreme poverty. As action of FAO and its affiliates is primarily directed at nutrition via agricultural pursuits, I will devote most of the following comments to nutrition, but would make some observations on how it may facilitate improving the people’s ability to satisfy the three other fundamental needs through the mediation of its sister organisations.
I will take up the latter first even though both lines of approach ought to be pursued synchronously if optimal results are to be achieved. While the nuts and bolts of the actual field work needs careful assessment for its relevance and appropriateness, one can still envisage some pathways FAO might explore to ensure its efforts in food production and wasteless consumption are either much enhanced or made at all possible. For instance, in some cases where lack of security is acute, no progress in agricultural production may be made until and unless that issue has been resolved even though wide-spread abject poverty and starvation may prevail in affected areas.
Perhaps, FAO ought to be more proactive in its work with the UN even though the current procedures may limit its possibilities. In any event, as general security has a major impact on food production and related pursuits, and as food supplies criss cross the world, it is in every country’s interest to underline this, and take some pragmatic action to secure peace.
I know that the WHO and FAO closely cooperate to combat diseases connected with diverse forms of malnutrition, and especially the so-called NCD’s. However, this cooperation would be even more fruitful if it would be extended, because malnutrition at its earlier states often makes its victims predisposed to many kinds of disease including infections and parasitic infestations owing to their reduced resistence to them. Such inabilities makes it difficult for the already poor to engage in agricultural work or acquire new skills.
It requires no expensive ‘research’ to know that the agricultural skills among the extremely poor is often rather limited. FAO in conjunction with UNESCO may launch relevant and appropriate training programmes to raise the target group’s agricultural skill level. However, no training scheme will succeed unless the trainees receive a decent diet during their training. Hungry and malnourished ‘students’ are beyond pedagogic theories, while full bellies would often make them receptive learners. It would be salutary to remember that successful cultivation of earth requires down-to-earth programmes.
Two other areas that would repay the FAO in the present endeavor are cooperation with the World Bank/IMF in order to secure very low interest loans for the extremely poor to procure the necessary land and other requisites for agricultural pursuits. Here, cooperative enterprise rather than competitive trade should be adopted in order to avoid dog-eat-dog competition that characterizes what is called agro-business in the developed nations, where deserted farms and monoculture seem to prevail. After all, it is obvious trade competition would result in losers i.e., poverty-stricken farmers, something the current effort is designed to avoid.
It is not very obvious how FAO might enable the target group to obtain secure land tenure, which is a prime necessity here. I believe all international bodies should work in unison to encourage countries to institute an enforceable legal framework to guarantee the land and other rights of those engaged in agricultural activities. In some areas, this is of crucial importance, while in others, some progress has been made.
Our last necessary condition for successful application of agriculture to benefit the extremely poor is the improvement of suitable infra-structure and availability of appropriate and relevant technology. Let me emphasise that the last item does not involve the so-called ‘cutting-edge’ or the latest implements or electronic gadgetry. It is far more important to build a sustainable irrigation installations, provide crops and animals suited to a given climate, soil and local food tradition than to spend money on an expensive network of transmitters to provide cellular telephnony to youth who are often functionally illiterate.
Most people might find the foregoing very obvious, but even a casual look at a considerable number of efforts to render agricultural pursuits means of earning a decent income for both rural youth as well as others, have failed to meet our expectations precisely because they have not paid sufficient attention to the above necessities or because they have overlooked the vital importance of relevance and appropriateness of the methods used.
Now that we have cleared the ground of most important disabling factors, let me concentrate on activities directly connected with agricultural pursuits which may be used to help the extremely poor towards better living conditions. Provided that adequate resources are available, the envisaged activities should conform to the following requirements as much as possible if a successful result is to be achieved. Here, success will be measured according to its sustainability and its qualitative impact on the life of the target group.
First of all, we need to ascertain certain facts before undertaking concrete action in order to ensure that they have a reasonable chance of helping the very poor in a meaningful way. The following is a non-exhaustive check-list to be used to screen the suitability of the target groups and the agricultural pursuits proposed:
1. Location of the target group; obviously, extremely poor slum-dwellers in big cities will have no access to sufficient grow-areas to engage in agriculture per se, but they might be assisted to engage in retailing agricultural produce on a cooperative basis provided that they are protected from being bought out by some chain of retailers. Here, ‘free-trade’ really frees the poor from any chance of earning a decent living by trade. Whenever it is appropriate, small family run restaurants/cafes/bistros, etc., where home-cooked hot meals may be sevved at a reasonable price.
2. Procurement of produce by such small retailers and cooked-food outlets should be linked as directly as possible with the food producers. Farm and fisherman’s cooperatives seems to offer the ideal choice, for it avoids the long middlemen-chain, thus ensuring a fair price to the food producers and end-users, and enables the retailers earn a decent living. Moreover, it gives the food producer the power to dispose of his produce through a fair exchange of values, and avoid delays. These two lines of action assume a reasonable level of security, a sufficiently adequate transport system, and financial and other resources needed for the purpose.
3. In order to counter waste of food due to spoilage in transist or storage, it is often necessary to preserve some food items before storage and transport. I suggest as much of this ought to be undertaken on or near where the food is produced, so that such facilities could provide a source of employment for the local poor. As for preservation methods used, one should be careful to use technology familiar to most such as drying, salting, smoking, etc, which are often required by the local food culture. Such methods are effective and inexpensive, and easy to learn and improve. Moreover, their storage does not require costly regrigerated installations that entail expensive running- and maintenance costs.
This is not to deprecate the value of freezing and refrigeration as sound methods of food preservation. But, if we wish to stay down-to-earth and recall the skill levels of the very poor, what resources are actually available, it will be agreed that a combination of simple time-proven methods of preservation and quick transport are a more realistic way forward. Transport of non-perishable items ought to prefer water and rail transport owing to their great advantages over road transport, as they can often employ the relatively unskilled poor.
4. After this sketch of food distribution, transport and preservation, we come to its production. Stating the obvious, unless the three above conditions are satisfactory, pfood production cannot succeed in enabling us towards our goal. At this point, I will reject the idea of concentrating on cash-crops for the extremely poor cannot improve their lives just by having an income from such crops, because a balanced diet they need for the purpose will have to be grown/harvested somewhere, and not enough food is produced in countries where expreme poverty is endemic.
5. Before we proceed to food production/harvesting, it is vital to establish a reliable link between food outlets and producers/harvesters like fishermen. If we wish to achieve our goal, the purpose of such a link would be provide information that benefit three groups of people, viz., end-users, food outlets and the producers/harvesters. They will be benefited if they can engage in a fair exchange in values and not by competition where some well-informed producers try to exploit the demand for food for higher prices rather than sharing a given demand more or less fairly among all the producers of the same item. This unfair practice is precisely what promoters of rapid ‘market information’ advocate through the use of cellular phones and software by the rural poor! This merely adapting the high-tech methods of agro-business that has led to abject poverty among the rural farmers in the first place.
6. Therefore, I suggest the establishment of independent national and regional market monitoring bodies that could advice the production cooperatives on what is needed and where. They do not have to have huge bureaucracies, and local people could beconsulted often on their food needs and the availability of dietary items. A walk down the lanes of a town or a village is often more informative about its food needs than the most sophisticated ‘market-theory’ predictions.
7. Once the sustainable food production/harvesting appropriate for an area has been ascertained, the next step would be to ensure a reliable mode of financing the actual work. Naturally, how much is needed here, depends on the following:
I. Relevant and appropriate equipment, training, types of seed and animals needed to initiate the action.
II. Construction of storage, processing, irrigation, etc., facilities required.
III. Cost of infra-structural improvements.
IV. Support period needed before a project could become self-sustaining.
V. Enforceable anti-corruption measures.
Once we have come this far, it remains to select the participants and assign them to roles for which they have some aptitude before initial training begins in earnest. Here, I am convinced that formal education is an advantage, but it is not essential for the work in hand. The poor are eager to leave their poverty behind, and concrete action that yields results within a reasonable time, is what is needed to attract and retain them in their jobs.
On-the-job vocational training could be supplemented by formal education for few hours twice a week, or as often as it does not interfere with job training. It may prove motivating to teach them that agricultural pursuits are among the most important things a person could do, and it it deserves real respect unlike many a vaunted profession.
In the discussion so far, many contributors have made suggestions applicable at the ground level. However, it is important to ascertain their relevance and appropriateness to the people and the place involved before they are taken up. What I have tried to do is to outline a possible way of using them in a holistic manner. I hope it would be of some use.
On Guidelines to Embody a Sound Code of Conduct in Policies Pertaining to Sustainable Soil Fertility
Should suggestions given here are adopted, it must be borne in mind that they are not universal in that some of them may be already included in relevant policies, or they are not relevant due to the type of crop, existing state of the soil, economic constraints, or other factors. Thus, it may be seen as a bag of options from which one may select those best suited to the circumstances involved.
Let us not forget the logical order of our task. Its overall purpose is to enhance sustainable global nutrition by “maintaining or increasing global food production.” Its successful achievement depends in part, on having a sustainable soil fertility. I think there will be a general agreement on the argument thus far.
Now, the use of fertilisers is perhaps the most important means of achieving this objective while its inappropriate application will have the opposite effect as shown by the ruins of the soil in vast tract of land near the now defunct Aral Sea. Thus, our efforts are concerned with a sub-set of means in use to enhance soil fertility in a sustainable way, and our efforts are concerned with the point 2 to 5 specified in the document on our purpose. I think now I have placed the discussion within a holistic framework, from which to take my point of departure.
Before proceeding, may I point out the last two points, 4 and 5 have a causal link, for certain concentrations of heavy metal and other organic extraneous materials in artificial fertilisers are taken up by food crops and their subsequent consumption is known to have adverse health effects, hence undesirable. I think these two points may be united owing to their causal connection to our health.
The purpose of the code then, has two dimensions. The first would be to identify how the use of fertilisers may enhance soil fertility, i.e., what policy could promote the optimal use of them. Next, it is important to identify what uses of fertilisers would have an adverse effect on soil fertility, environment and health. Together, these will consititute an inclusive code that may be fruitfully embodied in a set of relevant policies.
It would be reasonable to suggest that the possibility of successful agriculture depends on having an adequate and sustainable ecosystem services and the use of crops suitable to an area. Those services include the concentration of carbon dioxide in the air, water supply, air and soil temperatures and indeed soil fertility that depends on its mineral content, general composition and structure. It is established beyond reasonable doubt that the well-being of our environment is essential for an adequate supply of ecosystem services mentioned earlier. Therefore, the use of fertilisers represents a supplementation of a particular ecosystem service to enhance one aspect of soil fertility, viz., its mineral content in a manner that does not adversely affect its other content or structure. Some may argue that as the use of mulch enhances soil porosity, and hence its overall fertility, it may also be included. If this is desired, such fertility enhancements should also be subjected to the same requirements as will be described below.
At this point, let us recall that it is axiomatic that a region’s food culture represents the culture of plants best suited for its soil, climatic and geographic conditions through a long trial and error over a period. Next, well-being of our environment on which ecosystem services depend, have a qualitative and a quantitative dimension. While the former represents its biodiversity, the latter indicates the optimal sustainable population of each individual species in the area. Thus, supplementation of soil fertility should not be undertaken at the risk of diminishing an area’s biodiversity or those optimal populations. Otherwise, one runs into an evil chain of gradually diminishing natural ecosuystem services leading to an increased need for their supplementation that ends in salination and soil ruins as in the areas around the Aral Sea.
So, the proposed code of conduct ought to ensure that the use of fertilisers pay careful attention to the following considerations:
Here, I will devote a little time to how one may avoid making the use of fertilisers a possible threat to human and environmental health. While the importance of the former is obvious, the latter may not only directly affect our health (global warming), but could indirectly do so by reducing the availability of ecosystem services, resulting in food shortages. So, in order to “maximise the efficient use of plant nutrients to enhance sustainable agriculture,” the following conditions should obtain:
These are some of the essential actions to be undertaken in the field in real life. The question then is how to motivate the fertilizer users and those who connected with their production and sales as well as those who control the latter to undertake appropriate actions. Naturally, it is the last group who lays down the norms needed for the purpose and facilitate or hinder their adequate application. So, let us begin with them whose responsibility is to formulate and implement policies that ensures prudent use of fertilisers.
Some useful steps in this direction may involve inclusion of sound use of fertilisers in the curriculum of agriculture education and training, legal instruments to enforce the quality of inorganic fertilisers both with reference to manufacture and sale, trade policy that excludes the import of fertilisers that do not meet those standards, financial and technical support to promote the guidelines given above including more wide spread use of organic fertilisers as much as possible, and particularly practical research into combined farming where maximum amount of ‘crop remainders’ can be re-cycled within a farm. This last is not a suggestion concerned with the ‘cutting edge stuff’, rather it is a request for an enquiry into how the existing good local farm practices may be combined in some new combinations for a greater food yield with less cost in fertilisers.
As mentioned at the outset, this is only a skeleton to be fleshed out according to what relevant for a given locale. What is applicable to all is the importance of knowing soil structure and chemistry as well as its biology before one decides on crops and fertilisers to be used. Traditional food culture despite its shortcomings often represents this knowledge in its pragmatic manifestation, and should serve as a sound point of departure for further work and gradual improvement.
Hope this would be of some use.
Ascertaining the Impact of WTO Agreement on Agriculture on Regional FSN
The importance of the subject is timely enough to tempt one to answer the three questions FSN Forum has raised without giving much thought to the standards against which the above impact could be justifiably ascertained. These comments are restricted to suggesting such a standard intended to render such an assessment as holistic as possible.
In the context of global FSN, that of Sub-Saharan Africa represents one of its regional components. However, whether it is global, regional or local (national in this context), the possible variations in the impact of WTO agreement on agriculture are only a question of degree with respect to the state of public nutrition and food security. So irrespective of the locale, it is the yardstick one ought to use when considering those questions.
Thus before proceeding, one needs to seek some consensus on as to what may justifiably constitute the state of public nutrition and food security. It would be reasonable to suggest that the adequacy of the former represents how many individuals in a given group are appropriately nourished and how many are not. Such a group may be the population in a part of a country, or in a nation or a group of them.
Those who are not appropriately nourished suffer from its ill effects owing to (availability) the lack of food needed for a a varied, wholesome and balanced diet or it being not affordable, or secondly, because of people’s lack of relevant dietary competence even when suitable food is available and affordable. The second is an important cause of the increasing incidence of obesity among the affluent throughout the world.
In order to pre-empt the possible objections to terms ‘varied’ and ‘wholesome’, it would be salutary to note that during last six millennia, people everywhere have applied a great deal of ingenuity to vary and enhance the dietary enjoyment of their meals by preparing even their staple food in huge number of ways. What to use and how to do so constitute a major part of human food culture, a priceless common heritage not to be just dismissed by advocating the injestion of packets of a fortified powdered algae, or some Ersatz stuff yielding X calories and containing y% of all the needed nutrients per 100 grammes.
As for what is wholesome is obvious, nevertheless it may be defined as a food is wholesome when it is free of known toxic substances as well as chemical additives that are not found in food coming from plants and animals, spices, herbes and condiments of natural origin. It is often claimed that ‘precaution is better than cure’, while in industrialised countries where content of additives in various food stuffs is high, one has observed a declining human fertility, higher incidence of allegies, etc. Hence, developing countries would do well not to tread the same dangerous path.
Meanwhile, food security implies having a sustainable adequate supply of varied and wholesome food needed for a balanced diet. Its sustainability depends on the sustainability of the ecosystem dservices on which agriculture, animal husbandry and food harvesting (fishing etc.) intimately depend. Irrigation, use of fertilizers and biocides merely represent a technically sophisticated supplementation of those services that should be used with caution in order to avoid disastrous consequences (Aral Sea disaster, aftermath of the ‘green revolution’ of the 70-ies, etc.).
Sustainability of those ecosystem services depends on the well-being of our environment. The latter in turn, depends on the biodiversity indigenous to a locale and the sustainable population of each individual species there. This applies with equal force to man as well as to the Water Hycinth that clogs many a stream and irrigation canal.
So much for the availability and sustainability and now one runs into the thorny problem of affordability. Stating the obvious, the availability of a sustainable supply of varied and wholesome food would be of little use, unless it is affordable to all and the people knew how to make use of it, which requires them to have sufficient dietary competence.
Therefore, it would be reasonable to postulate that irrespective of the level involved, an adequate state of nutrition and food security requires that the following obtain:
1. Restoration of weakened ecosystem services by regeneration and preservation of the area’s environment. This requires restoration of the local indigenous bio-diversity as much as possible and undertaking to build-up or reduce its individual populations as is necessary. Actions that have the opposite effect threaten sustainability in ways too well-known to be noted. Such undesirable actions include:
2. All are end-users of food, but most of us cannot be totally self-sufficient enough in food to secure for ourselves a varied and a wholesome balanced diet. So, the majority is compelled to procure at least some of their food by purchase, hence the need for a decent livelihood (not to mention the other needs). But a large number of people in both urban and rural areas of the developing countries are unemployed (particularly the youth) or under-employed. A fair number of those, after a relatively short training appropriate in the context, may earn a decent living in agriculture, food harvesting, and suitable related pursuits. If the environment remains felicitous, apart from the shortage of requisite competence and the initial cost of making and implementing the plans needed to remedy the situation, the greatest obstacles to this approach are the following:
A. Establishment of high capacity locally or foreign-owned food packing/processing installations at a few locations whose products are principally for export. Not only does this ignore to address the employment issue, but it may often reduce the food availability for local consumption.
B. Trade policies that permit the export of local foods for cash when malnutrition exists in a country or would lead to it.
C. Trade policies that permit the establishment and manufacture or import and distribution of industrial foods and beverages that are outside a country’s food culture or known to promote obesity.
D. Any trade policy that promotes the establishment of near monopolies or a limited number of large concerns to engage in food production, processing and storage, transport and sales (chains of outlet) that creates more and more unemployment, hence fewer and fewer people able to afford the available food.
E. Any trade policy that enable vested interests either to infringe on the current laws on land tenure, or prevent their just adjustment towards a fairer sharing of world resources.
F. Trade policies that promote the exploitation of, or the export of materials that will directly or indirectly have an adverse effects on a country’s food production.
G. All trade policies that entail ‘labour efficiency’ in countries where unemployment is a major issue.
H. Any labour policy that deprecates or is inimical to the traditional co-operative movement in food production, preservation, storage and distribution to end-users.
I. Trade policies that do not provide real incentives to family farms, small to medium sized processing units, sales outlets, family-run restaurants, etc., all run on a cooperative basis.
L. Any trade policy that entails even the smallest environmental degradation, for at present, such changes can have unpredictably serious consequences for food production.
It is hoped that those who are versed in the trade agreement in question will trouble to ascertain whether any one or more of its provisions in real life terms will permit A to J above. If any one of those are permitted, the trade policy that embody such a permission will have an inevitable adverse effect on a country’s state of nutrition and food security, not to mention the civil instability that often follows in the wake of persistant high unemployment. At a mere policy-level, permitting A-J will result in a national trade policy that can neither be in harmony within, nor yet with any humane and responsible health, education, security, etc., policies.
Comments on the draft Report on Migration, Agriculture and Rural Development
These comments represent a holistic approach to rural development with the emphasis on channelling migration to enhance food production and security with a view to improving public nutrition and quality of life. Improved public nutrition and food security can enable some potential and actual migrants to earn a decent income and ameliorate to a certain extent the undesirable consequences of migration.
The draft is very comprehensive with respect to the nomenclature of migration with reference to its specific motivators. As it is a piece of purposive behaviour, one would prefer to call what triggers it as a motivator rather than a driver, because the latter technically does not require an intentional decision from the object that changes its location.
I think it would be very useful if the report mentions at the outset i.e., in 1.1, its purpose. For instance, as migration results in a demographic depletion in one area while it increases the population density in another, it would inevitably have a sudden or gradual impact on food production and demand in the areas involved. Moreover, it places an increased strain on health, education, social and public security services, etc. Therefore, managing migration so as to enhance nutrition (agriculture and disposal of food) and food security in a manner that would ensure a decent livelihood particularly to the rural populations would amply repay the effort. Achieving this objective requires a holistic analysis of the problem with a view to designing a pragmatic means of its amelioration.
Before I go over to the other chapters of the draft, may I say that I feel the proposed format is a little top-heavy on the characterisation of migration, and I think while the remittances from the migrants may improve certain aspects of life of those who they leave behind and even some sectors of local economy, their impact on food production is negligible. There is no reliable data on this I know, and I also know that it is impossible to gather this information unless one is able and willing to spend an enormous amount of time and resources for obvious reasons. In connection with another enquiry, I became convinced of the dictum, the actual state of rural food production and nutrition can never be ascertained from cities nor can it be generalised on the basis of some chosen samples’.
In the ‘way forward’, I would suggest a clearer annunciation of our principal objective, and then the other objectives whose prior achievement is a necessary condition for attaining the former. These latter includes rural health care, education and training, etc., which in turn depend on there being an adequate access to appropriate irrigation, energy, water, rail and road transport, etc.
Once this is clearly presented, then we can proceed with ways and means. I advocated a layered approach to policy design and implementation so that they become increasingly less general and more specific with respect to the actual needs of their domain. Thus, at the village level, a village policy will be tailored to meet village specific issues within the framework of an integrated policy and implementational hierarchy, where each makes decisions on matters within one’s own experience and competence.
I know it would be impossible to revise the definition of migration as currently accepted, but it depends so heavily on enumeration and indefinable (objectively speaking) terms like ‘rural’ etc., it is liable to lead to hours of fruitless discussion. Therefore, I wish it is possible to talk about migration in generic terms referring to its motives and palpable results, i.e., ‘it represents the movement of one or more persons from one location to another motivated by the belief that one’s new location is more desirable than the former for some reason’. Please note that such a belief may not be not justifiable, based on misinformation, immediate threat to life, etc. This movement of people would necessarily deplete the stock of available labour in one place while increasing the need for various items and services in another.
1.3. Seems to expand in identifying the two principal reasons that makes migration to another location desirable, viz., economic or professional self-betterment and to escape some form of danger like physical violence, robbery, natural or man-made disasters, etc. Armed conflicts and break-down of law and order are undesirable primarily because of the physical violence and robbery, etc., that often accompany them. Next in importance is their impact on the necessary amenities and economy.
I would suggest reconsideration of 1.4., because the contextual framework it seems to offer has several flaws. Starting with its main thesis, the kind of ‘development’ that considers migration to be a necessary ingredient is the traditional view that is under attack for its cavalier attitude to the environment and failure to acknowledge that our quality of life cannot be sustained by technical innovations unless we strive towards a stable global population. Here, quality of life of the individual is to be ascertained with reference to the cultural norms to which one subscribes. This includes one’s food culture. After all, culture is recognised as an individual right.
Even though the question of population is politically sensitive, its resolution is vital. What constitutes environmentally benign ‘development’ is still debated. So, a pragmatic approach could be found if one’s level of ambition is limited to sustainable agriculture and ensuring food security as an environmentally benign way to retain people in situ and to attract recent migrants back home by making those activities a source of a decent livelihood. I think this is still feasible but there is not much time left, and we already have the know-how and the necessary resources to begin.
I think scope of the report in 1.5., ought to specify identifying what is needed to mitigate the burdens migration places on source and destination of migrants as its frame of reference. The suggested means of its mitigation is the use of sustainable wholesome food production and its fair distribution in ways that enable some potential and actual migrants earn a decent livelihood with a view to enhancing public nutrition and food security.
I think chapter two is open to the same set of objections with respect to our environment and population growth embodied in traditional notion of development. There is no justifiable reason support the view that development entails less and less labour intensive work to sustain development, for simple arithmetic is enough to show in that case, there should be a comparable decrease in population. Otherwise, it would inevitably result in massive unemployment or creation of paid non-jobs. Moreover, I plead for the deprived millions of migrants who live in abject misery around every large city in the world, their needs are not captured by macro-economic indicators, nor yet the micro ones.
I have some difficulties with chapter 3, which arise from the epistemological basis of its ‘theoretical part’. Starting with a terminological quibble, I am very wary of using the term ‘theory’ about an explanatory tool, or model if you will which attempts to capture various manifestations of a piece of intentional behaviour. I would use the term ‘theory’ only to describe a hypothesis intended to describe a gnomic phenomenon where intention plays absolutely no part.
When a person strongly believes (justifiably or otherwise) that some other location is more desirable than the present one, that belief motivates a person to migrate. This requires that belief to be strong enough to overcome the potential migrant’s emotional, legal or material ties to his/her present location.
In every instance of migration, its motivating belief exerts a push and a pull; while whether the push or pull dominates depend on one’s circumstances. Perhaps it would be better to describe the effect of that belief as simultaneously eliciting an evasive and gain-seeking response. For instance, ’brain drain’ represents an instance where the pull predominates while the push may be minimal, and flight from armed conflict may represent an instance where desire to evade danger rather than material gain predominates. So, it will be reasonable to say that an instance of migration may occupy a place in the spectrum where at one end push or desire for undertaking evasive action predominates while possibility of making some greater material gain or increased social status dominates the other.
It is logically impossible to separate those two aspects of desirability of migration, but it is possible to see when one dominates the other. Generally speaking, desirability of changing one’s location is a combination of both. Please note that the believed desirability of migrating is a subjective value judgement that may be accepted by people, but actually believing it is up to the individual. Moreover, its justifiability is not guaranteed just by believing it.
So much for the generic description of migration. As you will see, it is easy to identify various members of the ‘push’ and ‘pull’ sets, but it is practically impossible to identify their overlap that is applicable to an individual case. But that is unimportant, because it is easy to identify the limited number of generic members of push and pull sets, which is the crucial thing in deciding on how to mitigate its ill effect, especially with reference to nutrition and food security.
I suggest that in chapter 4, we take our point of departure in the simple non-controversial fact, viz., the kind of migration we are talking about entails a reduction in the population density in a predominantly agricultural or a pastoral area or a fishing settlement.
Other things being equal, achieving any SDG depends on using the relevant and appropriate means required to do so for as long as it is desirable. Its success depends on how skilfully that means is used.
The possibility of achieving this objective depends on a certain number of people with the requisite capability remaining at a given location during the period achieving that goal remains desirable. Therefore, the probability of achieving our present goal will be adversely affected by the kind of migration in question.
At this point, I can almost hear the cry, “you’ve forgotten what technology and innovation can do to fill the ‘labour gap’ with better results/higher yields and at lower costs, etc”. Ergo; achieve greater development!
But let us not forget a few other forgotten facts. What percentage of the millions of migrants around every big city in the world today is capable of gainfully using the proposed technologies and innovations? Precisely which ones and where? The fact remains that a majority of them require fairly long-term training before they are able to use the proposed new methods. This of course assumes that after their training, there will be employment opportunities open to them. How to feed, clothe, shelter and train them, and who foots the bill?
Meanwhile, what about those who remain? What technology and innovation will enable them to appease their hunger, clean drinking water etc.? They lack sufficient know-how or resources, and those needs are continuous and immediate just like those of the migrants. I think nothing short of an in situ inspection of migrant settlements around the big cities can provide one with bits of the big picture in all its horrid colours (a random inspection and not one organised by units that earn by ‘slum tourism’ which began in South Africa and now doing very well elsewhere also.).
It will be already qualified outsiders with sufficient resources that will dominate the use of technology and innovations in areas affected by migration. Such tools are capital-intensive and labour saving. In other words, they exclude the majority of migrants and the remaining villagers who will be reduced to earn a pittance by unskilled labour jobs of limited duration. This has been the constant sad result of many and many a loudly acclaimed ‘boom’. I do not think anybody has undertaken a survey to ascertain the origin and present day situation of the human ‘left overs’ of any recent boom that is very easy to encounter in most urban slums.
Another contributor has very cogently pointed out those remittances from migrant workers makes only an insignificant contribution to sustainable rural improvement. As he points out, much of that money is spent on housing, automobiles, consumer electronics, etc., but hardly on agriculture. I know of some instances where it is used to run a small transport or a catering unit, but this is seldom. I think that it should be clearly understood that ‘family reunification’ is designed to permanently move a group of people out of a country and not to invest in it in any way.
As for impact of those remittances on local nutrition in areas subjected to protracted crises, the difficulty is that there is no one to one correspondence between having money and getting enough wholesome food. Here, there are so many variables and possible combinations among them to defy any tenable evaluation of such an impact. Among those variables are what percentage of food is locally produced and imported, distribution of production units in the country, location of main storage and distribution facilities, transport network, distribution and type of food outlets, type and distribution of the conflict, ease of currency conversion, etc. Under the circumstances, it would surely benefit the people greatly if we did our utmost to open reliable channels to distribute food and help to resolve the crisis rather than speculate on an impossible calculation.
As outlined earlier, we have already established the variable ‘push-pull’ combination that makes a person’s present location less desirable, which motivates one to migrate for a certain length of time. But ascertaining its composition becomes relevant only insofar as it helps us to counter its adverse impact on the possibility of achieving say the SDG’s. Assuming their intent is to enhance everybody’s quality of life (with reference to one’s cultural norms), those adverse effects would impinge on a person’s capability to adequately satisfy one’s nutrition, health, education and security in their inclusive sense, procreation and non-material (aesthetic enjoyment, sports and games, entertainment, etc) needs.
I think here we must decide on what need we ought to concentrate on, and nutrition appears to be the most appropriate.
I am not quite convinced of the importance of chapter 5 in its present form. I would suggest that that emphasis is put on nutrition while constantly recalling that the possibility of enabling the people to adequately meet their nutritional needs depends on their ability to satisfy their health, education and security needs. Naturally, well-coordinated work with those involved with them would be an indispensible adjunct to our success.
Finally, a more diplomatic (!) as well as a more pragmatic goal with which to round up the paper would be ‘the sustainable management of migration’. Perhaps, it would not be amiss to add to the goal, ‘with a view to enhancing nutrition and food security’.
As for the causal link between migration and sustainable food production, I think it would be easy to identify its operating mechanism as it were, if we work back from what we want to achieve rather than the other way around. The reason for this is quite simple. If we try to do it the opposite way, we have no point of reference other than some nebulous notion of agriculture and food security. Once we start with those, we have something concrete to work on.
Every food production area (be it a village, district, province, etc) has an optimal qualitative and a quantitative output. Here, the term ‘quality’ represents type of food and not to quality used when referring to a single type. So, it could be a kind of cereal, vegetable, fruit, fish etc.
Now, the purpose of achieving this optimal output is ---
Its achievement requires that each food producer possesses the requisite know-how and suitable tools as well as the skill to use them with sufficient skill. The capacity to acquire that know-how and skill varies greatly, while the need for nutrition is constant and continuous.
Hence, attempts to impart new know-how and skill to use new tools in order to enable a group of people to produce food have to be undertaken gradually with extreme care if they are to succeed to any significant degree.
The exchange involved in II above may involve local intermediaries like those who engage in food preservation and storage, cleaning and packing, carrying, selling and catering. It is crucial that these intermediaries do not unfairly profit at the expense of food producers and the end-users. Otherwise, it would inevitably lead to poverty among food producers and thus lowering of their productivity, and to malnutrition among the end-users due to unfairly high cost of wholesome food. This is the evil circle competitive food trade for profit creates and sustains. So, it is both rational and reasonable to move towards a humane and cooperative food production and trade.
When emphasis is thus put on nutrition, it will be clear that design and successful implementation of a policy to achieve that end will depend on its internal harmony as well as its harmony with other policies and implementational strategies in its policy ambience. Naturally, they all are subject to a considerable local variation.
All policies shall derive from the political decision taken at the global, regional or local level that every policy and its implementation shall contribute to enhancing the quality of life of each individual with reference to one’s chosen cultural framework without harming or causing deprivation to the others. This requires a comprehensive and an appropriate employment policy whose implementation will enable the people to earn in situ the necessary means sufficient to adequately satisfy their fundamental needs.
Its successful implementation with the emphasis on food production and fair use depends on the appropriateness of the policies and the skill with which they are implemented. Their appropriateness depends on how general or specific they are at the political level on which they are decided, and how suitable they are with respect to the needs they are intended to address, and what resources are available for their implementation.
For instance, at the global level, a helpful policy will limit itself to the provision of know-how and material resources concerned with meeting a fundamental need in a way appropriate to a region or a country. It will catalyse the evolution of the regional or national approaches, but will refrain from imposing those foreign to, or beyond their current training or ability to afford.
At regional level, policies will be less general and more specific, and leave the local level some strategic alternatives from which to select the mode of implementation best suited to the local conditions. For example, at regional level, the policy on food production might specify that the local authorities in somewhat arid areas may select from production of pulses, raising goats, etc., as always, the optimal is to arrive at those solutions by joint consultation with respect to the main goal.
Finally, local people could then identify the nuts and bolts of their choice and proceed with the last step in the chain of policy implementation. These embrace production, storage, processing as required, packing and a fair exchange of the surplus for cash. Rhetoric and jargon-free inter- and inter level consultation is essential to ensure the relevance and appropriateness of every policy. Such inter-level consultations across the design of different policies are essential to achieve an inter-policy harmony.
In addition to this summary of sound policy design and implementation, for more a detailed discussion of the issue as it pertains to nutrition and food security, please see: http://www.fao.org/fsnforum/comment/7788
A Novel Financing Mechanism to Start and Sustain Rural Agriculture Projects
In a considerable number of areas, how to finance and sustain rural agricultural projects is a major stumbling block to providing a decent livelihood to rural youth, and to moving towards better nutrition and greater food security. This proposal presents a financing mechanism that may be used to attain those objectives.
All available evidence suggests that the success rate among local agricultural projects is greater than that among the larger regional and national ones. Moreover, wide-spread poverty and unemployment in the rural areas continue to drive the rural youth to cities exacerbating the already considerable urban problems, and greatly threatening the most important food supply in developing countries by depopulating the village farms.
It is envisaged to cover three main areas of rural food production, viz., cultivation, animal husbandry, fishing and aquaculture. Moreover, it may be profitably used in any suitable processing, transport and storage, and marketing activity on a cooperative basis. However, before we proceed any further, it is important to outline the conditions absolutely necessary for its success and sustainability.
Meanwhile, regardless of how it provides food for sale, success of a project is closely tied up with the extent to which the following local requirements may be met:
I. Good will and the willingness of the local leaders, elders and authorities to help and encourage the local youth to participate in such projects, and their willingness to share their knowledge and skills with the project participants.
II. Having adequate resources to establish and run local training centra to provide a sound on-the-job training to rural youth in agriculture, animal husbandry, fisheries or stewarding and harvesting forest products. It would be highly desirable to reward the participants during their training period in some suitable way, which may vary considerably.
III. While a training centre may serve trainees from several areas, it is crucial that the training is relevant and appropriate, and totally practical with respect to a specific type of a project.
IV. It would be wise to ensure the availability of arable land, access to grazing, fishing grounds, forests, etc., well before training programmes end.
V. It is necessary to establish the support services needed for the next phase well in advance. These may include seed, animals, fish for aquaculture, some fertilisers, guidance en route, etc.
My reason for this longish preamble is quite simple. Unless its organisers ensure those two sets of requirements are met in advance, no financial mechanism could make a project a success. In the real world where the rural youth everywhere is tempted to migrate into cities in the belief that they have a better chance there, their retention at home calls for full and honest cooperation among all age groups there to help them to earn a decent living. In many instances, not enough ground work is done locally to obtain a truly inclusive approach.
The Financing Mechanism:
The mechanism proposed here is neither a loan nor a grant, but it combines a loan’s capacity to motivate a person to work well in order to repay it, and the freedom a grant offers by removing the need to worry about whether a person will be able to pay the next instalment of a loan. As it will be seen, it offers an additional incentive by enabling a person to convert the amount received for a project into a personal saving with no strings attached.
Here, the first step is to establish a fund for the exclusive use of rural agriculture projects and their adjuncts as outlined earlier. It would be desirable to open contributions to the fund to anyone provided that its administration remains solely in the hands of a suitable international organisation like the FAO. However, it is envisaged to be administered by a small number of people in order to cut costs. What means may be used to raise funds will have to be worked out in detail.
It would be advisable to entrust FAO’s country offices to administer financing the projects undertaken in a country as it entails less administrative organisation and expenditure. As the first step, an FAO country office may open an account in a reliable bank in a target country specifically for this purpose. The amount deposited for the purpose will depend on the number and nature of the projects involved.
Before the operations could commence, it is important to map out the food products for which there is a sustained need, the areas best suited for their production/harvesting, etc. One of the most important criteria of this suitability is how little ecosystem supplementation would be necessary for the success of a project, i.e., irrigation, use of fertilisers and biocides, etc.
The next step would be to obtain the necessary agreement and guarantees from the local authorities, and to form groups of skilled field workers with relevant knowledge and skills to organise and run the local projects. Each group may need a person with appropriate managerial skills, but the emphasis should be on people with skilled in relevant food production/harvesting.
Before selected personnel are engaged, it would be useful to make dependable arrangements to establish and run the training units, land tenure, fishing, grazing and forest harvesting rights, etc. It is crucial to recall at every stage that time is of the essence, and those who migrate out of their rural homes are difficult to bring back. Therefore, a rapid start to projects based on rough and ready data is much more preferable to those that require precise data before they begin.
How the rural youth and their elders may be motivated to act in unison for mutual benefit varies widely, and ought to be left to the discretion of the local field workers who have an insight into local socio-cultural norms. These additional remarks, though not related to financing are given to ensure that one may obtain the best possible results under circumstances that do not make life easy for most rural populations.
Once the cost of a set of local projects has been ascertained by its manager and the field workers, the amount of money each project participant would need to carry on the work and to live reasonably relative to the local living conditions for one year will be calculated. The latter amount will be called the individual cost of participation (ICP). As a participant begins to work on his/her own project after a suitable training, his/her ICP will be deposited in a nearby bank, post office savings account, or some such.
A participant will have the right to draw on ICP funds provided that it is approved by one’s mentor who helps and supervises the participant. A mentor should be acceptable to all parties and possess demonstrable skills in the area covered by the project concerned. Money may be drawn for two specific purposes, viz., project expenditure and one’s personal cost of living. What percentage of ICP should be used for each purpose has to be determined by the participant and the mentor with reference to local living conditions.
Using the money drawn on required items through a local cooperative might prove to be the way to avoid unnecessary complications and over-spending that would surely arise when it comes to purchasing items needed for a project and things required for personal use. Such cooperative shops/bulk purchasing units may be financed either by a donor organisation, or by the project participants themselves.
A similar approach is highly recommended with regard to agricultural machinery, repair and maintenance facilities, fuel dumps, etc. Not only do these cut costs, but they also encourage engaging in cooperative activities for mutual benefit without leaving someone behind.
When a participant is able to dispose of one’s produce, the participant will be required to inform the local paying unit how much one has earned by the transaction and place back in one’s account about 90% of it. This percentage is open to negotiation. The small percentage one is allowed to keep may be used for anything as an incentive to the participant to work more efficiently.
Here is a simple example to illustrate the principle involved:
A participant’s ICP at the local bank, etc at the commencement of a project = $1000.00
Amount assigned for the completed part of the project = $300.00
Assigned as living expenses for 6 months = $200.00
Now, let us assume the participant has used up $75.00 from the quota of living expenses.
So, the remainder of the ICP = 1000 - 300 - 75 = 625.
Thus, there is $625.00 left in the ICP for one to fall back on if that should become necessary.
Let us say that at this point the participant has managed to earn $150.00 by selling produce. Then, keeping $15.00 for personal use (10% of the earnings), one needs to put back $135.00 into one’s ICP account, so that now one has access to $770.00. While ICP withdrawals will not be charged interest, the amount will be revised should the local cost of living increase.
In this example, the participant has only used $75.00 of the $200.00 assigned to him for his living expenses. So, he still has $125.00 which may be drawn for food, clothes, etc. It would be very useful if all parties could agree right at the beginning what percentage of an ICP should be set aside for a project and for living expenses.
If all goes well, after a time a participant’s ICP might reach the original level, i.e., $1000.00 and even exceed it. When a participant has achieved a reasonable level of success after 5 years, say capable of having $600.00 or more in one’s ICP, one is not required to put back any percentage of one’s earnings into the ICP account. Then a participant may deposit one’s money in the ICP account, because at this point the account will officially become his own personal account with all its content!
This then is the novel aspect of the suggestion. It is not a grant until a participant has shown himself to be capable of making use of money to develop a career that would enable him to make a sustainable decent living. It is not a loan, but it imposes on one a gentler version of the discipline one needs to repay a loan not through hard competition, but by mutually supportive cooperation.
It is difficult to suggest how long a project should be followed-up to ensure its sustainability. Experience everywhere shows that agriculture projects remain fragile for a period much longer than their planned ‘project duration’. It would repay to plan a project at least for five years, and then phase out the follow-up gradually. This would provide organisers a chance to smoothen out unforeseen problems should they arise and thereby ensure the endurance of their project.
Why not Nutrition Value Chains when Their Value Stems from Nutrition?
As I have argued in my two submissions, what links food production and end-user and food production itself, derive their value from the inherent value of food as the third absolutely essential thing for life after air and water.
Unless we needed food, it would be meaningless to talk about food storage, transport, processing and selling services as things having any need, hence any value.
So, as we seem to have to take into account business interests, it is reasonable that those services mentioned above receive a reward commensurable with the value they contribute to timely distribution of affordable and wholesome valuable food to end-users. I believe such a value chain would not only be fair, but it would be supported by our current scientific knowledge.
Therefore, I very much hope that the committee would seriously consider re-naming 'VC's' as Nutrition Value chains, and leave their commercial use unspecified as we all know how wide spread it is. After all, we all work to extend and enhance both the quality and quantity of global nutrition.
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:
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.
Seeing the Dietary Forest, and then its Sub-System Trees in Context
My somewhat curious title emphasises the holistic tenor of this discussion which is intended to suggest some answers to the questions concerned with the conceptual framework in use, how it may be improved, obstacles to its being made operational, and how to promote its wide-spread adaptation. However, I may have to change this order to ensure the logical cohesion of this submission.
In my attempt to understand the notion of ‘value chain’, in connection with food, I put the following questions to several people of ages ranging from 8 to 80:
1. Has a transport system or a storage system any value if there is nothing worth transporting or storing?
In answer, I heard giggles, sarcastic laughter, uncomplimentary remarks on my intelligence, and got not a few angry looks.
I think this justifies the belief that transport and storage systems have a value qua a service, if and only if they can be used to transport and store something that is already valuable to us. In other words, their service value derives from the value of what they help us to store and transport and not vice versa. Next, I asked some others in same age groups a new question.
2. Would you like to go to that fine new shop X over there and buy beautifully packaged street dust?
Unfortunately, the answers I received this time were even more uncomplimentary not only to my intelligence, but they seem to question even my sanity. But, they seem to justify my belief that selling in any form derives its value qua a service, if and only if what is sold is believed to have a value to us. Thus, the service value of selling derives from the value of what is sold, and not vice versa. In spite of my previous experience, I dared to pose a third question to some other people in same age groups.
3. Would you grow food, raise domestic animals and fish, or make preserves and dairy products, can foods, turn out industrial food, if we did not need any food at all?
I am afraid I nearly got arrested this time, and I shall pass over the looks and words I got in response to my question. Suffice it to say that I am glad I got home in one piece.
Once again, these responses underline the same thing, i.e., agricultural pursuits, fishing, food preservation, and production of industrial food, acquire a value as a service only because we need food, hence, food is valuable to us. Thus, production and various types of food processing acquire their service value from the value food has for us, and not vice versa.
We all know the value of food derives from the value we place on our lives, because nobody can live without food. This may appear too simple for those who wish to make it seem complex, but I can only refer them to wise William of Ockham to see why simplicity is preferable to unjustifiable complexity.
So, it would be reasonable to suggest that a food supply to most end-users (except to those who produce more or less all their own food) represents a chain of systems beginning from a yielder system (farms, raising household animals, fisheries, and to a minor extent some forests), and then extends via a transport, storage, preserving and selling systems. The original food selling systems were concerned with offering the end-user raw food or ready-to-eat food in exchange for money. The latter represents the various catering systems of today.
When an end-user procures raw food by its purchase, often it passes through a preparation system before it is eaten. An industrial modification of this system is used to manufacture industrial food. Moreover, preserving systems are industrialised to a great extent in affluent countries to produce canned foods, various preserves, dairy products, etc.
I have not included here what I have called the Ecoservices supplementary system, which is concerned with providing yielder systems the ecosystems services they lack in sufficient quality and/or quantity. These include irrigation, fertilisers, high-yield crops and animal species, etc. Nor have I outlined the subtle variants of other industrialised systems. What is crucial here is to understand that their service value derives from the intrinsic value of food for our continued existence.
Therefore, it would be reasonable to regard a food system as a chain of sub-systems, whose value as a service to us is dependent on the value of food as the means of satisfying one of our fundamental needs, viz., and nutrition. It follows from this that value of a food system as a whole arises from its role as a tool that enables us to satisfy that need.
After this preamble, we can now look at the question, “does the framework as presented in the discussion paper help you identify barriers and opportunities for nutrition-sensitive value chain development?”
As I have outlined, the value of the system chain that makes up a food system derives from the intrinsic value of the food it is able to supply, and the assistance its components provide us in procuring food. Apart from the yielder system, others can only have a service value only to the extent to which they facilitate the availability of wholesome and affordable food in a sustainable manner.
Naturally, these conditions also apply to yielder systems, but they have an immense value by being the source of food itself. Therefore, it is reasonable to suggest that the justifiable value of a food system as a whole derives from how adequately it enables the people to satisfy their need of nutrition by making available to them affordable and wholesome food in a sustainable manner.
Thus, I think it would serve our purpose better if we can begin to think and talk about a nutrition value chain that constitutes a food system, rather than a bland value chain which is merely concerned with the service values of each component. This latter has no bearing on nutrition per se; it is concerned with commercial gain.
This conception of a nutrition value chain offers us several advantages, not the least of which is enabling us to get our value priorities agree with the real world, i.e., valuing food and help to have it at hand because they are essential to our lives. So, the real value of a food system is indicated by how adequately it enables its users to meet their need of nutrition in a sustainable way. This depends on its capacity to sustainably supply them wholesome, varied and affordable food.
Judging by FAO’s figures, a considerable number of food systems in several parts of the world do not seem to have an adequate value with respect to the notion of value presented here. Please note that it offers a ‘seamless’ explanation of phenomena associated with diet in value terms as outlined below:
I. Value loss due to lack of sustainability due to insecurity, natural disasters, lack of man-power, etc.: Results: starvation to malnutrition. Indicators: Low availability, diversity, wholesomeness and excessively high food prices.
II. Value loss due to lack of diversity (yielder system): Results: Obesity and/or deficiency diseases and stunted development: Indicators: prevalence of a cheap same diet and/or industrial food, and high cost of a wholesome, varied diet.
After this brief example, we can easily see the value consequences of the availability of cheap unwholesome food as obesity and malnutrition, and it is indicated by a plentiful supply of cheap industrial food. The crucial point here is that it allows us to easily explain that availability and affordability in themselves do not impart a value to a food system unless it involves wholesome food. Our present model can easily account for this while the traditional VC fails to capture such important nuances.
I shall not labour this point by showing how easily the present model can account for any other combination of sustainability, dietary diversity, wholesomeness, affordability and availability in terms of the real value of a food chain. Leaving that to the interested reader, I shall move on to the next question, “what challenges and opportunities arise when developing VC to be more nutrition-sensitive?”
I have already answered the second part of the above question; and to recap, it posits in a food system chain a justifiable value as a tool essential for us to satisfy our need of nutrition. Further, it enables us to identify its drop in value in terms of its inadequacy in its sustainability, diversity or wholesomeness of its output, affordability or availability of its products. This enables us to accurately locate its inadequacies with a view to remedying them.
Challenges we face in bringing about a conceptual change are legion. Our greatest adversary is how we have been taught to enhance human nutrition. While one group of doctors and professional nutritionists worked on how to treat and prevent deficiency diseases and various manifestations of malnutrition, they were little concerned with ascertaining whether the diets they rightly recommended were actually available easily, or affordable to those who needed them most.
Meanwhile, those who devoted themselves to increasing the food production were chiefly concerned with how to increase it quantitatively as quickly as possible. In developing countries, this led to an initial increase in the production of staple cereals, which was financially or environmentally not sustainable. Perhaps, the greatest obstacle to our progress was the priority given to industrial development at the expense of food production.
This unfortunate development inculcated in authorities and public mind that what mattered was economic growth that is measurable in monetary terms. Natural consequence of this misconception was the attempt to measure the success of food production, health care, etc., in financial terms, hence, ‘value chains’. Of course, it follows from that the intermediate systems that bridge the gap between the food producer and the end-user that are run for profit would receive an undue priority in excess of the service value they may possess.
Moreover, their industrialisation has given them financial power, hence influence in a variety of key places. Added to this the inertia traditional approaches exerts on our minds makes it difficult for us to break out of a fragmented and an unjustifiable way of looking at an issue that is vital for every living thing, viz., how to satisfy our need of nutrition.
On the other hand, if we insist on achieving SDG-2 through the traditional reductive methods, it is easy to foresee the consequences. As for “what would you consider as the main barriers to and enabling factors for scaling up through replication, adaptation, and expansion of these models of interventions?” the answer is even easier.
Keeping firmly in mind that vast majority of us procure food by purchasing it, emphasis the traditional models place on a putative value (and not a fair service value) of each sub-system making up a food system, can hardly contribute to the affordability of food. This may be seen as a justifiable obstacle to implementing a model that does not seem to be able to serve its purpose.
At the same time, this traditional notion of ‘value chains’ justifies transport, storage, processing and selling of food that will enhance their ‘value’ to those who operate them. With the able help of advertising, the ‘value’ of those sub-systems to their operators can be greatly enhanced by increasing the ‘sales volume’ of cheap food items. They can be made cheap by decreasing their diversity, wholesomeness and freshness, which in turn entails the use of fewer cultivars and animal breeds, i.e., reduction of bio-diversity in agriculture. Its implications for our environment, nutrition, public health, and sustainability are too obvious to mention.
So, at one extreme it may be able to make a varied and a wholesome food supply sustainably available, but its affordability would remain elusive. At the other, it may make a cheap food supply available, but the means it requires to ensure its ‘value’ to its operators and its affordability to end-users, rules out the diversity, wholesomeness and freshness from the food it offers, promotes reduction of bio-diversity from agriculture and environmental damage, not to mention its effects on human nutrition and health.
Of course, one may say, surely a compromise is possible. Yes indeed! That is what is happening right now! Some of us can still procure a wholesome and a varied diet, but it is not either available or affordable to most others. Meanwhile, availability of cheap industrial food is spreading apace into developing countries and taking its toll there. So, are we to support that compromise?
My response to the question, “what would be needed to render the framework more operational?”, will of necessity deviate from what is expected, because I sincerely believe that the traditional approaches to significantly enhance global nutrition are only capable of yielding some local success in areas where the problem is either very serious, or commercialisation of our daily activities is not advanced. But, as every development policy seem to advocate industrialisation and free trade as the panacea to all social ills, the traditional approaches to food security and nutrition will soon follow suit, and the dietary ills of affluent countries will become a global issue.
Therefore, I very much hope that an individual and environment centred holistic approach as suggested here, will soon become wide-spread. After all, it is an individual man, woman or child that starves, gets malnourished and stunted, or goes hungry most of the time. Unless our environment thrives, none of us can survive long without loosing forever many of the things that make life worth living.
So, I will briefly outline some of the things necessary to make a holistic approach to resolve our problem optimally operational. Let me begin with the policies needed for the purpose. Some might object quite rightly, what has that to do with the projects we have successfully carried out in various rural areas with no government help?
True, this makes policies sound like some useless luxuries, and there is some truth in it. However, if we remember that a central or a local government can put a lot of obstacles in the way of any project, we can better understand the importance of their policy not to do so. A local government may cover a large region, or it may turn out to be a village council.
Thus, policy is not the monopoly of a central government, or indeed that of a large authority. A village council may decide on a local policy, but its success depends on the higher authorities not interfering with it, or more preferably, supporting it by providing some of the resources necessary for its successful implementation. Here, it is clear that a central government policy to provide such support would be highly desirable.
We have been talking about policies concerned with the same area, viz., and food production. Depending on the number of levels of authority a policy has above it, its operational success depends on the policies on the same area pursued by those higher levels not obstructing it, or optimally, supporting it. But, a policy is surrounded by a large set of policies concerned with various areas, which makes the harmony among them is essential for their success. For a more complete description of this, please see, http://www.fao.org/fsnforum/comment/7788
Implementation of a policy generally involves two logically distinct steps. First, it is necessary to device a suitable strategy for the purpose. Even in a small country, one may have to use more than a single strategy to achieve a common objective. For instance, a small coastal land with a large infertile coastal plain and comparatively little arable land might decide on the following strategies to increase its food production:
I. Expansion and improvement of marine fisheries.
II. Establish coastal aquaculture.
III. Promotion and support of agriculture with fair and environmentally sustainable means that will be clearly described.
It will be seen that III above will consists of several sub-strategies with respect to people, places and the resources needed. In general, strategies are decided by people who need to possess an adequate degree of strategic competence whose exercise depends on their having access to reliable general data on itemised national food needs, agricultural potential of various areas, weather patterns, geography, available resources, etc.
Now we come to the operational level. It is here that things happen in the real world, or food is actually produced. Let us assume a full strategy on coastal aquaculture is in place. If so, it might allocate resources for projects say, to grow prawns in shelters in coastal waters. Now, the success of this operation depends on:
I. Adequacy of the allocated resources to achieve the target objective. A strategy often used to extend those resources is to allow several ‘stakeholders’ to participate in an operation. However, utmost care and circumspection should be exercised in choosing them in order to ensure fair play and the availability of food to the people.
II. Adequacy of the technical competence of the people involved and their number.
III. Choice of the appropriate species.
IV. Adequacy of the relevant infra-structure.
V. A co-operative mode of buying and selling the produce, for it is labour-intensive, thus making it possible for more people to afford other items of food they need.
The list above is by no means exhaustive, and it is only intended to indicate the line of analysis and synthesis one has to pursue to achieve a part of our goal while keeping our overall objective always in view; making sustainably available to the greatest possible number of people diverse and wholesome food at an affordable price, and this requires that we must also do all we can to enable them earn enough to afford the food we try to make available to them.
With best wishes,
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.
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:
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:
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:
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.
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:
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:
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.
Just to note two strategies needed to implement the policy segment 7 above:
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
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?
What Makes Resilience Worthwhile and How to Enhance it
Going back to my previous note, resilience would be worthless to us unless it serves some purpose that is important to us. Topology of the visible side of the moon changes everyday because it is bombarded by thousands of meteorites of varying sizes. So, lunar topology is not resilient, but we are not concerned because it does not matter.
But when we talk of the resilience of something, it does not make sense to examine a discreet inanimate object for this quality. For example, it is difficult to see what somebody means if a person begins to talk about the resilience of one’s family jewels. But I am sure everybody would agree that it makes sense to talk about the resilience of a system that is useful to us, for instance, a food system.
Here we face the very serious danger of perverting a concept unless we are extremely careful in what we see as a system. In theory and practice, any single living thing can be seen as a ‘living system’, but if this is extended to embrace a group of individuals, most terrible results can ensue. Please recall that every dreadful dictatorship of the past wittingly or unwittingly saw their populations as systems that should be made resilient enough to tolerate every criticism or threat from inside and outside by using demagogic propaganda, so that the leadership may benefit from people’s resilience while it cost them their freedom and priceless cultural heritage.
I think this caution applies with equal force to things like food systems that are a collection of people, animals, plants and physical objects like various machines, because before we try to find out how we may make a system resilient, it is crucial to ascertain the overall desirability of it. For instance, intensive mono-culture may seem desirable from the reductive view point that everything that increases global food production is good. But weighed against its environmental consequences, its own vulnerability, cost, and failure to significantly promote rural unemployment, etc., it is clear that it is undesirable to promote its resilience.
I think this preamble is necessary as a frame of reference to any discussion of resilience, because unless it is firmly anchored in one of our justifiable needs, eg. nutrition, a discussion on how one may enhance the resilience of a system would prove quite unmanageable. Consider now, made in general terms, this discussion could justifiably include how the head quarter’s staff can make XVIth Army Corp resilient enough to withstand persistent enemy attacks on a broad front at Z.
This military illustration brings out another point, i.e., we need to have a clear idea of the likely threats to the resilience of our system before we can reasonably begin to think about how to deal with them to enhance the system’s resilience. True, it is not always possible to know in advance all emerging threats to a system’s resilience, nevertheless apart from appropriate use and deployment of its non-living elements, strengthening the innate robustness and flexibility of the living elements of a system seems to be the best choice open to us to enhance a system’s resilience.
I know this may seem too general. But as I said before, we need to know clearly what system we wish to make resilient, what are the qualitative and quantitative aspects of its output, will the present quality and quantity of its output remain sufficient for the foreseeable future, does the system and its present output needs changes in them, etc. Once we know the answers to these questions, we can then begin to anticipate threats to its adequate operation, and then undertake steps to ensure its resilience.
The question, whether there is a minimum time frame in which an individual, community or system should remain resilient to qualify as "resilient" has some interesting aspects. Let me mention at the outset that I shall steer well clear of the Metaphysics of the attribute.
I think it would be a fair question to ask, why bother about the resilience of a person, a group or a system? Unless we can give a satisfactory answer to this query, resilience would be a matter of indifference to us. It would be reasonable to suggest that resilience is desirable because it serves our interests in some way, hence it has a value.
This is a crucial point. Two self-evident inferences follow from it, viz., resilience of something X may be valuable to an individual or to a group of people, and secondly, duration of its value depends on how long an individual or a group would regard the purpose X serves as valuable.
For example, bio-diversity in agriculture makes it more resilient to stresses to which it may be subjected. But the adaptation of mono-culture and factory farms has deprecated the value of the former even though the latter is more vulnerable to such stresses. So, we do not seem to value resilience if a less resilient system enables us to gain a greater financial profit.
For reasons which are not always rational, our dietary tastes and the global food requirements have varied throughout history. These changes the degree of resilience ecosystem services should possess to enable us to meet our dietary needs. Thus, it is difficult to see how one could envisage a notion of resilience independent of people’s desires which change, hence, resilience unchanged by time.
I shall not muddy the water by any reference to a certain theory. However, it is fairly easy to ascertain the adverse effects of incidents that affect large number of people or systems than those of repeated, discreet minor events that affects few individuals or a part of a system.
But, if we remember that a network of causal links may spread from an individual or a part of a system and that repetition of minor adverse events would repeatedly affect those links, it is easy to see that their collective effect could be serious loss of resilience.
However, this does not change the major determinants of resilience, for dealing with external threats to resilience assumes that resilience of X is worthwhile, therefore we need to take steps to preserve or enhance it. So, I suggest we regard resilience with reference to our values, and strive to make them reasonable.
Beginning with “How could this draft work programme be improved to promote collective action to achieve the transformational change called for by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the ICN2 outcomes?” and taking up the question, “What is missing?”, the draft seems to lack logical cohesions one would like in the sequence; what are our aims, and then how do we propose to achieve them. There is a mixing of these two, i.e., ends and means that might lead to confusion and inefficiency.
When I refer to organisations, I only mean the people who man them, and not in the sense of ‘legal entities’.
I shall quote from the First Draft to build a frame of reference that embodies the logical hierarchy of sequential actions that must be undertaken with sufficient skill to achieve at least some of the objectives the document describes. My point of departure is the super-ordinate goal of the ‘Decade’, viz., “to end all forms of malnutrition and leaving no one behind.” Envisioning “a world where all people at all times and at all stages of life have access to affordable, diversified, safe and healthy diets.”
I think we all agree that the above objective subsumes malnutrition in all its manifestations, including the excessive intake of some nutrients leading to obesity and the associated diseases caused by non-infectious agents. At this point, it would be wise for us to leave the medical aspects of malnutrition to health professionals, and concentrate more on how we may initiate and execute a coordinated joint action with them against ill-effects of malnutrition.
Of course, our super-ordinate aim subsumes a variety of goals which the First Draft describes in terms of percentage reductions. These specific instances and some others would have been better placed at the top as the general nutritional objective, followed by its more specific manifestations. I shall not labour this point, and will proceed to the next stage.
Obviously, we are here concerned with how may we best achieve our objective. Once we have clearly identified the goals our overall objective would justifiably subsume, we can move onto deciding the best available means of achieving them and their areas of impact. I think it is at this point the current draft displays its weakness, because it does not distinguish clearly between ends to be gained, and then go onto determine how and where to act.
This is tricky indeed. Personally, I think it would be wise to outline where to act first, because the authority needed and the type and extent of competence required to carry out a given action varies with how a goal instantiates itself at different socio-political levels. However, we can resolve this difficulty by displaying how each level of authority or interest grouping may contribute to achieving our objectives as follows:
Top level- global authorities:
Eg. Un, FAO, WTO, etc.
Here may one list how these institutions may contribute in diverse ways within their range of action. For instance, WTO could refrain from imposing trade regulations that require countries to permit import, manufacture and sale of unhealthy food and beverages while promoting that of their opposite.
International interest groups:
Multinational food companies.
There is an inherent conflict of interests between these two groups. The dilemma is that compromises between them could only slow down the current increase in both forms of malnutrition, but not their long-term resolution. One may be averse to look the stark reality in face, but, it does not change the big picture.
For the sake of completeness, it must be noted that NGO’s may not agree on either the kinds of goals or on the order of their importance with respect to what we are trying to achieve here. In short, what we most require at this level is a general agreement on the goal to be pursued, and then a set of policies in the relevant areas like agriculture, employment, trade, education, health, etc., which are in harmony with respect to our goal.
The regional level:
Action it is appropriate for the regional authorities to undertake will have a greater specificity with reference to our objectives, and will take into account the region-specific considerations. Obviously, the relevant regional policies should be harmonious with respect to the regional variation of our overall goal.
Reconciling the conflicting aims of NGO’s and trade interests at regional level is not categorically different from those mentioned above.
Depending on the degree of political devolution, national, regional and local government authorities will be able to make contributions of increasing specificity with reference to the local food culture.
Provided that the NGO’s or any other volunteer groups agree on goals and their priorities, they could make a very significant contribution here.
Once again, when we deal with commercial interests, we encounter the same difficulties at a more specific level. For instance, it may involve attempts to replace/deprecate the local food culture by ‘high powered’ promotion of food and drink of questionable nutritional value.
Next, we have the specific public institutions like the ministries, educational institutions, the relevant research units, agricultural extension services, etc., whose contribution depends on skilful implementation of sound policies in harmony with what we intend to achieve.
Now we come to the final and the crucial target groups, viz., actual producers of food, independent retailers, small catering establishments (cafes and restaurants) and most of all, the people who are the end-users, i.e., all of us.
The draft ought to make this gradation among who should undertake the actions necessary to achieve our objective, for generally speaking, a farmer may not be the best person to formulate national agricultural policy, nor yet a minister of agriculture competent to cultivate that farmer’s fields. So, we need to assign each required action to those most competent to carry them out. It will be seen they follow the rule, higher the authority greater the generality of action which requires having a sound overall view of the problem, while at the operational terminus, one needs greater /agricultural technical competence.
The draft describes some of the ‘how’s’, but not very clear about to whom they are assigned. Obviously, it would be helpful if it lists the ‘how’s’ assigned to the international, regional and national (local) institutions respectively.
What I have in mind is something like the suggestion below:
FAO/International organisations shall …
“Support all countries’ efforts to address all forms and causes of malnutrition;”
“Stimulate the effective translation of the ICN2 commitments and the 2030 Agenda for SDG-2into concrete, nationally-determined policies and programmes;”
“Promote harmony within and among the relevant policies at international, regional and national levels to combat all forms of malnutrition, including through improved monitoring and reporting of relevant policy impact at global, regional and national levels;” (I have re-ordered the logical priorities, and believe this ‘how’ on policy should lead the list)
I should add to this list---
To promote fair trade in victuals at international, regional and national levels;
To ensure highest priority given to the availability of financial and other appropriate resources required for food production;
I think it will be agreed that the above non-exhaustive list describes the assignment of ‘how’’s at the highest level of authority at the three levels we have discussed. Before proceeding to how our objective may be attained at national level, it is necessary to consider the question of partnerships, which let me repeat is one of the ‘how’s’. We may use to achieve our aim.
Leaving out its link to our goal:
“…. through Catalysing and facilitating alignment of on-going efforts of multiple actors from all sectors, including new and emerging actors, to foster a global movement to achieve the above objective.”
First, we run into the problem of sovereignty and constitutional restraints. Other things being equal, international, regional and national policies are to be laid down by the ‘elected’ representatives of the people. Even if their disinterestedness could be guaranteed, to what extent non-governmental bodies may be allowed to influence this policy-making process is subject to legal and constitutional restraints.
Secondly, one has to determine at what level such partnerships could make a worthwhile contribution. Subject to the provisions outlined below, some partnerships may help us at intermediate level of operations and down. This corresponds to what happens after the general strategies have been carried out to implement the required policies. I have expanded on this point here: http://www.fao.org/fsnforum/cfs-hlpe/node/1272
Question: What are your general comments to help strengthen the presented elements of the first draft work programme of the UN Decade of Action on Nutrition?
As I have outlined above, the draft will benefit from describing a categorical hierarchy of goals, i.e. main aim followed by its increasingly specific manifestations.
Then, it ought to consider who should do what to achieve our aim. This ‘who’ consists of several levels of authority, technical competence, and sources of financial and material resources needed for the task. I have already commented on their assignment with reference to what action those who occupy each level of responsibility may justifiably undertake.
Does the work programme present a compelling vision for enabling strategic interaction and mutual support across existing initiatives, platforms, forums and programmes, given the stipulation of Res 70/259 that the Decade should be organized with existing institutions and available resources?
Should it embody the modifications suggested here, I think it would be considerably enhanced. However, I am not very sanguine about the proviso, “”existing institutions and available resources,” for many of the existing institutions will have to be altered, and the available resources considerably increased if we are to achieve our objective.
Do you feel you can contribute to the success of the Nutrition Decade or align yourself with the proposed range of action areas?
I’d be happy to offer my analytic and synthetic skills to improve the shape and consistency of the programme, or in any other way they may prove useful to object of the “Decade”.
Do you have specific comments on the section on accountability and shared learning?
Material for shared learning could be an invaluable asset provided that it is relevant for an area under conditions existing there. These include the local food culture, unemployment rate, infra-structure, educational opportunities, etc.
As an example of untenable shared learning material, it is difficult to see what scientific justification could be presented in support of global numerical recommendations on nutrients, height, weight, bio-mass etc.
The reason for this is obvious; we need nutrients for various anabolic and catabolic processes, and their requirements vary with reference to age, sex, type of work, during pregnancy and nursing, illnesses, climatic conditions, etc. Hence, they cannot be standardised upon any scientific basis. Moreover, there is reason to believe that what constitutes our dietary needs have a certain racial component, which can be associated with the climatic conditions and the food available under them. Very high protein and fat content of the diet on which peoples of the Arctic Circle subsist and their physical features illustrate this. A similar bias towards protein-rich diet with considerable fat content is observable among nomadic peoples.
With best wishes!
The problem we face is not the difficulties we have to overcome if we are going to use information technology as just a tool in agriculture, but the consequences of doing so unless we adapt a holistic approach. The reason for this is quite obvious. Agriculture is an important part of a larger system, and it would be imprudent to improve just a part of a system, hoping that the rest would take care of itself. Therefore, I have made a change in the title of my comments, which however embodies the questions posed in first call for contributions.
Just to emphasise my point, I think we all agree that agriculture is the sub-system at the very top of a food system. But, a food system is a tool devised by man in order to satisfy his nutritional needs. Unless one could do this, the question of other needs becomes academic. Further, its use enables one to produce enough food reserves to provide one certain degree of food security. Hence, justifiable use of appropriate food systems is the key to adequate global nutrition and food security.
Moreover, hunger and certain types of malnutrition are definite indicators of poverty, and according to the FAO, around 2 billion people are believed to be so affected. So, I think what we need to carefully ascertain here, is how we may use information technology through out food systems with a view to improve global nutrition and enhance food security. Otherwise, our efforts will not be categorically different from making plans to improve transport by trying to get an air bus to use a landing strip meant for a DC-3, the famous Dakota.
Thus, it is possible to identify some principles of usage, before we proceed.
Through the past centuries, we have embraced diverse technologies in the name of a nebulous notion, progress, which very successfully hid the real reason for our using technology, viz., making unlimited gain. And now, even the champions of technology are willing to do something about the environmental disasters resulting from the uncritical and inappropriate use of technology in the past. Certainly, information technology cannot harm our environment directly, but it can indeed harm our cognitive abilities making us prone to mind manipulation and loss of critical faculty. Therefore, let us not just remember the past errors, but not make them with this new tool, because the consequences of its misuse could be horrific.
My purpose here is to outline a framework of action to increase the production and consumption of pulses. It leaves lacunae, into which one can fit specific actions suitable with respect to an area’s geography, climate and the food culture as well as the other area specific requirements. The high dietary value of pulses and its role in several food cultures are too well-known to be described.
Let me first look at some policy measures that could facilitate the achievement of our two-fold objective. I envisage here a raft of policies acting in harmony towards the same goal. But, before we undertake any suitable policy formulation and implementation, it is crucial to device an appropriate strategy to ensure that there will be little or no intra- or inter-policy disharmony among them.
Without this, our failure is certain, even if everything else needed for success is there. I believe we need to invite the ministers and their departmental heads of a country to agree at least not to make policies that will hinder us from achieving our objective, viz., increased production and consumption of pulses. Once we can be certain of this, and the information required for ascertaining the land area available to cultivation of pulses, species best suited for local conditions and food culture, and human and other material resources needed, one may consider the following policy options:
Of course, this list is not exhaustive, but I think it provides a very clear holistic approach to our problem, which is flexible enough to accommodate actual conditions of a country or a region. What is important is not the comprehensiveness the policies considered, but selecting the most important ones and to strive for harmony within and among them.
Once we have come this far, we will have to design a suitable strategy to implement our policy. To facilitate the ease of its implementation, let us do it in two logically linked steps.
The first step:
Here, we will ascertain the following:
Once again, the above list is not exhaustive. One may add the strategic considerations pertinent to one’s area into it, or remove what is superfluous from it.
Once this step is undertaken, we can move on to the next stage of policy implementation, viz., doing it on the field. Here, not all the people needed to carry out the 8 steps above are required to participate in the actual growing of the crops. Their purpose is to publicize the benefits available to pulse growers, provide the relevant technical support, and serve as a source of seed, agricultural information, equipment, finances, etc.
Perhaps, it might repay enrolling farmers willing to expand their cultivation of pulses, wish to go over to their cultivation and youth who want to do so into suitable on-the-job training courses where they may be paid a modest allowance and taught exactly how to do it.
On successful completion of such training, the landless trainees may be granted a secure tenure on an adequate plot of land so that they might start as pulse growers. However, this requires careful supervision and a long follow-up with a built-in social security.
Although this is somewhat less structured than one might wish, I hope it would be of some use.
Maximizing the Impact of the UN Decade of Action on Nutrition
Before we proceed, I would like to ascertain what precise result of “UN Decade of Action on Nutrition” we intend to maximise. There would be a general agreement on undertaking suitable action to achieve this result, if it represents a significant increase in the number of people to whom a sustainable and adequate supply of wholesome food is made available at an equitable cost. This submission outlines a generic strategy for the purpose easily adapted to suit the local conditions.
If we intend “not to leave anyone behind”, it is necessary to change the modern food systems not only into a source of sustainable and an adequate supply of wholesome food available to everybody, but also making their use just and fair to all. This is not identical with increased agricultural production, but requires a holistic examination of what changes in and around the food systems are necessary.
Every social practice is governed by a set of norms. Some norms are common to several practices including the use of food systems. A food system is an array of tools designed and used by the people in order to satisfy their nutritional needs. Its use represents a social practice in use, even when a rare subsistence farmer may operate it from beginning to the end for his sole benefit.
However, before we take a look at the food systems, it is important to consider their operating ambience, i.e., the other practices in the society, for they may influence its structure and operation both directly and indirectly. Some of the most import among those are the political, legal, educational, trade, communications and transport practices of a country.
Politics determine the policies that govern these and the other practices like agriculture that are involved in constituting a food system. When it is possible to implement those policies with sufficient skill, their success depends on their appropriateness and adequacy. These depend on the competence of their formulators.
Their incompetence would result in policies that would result in inadequacies in a food system. However, inappropriate and inadequate policy formulation is not necessarily a consequence of frank incompetence, but it may also be due to a too rigid adherence to the notion of institutional autonomy, which manifests itself as ‘thinking in silos’. Sometimes, one’s desire to wield an unlimited power within an institutional domain may lead to the same undesirable result.
But, inappropriate and/or inadequate policies may also arise from incompetence due to corruption, nepotism, rigged elections, gaining and/retaining power by force, belief in some untenable political doctrine, etc. Unfortunately, there is little one could deal with this not uncommon problem at international level apart from mild verbal criticism or printed and signed resolutions of dubious effectiveness.
When it is possible to enhance the requisite competence, policy formulation should strive towards the greatest possible policy congruence in the areas relevant to achieving the optimal output from the food systems in use. The following non-exhaustive list may provide some pointers towards areas for further enquiry:
Assuming that those policies are appropriate and adequate, their contribution to the success of a food system depends on how skilfully they are implemented. It is axiomatic that any tool may fail to serve its purpose for two main reasons, viz., problems related to its usage or to the defects in the tool itself. These may be called usage and structural problems respectively.
Assuming that a food system is structurally adequate, its optimal usage requires an adequate number of people to run it, which in turn depends on having access to a sufficient pool of its potential operators to renew its aging counterparts. Diminution of this pool is becoming a growing problem in many countries today as fewer and fewer young people take to agricultural pursuits.
Meanwhile, a food system may be ineptly used, or misused as any other tool and there is no a priori reason to assume that food systems are an exception. Therefore, maximising the impact of the “decade” will have to involve steps to ensure that the people’s access to food is not adversely affected either by those problems related to usages of food systems, or from the defects in them.
Once we have traced those possible inadequacies and rectified them, we should then ascertain whether we need to take steps to change the output of the food systems in use today. If this should be required, we should next ascertain the extent of the qualitative and the quantitative changes in the output of the food systems concerned. Finally, we can identify the optimal means of achieving our objective, and use them.
Achieving this requires understanding the generic structure of a food system. We can visualise it as a chain of generically identical sub-systems spanning the gap between a real producer of food and an end-user of his produce. Some of the sub-systems are used within the others, for example, storage and transport systems. This represents a recursive use of a system. Here is a list of some generic components of a food system (For more information, please see the end note.):
V. Advertising system whose existence is supposed to be justified because it informs the public about the food items available for sale.
I have purposely avoided until now agricultural research and technology which has become an increasingly important adjunct to the yielder systems in use. Their basic purpose is twofold, viz., to understand how to improve the output of yielder systems with reference to some man-made standard, and then to develop technical means of achieving it.
Apart from steps to increase the physical mass, colour, etc., of the yield itself, this activity manifests itself as a supplement to the natural ecosystem services, on which agriculture historically had depended. Irrigation, use of fertilisers, biocides, etc., are examples of this. This adjunctive system is likewise prone to the shortcomings described earlier.
Obviously, the inept use of a yielder system would manifest itself as a lowered output, but it is not necessarily due to not using the most modern cultivars or breeds of livestock. In fact, their supplanting the traditional varieties could entail a price the farmers could not afford, may be unsuited owing to the local conditions, or users may not be skilled enough to manage them.
Introduction of high-yield cereals that depend on an extensive use of fertilisers and biocides during the “Green Revolution” of the 1960’ties is a classic example of this. It represents use of inappropriate materials and methods in agriculture. It represents an inept use of an adjunctive system.
Even when the physical components of a yielder system are adequate and suitable for a given locality, its users, i.e., farmers and labourers may fail to put them into their optimal use owing to their lack of knowledge and skill. This is not synonymous with their lack of familiarity with the most modern means of agriculture, but rather their lack of know-how and skills in tried and proven one’s compatible with their own food culture. Its resolution requires appropriate agriculture education and training.
Inept use of any other sub-system would result in waste of food. It is worth remarking that ‘targeted advertising’ of industrial food has reduced the sales of fresh fruits and vegetables leading to their wastage due to spoilage in shops. It is heartening to note that wastage of food has now begun to receive the attention it merits.
Unskilled use of adequate storage facilities, Inefficient running of otherwise ample transport and adjunctive systems as well as the commercialised sets of sub-systems of a food system (wastage of food in restaurants, ready to use packaging, and in industrial food factories) and the domestic wastage of food, all contribute to this undesirable result.
Now we come to the misuse of some component of a food system. This may appear to be a controversial postulate at the first glance, but it is not. We invented food systems, and the sole justification of its invention is that its use is believed to enable the people to secure an adequate and balanced diet in a sustainable fashion at an affordable cost.
Nutrition is one of our most important fundamental needs, while money is only a secondary tool whose justification in this instance, is in that it enables us to use the food procurement system, replacing the barter system of yore. So, the use of yielder system to grow cash crops or to use seller system to earn foreign exchange by selling a national dietary ingredient likes pea nuts (eg. Senegal and Cameroons) while malnutrition is a problem, represents a misuse of a part of a food system.
A familiar insidious misuse of a seller system involves dumping surplus produce in another country’s food market, and thereby undermining the long-term well-being of its own yielder system. Another misuse of the seller system is its encroachment into foreign food markets to sell products of dubious nutritive or gastronomical value claiming it to represent free trade.
Now we come to the situation where all the operators possess adequate know-how and skill while the food system fails to yield the intended result. Obviously, this arises from some structural problem in it. As a food system is under the dual control of political authorities and private sector to varying degrees, and it consists of several sub-systems, there are several opportunities for structural problems.
Consider now, political authorities opting to implement a policy of promoting modern agricultural practice, but not able or willing to implement a commensurable policies in communications and energy. As a result, yields will be adversely affected. This is an often seen example of policy incongruence due to reductive planning.
Using the same example, the authorities may promote the same agriculture policy when it is totally unsuitable to the local climatic, geographic and economic conditions. This will have the same consequences as those which arise when the operators lack the requisite know-how and skill. It represents a case of inappropriate policy.
The same result would obtain if policies concerning the other components of a food system should display the same flaw. Huge grain losses due to inadequate transport and storage systems in the Soviet Union are the classic example of policy inappropriateness.
Meanwhile, transport system is frequently in private hands motivated by the desire for profit. Even when the communications are adequate, means of transport may not always have sufficient capacity or speed. Its effect on the final output of a food system is clear, and represents a drop in the output due to sub-system incompatibility. The end-user will experience the same result if it should occur in any other sub-system of a food system.
Holistic and congruent policy formulation and their efficient implementation, addressing the problems related to inept use of food systems and their misuse, and overcoming the political obstacles to leave advising on decision-making in competent hands, and a willingness to confine oneself to decisions that leaves no one behind rather than opt for ‘cutting edge’ in agriculture and other areas then, are the most significant ways of making our food systems help us to move towards our objective.
I do not believe that we need more research or any other fancy technology to feed the current global population adequately, rather we need to take a pause for breath and rational evaluation of the tools already at our dispose I am convinced at some of the ‘cutting edge’ tools can be discarded with real benefit to the hungry millions and our environment.
On the other hand, what we need to do is to rearrange our food systems in line with our national needs with respect to a given food culture, and cease to think of food in terms of mere commodity open to every kind of commercial speculation. We should always recall that none can live without food, and money is merely just one of the tools that could be used to procure it. It is the inherent value of food that gives a value to the tokens that represent
Everybody knows the size and profits of food advertising including colourful packaging. But now is the time to understand that it is the end-user who foots that expenditure when buying food. It is time to think its effect on the affordability of food especially to people
Finally, enhancing the competence to build and run just and fair food systems need a pool of competent young people to replace aging agricultural population everywhere. However, youth’s attitude to agriculture is undeservedly negative owing to irrational social values propagated by entertainment industry, ‘media’, education, etc. I think we need a radical change in the social perception of the value of agriculture and food, for without a wider public appreciation of its vital importance not much can be achieved.
For a more comprehensive and a justifiable description of a food system, do please see: http://www.fao.org/fsnforum/cfs-hlpe/node/992
On Preservation and Increasing the Populations of Pollinators
The discussion note on the subject provides an excellent, inclusive framework on which we may formulate a holistic strategy to preserve the bio-diversity among the pollinators, and to increase their populations.
Even though the composition of plant-pollinator networks may show a considerable variation even within a comparatively small area, the interrelationship among plants and pollinators in different networks seems to be remarkably similar.
This is fortunate, because it would enable us to develop a common generic strategy, which may be easily fleshed out to suit the local implementation. I will first take up what might cause the problem, and then will go on to consider how it may be resolved, provided that the requisite political will obtains.
Other things being equal, the decline in pollinator populations arises from any one or more of the following causes:
1. A critical reduction of either the food supply of the adult species, or its larval state for such a period of time, as a consequence of which it may be difficult to restore the previous population of a pollinator found in an area.
2. Introduction of toxic substances or food items into a pollinator’s habitat.
3. Increasing the exposure of a pollinator to its natural predators and/or pathogens.
4. Adverse climatic changes that may cause death.
Now, let us look at the human activities that seems to have brought about the four causes of population decline among pollinators. Critical food shortage may be directly or indirectly due to environmental degradation that reduces the number of types of plant species and/or their populations beyond the critical level necessary for the pollinators in the local plant-pollinator network to be sustained. First of these is a qualitative decline while the other is quantitative.
These two changes may be brought about by any one or more of the activities listed below:
I. Land clearance representing removal of natural vegetation from an area by mechanical means including the drainage of marshlands and water meadows for agriculture, building sites, roads and highways, and uncontrolled exploitation of forests etc., in a manner that makes it impossible for the local flora to re-establish itself.
II. Environmental pollution that brings about the same results as I above due to the use of certain agro-chemicals, and irresponsible discharge of toxic substances into the ground, streams or air by industrial installations.
III. Introduction of either too few types of food crops, or non-indigenous species that may seriously disrupt the inter-relationship among the members of the local plant-pollinator network. Please note that this may be caused by pollinators’ inability to recognise their flowers as a source of food due to their unfamiliarity.
IV. Adverse local climatic change due to denudation of plant cover, which renders it difficult for the local flora to re-establish itself.
As for the introduction of substances toxic to the pollinators, in addition to 1-II above, some plant species are known to produce nectar toxic to some pollinators (eg. some species of Linden to bees). Their introduction as foreign cultivars would be obviously detrimental to the local pollinators. Even more serious, since as early as 1999, pollen of a genetically modified variety of maize in the US has been known to be toxic to some pollinators.
While land clearance may promote the proliferation of pollinator pathogens because it may eliminate those species that helps to keep those pathogen populations under natural control, the changes in local climate that accompanies it may prove favourable to the proliferation of some pathogens, especially unseasonable spells of wet or humid weather.
Moreover, land clearance deprives pollinators of their protective plant cover, thereby making them more vulnerable to their natural predators, especially to the insectivorous birds.
I shall not suggest here how to resolve the deleterious effects of global warming on the pollinators. The former is an indirect result of the horrendous harm we have done to our environment by removing the indigenous plant cover from vast areas for things listed above, and our hardly rational emission of various greenhouse gases. Its resolution calls for a concerted world-wide effort outside our present brief.
The question then, is undertaking what generic strategic steps may enable us to halt, and reverse the current decline in pollinator populations as rapidly as possible. Let us begin at the highest level and proceed down to earth, where real action is to take place.
I. The recurrent necessity here as well as elsewhere, is to ensure that all policies formulated by an authority at any level are congruent with reference to each individual goal they are intended to serve. For instance, a ‘free trade’ policy to ‘improve’ the economy that permits the import/manufacture and sale of none-selective biocides is not congruent with either a policy to protect pollinators or one on improving bio-diversity. In some cases, much may be done to protect pollinators by striving to achieve this objective.
II. Formulation and implementation of the problem specific policy concerned with---
A. Ascertaining the qualitative and quantitative extent of the problem
B. Ascertaining the ways and means needed to accord the problem an appropriate priority, design the optimal feasible solution and procuring the resources required for undertaking it.
III. Ensuring its optimal implementation in a way that allows its modification/revision in time.
The strategies one may resort to attain the policy objectives loosely outlined above require no lengthy description. I will not touch upon a strategy for achieving policy congruence because its resolution depends on political consensus whose achievement is beyond the scope of this discussion.
Identification of the qualitative and quantitative aspects of the problem:
Some evidence of the decline in the types and numbers of pollinators is already available, even though it seems to be somewhat fragmentary. However, we have been engaged in activities that disrupt plant-pollinator networks for more than two centuries.
While the study of those networks is comparatively new, we already have reason to believe that regeneration of a critically insulted plant-pollinator network may be extremely difficult.
Moreover, there is much we do not know both about already identified networks and other hitherto unidentified plant-pollinator networks in operation, which do not benefit food or ornamental plants, but which may provide some essential ecosystem service to one or more members of a useful plant-pollinator network. Hence, it is necessary to establish the status of plant-pollinator networks and their supporting networks, especially in the areas where they show a deterioration.
Once this has been established, we can design strategies needed to regenerate/expand plant-pollinator networks and their supporting networks with reference to the natural indigenous flora and fauna of a given area. The possibility of doing this, depends on our having a prior knowledge of what relevant plant and animal species have been indigenous to an area, and to the sizes of their approximate individual populations.
I think this information is vital in formulating a holistic approach to protect, regenerate and sustain robust plant-pollinator networks, but even in industrial countries it is hardly complete or accurate. Moreover, surveys undertaken now can only reveal what is left of such networks, and not what is constitutive of a robust sustainable ones. As such, they cannot provide a scientifically valid indication of what they should be constitutive of, if they are to be robust and sustainable.
Furthermore, there are large gaps in our knowledge of plant-pollinator networks and other bio-networks essential for the well-being of the former. The next area on which we need further information includes what long-term effect biocides currently in use including those of plant origin at high concentration, and the effect of nectar and pollen of non-indigenous cultivars and genetically modified ones on the plant-pollinator networks. Consequences of large-scale man-made mechanical topographical changes and industrial activity on them, are well known.
So, to provide ourselves with more complete information to enhance the general quality of our agriculture/environment policy---
1. Initiate and sustain the conduct of scientifically rigorous field surveys to ascertain the current composition and status of known plant-pollinator networks and to disseminate that data.
We may obtain a working idea of the ecology of many areas of the world from an environmentally more benign time through bibliographical research even though some important works may be out of print now. However, works of the great Alfred Russell Wallace, Alexander von Humboldt, H. W. Bates, etc. in reference libraries would amply repay one’s efforts to reconstruct good deal of the ecology of many areas where pollinators have become scarce.
1. Much basic research remains to be done in the following four areas, which have a direct bearing on the robustness of plant-pollinator networks:
I. Interaction among indigenous flora and the introduced cultivars, and the short- and long-term effects on latter’s nectar and pollen on the local pollinators. When it involves genetically modified plants, such interactions could have highly undesirable results.
II. The optimal qualitative (in terms of species) mix of indigenous plants and pollinators that might be used to regenerate/improve the plant-pollinator network of an area.
III. Research in applied science to identify optimal means of introducing indigenous flora and pollinators to affected areas with a view to re-establish robust and sustainable plant-pollinator networks. Here, it may be possible to use some useful local crops that may successfully substitute a lost or a threatened source of nectar and pollen.
IV. Identify the crops, decorative plants and the indigenous flowering wild species whose flowering is sequential in a way that would ensure the local pollinators an adequate food supply during their adult stage. At the same time, it is important to ensure an adequate food supply to their larval stage.
2. Action at the ground level:
I think it might be useful to place the types of action I envisage I three broad groups, viz., general, sector-specific and finally, more or less individual. Let us begin with the general:
I. Dissemination of the available information to the general public on the seriousness of the situation and what everybody can and ought to do. As research described above becomes available, this information should be updated accordingly.
II. Rural population and some NGO’s and other suitable volunteers may be of use in identifying the local flora and their flowering times, and pollinators.
The sector-specific action ought to include:
III. Incorporating the importance of understanding the local plant-pollinator networks into school syllabi at a suitable degree of completeness. It is best to begin as early as possible and extend it to the schools of agriculture.
IV. Policies to reward environment-friendly bulk transport of non-perishable items like grain, nuts and dried fruits, meats and vegetables, flour, etc., using inland waterways (canals and rivers), coastal shipping, and railways, while penalising their transport by lorries. This calls for an actually environment-friendly national transport policy to revamp the disused canals in many countries, and in nearly all countries to make an extended use of rail transport.
V. An agriculture policy to promote small-scale farming and extensive planting of mixed crops in larger production units. Moreover, a more rigorous control of biocide use is essential, while a moratorium on the spread of genetically modified plants and animals seems to be urgent in view of our lack of real knowledge about their long-term interaction with other organisms including man.
VI. Health sector could warn the public on the uncertainty about the results of long-term interaction between genetically modified food items and the humans, so that a possible re-run of the tobacco controversy may be avoided.
VII. Horticulture sector may contribute by promoting the cultivation of traditional wild-flowers as ornamental plants both in rural and urban settings.
VIII. Local authorities, especially in some rural areas could plant traditional wild-flowers along the roads, commons, etc., as a part of ‘local beautification scheme’.
IX. Local authorities and NGO’s could make a major contribution by engaging in small-scale re-forestation of the barren countryside with indigenous plant species, which is getting more and more important.
At the individual level, there is much we could do to ameliorate the problem both directly and indirectly. While those engaged in agriculture and forestry could make a greater contribution, the others could do more than what they might think possible with a little effort.
X. Halt the removal of hedges, and plant traditional hedge flora along the insides of barbed-wire and other types of fencing.
XI. Land owners could plant small woods in areas of poor soil in their holdings choosing local small trees that do not prevent the appearance of under-growth. When suitable, nut trees offers an excellent choice for this purpose.
XII. Planting pest repellent herbs among crops and areas that separate different crop types. Some herb flowers are very attractive to the pollinators, eg. Basil and Dill flowers.
XIII. Providing simple nesting sites to local pollinators using materials made of natural substances like old bricks and bits of masonry. For instance, a small stack of old bricks with 16 cm holes drilled in some of them would provide an ideal nest for several species of solitary bees. A few early blossoming wild flowers may be planted around such a stack to provide the newly-emerged bees a source of food until they are strong enough to range widely. Here, I deprecate the use of plastic nesting materials, because how plastic polymers and the secretions of pollinators may react, and what effects the products of such reactions may have on the developing larvae are unknown.
XIV. Those who have fences around their properties could substitute or supplement those with flowering fences. Here, it is important to use indigenous plants, and preferably those flower at different times of the year.
XV. Halting the use of biocides on lawns and other formal home gardens.
XVI. Introducing local wild flowers and flowering bushes and shrubs to improve the appearance of the environs of schools, and other public buildings when the space permits.
Now, we come to the question of funding, for some of the suggestions outlined here require a considerable outlay. I will leave this problem in the hands of those who are adept at wringing funds from decision-makers whose parsimony knows no bounds when funding involves non-glamorous projects, but hope this would be of some use.
Here are some of my thoughts on the subject for what they are worth. Even though my main argument may not win many supporters, I hope it would be of some help.
Elements Crucial to Effectively Support Policies, Strategies and/or Programs Intended to Reduce Overweight and Obesity
In this submission, I would like to examine some of the elements that ought to be taken into account on policy formulation and the design of strategy directed at the reduction of overweight and obesity. As for the success of programmes that embody the implementation of such a strategy, I shall not comment, for it is a question of political will, technical competence and requisite resources.
As this is based on already well-established procedures of logical analysis and synthesis, I shall not burden my potential readers with outside references. My argument is based on two basic assumptions, on which there is a general agreement, viz., unless one suffers from a certain type of metabolic disorder, being overweight or obese is due to the inappropriateness of one’s eating or drinking habits.
The second assumption emphasises that other things being equal, being overweight or obese is a consequence of an individual’s own action. How important this is in combating our problem has until now not received the attention it deserves. Legal action such as high taxation on certain industrial food and beverages is merely palliative if successful, for it does not encourage a person to acquire appropriate eating and drinking habits for one’s own benefit, rather it compels one to do so in the prescriptive manner of a religion barring the sinners from sinning to enter a putative heaven.
So, the policy and strategy we are talking about, is concerned with increasing the number of people whose eating and drinking habits are appropriate. Their relevance to this end, depends on the policy maker and the strategist knowing what may justifiably said to cause inappropriate eating/drinking habits, and what legitimate means are at the disposal of the authorities to counter them. I shall try to address these two questions in turn.
Causes of Inappropriate Eating and Drinking Habits:
It is crucial to understand that these causes fall into two logically distinct categories, but some from both categories may co-occur. The first involves the situation in traditionally affluent countries, viz., affordable wholesome food and drink is available while some individuals do not take advantage of it due to several reasons. This represents inappropriate nutrition due to erroneous choice.
In the second, for a variety of reasons, an adequate supply of affordable wholesome food and drink does not obtain. Under the circumstances, one has no choice but to make use of what one could afford, which generally turns out to be the kind of item associated with being overweight or obese, i.e., starchy and/or fatty food. This represents inappropriate nutrition due to lack of choice.
It would be fair to say that intake of a balanced diet indicates that one’s eating and drinking habits are appropriate. However, what constitutes a balanced diet for a given individual depends on among other things, age, sex, current state of health, climate of one’s residence, nature of one’s work, etc. Moreover, there is some reason to believe that dietary balance may also have a racial determinant. Hence, it would not be possible to lay down a scientifically justifiable balanced diet having a universal validity.
However, human beings have managed to survive long without the benefit of formal scientific knowledge. This in part, is due to the evolution of food culture among social groups, which empirically took into account what their habitat could best yield, and to achieve at least ‘a working balance’ among the available food items from animal and vegetable sources.
Therefore, it would be reasonable to suggest that a balanced diet for a given person would have to be established with reference to one’s individual nutritional needs at a given period of time while keeping it as close as possible to the relevant food culture.
Having said that, it is possible to distinguish between two logically inseparable aspects of a balanced diet, viz., a qualitative and a quantitative one. Please note the term qualitative as used here simply refers to the diversity among the victuals consumed. It is necessary, because one cannot always obtain all the nutrients one needs from a single source.
When one’s diet is sufficiently diverse to ensure an adequate quantitative access to the nutrients one needs, it approaches being a balanced diet. Other things being equal, a quantitative change in any item in a balanced diet or its replacement with another having a different available quantity of the same nutrient would result in dietary imbalance.
Being overweight or obese then, is a result of dietary imbalance where the intake of certain nutrients is excessive with respect to one’s actual needs. This excess is mainly in the intake of carbohydrates, fat or oils. If, we can agree on the discussion thus far, we may then proceed to the possible causes of inappropriate eating and drinking habits included in the two categories described above.
Now, an obvious, yet an important point. Even if one has an easy access to all the food and drink one needs, it does not entail that one would select and partake a balanced diet. If one does so, it implies that one is willing and able to undertake those two tasks. This willingness is motivated by the belief that partaking of such a diet is desirable, hence it is of some value to oneself.
Having this belief implies the possession of prior knowledge of the value of a balanced diet, while having the ability to select a balanced diet implies the possession of a prior knowledge of what is constitutive of it. These two logically linked pieces of knowledge are not givens, and they have to be acquired through learning provided by relevant dietary education received at home or school.
Let us now consider the reasons for inadequate dietary education, the persistence of older dietary habits and lack of child guidance away from greed.
Until this point, the causes I have outlined presume an availability of an adequate supply of affordable wholesome food. It is under used owing to lack of appropriate dietary knowledge, lack of skill in domestic management, failure to prepare suitable food due to fatigue or desire for convenience, belief that curbing childhood greed is somehow injurious, and the conditioned or acquired belief in food advertising.
Distribution of these causes of turning people overweight or obese in less affluent countries, seems to increase as their economies grow. One can easily observe there a significant reduction in the intake of traditional dishes while that of industrial food increases. It mirrors the social development in the ‘North’ with respect to the decline in food culture, dietary knowledge, and an increase in the desire for culinary convenience.
Now, we can take a closer look at the second category into which the causes of inappropriate nutrition belong. It is not only a category, but also constitutes a cause, which in turn arises owing to the following:
Low income and comparatively high prices of wholesome food.
Limited availability of wholesome food owing to:
It should be noted that D, E, G and H above have become growing problems even in the affluent countries. In many of them, individual retail chains have united themselves into ‘trade groups’ where what food items are sold and at what prices, are decided among themselves. This compels the farmers to produce what traders will buy, and moreover at the prices dictated to them. This legal monopoly victimises the actual food producer and the end-user so that middlemen may benefit.
Critical Elements of Policy and Strategy:
These then are some of the causes of inappropriate nutrition that may be mitigated by effective implementation of suitable policies and strategies. Let us pair the elements crucial for their success in the order those causes have appeared in this discussion.
Revision of school curricula
Information campaigns, projects (eg. ‘My Healthy Family Project of the EU)
So far, we have talked about the elements whose incorporation into policy and strategy is crucial to their success when combating being overweight or obese in an environment where availability and affordability of wholesome food is not the most important issue. We will next take a look at the policy and strategy elements necessary to achieve our objective in areas where affordable wholesome food is scarce.
However, we must bear in mind that the problems the policies and strategies outlined above are intended to address, are becoming increasingly common in developing countries. Thus, their applicability is more or less world-wide when adapted to specific local needs. Likewise, the issues arising from our second category above, are increasing their relevance for the developed countries.
Public debate on the incommensurability between environmental sustainability and justice on one hand, and the current economic system on the other.
Putting in place and regular maintenance of the requisite infra-structure.
Exclusion of food items from speculation in commodity futures.
I mentioned harmony and congruence among policies at the end, to stress the fact that its lack has often made many an otherwise sound policy unimplementable. For instance, a trade policy that encourages import/domestic production of unhealthy industry food is not congruent with a health policy intended to reduce the incidence of being overweight or obese,, while an agriculture policy that promotes the production of wholesome food is in harmony and congruent with that health policy. I think that generations of reductive thought has made most of us fail to see the obvious, viz. the purpose of a policy is to direct some authority towards enabling a group of people to attain some end that is necessary for their total well-being.
Good health is obviously an essential component of individual well-being. So, if one policy promotes it while another exerts the opposite effect, irrationality emerges. What policy makers always ought to bear in mind is what impact a new policy will have on others known to contribute to individual well-being. Achieving this objective manifests itself as a set of policies displaying harmony and congruence.
This does not happen on its own volition, and it requires a political will sufficient to undertake not only the required change in perspective, but also bringing in personnel skilled in inter-disciplinary policy correlation so that every unit of authority will pull in the same direction, i.e. well-being of the people, be it at the local, national or the global level.
Inducing the Rural and Semi-Urban Youth to Engage in Agriculture
In view of the aging agricultural work force, high unemployment rates even among high-school and university graduates, and critical urban congestion throughout the world, it is crucial not only to retain the non-urban populations in situ, but also to device some meaningful mode of employment to 15-17 year-olds that seem to constitute a major portion of those who leave their homes and migrate to cities.
Even a cursory glance at the developments in agriculture world-wide, is sufficient to show one the three main trends therein, viz., regardless of the type of their ownership, increasing physical size of agricultural production units, increased mechanisation, and the increasing separation of the producers and end-users both in distance and time.
These necessitate long-distance transport, storage and processing that leads to waste, loss of flavour and nutrients and to higher food prices. However, if rural and semi-urban youth can be helped to engage in agriculture at or near their homes, it would considerably ameliorate the ills of the present irrational trends in agriculture. Moreover, it would offer youth an important path to independence through meaningful employment.
True, youth migration has a greater quantitative impact on food production in less affluent countries, but it is important to note that it has a highly undesirable effect on food quality in the affluent ones, not to mention the social problems associated with unplanned urban expansion.
So, it would be reasonable to suggest that we ought to formulate some appropriate global action to resolve this problem in general terms, so that each nation may select the areas relevant for its specific needs. In other words, the proposal will be a action template from which one could pick and choose according to one’s needs.
I think the kind of rural and semi-urban change that would be most beneficial to everybody, would require a considerable change in current politico-economic notions. Provided that we could persuade the political and economic establishments to devolve their power, hence, their modes of operation, our present problem may be resolved in the following multi-layered manner.
Naturally, a really holistic approach would be the means of choice to enable the 15-17 year-olds to secure a sustainable and adequate livelihood by engaging in agriculture.
Unfortunately however, such an approach would run into a number of difficulties, which would render it too resource-intensive for the countries where it is needed most. I believe this difficulty can be overcome to a significant extent, if authorities are willing and able to undertake certain system changes.
The greatest hindrance to a holistic problem resolution is the policy incongruence prevalent in every administration. This stems from their inability and/or unwillingness to render consistent the categorically identical aims included in diverse policy areas. For instance, health policy may be directed at the prevention of the so-called NCDs, while the trade policy may allow import, production, advertising and the sale of unhealthy industrial food and drink. This is an ubiquitous example of policy incongruence, which not only increases the cost of health care, but allows the investment of resources into an area that does not enhance public health.
For a start therefore, I suggest that we strive towards policy congruence with reference to youth in the least controversial areas like environmental sustainability, employment, agriculture, education, health and justice, with a view to expanding it into trade as soon as possible. Within the framework of employment policy, we can then move to agriculture as an environmentally sustainable, equitable and health promoting area of youth employment.
Before we go any farther, it is necessary to recall that the policy formulation and implementation represent two recursive endeavours. This means that policy congruence must obtain at global, regional and national levels if we are to expect worthwhile results.
Furthermore, even at the national level, central authorities are all too often insensitive to what local people really value, especially as many a national agriculture expert believes that his function is to prescribe to rural people not only what crops and animals they ought to raise, but also how to do it. A misplaced belief in ‘international best practices’ in agriculture is often not only inappropriate, but often flouts the local food culture.
Before we proceed any farther, let us try to indentify what drives our target group from their location:
Any one or more of these five causes could drive a young person out of his locale and head for a city, where a life of incredible squalor awaits him in some slum. A sceptic would get a chance to convince himself easily, if he only took the trouble to visit any one of those habitations around any city in Southern Africa, India, etc., where material evidence awaits him, perhaps in vain.
Obviously, what we need to ameliorate the situation would be to design and undertake a plan of action that embodies policy congruence, which could address the five issues described above. It is clear from the list that even though its power of motivation is not easy to quantify, prevailing public attitude to agriculture (5 above) nevertheless represents an important obstacle to us. However, dealing with it seems to be the least controversial, and might easily get wide political support.
Put differently, this calls for re-educating the general public everywhere on the vital importance of agriculture, and integrating in school education systems a continued teaching of values. I think this is getting more and more important as most children have no idea about what is essential for living, and an incredible number of them tend to believe ICT is the staff of life!
A related area, where both policy and facilities require a radical revision is education. Here, what I find difficult to accept is the current belief on the purpose of education. It seems to embody two notions awkwardly bound together, viz., everybody should aim for a university education’ or one that qualifies one to get a job quickly and earn a lot. In order to achieve the latter, emphasis is mostly on ICT, economics, and trade-related professions. True, this is commonest in affluent countries, but, this attitude to education is spreading widely, especially as it is promoted by several organisations concerned with ‘development’.
The policy change required here involves the acceptance of two simple facts; equal opportunities for education is not equal level of education for all, and secondly, equal education opportunities means paying due attention to inchoate abilities and skills individual children possess. Modern education system is stifling children’s ability and skill to become excellent farmers, craftsmen, painters, etc., by forcing them to continue a formal education they find irksome, rather than letting them leave formal education and to concentrate on their inherent skills and abilities before they are 15 years old. I anticipate howls of protest here, let me point out, we are not talking about equal opportunities, rather about not smothering talent by forcing children to learn what they are ill suited to master.
It will be seen that ‘motivators of migration’ 3-5 can induce even the rural young who are not influenced by the motivators 1 or 2 to leave for urban centra, because of the glamour attributed to city life, etc. Perhaps, it would be salutary if the ‘media’ in every country could be induced to show the extent of slum populations around cities and their real living conditions to the rural audiences. I know this is a naïve idea, for honest and truly unbiased reporting is only an abstract notion.
While family poverty could drive our target group to the city, it is the lack of facilities/opportunities to engage in agriculture to earn a decent living that is at the heart of our problem. So, a reasonable solution ought to provide such opportunities, make available the requisite facilities, and encourage rural youth whose families are not involved in agriculture to take it up as a profession.
I have already touched upon the changes needed in education and social attitude to agriculture. As far as I know, these important motivators of human behaviour has received scant attention in development programmes. The irony is that even the poorest country could bring about those two changes at a very low cost.
Once the youth believes that the agricultural pursuits are desirable and are actually more important to us than the every aspect of ICT, it would become fruitful to design and implement the ways and means to enable the rural youth to engage in agriculture in its widest sense. Before we look at some possible means, let us identify some reasonable areas in agriculture one which we may concentrate, and then the general way forward.
Selection of our goal for a given area should take into account the following in order to ensure its appropriateness in every sense:
Making sure that 1-4 above obtains will not only help to ensure an inclusive endeavour, but it enables us to adapt our actions to the environment rather than degrading it by resorting to artificial ecosystem services. Moreover, it benefits from the empirical knowledge and wisdom locals have gathered over centuries. Of course, one may introduce new species of animals or food plants to an area, but, this has to be done only after a careful assessment of its environmental implications have been made. Further, one ought to consider the local willingness to use such cultivars.
Points 5 and 6 are concerned with property ownership at one level, but sometimes, point 6 involves managing and harvesting nationally owned entities like forests, lakes and rivers and the economic exploitation zone of the sea. Inept responses relating these have cause enormous environmental damage and unemployment for considerable numbers.
Local people should be given the custody of their forest, and harvesting it should be done according to best available ecologically sound practice by the local people for their benefit. I think the time has come to stop every large-scale logging operation in the rain-forest, for it has exceeded the sustainable level long ago. It would be wise to impose the same strict controls on tropical hard woods
As on ivory export. Make sure the forest will continue to exist before it is exploited.
Rivers and lakes:
The possibility of harvesting food from these is becoming increasingly difficult for two reasons. Over-exploitation by big harvesting units and building of dams and/irrigation canals. It would be a rational action by a government to ban large fishing boats from these, so that smaller ‘family owned’ boats could return or earn a better living.
It is not so long ago that thriving fishing villages were strung out along many parts of the coast of S. America, Asia and Africa. There lot has become progressively worse for two reasons. First, local operators with trawlers can offer the customers fish at a slightly lower price pushing the fishermen out of business. Secondly, Fish stocks in tropical waters show a dramatic drop in fish stocks owing to unrestricted fishing by foreign factory ships, which is often illegal, and sometimes allowed by the government owning the right of economic exploitation due to corruption in it. The question we ought to ask here is, Is it right that a foreign seller should earn a profit by selling our fish cheap to foreign customers, while we loose our fish stocks and our fishermen flock to city slums? A fisherman may then say, it may be free trade, but it certainly frees us from our freedom from hunger.
I spent a little time over the above issues, because of their part in driving people into cities, which includes our target group. A holistic approach obviously calls for measures to deal with background factors that exacerbate our problem. I do not think it would be easy to undertake immediate and effective action to remedy the situation, but, if we could, more and more people would take up these activities rather than migrate from their homes.
Next, a brief note on what not to do and why. Never stop a project in X years, especially if it seems to be successful. Never let the local people give up any part of their authority or rights in return for large cash ‘compensations’ which may have drastic consequences for our environment.
Never forget the project is intended to benefit the local youth so that they may earn a decent income by agricultural pursuits, and it is not intended to support distant purveyors of high-tech stuff. Never forget the vocational training and support to the youth would be most effective if the youngsters could make use of what they already know, rather than learning everything from scratch. This is especially true of harvested produce, household animals, food crops, and implements used.
Never forget high-tech is synonymous with capital-intensive undertakings that uses less and less labour as it gets ‘higher and higher’! Never forget that it is in poorer countries where unemployment is very high and the numbers of the hungry run into millions, unskilled youth in the target group flock to the miseries of city slums looking for something better to do.
Never forget we need labour-intensive undertakings to stem this human tide. Never forget tools and implements that require high-tech competence to repair and maintain is inappropriate, because it cannot be done by those who are living within a reasonable distance at an affordable cost. Never introduce varieties which cannot be sustained by the available ecosystem services, rather select ecological variants.
Any one or more of the following activities may be chosen to enable rural youth to become satisfactorily self-employed either alone, or in a self-owned cooperatives:
Unlike most others, I have not emphasised the importance of infra-structure including irrigation. This is not to deprecate their importance, but I think we need to act quickly and those structural changes are expensive and time consuming. Therefore, I favour an approach where we can do most with what we already have and what resources are easiest to get.
I suggest simple underground cisterns for rain water storage and covered wells, both equipped with had-driven pumps (unless they are excessively deep) ought to be used as sources of water when necessary.
Before I sketch how one may store and transport one’s produce to end-users, let me outline how one may economically preserve it for storage.
In addition to the necessary political changes, improved law enforcement, equitable laws to regulate and guarantee the types of ownership discussed earlier, local and/or international funds, the following will be needed:
Finally, we come to the question of money needed to finance such an undertaking. I do not know to the extent to which a host country and non-governmental entities there, may be able to contribute, but I think a considerable contribution from international sources may be required here.
The scheme can be divided into three parts:
1. Survey of resources available locally, determining the maximum number of participants, then planning the details in collaboration with the authorities and representatives of the beneficiaries, and reaching agreement on the extent of external financial assistance. Part of this agreement would be to establish a project fund to be administered independent of national or international contributors. While strict accounting procedures are to be in use, propriety of resource expenditure should be determined with reference to relevance and appropriateness by local professionals versed in local agriculture and ecology. Every expenditure should embody the dictum:
If one wants to succeed in development, money ear-marked for it should be spent as close to the place one intends to develop.
The project fund will grant an establishment loan to a trainee adjudged capable of working on one’s own, when a trainee sends in an application to the fond explaining the plan and its financial requirements, and specifying one or more relevant mentors from the training unit who will undertake to help and guide the applicant when necessary.
The fond, mentor and applicant (more than one person may apply as a group) will agree on when the repayment of the loan is to commence.
Skipping nuts and bolts to shorten this already long submission, I jump to the repayment. It would defeat the purpose of this endeavour if we should charge interest on the loan. My novel approach is to ask the youth to prove itself not by paying it back, but getting it written off each year by an amount equal to one’s annual profit. Until now, we have been using an economic system whose inherent properties makes poverty and economic exclusion its inevitable side-effects, so let us now do something to those who have fallen by the way side at such an early age. Let us do something that would help them, but that will also show them man could live comfortably without making somebody else miserable.
Implications of Urban Expansion and Rural Change for Food Security
Before we proceed to identify the implications of urban expansion and rural change for food security, it is necessary to see which aspects of them could have a significant impact on it.
Urban expansion has two main causes; urban birth rate and migration of people from outlying areas. The former leads to a gradual increase in the need for an adequate food supply to an urban centre, while the latter brings about an abrupt increase in it. So, other things being equal, urban expansion may result in a combination of those two increases in the need for food, which could threaten the food security of an urban centre.
At present, rural changes that need concern us represent emigration of people from the rural to urban centra. Most rural populations are engaged in agriculture related activities in a labour-intensive manner. A simple real-life observation is sufficient to convince anyone of this fact in many parts of Africa, Asia, South America, etc.
This would inevitably lead to a reduction in rural food production, which could have a significantly adverse effect on the food security of the outlying urban centra. Today, this can be easily observed around the big cities in Angola, South Africa, India, etc., etc.
At this point, it is essential to remember two things, viz., lack of food security entails hunger now, and its alleviation calls for urgent practical measures. Let us next look at the relevant aspects of the problem, with which we have to deal.
First, I will outline what we cannot do. We cannot wait for long term solutions while millions go hungry every day. It is unrealistic to talk about finding employment for the migrants for even if they are qualified and work exists, that does not entail an increase in food supplies to urban centra. Moreover, even if they found work, they will have to wait for their potential salaries to purchase food, which is highly uncertain for reasons described above.
Further, it is the rural poor who migrate to urban centra, and a considerable portion of them represent unskilled labour. It only requires a day’s observation tour to any of the immense camps/settlements/slums around the big cities I have noted earlier to see this stark fact of real life.
Even though urban expansion has become global, the extent of its adverse effect on food security, varies with the priority agriculture receives in a given country and people’s expectations. It is unfortunate that in many poor and unevenly affluent countries, political sources elicit in people rather unrealistic expectations, which motivate them to migrate from their villages in search of ’a better life’.
This has resulted in millions of people exchanging their rural poverty with abject urban poverty involving greater deprivation. One may take it as a rule that in most affected countries, authorities give priority to ‘industrial development’, ‘high technology’, and ‘ICT’ as though that entails a commensurable increase in food supply!
Food security remains an unknown entity to millions of living people who live under appalling conditions around many large urban centra in Southern Africa, Asia, etc. They all have left their rural homes leaving once cultivated fields lying fallow today. So, this change in rural and urban demography will inevitably threaten food security by increasing the need for food at urban centra while reducing food production.
I suggest a two-pronged approach to resolve this problem insofar as it can be resolved in isolation. Obviously, common humanity demands an appropriate action to deal with hunger now, i.e., achieving a temporary food security by carefully targeted food supply, whose details are area dependent.
It may range from free distributions of food rations to subsidised food supplies, both of which ought to conform to the local food culture. Extra precautions ought to be taken to ensure that such food supplies end in the bellies of the hungry.
Remembering that this problem is endemic to poor and to countries where wealth is highly sequestered in a few hands, it is imperative that labour-intensive agriculture and the infra-structure it requires are given the highest priority. At the same time, it is necessary that the governments emphasise to the public how vital is agriculture to human well-being, and that it has logical priority over ‘high technology’ and ‘ICT’, which in the final analysis are mere means of secondary support to actual food production.
Hence, agriculture ought to be given the prestige it has in real life, for it is the sole means of sustaining life most of us have at our disposal. Let us underline the obvious; without food, there will be no life for anything else. Food security is the goal whose achievement ensures that we all have access to an adequate food supply.
Comments on the Proposed Voluntary Guidelines on Soil Management.
The draft is refreshingly technical and is comprehensive with respect to the areas it has taken into consideration. I find it well-structured, nicely reasoned, and very useful to anyone who understands and cares about the vital role the soil plays in our lives.
I wonder whether its authors chose 'cultivated soil' with a dash of the soil in urban areas in order to keep within the scope of 'management', which is obviously unavoidable in this context. However, I would like to draw your attention to an aspect of soil conservation, which is very important but does not quite fit into the categories of soil guidelines are intended to cover.
They represent what we might call 'ruins of soil', i.e., abandoned strip mines (USA and Pacific), large tracts of forest destroyed by uncontrolled logging (Burma and Indonesia), unfilled abandoned mines (Cornwall, Eastern Europe, South Africa, etc), aftermath of forest clearance of thin top-soil to 'create' grazing grounds (Amazon basin) and forest fires (Indonesia), and advancing desert (Sub-Saharan Africa), etc.
These ruins of soil are often contiguous with arable lands or some kind of forest. Their interaction with less ruined soils, though not fully understood, can only have an adverse effect on the qualities of the soil the guidelines are intended to preserve.
I think it would be wise to describe in the guidelines some actions the authorities may take not only to mitigate the ill effects of ruine lands on its more fortunate counterpart, but also to reclaim it in order to increase the available ecosystem services.
Of course, how this may be achieved will vary according to climate, geography and the composition of the ruined soil involved. But, as we are not talking about agricultural cultivation here, a comparatively small investment in resources may enable us to harvest many a climatic and ecosystem service benefit.
Perhaps I may be stating the obvious, but I think it might be useful to ascertain precisely what is necessary to optimally harness the ecosystems services to ensure ecological and sustainable agriculture at an adequate level.
It is clear that the very possibility of the above mentioned state of affairs depends on the willingness and ability of those who are engaged in agriculture to ensure the following:
1. The ecosystem services involved are not over burdened at any time, and their optimal use is ensured.
2. Agricultural production shall not be increased neither by using chemical means nor through qualitative or quantitative changes in agro-species in an area, which could either overtax the ecosystem services there or lead to environmental degradation that will reduce their current level.
These then, are the two categories of “don’ts”, which are often ignored. Now, moving over to the “do’s”, the following conditions should obtain:
3. Active steps should be taken to ensure the continuance of the optimal level of ecosystem services involved. This may entail either sustaining the biodiversity or living populations of an area, or the regeneration of its environment.
4. An increase in agricultural production in an area should be accompanied by the environmental actions necessary to ensure the increase in the level of ecosystem services necessary to sustain such an increase.
Our problem then, is how we can induce those who are involved to be willing and able to observe the four conditions described above. In my view, here the question of willingness is more problematic than that of ability.
I used the phrase, “those who are involved” advisedly, for agriculture today represents an exchange with very few exceptions, i.e., it cannot exist as we know it, unless there are consumers who are able and willing to buy agricultural products. We shall not devote any time to discuss the role of middlemen in this exchange, for they may be considered to be a species of surrogate consumers.
Consider now smoking. Fewer and fewer are unaware of the medical implications of the habit and not all smokers are addicted to it. Still, a considerable number of people continue to smoke even though they know its possible harmful effects on health, and are able to quit if they would. What they lack here is a willingness to do so.
But here, we are talking about an issue whose ramifications are more immediate and affects billions. Hence, while one undertake reasonable measures to change people’s traditional value beliefs concerning the environment and agriculture in order to bring about a reasoned change in their behaviour, it is necessary to resort to legal means to hasten the requisite change in human attitude to ecosystem services and agriculture owing to its urgency. This aspect of the problem has been discussed by another contributor.
For what it is worth, let me now look at how may one inculcate in the public the factual belief that sustainability of an adequate and an appropriate agriculture depends on the commensurability between the ecosystem services it requires and the capacity of the environment to provide it. Moreover, it should be borne in mind that artificial provision of some such services for short-term gain may permanently impair the environments ability to provide them, leading to desertification, silting of rivers, loss of fertile top-soil, drastic reduction in rainfall, lowering of the water table, adverse weather, increase in temperature, etc., all of which could render agriculture impossible in previously arable areas.
I think the public belief in this may result from a suitable education campaign across the board. It should not be restricted to school education, which is a long-term means of achieving the same result. As the situation is critical, a more general approach seems to be indicated. A previous contributor has discussed this aspect of the main issue.
Next, we come to the question of one’s ability to make sure that agriculture and its adjuncts observe the four conditions we have talked about earlier. Let me begin with the consumer first, because if he is indifferent and ready to buy whatever is on sale (especially if it is cheaper), there will be no incentive for the producer to flout those conditions.
I suggest the following measures to render the purchaser able to support the observation of those four conditions, and the producer to observe them:
1. Very low tax on the agricultural income of farmers who observe those conditions.
2. Introduction of subsidised loans, seeds, training, and support services such farmers need. Here, we must distinguish between ‘free trade’ that does jeopardise the future of the whole world, and the ‘free trade’ that does not.
3. Great care should be exerted in providing ‘development aid’, particularly that ear-marked for industrialisation as it often leads to a drastic loss of ecosystem services. I have already talked about in a previous discussion, the socio-environmental disasters brought about by rogue development aid.
4. Products that meet our four conditions may legally carry a label indicating their conformity, enabling the customers to make an informed and responsible choice.
5. A deterrent tax comparable to that imposed on tobacco and alcohol may be imposed on the sale of agricultural products, whose production ignores those four conditions, and the money used to subsidise the conforming producers.
6. Stringently enforced controls on the use of agro-chemicals.
7. Establishment of strategically deployed sound food storage facilities and environmentally more benign means of food transport. Eg. Waterways and railways rather than by articulated lorries.
8. Enforcement of laws that prohibit the concealment of all potentially harmful non-dietary chemical compounds in foods. This is because the less one observes those four conditions in agricultural production, the more such chemicals in food, or their concentration.
At this point, I would like to suggest investment in agricultural innovations that would help those who are engaged in agriculture to avoid the “don’ts” above, and encourage them to embrace “the do’s”. I envisage the use of such innovations as requiring three logically linked set of ways and means.
I use this phrase in a limited sense, i.e., agriculture policy we need to achieve our present objective should not come in conflict with the current non-agricultural policies under implementation at national, regional or global level.
Secondly, those non-agricultural policies should positively support the agriculture policy we need in every possible way.
The innovation we need here is an actual adaptation of integrated policy development as a government practice. This of course, depends on our actual ability to acquire a holistic perspective on policy issues. Unfortunately, policy formulation today is all too often is area specific, for example, Military, health, agriculture, and each policy is shaped by the experts of one given area. This reductive approach is the greatest stumbling block to our progress.
The other important policy change I envision involves devolution of decision-making power to local people, especially when the decisions are concerned with changes in the biological and the geographical constituents of an area. Many people and organisations have emphasised the necessity of this.
Ways and means:
Other things being equal, an implementable integrated agriculture policy should be commensurable with the available ways and means one may set aside for its realisation.
Even when it is so, one often runs into skeins of impenetrable red-tape woven by previous agreements, treaties, national, regional or even international laws that could easily foil our endeavours to benignly utilise ecosystem services to increase agricultural yield. Please consider the ongoing controversy on Maipo hydro-electricity project in Chile, which seems to be permitted by the current law, but if completed will turn over 100,000 sq.km. of Andean wilderness into a dessert.
I think this type of anomaly embodied in nearly every governing body should be stamped out without delay if we want to save and preserve what little ecosystem services we still possess on earth. It is inane for a government to agree on the importance of our present goal while permitting unrestricted felling of tropical hardwood saying that it is ‘legal’, or ‘we are just responsibly exploiting our own natural resources for the benefit of our people’. And I am afraid some of the clauses in international trade agreements and ‘development agreements’ are equally nefarious with respect to their effect on ecosystem service capacity.
So, what I would like to suggest is an innovative evaluation mechanism that should be empowered to investigate, identify and make public recommendations on what changes in current policies, agreements, and laws, etc., are required in order to make our integrated policy implementable. I shall not comment on the obvious components of ways and means like finances, technology, etc.
Finally, I’d like to touch upon some essential fundamental changes in our perception of agriculture, because in reality that perception not only defines what is taught in the institutes of agriculture, but also how all of us think about it, and benefit from it.
It is not very flattering to ‘our progress’ when the fact remains that only the poor subsistence farmers and a few nearly self-sufficient small holders consciously or habitually value agriculture on rational and civilised grounds, viz., it is worthwhile because it’s the best means we have to meet our nutritional needs. Stating the obvious, unless we are fed, there would be none left to establish space colonies, engage in gene juggling, political hair splitting and such signs of progress.
So, it would be puerile to talk about ‘right to life’ unless we actively cherish and nurture agriculture, the best means we have to satisfy our cardinal need, i.e., nutrition.
If it is to be sustainable, the biological service requirements of agriculture should be commensurable with the ecosystem services our environment can provide without distress.
But our current economic thought is based on the primitive notion of acquisition of gain (material or power) by pandering to a real or advertisement generated demand. This simplistic idea of economy as a means of personal gain ad libitum has blinded most of us to the importance of agriculture and its dependence on our habitat, and made us think of it as just another industry, where profit is the spur.
I think if we thought and learned about agriculture as an endeavour not unlike medicine when doctors believed in Hippocratic Oath, and not just a trade that allowed some middlemen to get very rich by manipulating world’s hunger, I believe we can ameliorate the lot of billions without increasing the extent of current arable land provided that we are also willing to stop the population increase.
If agriculture education at all levels emphasises the need to balance the requirements of agriculture with the ecosystem services the habitat can offer, perhaps the future agriculturalists might resort to cooperation with their living habitat as an benign adjunct to their pursuit, rather than the mechano-chemical slash and burn method of the present.
Much work of course remains to be done. I doubt that the potential of ecosystem services in pest control, soil enrichment, yield enhancement via more complete pollination, water retention, etc., has been even partially realised. Let us hope interest in this area would increase, particularly where the environmental distress is increasing.
Complements of the season!
Integration of Nutrition into Agricultural Education
The purpose of this note is to ascertain whether it is necessary to integrate nutrition into agricultural education, and if so, to explore how may one achieve that objective. I shall use a holistic approach, but it will be within the framework imposed by the logic of relevance to the two areas the current discussion specifies.
Let me begin by asking the question, how may one justify agricultural education? Is it because agricultural education enables those who plan and administer agricultural activities perform their work more effectively? Or is it because it enables those who actually engage in agriculture to produce more, and hence earn more?
If one should answer ’yes’ to those two questions as one generally does, it inevitably entails that agricultural activities are undertaken for the sole purpose of earning a profit. Other things being equal, this in turn, entails that agricultural production is only governed by the demand for produce at local, regional or global levels.
This may look innocuous, and indeed in the opinion of many, praiseworthy. However, in real life where many a resounding theory is as tangible as a fata morgana, belief in it is directly responsible for malnutrition and/or inappropriate nutrition among the people.
In the 1980ies, increased peanut production for export in West Africa greatly diminshed its availability to the local people, for whom it had been a major source of protein for generations. This led to wide-spread protein defficiency especially among children, which is well-documented. Likewise, in many Asian and South American countries, undue emphasis on cash crops rather than on the food crops and livestock has led to a similar result, or to the rising cost of wholesome food. Eg. Tea, coffee, cocoa, etc, are some of such crops.
I use the term ’wholesome food’ advisedly. It may be true that growing cash-crops may enable a farmer to earn more, but the question is whether an appropriate diet would be available to one at an affordable cost when farmers will limit themselves to grow what will enable them to earn most?
Obviously, this is impossible. And if one wishes to eat appropriately, a considerable portion of a cash-crop grower’s profits would have to be spent on food. Moreover, it has the same insidious impact on the eating habits of everybody in a given locality.
Now the dietry stage is set for the entrance of Iago! It proclaims in colourful photos, catchy tunes, and sonorous monosyllables that it is ’cool’ and modern to consume some brand of industrial feed or drink just as the celebrity X or Y does. What’s more, the stuff is comparatively cheap not only with reference to price, but also nutritive content, and taste.
Everyewhere in the world, obesity and malnutrition has become a serious threat to public health, and human well-being. This is in part, due to current public ignorance of nutrition, and its failure to understand that one’s intake of food ought to be commensurable with one’s actual nutritional needs and never with current fashion.
I think now it becomes clear that unless agriculture of a community is guided by its actual nutritional needs, it would be impossible to avoid either malnutrition or its inappropriate counterpart. When this has been done, a community may employ its surplus agricultural capacity on suitable cash-crops, for it would be strange to give priority to the latter in order to import the former.
Thus, integration of nutrition into agriculture is fully justified, because it is the sole justifiable scientific frame of reference within which a community could engage in agriculture to its real benefit.
I shall next take up the question of integration. It is possible to distinguish between two aspects of nutrition one needs to integrate into agricultural education. Even though nutrition is one of our fundamental needs, what is justifiably constitutive of it and how it is satisfied, varies according to age, activity level, and climatic conditions.
For instance, growing children have a greater need for proteins and some minerals than an average grown-up. Those who dwell in colder climes may require more carbohydrates and fats than those who live in tropics. A hard-working lumber-jack in a Canadian forest needs many more Kilo Joules a day than say, a politician.
Meanwhile, agriculture has been with us for several millenia, and the agricultural communities have developed the art with reference to their peculiar climatic and geographic conditions so that they may meet their nutritional needs as well as possible. After many generations, the food culture of a community begins to instantiate how its members may best satisfy their nutritional needs.
Unfortunately, this very important aspect of a community’s food culture is often neglected by nutritionists and in agricultural education. I can quote some instances where communities gave up some parts of their food culture for invalid reasons, and their substitution by foreign eating habits necessitated growing inappropriate crops and/or raising inappropriate live stock. Not only were those more very expensive to produce, but were also sometimes the cause of obesity. Eg. Supplanting rice with wheat, depreciation of yams, taro and similar root crops, introduction of sheep and cattle as a source of protein to Andean hill farms.
Therefore, I think agricultural education ought to be revised so that it does emphasise the importance of the traditional crops and live stock of a given area, and strive to improve and enhance them. Of course, this does not rule out introduction of new crops or even live stock, but that must be done with a great deal of caution.
It is crucial that we change the current basic tenet of agricultural education, viz. Enabling those who are engaged in it to make the largest possible gain, into more reasonable one. That is, agricultural education should be concerned with enabling those who are engaged in it to make an reasonable gain by producing appropriate foods required to adequately meet the real nutritional needs of a community.
Improvement of crops and live stock through research etc., is one of the important means of ensuring that one may make a reasonable gain by engaging in agriculture.
Sound eating and drinking habits are not givens, and they have to be acquired by learning. Their soundness depends on whether those habits are adequate to meet one’s nutritional needs. Now, the producers of food and drink are only a convenient sub-set of consumers of those items.
Hence, nutrition should be an integral component of school education for all, and at a more comprehensive level in agricultural education, for it provides the sole justifiable frame of reference that could guide agriculture as an endeavour that benefits all.
Comments on the Draft on NFSMs
I shall begin with the obvious, viz., why do we need a forest monitoring system, which obviously requires a considerable amount of human and other resources to establish and maintain?
It would be reasonable to suggest that such a system is essential to nurture and sustain our forest resources, because it would enable us to ascertain to what extent we may utilise them without impairing their sustainability and to undertake appropriate actions whenever their sustainability is under threat.
Indeed, this is the sole context within which NFSM acquires its justification. Forest monitoring then, ought to be embeded not only in the institutional bundle the current draft outlines, but in a more holistic one that includes all institutions involved in national life.
This may seem a trivial point, but I think, unless we have an uncontroversial reason to ensure the continued existence of forests, and their monitoring as a necessary condition for it, one might easily loose one’s sense of proportion among technical details.
Nobody will dispute that we all are beneficiaries of forests in that they are vital components of Oxygen and Carbon dioxide cycles, enhance the water table, absorb excess of solar heat and improve the local climate, etc.
Now, the ability of the forest to give us those benefits, depends on the equilibrium between the living things in it and its mineral resources required for their continued existence. The latter includes soil nutrients and water.
The quantity of utilisable soil nutrients and water in a given forest area is finite. So, the sustainability of a forest depends on a continued cycle of death and biological degradation of its inhabitants, which would replenish its pool of soil nutrients. Here, death may be due to age, disease or predation.
This process of replenishment, depends on the equilibrium among the species living in a forest. This biological equilibrium has a qualitative and a quantatative component. Biodiversity represents this qualitative component, while population of the individual species reflects its quantitative aspect.
Thus, the sustainability of a forest depends on the adequacy of its soil nutrients and water supply for the living there. The adequacy of the former, depends on the equilibrium among them, i. E. Natural biodiversity, which is instrumental in dynamically keeping the populations of individual species at sustainable levels.
If the foregoing is reasonable, then forest monitoring as an adjunct to its sustainability, ought to extend its range and scope to include rivers, streams, lakes, etc., in a forest as well as its smaller plants, and at least some of its fauna. I know this is a tall order, but it can be very significant under some circumstances.
For instance, during drought in some parts of Africa, elephants resort to barking trees as their access to grass becomes limited. This leads to the destruction of many trees. Likewise, unlimited hunting of the carnivores in savanas results in over grazing by the buffalos, which has serious land and climatic implications. Perhaps, some mechanism may be developed so that forest monitoring could cooperate with Wild Life Services of a country to render its data as complete as possible.
After this somewhat critical start, I am delighted to see the two key aspects of an NFSM, foundation elements and their institutionalisation are very well put indeed. As for the exchange of students, researchers, etc., is an excellent idea in principle, but it would be useful only if areas of their work and the systems they represent are more or less commensurable.
Even within a given region, this commensurability may not always obtain. As it has been pointed out in the current draft, it is important to begin the work and continue to improve it as one goes along. But, such improvements have to be made gradually owing to the uneven distribution of human and other resources required for the purpose. So, exchanges between the most advanced countries in forest monitoring and new comers to the field could only lead to unrealistic expectations and abandoned projects.
The draft suggests, “linkages with other national, regional and global institutes partner…””, and there again, their relevance to the overall purpose of an NFSM is paramount to avoid inappropriate practices. I have already mentioned national wild life service as an important contributor to this endeavour.
The current draft states, ”here are other “sectors” like agriculture, environmental protection, biodiversity conservation, ecotourism development or other forest-related fields that are
interested in the results from national forest monitoring.” Unfortunately, this approach represents a case of putting the cart before the horse in a reductive fashion.
Taken individually, those secotors can hardly undertake steps to ensure the sustainability of forests using NFSM data, and if no forests exist, all of them would be adversely affected. So, it is important to incorporate an NFSM into a national conservation agency with linkages to social practices with environmental implications.
Finally, I think it would be prudent to give permanant employment to trainees in forest monitoring as a means of ensuring a continued supply of competent, and one hopes, dedicated people. In my view, it would be very useful if international resources can be made available to pay them if a country finds it difficult to do so owing to valid pragmatic reasons.
On Nutrition-Sensitive Social Protection
My point of departure is quite simple; social protection becomes a need when some members of a society are unjustifiably denied of the possibility of their satisfying one or more of man’s six fundamental needs with reference to their own cultural norms. While these needs are universal for all cultures, how they are satisfied is subject to cultural variation. One of these fundamental needs is nutrition.
Therefore, holistic social protection entails that when necessary, ensuring that the members of a social group are enabled adequately to meet their nutritional needs with reference to their own cultural norms in a way that does not harm anyone or our shared habitat.
A group specific mechanism to enable a social group to meet their nutritional needs that entails harm to some other group or to our habitat is unacceptable for obvious reasons. One may legitimately call them ethico-pragmatic reasons, respect of which in the long run, is essential for the continued existence of the human race.
Nutrition-Sensitive Social Protection then, represents undertaking an appropriate set of actions that would enable a social group adequately to meet its nutritional needs with reference to its own cultural norms in a manner that entails no harm to anyone or our environment.
The current failure to holistically address the question, what makes nutrition sensitivity a critical component of social protection intervention, has led to an unprecedented degree of urban and rural misery in Asia, Africa and in Americas. Indeed, this is a serious charge, and I shall try to justify my position with a few examples from real life that can be easily confirmed.
Let me begin by stating the obvious; unless an appropriate and adequate supply of affordable food is available to the people, neither their sound economic status nor their enjoyment of human rights can prevent them from either being malnourished or inappropriately nourished. The former results in retarded mental capacity, deficiency diseases and other developmental problems, while the latter additionally leads to obesity and its well-known consequences.
It is vital to understand that social protection endeavours that are not nutrition-sensitive do more harm than good in the long run not only to the already deprived social groups, but also those who are about to enter their midst. Leaving aside the obvious ethico-pragmatic requirements any suitable social protection effort should meet, I will concentrate on the what constitutes the appropriateness, adequacy, and the availability of the nutritional component of social protection.
A significant part of the current nutritional habits of a social group is a product of a long evolution with reference to the group’s geographic location, climate, local flora and fauna on the one side, and the people’s nutritional needs on the other which are dependent on their energy and growth needs. This is an undisputable physio-biological fact. Over a long period of time, how those nutritional needs are met under those conditions get embodied as the food culture of that group.
Naturally, food culture will change over time as the conditions change, but this is a slow natural process. It is reflected in the agricultural products of a group. These products are able to satisfy both the taste and the nutritional needs of its members, provided an adequate supply of those are at their disposal at reasonable prices.
Often indeed those products come from the traditional farmers who are distributed around larger population centres (eg. Former southern Angola). The political ploy of raising people’s expectations to an impossible level, military conflicts of every kind, climatic changes injurious to agriculture, usury, and over-population have drastically reduced the rural agricultural production in many areas of southern Africa and some areas of Asia. At the same time, any one or a combination of those factors have resulted in huge and continuous migration of the poor to the cities (eg. Consider the continuing growth of shanty towns around the former ‘townships of South Africa and around cities in Angola).
For the sake of balance, let me also note that a similar growth slums obtain within and around the Indian cities like Bombay supposed to be in the throes of an economic ‘miracle’. It seems that noone knew about the poverty stricken slums around New Orleans until they were submerged under water in the aftermath of a cyclone a few years ago and the slum dwellers emerged in their thousands. All these people have something in common, viz., they are ill-nourished and their ability to work and learn is considerably reduced owing to their inability to meet their nutritional needs adequately. Moreover, their susceptibility to diseases is significantly higher than their national average.
So, how to ensure appropriateness of social protection with reference to nutrition? First of all, it is essential to re-populate the already depopulated rural areas with agriculturalists trained to produce the foods of the country or the area concerned. This may require education and training, equipment, appropriate seed and livestock, and financial incentives as well as an adequate infra-structureincluding storage and cheap transport, not magnetic levitation and fancy air ports for tourists.
Now to the other side of the coin, i.e., those who are to be protected. Monetary help may enable them to buy food in the slum shops, but paradoxically enough, it is very expensive, its quality is poor to bad, and very often, it takes the form of some food foreign to the people. The solution seems to be the establishment of suitable outlets in deprived areas where the produce of their environs may be bought at reasonable prices. But, I do not know how this may be achieved for the law and order situation in some such areas would not allow it unless it is improved rapidly and effectively.
One of the greatest obstacles to real progress and a huge depopulator of rural areas leading to an ever growing need for social protection in under-developed countries is rogue aid provided by China, India, Russian Federation, etc. Evil effects of Chinese aid is brilliantly visible in southern Angola where Chinese capital and Chinese prisoners work to build tourist facilities and prestige projects. As a result, the Angolan capital has an immense population of poorest of the poor running into several millions. I think unless the caring nations intervene to halt rogue aid, it will become increasingly difficult to provide any social protection to many millions in the recipient countries.
My reason for this seemingly off-the-topic comment is quite simple. If the number of people who require social protection should continue to increase at the present rate, it is difficult to see how a country could produce enough appropriate food stuffs to meet their nutritional needs. It is often those who are engaged in agriculture who migrate into cities in search of a ‘better life’.
I have touched on food production and equally important, its equitable distribution. Apart from that, it is necessary that every development initiative does not entail a reduction in the number of agricultural workers, nor yet in the area of the arable land. Ideally, such an endeavour ought to provide either a direct or an indirect incentive to an increase in both, especially when it is not directly concerned with agriculture.
It would be wise to discourage capital intensive industrialized agriculture, particularly where the need for social protection is acute, for it renders many unemployed who add to the growing numbers of those who require social protection. Its opposite, viz., practical encouragement of small farming involving traditional crops could not only reduce the increase in the number of those who need social protection, but it could also increase our ability to take care of the nutritional aspect of that help as well as support the bio-diversity in food crops and livestock.
I shall now sum up some means of increasing the nutrition sensitivity of social protection interventions and what may be done to make sure that they will not lead to an increase in the numbers who require them.
1. Incorporate suitable agricultural education/training programmes and provision of start capital/material packages in social protection initiatives.
2. Include help to rural farmers and active expansion of small farming, and an equitable distribution of agricultural produce as an integral part of national development.
3. Help to establish and run agricultural cooperatives in rural and semi-rural areas, preferably via less formal but more transparent mechanisms.
4. Distributed and non-intrusive industrial development, which may provide employment without affecting the manpower needs of the vital agriculture sector.
5. Discourage ‘development schemes’ that uproots rural populations, loss of arable land, require cheap but often inappropriate food imports, and intrusive and mendacious food and drink advertising.
6. Some international mechanism to halt rogue development aid, possibly by giving world-wide publicity to its visible harmful effects.
7. The most difficult, viz., tolerably good governance and its actual use, especially with respect to agriculture, actively enforced labour laws, and holistic policy formulation and implementation.
Adequacy of an appropriate food supply is an individual issue, dependent on the the particular nutritional needs of a given individual, which in turn depends on one’s age, sex, specific energy and growth needs at a given time, etc. In generalising on food needs, it would be salutary to remember these variations rather than to engage in mechanical thinking and depend on caloric content of food items. At the same time, it would be wise to recall that what constitutes a balanced diet has to be determined with respect to the variations mentioned above for there can never be a universal balanced diet unless we are mass produced to a set of fixed specifications.
My final comments here are to underline the importance of ensuring an affordable supply of appropriate foods for those who require social protection. Monetary help can hardly ensure anything more than a starvation diet to the needy unless we ensure the availability of affordable food. It is therefore essential that guidelines 1-7 above are observed both by the general development activities, and the broader social protection endeavors.
Apiculture; its importance and future
There is a general agreement on the two most important reasons as to why apiculture is going to play a very significant part in our future. The first is concerned with pollination, which is an essential factor in the continued existence of both economically and environmentally essential plants. Secondly, bee products have constituted an important ingredient of human food, and a versatile industrial raw material from the ancient times.
It is possible to identify two main reasons why the bee populations are now under threat throughout the globe. Obviously, this reduction will in turn, threaten some food supplies, particularly fruits, edible seeds, and honey, and will reduce the seed production of many environmentally significant flora. The consequences of this is quite plain in a world burdened with hunger and malnutrition and incredible environmental degradation.
The first threat to bees comes from habitat degradation resulting from human over-population that requires the expansion of infra-structure, housing as well as industrial and agricultural installations.
This degradation entails a significant loss of wild flowers, flowering bushes and trees whose nectar and pollen constitutes an important part of bees' food supply. As the current notion of 'development' requires the undertaking of human activities resulting in this habitat degradation, bees may well face extinction due to starvation in some parts of the 'developed' and the 'developing' world. I know this is happening in many areas of urban Europe.
The second part of the threat stems from the use of insecticides and insect repellents used in agro-industry. Unlike the disappearence of roosting cranes from most parts of Europe due to the disappearence of their prey indirectly brought about by the use of insecticides, bees will simply succumb to those chemical agents.
It is imperative to recall that nobody really knows what genetic consequences bees may suffer owing to their exposure to agro-chemicals now in use. Nectar and pollen contaminated with them may trigger genetic changes in drones and queen bees, which in turn lead to serious dysfunctions in the generations of bees that spring from them. These may include loss of resistence to diseases and/or other acute congenital problems. Moreover, such ill effects may also result from a wide variety of toxic material we have already discharged into our environment, and remains undegraded for a long time.
So, these are the generic problems we need to address. Otherwise, we will face an environmental catastrophe due to a serious loss of bio-diversity, not to mention a significant reduction in global food production and turning what was once an affordable item of food into a luxury. I believe that once reasonably priced honey from Las Marismas in Spain are now beyond the 'common man' after large tracts there were drained for agriculture.
I think it is still possible to reverse this undesirable trend, but it requires the undertaking of several simultaneous programmes, which are intended to address the threats to bees mentioned above, and to increase the bee population, hence their products.
1. Habitat degradation:
I. Strict control of building and construction projects, and a legal requirement that a certain percentage of the affected area should retain its native flora or its equivalent.
II. Planting local flowering trees that blossom at different times along roads and highways.
III. Reforestation of the deforested areas with local flora. This may not be easy or cheap, but I think it is becoming more and more important.
IV. Educating and encouraging the people to use 'live fences' that flower, growing flowering plants in their gardens, especially those that blossom at different times.
2. Chemical threat:
I. Real basic research (not surveys) into the toxic effects of agro-chemicals and other common pollutants on bees, and their long- and short term effects on the genes of honey bee.
II. Research into development of adequate 'feed' for bees to cover short falls due to harvesting the hives or bad weather.
III. Design of hives for apiculture that afford better protection to bees.
3. Increasing the bee populations:
I. Educational and material support to actual and potential apiculturists.
II. Ensuring that the producers and the consumers get a 'fair deal' through legislation, financing possibilities and the establishment of cooperatives for apiculturists.
III. Bee products are too well-known to require any publicity. But their excellence may be emphasised by nutrition education in schools etc.
Of course, this is only an outline of an approach, which requires to be fleshed with many details. I have not touched on the problem of displacement of one bee strain by another as it has been happening in the US. Although it is a problem to the apiculturist, its environmental and economic consequences are not severe.
I hope that this would be of some help.
As it is a problem of universal occurance today, I would like to make a few general suggestions that may be of some use across the board. I think it is important for us to understand the two main causes of the problem, which seem to be logically linked.
I envisage public ignorance and indifference to what constitutes a given individual's nutritional needs as a significant cause of obesity and some deficiency diseases distributed throughout the world. Sometimes, aggresive and colourful advertising appears to affect the eating and drinking habits of even those who know what food and drinks may best serve those needs.
Therefore, it would be useful to make nutrition an integral part of education of everybody from the earliest possible age. Moreover, it should reinforce the individual's ability to resist harmful advertising, and it should help each person to understand that the traditional food and drink of a given area would best serve the nutritional needs of the people there. Of course, these may be improved, and new food items may be introduced, but its replacement for commercial or fashion reasons could be disastrous.
It is crucial for people to understand that one's nutritional needs are also influenced by the climatic conditions. For instance, in tropical countries, one requires less carbohydrates to sustain body heat for simple physical reasons, while in cooler climes, maintainance of body temperature requires a relatively greater intake of the same item.
At the same time, one must understand that when the use of 'labour saving' devices becomes prevalent, individual energy needs diminish in proportion. Then, if one does not adjust one's diet appropriately, obesity becomes inevitable unless one finds some other suitable outlet for the excess energy. I do not regard eating and drinking as simple fuel intake, but we should understand and pay attention to their fundamental purpose. I think this should be a part of one's general education.
Now, a word about the second major cause of malnutrition. I think agricultural production of an area should be subserviant to the nutritional needs of the inhabitants there. While the chemical ingredients of those needs such as proteins, carbohydrates, etc., are universal, their specific sources and required quantities are subject to an immense variation. Climatic and geographical conditions play a significant role in determining to what sources one may resort to obtain them, eg. variation in cereal types and sources of protein. Traditional eating habits have been fashioned by our awareness of this for a very long time, hence, should not be dismissed as some tend to do.
But unfortunately, in many countries, agricultural production is governed by economic considerations which are motivated by the desire to gain profit. I think most people have heard about instances where farmers were induced to switch over to growing 'cash crops' instead of food crops, which in turn increased the incidence of under nourishment in the area. A different variation of the same sad theme is getting the farmers to export a food crop for more cash leading to a shortage of a local food item. This happened in Senegal and the Cameroons when most of the annual peanut production was exported for cash, and as a result the local chidren began to suffer from protein deficiency as peanuts were an important source of their protein intake.
I think the local agricultural producers and consumers ought to get together to ensure that they first act for their mutual benefit, and then, if it does not entail any environmental degradation, producers may help out their neighbouring communities to make up their short falls. Under careful supervision, such help may be extended to national, regional, and even global levels. But in each case, the guiding principles are the nutritinal needs of the individual at a given place, and never the 'needs' of the abstract entity, the economy.
Social Protection to Enhance the Resilience of Forest-Dependent Peoples
I am happy to see that this very timely subject is up for discussion, for it is an attempt to preserve a rapidly vanishing element of human cultural diversity, and more importantly, an effort towards letting people live in the way they wish.
There is no doubt that a holistic mechanism of social protection is essential to enable the forest-dependent peoples to lead their lives in the most satisfactory way according to their own norms. This is because their ability to do so is undermined by two disruptive forces. First, owing to a variety of reasons, outside human influences are continuing to adversely affect their ability to satisfy their essential needs, and secondly, the general environmental degradation brought about by those imfluences are affecting the forests on which they depend.
Therefore, it would be reasonable to suggest that the social protection we envisage here, ought to counter the adverse effects of those two influences, and to ameliorate their consequences, which are already felt by the forest-dependent peoples. Now, I shall try to outline a possible way forward.
I shall first discuss the possible ways of countering the direct adverse influences. The crucial step here is to set up a sound legal and practicable mechanism to prevent any further reductions in the forest areas on which our target populations depend. Next, it is important to legally entitle the forest-dependent people the sole right of sustainable exploitation of the forest resources to which they ought to be entitled. This right is not to be exercised by an individual, but rather by a representative group chosen by a given population. At the same time, what constitutes sustainable forest harvesting in a given area should be ascertained by a group with reference to scientific and traditional knowledge.
For the sake of completeness, it is necessary to establish a sound and enforceable legal mechanism to control the exploitation of any surrounding forests, which may not be used by a given population of forest-dependent people. At the same time, exploitation of the water ways through forests, locating factories or other installations whose emissions are injurious to the well-being of such forests ought to be prevented.
And finally, two moot points; first, the sensitive issue of exploiting the mineral resources which may be found in forests, and secondly the nature of services like education, health care, etc., offered to forest-dependent peoples. I think it would be wise to place an embargo on mineral exploitation in such areas until we have evolved techniques of exploitation that are only minimally traumatic to sylvan environment. As for the services, I think the current brand of education which irrationally regards technology as an entity having an intrinsic value would be more destructive of the social fabric of forest-dependent peoples than anything else. However, if education offered everywhere is free of this 'purpose of education is to enable one to get the best paid job so that one could live a la mode d'holywood' bias, we would have no cause for concern.
Our next task is to see how to ameliorate the consequences of the adverse influences mentioned earlier. Their impact may affect nutrition, health, security (in its widest sense), etc., of those peoples. As which need is affected, and to what degree it has done so may vary widely, I shall only make some generic suggestions here.
1. Financial and appropriate technical help to establish and operate co-operative to harvest and market forest products by forest-dependent peoples without the mediation of brokers.
2. Restrictions on what is sold to those peoples by outsiders, particularly the sale of exorbitantly priced cheap flashy goods, unhealthy food and beverages.
3. Help to engage in re-forestation of their habitat whenever indicated.
4. Graded long-term food aid compatible with their traditional diet (as much as possible) until they can achieve self-sufficiency.
5. When necessary, housing and clothing help.
6. Establishment of appropriate medical units having the relevant competence.
7. Establishment of legal, administrative, technical and financial infrastructure required to carry out the proposals made here.
I hope this may be of some use.
In addition to being a more attractive alternative to factory farming where how a product receives the greatest attention rather than to its taste and flavour, family farming offers several attractive features:
I think our current education strategy everywhere on earth has done a great deal of harm in deprecating agriculture in general and family farming in particular by over-emphasising the important of technology and trade as the main areas of one's education.
I am convinced that it is high time to emphasise that agriculture has an indisputable logical priority in education everywhere. This will enable people to understand the obvious, which appears to be not very easy.
Then, it is important that the politicians are made to grasp the four benefits of continued family farming. Iformation dissemination by say the FAO to ministers of agriculture, and general public etc., would be of use here.
I can envisage two legal measures that may be required for the continued existence of family farming.
The first would be useless unless family farmers themselves understand the need for it, viz., a family farm has to be of a certain size if it is to remain a thriving entity. Inheritence laws in many countries allow small farms to be divided among the children of a family in equal shares, which results in their fragmentation into minute bits.
Prevention of this by some appropriate legal means seems to be absolutely necessary. However, it must include some equitable mechanism to compensate those who will be denied a portion of their non-movable patrimony.
Likewise, legal measures to sustain a family farm even when a creditor demands it foreclosure in lieu of a debt might be required in some cases. A loan transfer mechanism that does not entail burdensome interests may prove useful here.
Effective agricultural help at local level may be organised by the authorities to sustain family farming in many ways.
Family farmers within a given area would greatly benefit if they organise themselves into co-operatives to make common purchases as well as to sell their products. Moreover, they may also serve as fora for thrashing out what represents a local best practice, how to bring about improvements, etc.
I think the draft document ought to adapt a really holistic approach to resolving the problem. It is well understood that the possibility of adequate food production is closely linked to the well-being of our environment. Hence, the committment to ensure an adequate supply of food to all can be successfully undertaken only if we ensure that neither the food production nor other economic activities result in environmental damage. This logical fact ought to be the point of departure of the document.
Secondly, ceteris paribus, how one satisfies one's nutritional needs depends on the culture of one's choice. Here, I use the term 'culture' in its widest sense as described by Bronislaw Malinowsky.
Now, food culture of a community evolves with reference to its geography, climatic conditions, communal beliefs, etc. Very often, the food culture of a community embodies wisdom of the ages in terms of nutritional adequacy, appropriateness of its food with respect to health of the consumers, climatic conditions, environmental sustainability, etc.
As we claim that people have a 'right to their chosen culture', and cultural norms may well embody the appropriateness of certain types of foods and their production both for man and to the place where they are produced, it would be reasonable to include measures to preserve culinary diversity of the world. Moreover, this guarantees a healthy diversity of food crops and animals.
Finally, it is of paramount importance that FAO should pioneer food equity by actively working to remove activities such as commodity speculation, price fixing, monopolies such as those engaged in buying food for a whole country or a large region thereby dictating terms to food producers and consumers.
Mr. Lal Manavado
From the outset, we will make sure that the reader is certain of what is presented here. Our heading is clear because we have added the word ‘relevant’ to it while deleting ‘scientists’ and the species named as ‘knowledge holders.’ To the vast majority of us who do not speak ‘institution speak’ scientists could be concerned with nuclear physics or Volcanology, none of which has much to do with food and agriculture. We will not comment on the obvious grammatical and syntactical errors in the title of the present discussion, because our remarks on similar faults in the parallel discussion has been expertly ignored.
As for ‘knowledge holders’, those may range from an electronic data base, a library or even a box of old books in an attic. Assuming this curious phrase refers to people who know something, we again face the problem of its relevance. Moreover, one may know everything about cycling from a book, but that knowledge would be of little use to him in cycling in the real world. A policy is intended to direct and guide goal-directed actions in the real world, and for its shaping, we need those who possess the relevant knowledge and the skill required to put it into practice. This knowledge and skill constitute the competence relevant to policy design and implementation.
We have now cleared the ground so that it would be possible to engage in a rational discussion on the subject, but we very much doubt that that this exchange would be no different from the previous ones i.e. contributions more or less adequately summarised for posterity, for they do not seem to have any significant effect on the conceptual scheme of the FAO on food and agriculture. For instance, in the current parallel discussion, the ungrammatical use of the English preposition ‘for’ has been retained even though this has been pointed out in the run up to it.
Let us keep one fact firmly before us; policies are man-made to serve a given human aim. As such they are tools shaped by the norms of the society in which they operate; thus, their use represents a social practice in action. Success of this usage depends on how skilfully a suitable action has been carried out. A successful policy design and implementation therefore implies the possession of the relevant knowledge and skill by all those who are involved in the process.
This is the context in which we will have to proceed with the discussion. As every policy emerges from the norms governing how a given general purpose is to be achieved, let us note some of them briefly:
• Food systems that are sustainable, robust, resilient and are operated in a manner benign to the environment are necessary to attain the objective of our policy.
• Their output is physically available and is affordable and will enable people to procure a wholesome, varied and balanced diet.
• Food systems will support the continuance of world’s food cultures and would enhance global agricultural bio-diversity.
Our point of departure is that there is already an ample body of relevant competence required for sound policy formulation and indeed, implementation. We hold that the solution of the problem lies not in ‘searching for opportunities’ but in removing the barriers or obstacles that everyone with relevant competence has encountered when dealing with institutional inertia and the masterly inaction of the authorities.
In the next section, we will identify the levels of relevant competence involved in policy design and implementation. Often overlooked, it results in inappropriate deployment of expertise which leads to unsound policy and fragmentary implementation. An analogical situation would be to invite an electronics expert to design a rocket and ask a rocket engineer to make the required electronic components.
Levels of Policy design and Implementation
It may surprise the expert policy designers to learn that a sound policy description should be cogent and brief. It embodies the general goal of the policy and its implementation at the strategic level. For instance, in the present case, the relevant policy may be thus described:
• The authorities shall undertake the appropriate actions required to found or modify the national food systems as well as the other adjunctive measures necessary to enable the people to procure an adequate quantity of wholesome food they need to enjoy a varied and a balanced diet relative to their individual dietary requirements. They shall undertake all requisite measures to ensure that the food systems used are sustainable, robust, resilient, environmentally benign and promote the increase of agricultural bio-diversity.
Next, it will outline the strategies to be employed in its implementation. This is the point at which superfluous verbiage flourishes like weeds in a field. Let us consider some of generic strategies while keeping in mind the distinction between the strategy and its qualitative attributes.
• Success of a policy depends in part, on the degree to which it is in harmony with the other policies in a given national policy set. We have described this inter-policy harmony in detail in our previous contributions to this forum and will not be repeated here. Very briefly, impact of environment, legal, industry and employmemt policies on food systems is indisputable. Indeed, this is extremely difficult to achieve, hence the failure of most policies on food and agriculture. Therefore, it is imperative to undertake vigorous measures to attain this strategic objective.
• Ensure that the strategies of implementation chosen do not conflict with the goal of the policy involved. All too often, implementation strategy lacks this intra-policy harmony owing to the flaws inherent in committee’ism, which is the preferred method use in strategy design. It may be democratic, but none could live on such abstract notions for they are highly non-nutritious.
• Ascertain as well as possible the amount of various food the country needs to meet the goal the policy has specified; due attention should be paid to the national food culture when food varieties are considered.
• Ascertain the actual quantity, quality and varieties of national food production through feed-back from food producers and harvesters; if and when reliable, figures from food traders may be used as a supplementary source.
• Identify the shortfalls in quantity, quality and variety, inappropriate items i. E. Those are injurious to health. This provides the basis on which food systems may be founded or modified.
• Undertake measures to found or modify food systems with reference to the shortfalls mentioned above; this generally involves empowering regional and local bodies to make those measures operational at the field level.
• This empowerment involves any one or more of the following actions guided by the requirements of sustainability, benignity to the environment, resilience and robustness:
We shall now outline how the foregoing may be made operational at the regional and/or local levels according to the size of a country or the administration of its internal affairs. Here, the strategy will be implemented with reference to the local possibilities which are best known to the local food producers or harvesters like fishermen. For instance, while a markedly wet region would be suitable for rice production, in a semi-arid area cultivation of drought resistant pulses like chick peas would repay the cultivator. Such operational niceties should be delegagted to the competent local professionals. Thus, it is obvious that it is imprudent to specify how the implementation strategy of a sound food and agriculture policy may be made operational. However, we have offered here some of the generic factors that should be taken into consideration during the process.
The Barriers and Their Elimination
The very first obstacle we face is the unreadability and understandability of policy and strategy documents. This arises from two sources; the prevalent belief that such a document should run to many pages because its importance is proportional to its length. The second is a desire to impress readers with jargon and circumlocutions of most inane kind. A classic examples are phrases like ‘main pillars’, ‘to strengthen’ etc. An attempt should be made to employ people able to think in a logically coherent manner to produce such documents.
• Diploy people with an excellent command of the language involved to edit and shorten the documents. Language skills of most technical experts are obviously inadequate to the purpose.
The next barrier has been with us for centuries. Never openly expressed, it is the belief that an expert in a limited field is an infallible authority on other areas. Perhaps, some may recall how the great medical authorities like ‘the father of modern pathology’ Prof. Rudolf Virchow ridiculed Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis when he advocated those who attended women in labour should sterilise their hands by washing them in chlorine water. Naturally, the ‘great man’s’ word was accepted, Semmelweiss was driven out to die in obscurity, more and more pregnant women succumbed, but the profession believed the word of the famous pathologist even though he was not a medical microbiologist.
• Therefore, it is incumbent on the authorities to diploy people with the relevant competence at the appropriate level. The question is whether the authorities have the competence required for such rational deployment of abilities.
Our next hindrance is the institutional inability to undertake pro-active measures. Reactive response is so ingrained in the institutional mind, it is difficult to see how this state of affairs may be changed. Perhaps, higher education may carry out a change in their basic conceptual tools imparted to the students by making them think pro-actively i.e. anticipating the results of their potential actions before they are undertaken. At present, their education is concerned with how to conduct ‘research’ after the event! The good results of such an endeavour however, is a long term prospect.
• Assuming this is achieved, then it is possible for ecologists to guide the strategies that may impact on the environment. Meanwhile, meteorologist, geologists, soil scientists etc., to play a vital advisory role in the way some of the strategies are made operational. Such interventions would not only enhance the output of food systems, but would also diminish the risk of soil salination and erosion, pollution of water ways etc. It is obvious that the only way to avoid those undesirable consequences is by pro-active measures approved by the relevant expertise.
Transport and trade sub-systems are important components of every food system. But they are not within the perview of food and agriculture authorities. Although there are several other good reasons for it, this alone makes inter-policy harmony crucial to the success of a sound food and agriculture policy. This age-old obstacle blocks any fruitful deployment of those competent in policy harmonisation.
• We find it hard to demolish the wall of institutional autonomy behind which monoliths of inertia, incompetence and varying degrees of corruption continue to thrive. Unless this barrier is broken down soon, those who are skilled in policy harmonisation cannot be suitably deployed.
We have already remarked on ‘committee’ism’ which represents the commonest but the worst possible way to determine the implementation strategy of a policy. Generally, the most vociferous members of the committee or one with impressive but irrelevant qualifications would succeed in introducing strategies that would result in intra-policy disharmony, and thus leading to a failed policy.
• It is critical to radically revise how an implementation strategy if formulated. Only those who are aware of the needs a policy is designed to address in detail, know people’s competence, available resources and most of all capable of logical thought and possessing lucid language should be entrusted with the task. This is easy to say, but institutions seem to be either impervious to reason or display a touching belief in irrelevant qualifications.
At this point, we will anticipate some attempts that may be made to cloud the issue by introducing certain worthwhile but inappropriate items into the current discussion. We have already stated that one should clearly distinguish between strategies and their attributes. Let us now consider some of these attributes:
We know that some would criticise our view because they do not include certain social problems here. While being sympathetic to them, we cannot include what obviously concerns other social norms in a discussion of this sort without being irrelevant, or worse, riding one’s own hobby horse on an ego trip that does not yield anything with a nutritional value to the public at large.
Deployment of Competence
Once more, we will emphasise certain scientific competence is necessary not on policy and strategy formulation, but rather on ensuring that they possess the attributes of strategies and making them operational as we have outlined here. For instance, early warning of a change in future rain fall or an earth quake could enable the farmers to modify what they are going to cultivate or even stop wasting their resources which might be damaged beyond recovery.
Most of the scientific competence should be deployed at the operational level before field implementation in order to be pro-active. For example, no useful purpose would be served by a reactive deployment such resources when arable land is lost due to inprudent use of fertilisers. Competence would strive to ascertain the consequences of using certain crops, household animals and methods prior to their field use.
As for research relevant to policy on food and agriculture, much imagination and a quantity of resources have been used. However, extremely little of this is pro-active, but we have a considerable body of results from reactive research; and as everyone knows, few are able and willing to learn from the mistakes of their predecessors. Moreover, Virchow Semmelweis syndrome is still very much alive among us.
If governments could be induced to be guided in their design of food and agriculture policy and its implementation by scientific recommendations based on locally conducted investigations to answer the following questions, much may still be gained:
The reader may have noticed that we have not recommended the involvement of the experts on ‘high-yield’ varieties; this is a lesson we have learned from the damage caused by the ‘green revolution’. It is imperative such experts, gene manipulators and those of that ilk should have no place in policy design or in its implementation.
Those endeavours are in part, political undertakings aimed at meeting a real need of the living people, and as such, authorities should only resort to those whose relevant competence has been acquired by working for an adequate period in the area concerned. Satellite pictures may pick up a cigarette end on the ground, but not the exact cause of the havoc resulting from a long period of inappropriate land use.
While we hope the institutional ills we have outlined may soon be ameliorated, we also hope that the notion of proper deployment of competence may find a toe hold on the slope up which streams of relevant and irrelevant competence seem to climb with flying elbows and magnificent gestures. Leaving this very picturesque scene before our readers, we will now withdraw wishing them a happier new year!
Lal Manavado, Oslo