Skip to main content

Global Forum on Food Security and Nutrition (FSN Forum)


Reducing inequalities for food security and nutrition - HLPE consultation on the report’s scope

During its 46th  plenary session (14–18 October 2019), the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) adopted its four-year Programme of Work (MYPoW 2020-2023), which includes a request to its High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition (HLPE) to produce a report on “Reducing inequalities for food security and nutrition”, to be presented at the 51st plenary session of the CFS in October 2023.

The report, which will provide recommendations to the CFS workstream on inequalities, will:

  • Analyse quantitative and qualitative evidence relating to how inequalities in access to assets (particularly land, other natural resources and finance), and incomes within the agri-food systems impede opportunities for many actors to overcome food insecurity and malnutrition. Relevant data on asset endowments in rural communities will be useful in this respect, along with the findings of latest SOFI reports. Given the focus on agri-food systems and the key role of family farmers within these systems, linkages and complementarities with the UN Decade of Family Farming will be examined, including as reference to decent employment issues in the agri-food sector;
  • Analyse the drivers of inequalities and provide recommendations on entry points to address these;
  • Identify areas requiring further research and data collection, also in view of the opportunities provided by the ongoing joint effort of the World Bank, FAO and IFAD within the 50 x 2030 Initiative.

The proposed thematic workstream on inequalities will contribute to the CFS vision and the overall objective of addressing the root causes of food insecurity with a focus on the people most affected by hunger and malnutrition. The focus will be on inequalities within agri-food systems. The workstream will provide an analysis, based on this HLPE report, on drivers of socio-economic inequalities between actors within agri-food systems that influence food security and nutrition outcomes. Gender inequalities and the need to create opportunities for youth would inform the analysis.

Please note that in parallel to this scoping consultation, the HLPE is calling for interested experts to candidate to the Project Team for this report. The call for candidature is open until April 19. Read more here.

According to the HLPE 2nd Note on Critical and Emerging Issues (2017), increasing risks to food security and nutrition can be linked to high levels of income concentration, corporate concentration in food trade, transformation and distribution, as well as to uneven distribution of agricultural assets and access to natural resources (CFS MYPoW 2020-2023). In addition, unequal endowments in agricultural assets and access to natural resources (such as land) together with income inequality deeply affect food security and nutrition. Unequal access to food and adequate nutrition further deepen inequalities through lost opportunities in health, education and jobs. Sustained disparities between vulnerable and other social groups – reflecting inequalities between and within countries - can slow growth and lead to political instability and conflict, migration flows, with related adverse consequences on food security and nutrition (HLPE, 2017). Stark inequalities in access to basic services and assets, but also in terms of food security and nutrition, affect households' prospects for overcoming poverty, and ultimately perpetuate food insecurity and malnutrition (Ibidem). One of the starkest trends of recent years has been the growing concentration in food-related production, industries and services, which has affected power relations between different actors in food systems and fuelled inequalities (HLPE, 2020).

The HLPE (2017, 2020) has stressed the importance of addressing food security and nutrition through a food systems approach, highlighting the linkages between supply chains, food environments, consumers’ behaviour and the resource, economic, social and institutional systems that connect to food. Inequalities affecting food systems’ drivers can be transmitted to all components of food systems and ultimately affect food security and nutrition outcomes. Furthermore, HLPE (2021) stressed the importance of using an intersectionality[1] lens in analyzing and addressing inequalities: different dimensions of inequalities, based on individual, household, community and country characteristics, intersect and are mutually reinforcing. Reducing inequalities requires addressing the different dimensions of inequality holistically and simultaneously, being aware of the complex power dynamics that generate and sustain inequalities.

COVID-19 has further exacerbated existing inequalities, as the brunt of the economic, social and health impact are being borne by the most vulnerable individuals, communities and countries. The estimated impact of the pandemic is an increase in the average Gini index for emerging and developing countries by 6 percent ( Human rights are at the core of the 2030 Agenda, which with the motto “No one left behind”, recognizes the severe consequences of inequalities on the attainment of sustainable development. Agenda 2030 has two goals specifically concerning inequalities (SDG 5 and SDG 10), in addition to including inequality reduction in a number of targets and indicators ( To reduce inequalities, it is fundamental to ensure comprehensive legal frameworks and governance systems able to uphold human rights, including the right to food.

The report will focus both on (a) inequalities originating within food systems and concerning nutrition and (b) inequalities in the political, social, cultural and economic environment around food systems, which have a bearing on unequal outcomes regarding FSN. 

The report will document the scale, the multidimensional, dynamic, intergenerational and intersectional aspects of inequality regarding food security and nutrition, how individuals are affected depending on their characteristics (age, gender, location, social group - class, ethnicity, race, migrant vs. native status), within households, communities, local and national levels, and between countries. Inequalities often depend on the priorities and choices of private and public investments, or legal status, and more generally, on the political balance between urban and rural areas or different regions, particularly if there are religious and/or ethnic differences within a country. Particular attention needs to be given to conflict areas and fragile States. The report will also deal with market power at different levels in food systems, driving inequality throughout supply chains from production to food processing, transport, distribution and trade. 

The response to such multi-dimensional and multi-actor inequality calls for a holistic and integrated approach for fair and equitable development (HLPE, 2021). Broadening the definition of food security, as proposed by HLPE (2020) provides a framework to comprehend the nexus between inequalities and social, economic, and environmental sustainability in food systems. The report will explore how inequalities originating within food systems can be alleviated, learning from good practices in existing policies, legal frameworks, approaches and interventions. Support for agroecological practices, small scale agriculture, territorial/local market initiatives, as well as alternative educational methods  including the use of digital tools and platforms accessible  to all, are among the options that have been identified as promising development pathways for transforming food systems and promoting food security and nutrition for all (HLPE, 2020 and 2021). 

These developments need to be put in context, taking into account the concentration of market power in global food systems. The report will develop the concept of “agency” as a lens to address the issue of structural barriers to obtaining economic resources and of inequalities in food security and nutrition, and define the right to food as a legal entitlement towards equality through upholding all relevant human rights, raising living standards, and eliminating intergenerational inequality for all. 

Questions to guide the e-Consultation on the scope of the report

With this e-consultation, the HLPE Steering Committee is seeking your feedback. In particular, you are invited to:

1. Share your comments and suggestions on the objectives and content of this report: 

  1. Defining inequality within the context of food systems and for food security and nutrition
  1. What does ‘inequality’ mean through a food security and nutrition perspective; 
  2. Trends within and between countries (data collection, measurement tools);
  3. Links between health and nutrition inequalities and labour productivity, educational attainment, economic growth and human wellbeing; 
  4. Commitments to reduce inequality (SDGs), efforts to improve measurement;
  5. Relationship between inequality and inequity. 
  1. Identifying drivers of power asymmetry that cause and perpetuate inequality 
  1. Concentration of economic, social, and political capital within the food systems;
  2. Structural barriers to equality for historically disadvantaged and poor populations (women, people of colour, rural and urban poor, indigenous communities, peasants, migrants, refugees, etc.).
  1. Paths toward equality
  1. Human Rights Based approach - “equality” as a human right principle, relevance to the right to food;
  2. Good governance to rebalance power and influence;
  3. Legal and policy interventions to regulate the influence of corporate actors (and those with concentrated power), and remove structural barriers and increase capital (for those with diminished resources).   

2. Share good practices and successful experiences on policy, legislation,  interventions and initiatives that have proven successful at:

  1. reducing inequality gap and its potential  impact on  food security and nutrition outcomes;
  2. ensuring the effective  legal framework to guarantee equal rights to access land and other productive resources, basic services, and the right to food to reduce inequalities;
  3. enhancing food systems’ role in the reduction of inequalities (through income and livelihoods generation, while contributing to healthy diets and environment, among others);
  4. empowering the role of small farmers’, producers’ and workers’ organizations in making food systems more equitable and accessible;
  5. addressing capacity gaps in generating and using data and other new technologies  in policy-making processes, monitoring and reporting on inequalities for FSN.

3. Share the most recent references that should be considered in this report.

4. Provide feedback on the following questions, to guide the development of the report:

  1. How do food systems drivers affect inequalities? And specifically what are the different impacts of trends in:
  1. assets, land, other natural resources and finance
  2. infrastructure and technology, including ICT
  3. market structure in input provision, logistics, processing, transport, distribution of food
  4. access to information and data
  5. demographic trends including migration and urbanisation
  6. socio-cultural factors around gender, ethnicity, religion, caste, race, language and their intersection
  7. political and economic factors (presence/absence of a legal framework to ensure equal rights to key resources and services and the expression of agency)? 
  1. How can social inequalities impact FSN outcomes? 
  2. How can the reduction of inequalities in food systems’ drivers foster sustainable economic and social transformation and improve FSN? Which different pathways should be considered? Which policies and practices have proven to work in reducing inequalities in FSN outcomes? Are there livelihood systems that are more successful at reducing inequalities and enhancing empowerment? 
  3. How can the reduction of inequalities through sustainable food systems and better FSN contribute to conflict prevention and peace building?
  4. How can gender and youth mainstreaming approaches, as well as adopting an intersectional lens on inequalities, taking multiple identities together in the analysis (including gender and youth) in food systems contribute to social justice and better FSN?
  5. What are the main knowledge and data gaps hindering the understanding of how inequalities determine FSN outcomes? What could be improved in data collection and analysis tools for FSN inequalities?
  6. How can strengthened food systems’ governance contribute to the reduction of inequalities in FSN outcomes? 
  7. Which legal frameworks can guarantee equal rights to land, basic services, but also the right to food, and do they contribute to reducing inequalities? 
  8. What is the role of political economy in reducing inequalities in food systems and in reducing other inequalities that have an impact on FSN outcomes?

We look forward to a rich and fruitful consultation!

Évariste Nicolétis, HLPE Coordinator
Paola Termine, HLPE Project Officer
[1] Intersectionality often refers to a person's multiple intersecting identities, including gender, class, caste, race, occupation, ethnicity, etc.

This activity is now closed. Please contact [email protected] for any further information.

* Click on the name to read all comments posted by the member and contact him/her directly
  • Read 38 contributions
  • Expand all

Firstly, congratulations to the HLPE for initiating this important and groundbreaking report. I think for some time, many of us in the FSN world have been troubled by inequality and unequal power relationships in FSN and it is so important to address it though a process such as HLPE. Thank you! I hope that this report will ensure attention to equality in diet quality and nutrition (including work on cost of quality diets (Herforth et al 2020). But also equality in all the aspects of food security, as recently expanded in the HLPE report “Food security and nutrition: building a global narrative towards 2030” to include Agency and Sustainability. National scale FSN policy often do not adequality support the cultural food practices and preferences of Indigenous and other marginalized communities; Sophie Chao (2021) has called this “gatrocolonialism”. I hope this report will find recommendations for how to scrutinize all national level policies (both FSN and other policy) to make sure they uphold the autonomy and dignity of Indigenous food system needs. I hope that the report will work to bridge the gap between critical food and nutrition studies and the needs of mainstream FSN policy community (see Nichols, Kampman and ven den Bold 2021 for great summary and suggestions). The other aspect of inequality that is particularly troubling to me is the ways power imbalances that shape trade-relationships between countries and often act to give large food corporations under-regulated access to lower-income country markets. I think this area is very important and so I look forward to this reports contribution in this area. Thank you!

Chao, S. (2021). Gastrocolonialism: the intersections of race, food, and development in West Papua. The International Journal of Human Rights, 1-22.

Herforth, Anna, et al. Cost and affordability of healthy diets across and within countries: Background paper for The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2020. FAO Agricultural Development Economics Technical Study No. 9. Vol. 9. Food & Agriculture Org., 2020.

Nichols, C., Kampman, H., & van den Bold, M. (2021). Forging just dietary futures: bringing mainstream and critical nutrition into conversation. Agriculture and Human Values, 1-12.

Dear HLPE Secretariat and Experts,

Thank you for the opportunity to contribute reflections on the scope of the upcoming report on reducing inequalities for food security and nutrition. Please find attached a set of responses and recommendations from SwedBio, a programme on biodiversity and equitable development. 

Kind regards,

Sara Elfstrand on behalf of SwedBio

Request HLPE to consider the following feedback:

1. Animal studies indicates that “Maternal protein restriction leads to hyperresponsiveness to stress and salt-sensitive hypertension in male offspring”1. Further research on similar studies on PEM (protein energy malnutrition) in humans is required. It is necessary to study the possibility of PEM related malnutrition from pregnant ladies to male children. In the meantime, protein requirement guidelines of pregnant ladies should be prepared.

2. A holistic ‘people centric’ approach to food, health and nutrition is required to address issues beyond food systems. Data collection and reporting tools should be supplemented with causal analysis and monitoring tools. Best practices in the world (health care) should be considered to eliminate all forms of malnutrition. For example, two ultrasound examinations during pregnancy (normal cases) in Switzerland is one such measure to monitor the health of a pregnant lady and would be born baby. “Maternity: Pregnancy: Your basic insurance covers the cost of seven routine antenatal examinations carried out by a doctor or a midwife and two ultrasound examinations (one between the 11th and 14th weeks of pregnancy and one between the 20th and 23rd weeks). In high-risk pregnancies your insurance will cover as many examinations and ultrasound examinations as necessary.”2Low cost mobile scanners are available now (suitable for LMICS). With wide spread mobile connectivity telemedicine/ virtual consultation / video consultation with specialist is a call away.

3. In the WHO recommended healthy diet there are no guidelines on quality and quantity of protein3. Many countries are yet to prepare their own guidelines. Statistics reveal that 93% of Indian population are unaware of ideal protein requirement per day with pregnant ladies on the top (97%), followed by lactating mothers (96%) and adolescents (95%) 4. Situation in other countries is not much different.

4. Food security and nutrition plays a key role in Sustainable Development Goal1(SDG1) of UN: ‘zero hunger’ and elimination of all forms of malnutrition. The difference between ‘food security’ and ‘protein adequacy’ is not clearly communicated. In many countries vulnerable groups consume more carbohydrates instead of protein to meet the dietary energy requirement. Cost of protein is much more than cost of carbohydrates. There are no protein foods being provided under most of the nutrition programmes– possibly due lack of availability, affordability and/or awareness on food groups and dietary adequacy and frequency5,6

5. Meal maker is a by-product of soya bean oil extraction and refining process. Pulp remaining after extracting the oil from soya beans is converted into small chunks  looking like small meat pieces and are often referred as vegetable meat. Meal maker is rich in proteins, 100 grams of meal maker has about 52 grams proteins, four times that of a boiled egg costing much less than four eggs.

Protein cost per gram in Indian Rupee (₹) Hyderabad, India,12 April 2022:  Meal maker- 0.23; Rice- 0.53; Wheat- 0.42; Milk- 1.62; Boiled egg- 0.38; Chicken meat- 1.78; Mutton- 2.5; Fish-1.3 to 3.0

6. Supplementing diet with Meal Maker Protein Powder (MMPP) is a cost- effective pathway to reduce PEM. Soya bean is one of the major crops cultivated across the world. It is grown under several weather conditions. In 2019 global production of soya bean is 334million tonnes. Approximately 85% of the world's soybean crop is processed into soya bean oil and soya bean meal. More than 95% of soya bean meal is used as animal feed. That is, about 284 million tonnes soya meal is produced in 2019, and about 270 million tonnes is used as animal feed. Increasing human consumption of meal maker is a sustainable approach to reduce protein deficiency. A small fraction of produced soya meal, that is less than10 million tonnes can provide 25 grams soya meal per day per person to reduce PEM of 1 billion undernourished people in the world for one year.


1. Maternal protein restriction leads to hyperresponsiveness to stress and salt-sensitive hypertension in male offspring, Robert A. AugustyniakKaran Singh, Daniel Zeldes, Melissa Singh, and Noreen F. Rossi, American Journal of Physiology ,  MAY 2010,

2. The compulsory health insurance in Switzerland Your questions, our answers, Published by the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health, Article No.: 316.950.ENG

3. Home/ Newsroom/Fact sheets/Detail/Healthy diet, World Health Organization, 29 April 2020.

4. A Look at Indian Protein Deficiency. And how to fix it. Heal with Priyanka, Aug 5, 2017

5. India’s protein deficiency and the need to address the problem, SHOBA SURI, HEALTH EXPRESS, OCT 16 2020.

6. The Effects of Protein Deficiency The Importance of Amino Acids, Darla Leal,  June 04, 2021, Verywellfit.

Dr. C V Kameswara Rao, M. Tech, Ph.D

Information Practitioner (voluntary)

Health, food, nutrition and climate change

Dear HLPE Secretariat and Experts,

Please find, attached, a set of responses and suggestions regarding this scope of report from Environmental Defense Fund. 

Please contact Willow Battista for questions or follow-up.

Thank you for this opportunity to engage on this important topic.

-Willow Battista, Senior Manager of Climate Resilient Food Systems, EDF

J'ai noté dans le commentaire de Rodney Cooke du CGIAR : "I propose on pillar 1 : Develop an enabling policy environment to strengthen family farming". 

C'est bien le sens de la note sur une nécessaire politique de régulation des marchés que j'ai adressée sur le site.

Bien cordialement 


Inherent barriers exist in food systems that prevent people from overcoming persistent and intergenerational malnutrition. To overcome these barriers and ensure that no one is left behind, we need systematic analysis of food system dynamics, including how they interact and perpetuate the various causes of malnutrition.

Inputs for consideration:

- The interdependence of equality and good nutrition should be central to the analysis. Inequalities impact and are impacted by the nutritional status of an individual.

- Disaggregated data, including at household level, is fundamental to assess levels of inequalities in countries. The report should be clear about the need for better data.

- When looking at the structural barriers for historically disadvantaged and poor populations, also consider the health related dimensions (e.g. disability) and the intergenerational nature of some of these drivers.

- The report should advocate for a human rights-based approach to programming that requires solutions to be developed in a participatory and inclusive way, with good governance and accountability at its centre.

- Shorter supply chains and more diverse and nourishing food supply could represent a first step towards more just, sustainable and resilient systems that support the realisation of the universal right to food.

Recent references that should be considered in the report:

UNSCN News 43: Advancing equity, equality and non-discrimination in food systems: Pathways to reform

Global Nutrition Report 2020

Equity and the right to food: A systemic approach to tackling malnutrition

Alimentación y prisiones: superando el ciclo de desigualdades y violaciones de derechos.

Con respecto a las discusiones sobre la seguridad alimentaria y nutricional de grupos sociales vulnerables, el escenario carcelario exige una enorme atención en Brasil, país con la tercera mayor población carcelaria en el mundo, actualmente con más de 800.000 personas privadas de libertad. De estas personas, 67,5% son negras, 46,4% son jóvenes entre 18 y 29 años, 56% no tienen educación básica completa y 99,2% tampoco tienen educación superior.

La realidad que esta población enfrenta es la de la desnutrición, ya que está sometida a lo que la Defensoría Pública de São Paulo (DPE-SP) ha denominado "pena de hambre" en el informe elaborado por su Centro Especializado en Situación Penitenciaria (NESC), de la inspección de 27 unidades penitenciarias en el estado durante la pandemia de COVID-19 [1].

Mediante solicitudes formales de acceso a la información realizadas por el Instituto de la Defensa del Derecho de Defensa (IDDD) a las secretarías de administración penitenciaria en todos los estados del país, se ha podido identificar que hubo negligencia por parte de las autoridades del gobierno en garantizar el suministro de agua y alimentación adecuada durante el período de la pandemia de COVID-19 para las personas privadas de libertad [2].

Particularmente en 2020 y en la primera mitad de 2021, muchos estados declararon que la provisión de agua potable y para la higiene personal de las personas detenidas era limitada. Solo 6 de los 27 províncias brasileñas (Alagoas, Ceará, Mato Grosso do Sul, Minas Gerais, São Paulo y el Districto Federal) informaron que, al final de 2020, el suministro de agua potable estaba disponible 24 horas por día para las personas privadas de libertad. En la misma línea, el referido informe elaborado por la Defensoría Pública de São Paulo señala que la práctica ilegal e inhumana del racionamiento de agua fue constatada en el 70,4% de las unidades penitenciarias inspeccionadas durante la pandemia.

Si bien esta no es una realidad nueva en Brasil, durante la pandemia el escenario se agravó, ya que el Estado no proporciona lo mínimo necesario para la subsistencia de los presos, dejando sus familias a cargo de la mayor parte de estos artículos básicos a través de un kit de víveres. Sin embargo, con la pandemia se ha suspendido la entrega de estos kits sin que el poder público ampliara la oferta de subsidios, lo que ha significado una fuerte caída en la cantidad de alimentos disponibles para las personas detenidas.

Las solicitudes de acceso a la información del IDDD, a su vez, cuestionaron si los estados permitían la entrega de alimentos a las personas privadas de libertad por parte de sus familiares. En el segundo semestre de 2021, solo en 7 províncias (Amapá, Bahia, Minas Gerais, Paraíba, Pernambuco, Piauí, São Paulo, y el Districto Federal) . Este permiso ha sido otorgado por las unidades penitenciarias, ni siempre en todas las unidades del estado y muchas veces con restricciones sobre qué alimentos estaban permitidos. Si bien toda esta drástica realidad existe en todo Brasil, destacamos, como ejemplo, el contexto del Estado de São Paulo, el más rico de la federación y que concentra 179 unidades penitenciarias, así como 24,5% de la población carcelaria del país, alcanzando hoy la marca de más de 200 mil personas detenidas.

Las condiciones de alimentación de los reclusos en el estado son descritas por la DPE-SP de la siguiente manera:

“i) poca cantidad de alimentos;

ii) comidas poco nutritivas y desequilibradas, compuestas principalmente de carbohidratos;

iii) ausencia de frutas y verduras;

iv) baja cantidad de proteína animal;

v) no hay variedad durante todo el año;

vi) impurezas en los alimentos, tales como insectos, cabellos, etc.”.

Con el regreso de las visitas presenciales, a fines de 2020, después de varios meses de visitas únicamente virtuales, los relatos de los familiares han dicho de que los detenidos estaban mucho más delgados que antes, con aspecto de enfermos.

Además de la insuficiente cantidad de alimentos, denunciada por las personas privadas de libertad en 85,2% de las unidades inspeccionadas, se ha señalado insuficiencia en cuanto a la calidad de los alimentos por falta de variedad en 92% de las unidades. En 30,79% no había proteína suficiente para componer la dieta y en el 68% de las unidades hubo reporte de impurezas en los alimentos.

Para empeorar este escenario, se ha observado el ayuno obligatorio en todas las prisiones. Entre las prisiones inspeccionadas:

• en 51,9% el intervalo entre la última comida del día y la primera del día siguiente es de 14 a 15 horas;

• en 25,9% es de 13:00 a 14:00 horas;

• en 14,8% es de 15 a 16h;

• en 3,7% es de 16 a 17 horas;

• en 3,7% es de 12 a 13 h.

Frente esta grave violación del derecho humano a la alimentación adecuada, IDDD, en conjunto con el despacho de abogados TozziniFreire, ha interpuesto una Acción Civil Pública[3] , a través de la cual llevó a juicio información sobre alimentación en unidades penitenciarias específicas, con datos que han señalado, por ejemplo, la insuficiencia en la compra de alimentos frente a las indicaciones oficiales de lo que se debe brindar a las personas privadas de libertad, la falta de variedad entre las comidas, la casi nula oferta de verduras y frutas, entre otros graves problemas que ocasionan la desnutrición.

Como ejemplo, vale mencionar el caso de la Prisión de Florínea (SP), en la que, en julio de 2020, se proporcionó la cantidad diaria irrisoria de solo 20 gramos de carne de res por persona. En el mismo sentido, la demanda señala que, en el caso de la Penitenciaría III de Hortolândia (SP), “en toda una semana en que se tomaron fotografías de las comidas, la única fruta ofrecida fue en el almuerzo del miércoles, cuando era sirvió un plátano por persona”.

Además, “la única diferencia entre los siete días de la semana es que el miércoles los internos tendrán derecho a pan y queso en lugar de pan y margarina”. Si bien en el ámbito normativo, Brasil tiene determinaciones y recomendaciones en torno al derecho de las personas privadas de libertad a la alimentación saludable, existen profundas violaciones de sus disposiciones, como ya se demostró. Cabe mencionar aquí la Ley 11.346/06 [4], que consagra el derecho a la alimentación como derecho fundamental, la Resolución 3/2017 del Consejo Nacional de Política Penal y Penitenciaria[5] y la Resolución 27/2020 del Consejo Nacional Consejo de Derechos Humanos[6]. También es un incumplimiento flagrante de las disposiciones de las Reglas Mínimas para el Tratamiento de los Reclusos (Reglas de Nelson Mandela) de la ONU[7] , que afirma la necesidad de que el Estado proporcione alimentos y agua adecuados, como se especifica en la Regla 22:

"1. Todo recluso recibirá de la administración del establecimiento penitenciario, a las horas acostumbradas, una alimentación de buena calidad, bien preparada y servida, cuyo valor nutritivo sea suficiente para el mantenimiento de su salud y de sus fuerzas.

2. Todo recluso tendrá la posibilidad de proveerse de agua potable cuando la necesite”.

Como grave ejemplo de incumplimiento de estas normas, mientras que la Resolución 3/2017 del CNPCP – órgano vinculado al Ministerio de Justicia y Seguridad Pública y potestad legal para dictaminar sobre política penitenciaria – prevé la obligación de cinco meriendas diarias para las personas detenidas, en prácticamente todas las unidades penitenciarias del estado de São Paulo se les proporciona sólo tres meriendas por día.

Lo que hace aún más grave este escenario es la información de que no hay indicios de que el poder público esté priorizando poner fin a esta situación de calamidad. Así lo indican los datos recogidos por el vehículo de comunicación Brasil de Fato[8] sobre el presupuesto del sistema penitenciario de São Paulo, según el cual, de 2021 a 2022, “la previsión de inversión en 'previsión de necesidades básicas para la prisión población', que incluye alimentación, higiene y alojamiento, aumentó un 15,75%. La inversión en ampliación de vacantes y cárceles saltó un 345,21%”. A los efectos de una visión global de la estructura alimentaria de las cárceles brasileñas, también se debe señalar que el sistema penitenciario brasileño tiene el 58% de su servicio de alimentación tercerizado.

Este contexto fue más allá de todos los límites en el Estado de Piauí, donde seis presos murieron, en 2020, en la Cárcel Pública de Altos, en el norte de Piauí, después de un brote de beriberi, una enfermedad causada por la falta de vitamina B1 y relacionada con una dieta inadecuada y pobre en nutrientes[9].

 Ante todo este escenario, es evidente que, si bien Brasil cuenta con normas que determinan una alimentación saludable, con garantía de nutrición adecuada para la población carcelaria, existe una profunda negligencia por parte de las autoridades públicas en el cumplimiento de estos derechos, lo que genera una violación sistémica de los derechos humanos de una población en situación extrema de vulnerabilidad y demuestra que este es un tema que llama la atención internacional.

Las desigualdades, marcas profundas del proceso histórico de colonización, esclavización y racismo, constituyen grandes obstáculos para la realización de los derechos y la libertad de grandes sectores de la población afectados por el encarcelamiento masivo, la sed y el hambre. Materiales completos recomendados: 

Materiales completos recomendados:

[1]“Inspeções em presídios durante a pandemia da COVID-19”. DPE-SP. NESC. Disponible en:… %B3rio%20do%20NESC%20em%20rela%C3%A7%C3%A3o%20%C3%A0s%20in spe%C3%A7%C3%B5es%20realizadas%20na%20pandemia%20da%20Covid19_compressed.pdf;

[2] “Dados sobre a COVID-19 no sistema prisional no 1º e 2º quadrimestres de 2020”. IDDD. Disponible en:…;

[3] Ação Civil Pública nº 1039521-72.2020.8.26.0053;

[4] Lei 11.346/06. Disponible en: 2006/2006/lei/l11346.htm;

[5] Resolução 3/2017 do CNPC. Disponible en:…;

[6] Resolução 27/2020 do CNDH. Disponible en: 282714010;

[7] ONU. Reglas Mínimas de las Naciones Unidas para el Tratamiento de los Reclusos (Reglas de Nelson Mandela);

[8] “Estado de SP aplica "pena de fome" em seus presídios, com média de jejum de 15 horas por dia”. MONCAO, Gabriela. Brasil de Fato. 2022. Disponible en:… [9] “Presos morreram por má alimentação em cadeia no Piauí, aponta relatório do Ministério da Saúde”. COSTA, Catarina. Disponible en:…

* LabGepen/UNB. Nota Técnica de 16 de abril de 2018. Prestação de Serviço de Nutrição e Alimentação para as pessoas presas que se encontram em trânsito no Estado de São Paulo. Disponible:ções.

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:

  • Availability of a quantity of food a population requires for a balanced diet commensurable with each individual’s nutritional needs. This latter integrates the quality and quantity of food with reference to nutrients.
  • Such a food supply should be sufficiently varied and of adequate quality with respect to its colour, flavour etc., in order to ensure culinary enjoyment which is an important indicator of quality of life. This variety and quality represents the culinary quality of food
  • The available food is wholesome and free of known orpotentially injurious substances which is another qualitative necessity.

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:

  • Industry and development.
  • Employment; automation and emphasis on capital-intensive or non-creative employment.
  • Education with emphasis on reductive white-collar professions and neglect of dietary competence.
  • Health care; either inadequate or theory-based rather than on real national health needs.
  • Internal affairs; expenditure on international air ports, conference centra and luxury hotels while national waterways, railways and roads are neglected.
  • Defence; countries where hunger and minimal food security obtain, allocate an inordinate portion of their governmental income on armament. It would repay those contries to invest those resources in the areas noted above.
  • Progressive environmental degradation owing to insufficient measures to counter it.

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:

  1. End-users have a decent income.
  2. An output of a food system is qualitatively and quantitatively sufficient to enable its end-users to procure a wholesome, varied and balanced diet that would afford them culinary enjoyment.
  3. Such an output is physically available to the end-users involved.
  4. End-users are willing to consume a wholesome, varied and balanced diet, experience culinary enjoyment and possess the requisite dietary competence. Targeted promotion of industrial comestibles and desire for ease may undermine this willingness.

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:

  1. Their output is sustainable.
  2. They are robust enough to withstand a certain amount of climatic variation, microbial and parasitic attacks.
  3. They are resilient enough to recover from 2 within a reasonably short time.
  4. Food systems contain a built-in appropriate food reserves needed to ensure their sustained output when they are subjected to environmental or some other stress.

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:

  • Nutrition; after air and water, food is crucial to life, everything else becomes relevant only if we are alive.
  • Education; we are not born with a prior knowledge and skills needed to live as humans. We have to learn them from walking, speaking and developing our innate abilities through learning, which is not limited to a narrow ‘higher education’ as it is commonly believed.
  • Good health; freedom from pain, discomfort, dysfunction and even death from disease.
  • Security; safety from adverse climate (clothing and housing), various forms of discrimination, threats to one’s possessions including life and limb.
  • Procreation; although it is now a matter of choice in some societies, this biological need has not been met in line with the modern advances in medicine, nutrition etc. As result, global population growth has become a universal threat to our quality of life.
  • Non-material need set; so-called because their satisfaction does not involve any physical gain, for instance, aesthetic enjoyments (literature, music, art and sculpture, etc.), engaging in games and sports and entertainment. It is important to note that engaging in those pursuits for money is not what is meant here. While professional players play a game for money, some spectators watch it for the sake of enjoyment. It is the latter we are talking about here.

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:

  • General incompetence in policy formulation and implementation.
  • Corruption and nepotism.
  • Desire to retain power at any cost.
  • Active discrimination against certain groups in education, employment, social and health care and general security etc., which is not permitted by the cultural norms of the country.
  • Indifference to public welfare.

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:

  1. The yielder sub-system; when man appeared on earth, this was simply his environment as it is for other living things. Invention of agriculture and/or animal husbandry represent using a part of our environment to produce one or more of selected species. Such a part may vary in size and the types of food produced therein.
  2. Harvester sub-system; beginning with hunting and gathering, this sub-system has technically advanced to combined harvesters etc. However, the original mode of hunting and gathering may be still seen among the fishermen and nut gatherers in Amazonas.
  3. Culinary sub-system; it involves the preparation and consumption of harvested food. At first, harvested food was consumed on the spot as all the other primates do, and gradually sophisticated food preparation prior to consumption evolved giving birth to culinary traditions.
  4. Transport sub-system; its emergence as a component of a food system seems to be contemporaneous with the formation of family groups and dawning of cooking. Greater security and improved taste of food are the motivators of its appearance. One should not overlook the fact that food carried on somebody’s back and in a refrigerated aeroplane are merely technically different but generically identical instances of transport sub-system.
  5. Storage sub-system; Even at the hunter-gatherer stage of our evolution, it is conceivable that man occasionally managed to procure more food than could b consumed at once. This enabled our ancestors to store the surplus in some makeshift manner. Soon, humans developed early methods of food preservation like smoking meat and drying seeds, which raised the importance of its storage. Thus, food storage in a hollow of a tree and in a modern refrigerated facility serve the same basic function.
  6. Preservation sub-system; this emerged before the invention of agriculture as has been described by many anthropologists. When food was available in abundance, smoking and preserving it in wild honey has been observe in Neolithic cultures. Later on, more advanced methods like salting, converting raw food into other commestables like cheese or preserving it under refrigeration were developed.
  7. Supplementation sub-system; need for this appeared after the invention of agriculture, for using a limited part of our environment to cultivate a few species of food plants rapidly depleted the eco-system services in that area as it seriously disturbed the qualitative and and the quantitative equilibria among the living species there. These equilibria are essential for the maintenance of the availability of those services. Their artificial supplementation includes crop rotation, irrigation, use of fertilisers, bio-cides etc. Later on, it was directed at increased food yield by selective breeding, research etc. Thus, the purpose of this sub-system is to increase the food yield by supplementing the available eco-system services ordeveloping improved species or both.
  8. Trade sub-system; the last sub-system of our food systems to appear, it represents three distinct orders. The first order food trade emerged with the advent of division of labour in human societies. At first, it consisted of exchanging food for other goods, but when value tokens were invented, food trade involved producers selling their produce for money. The second order food trade appeared when an intermediary purchased food from a producer in order to sell it to an end-user or another intermediary for profit. An intermediary may sell food in any form, for instance, raw preserved or ready-to-eat food. The third order food trade involves a first intermediary purchasing a future harvest at a low price to sell it to a second intermediary at a higher price. Then the latter may sell it to a third intermediary either as a future harvest or as actual produce to be sold. At first limited to the output of yielder sub-systems, trade has now encroached into every sub-system of our food systems with grave consequences for food security and nutrition which will be discussed later on.

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:

  1. First order causes directly or indirectly adversely affecting them. Neglect of agriculture and national infra-structure are respective examples of this.
  2. Structural flaws in food systems in use, for example, in a country where malnutrition is prevalent, yielder sub-system is geared to output cash crops.
  3. Food system operators run it inappropriately or incompetently and the end-users are either lack sufficient dietary competence or cannot afford an appropriate diet. The reader would have noticed that the first, third and fourth of these arise from the first order causes and have already been discussed. Meanwhile, the second is more complicated for two reasons. The first causes, neglect of agriculture and inappropriate education may bring this about, but even when those first causes are absent as in developed nations, youth with sufficient ability to acquire agricultural competence are seldom willing to engage in this field owing to its perceived lack of prestige, indifference etc. As a result, food production is left to less talented hands, farms are abandoned or are sold to industrial farms devoted to monoculture. This social problem has grown with the years and has not received the attention it deserves.

So, we are faced with three basic challenges:

  1. How to deal with the first order causes of the problem? A generic approach to its resolution has already been suggested.
  2. Re-structuring of inappropriate food systems with reference to  the nutritional requirements of the area it serves with a view to incorporating a suitable food reserve in it. Sometimes, it may be necessary to link up with another food system to establish the latter.
  3. Enhancing the competence of the operators of food systems, their end-users’ dietary competence and income. Often, this last universal necessity is ignored and emphasis is laid only on the income of the operators of yielder sub-systems i.e., farmers, fishermen etc. Although fully justified, it fails to understand that unless the end-users can afford the food they need, the food producers cannot earn a decent living by agriculture.

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:

  1. The unemployed hungry reports to the nearest ‘right to food office’ and is given some suitable employment and an advance on his salary so that he may purchase food, have a job and live happily ever after.
  2. He reports as before, gets a food allowance either in cash or kind; this will be repeated as necessity arises.
  3. He is offered ‘carrier guidance,’ offered a follow-up of how he gets on with his search for work, encouraged with printed and audio-visual success stories etc., but still remains hungry.

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:

  • Farmers, fishermen, other food gatherers and their helpers are entitled to a reward fully commensurable with their absolutely essential work. Today, this is hardly the case. In affluent countries, they are subsidised by the authorities while in others, most of them live in poverty.
  • Lower echelon workers in harvesting, transport, storage, preservation and trade sub-systems are frequently under paid.
  • Owners/top echelon of the industrialised farms and other sub-system of food systems earn an inordinately high income.
  • Inequity and inequalities in nutrition and food security has become a serious problem among end-users. Although it is universal, its degree varies from country to country. Unemployment, under-employment, insufficient food systems output, dietary incompetence and physical lack of availability are the major causes of this.

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:

  • Replacing labour-intensive yielder systems by intensive mechanisation; even though this is called modernisation and praised, a word is seldom said about those who are made redundant by it and rendered unemployed and unemployable.
  • Use of monoculture using few species highly dependent on supplementation with fertilisers, biocides, etc. While it increases the vulnerability of food systems by lowering their robustness and resilience, they also reduce output’s variety making it difficult for one to procure a varied diet needed for culinary enjoyment.
  • Excessive use of supplementation monoculture requires often results in soil salination and fertiliser and biocide spills cause severe environmental damage.
  • Such monocultures are often the input raw material for industrial comestibles whose impact on health, nutrition and culinary enjoyment is questionable.
  • Sometimes, trade regulations permit the establishment of foreign industrial farms in countries where inadequate food security and nutrition obtain in order to export their produce. This reduces the arable land available to local food producers as well as bringing about environmental damage.
  • With the connivance of local authorities, local or foreign trade is permitted to import or manufacture industrial comestibles and promote their sale claiming it is necessary for ‘globalisation’ as though it is decreed by fate. This as rational as believing that astrology demands globalisation, therefore, globalise. Globalisation of food systems undermines the most environmentally benign local food culture, diminishes culinary enjoyment and is an undesirable cultural imposition from without
  • We have already mentioned two kinds of misdirected development policy which respectively interferes with yielder and trade sub-systems by stressing foreign trade at the expense of a country’s nutrition.
  • In affluent countries, the supply of seeds and animal germoplasm is monopolised by a few concerns which limits them to a few species. Unfortunately, less affluent countries have begun to use the same species as they are advised to do so in order to increase yields and to be ‘modern.’ This trade results in an increased vulnerability of world food systems, soil salination, environmental damage, loss of culinary variation, and farmers’ loss of independence as to what to cultivate. 
  • Flawed development, trade and food and agriculture policies permit agro-industry to take over family farms and small holdings which are converted to ‘more profitable’ monoculture. Their consequences for their previous owners, culinary variation and the environment need no elaboration.

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:

  • Increase in the reduction of variety in fruits, fresh vegetables, fish, meat etc. Loss of biodiversity in food production is responsible for this.
  • Ever-growing volume of a limited number of ready-to-eat industrial comestibles. This has now begun to make considerable inroads into the diet of less affluent countries.
  • Fast disappearance of independent food shops while those owned by a limited number of ‘chains’ proliferate. This is prevalent in industrial democracies and it is spreading. However regardless of their ownership, these ‘supply chains’ are remarkably identical in the choice of wares they offer. Reader would have noticed that this has become very common in chains that sell ready-to-eat food. Thus, the end-user has been made dependent on a few monopolies for nutrition and food security. This travesty of dietary choice requires urgent global action.

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:

  • A salubrious climate.
  • Water supply.
  • Soil fertility.

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:

  • Curbing the population growth.
  • Halt environmental degradation and initiate and continue its regeneration.
  • Increase global agricultural bio-diversity.
  • Promote employment with a decent income and deprecate the emphasis on capital-intensive industry. While the experts may complain about the ‘monotony’ of some work, many workers do not and do not wish to be academics.
  • Devolution of the trade sub-system of food systems; none of its sub-systems should be owned by one and the same ‘legal entity.’ This is particularly important for seeds, animal breeding and outlets used by end-users.
  • Care should be taken to abolish food monopolies through holding companies, hedge funds and other legal trickery.
  • Encourage and support farm cooperatives, small holdings, family-run food outlets like shops and restaurants. Note that every sub-system of a food system may be run on a cooperative basis.
  • Encourage and support the establishment of strategic food reserves.
  • Improve and expand communications; priority should be given to water ways and railways as they are the most energy efficient.
  • Universal increase of public dietary competence.
  • Correct the public perception of agriculture and workers therein.
  • Increased allocation of funds to agriculture and fiscal prudence in the superfluous areas we have discussed earlier.
  • An education system aimed at developing one’s innate abilities rather than the ‘needs’ of trade and industry. The latter is a form of professional servitude into which one is compelled from childhood.

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.

Best wishes!

Lal Manavado.