It is disconcerting that in the 21st century, hunger remains a second priority when talking about Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – after eradication of extreme poverty, one of the main causes of hunger.
The hunger problem, it would seem, should have been almost overcome, or is experienced only in pockets in certain areas of the world today. According to the UN World Food Programme however, “some 795 million people in the world do not have enough food to lead a healthy active life. That’s about one in nine people on earth”, even as notable advancements are achieved in food issues.
A primary response is through direct food assistance in urgent situations, usually in countries with very poor economic conditions or with heavy and persistent armed conflicts, or surviving natural disasters. There is also a huge effort in responding to malnutrition in many rural areas, home to 50% of the world’s population and in which the majority are subsistence farmers.
Reducing poverty in rural areas is one of the most sustainable strategies, for which a combination of activities is needed. On the one hand, the efficiency of agricultural and livestock activities need to be improved but ensuring their sustainability. During the 20th century, improving agricultural productivity was using agrochemicals. We now know that there are models of agricultural production that are equally efficient but using appropriate tillage techniques that reduce environmental impact and promote biodiversity.
However, a very important aspect that should be considered is the socio-cultural dynamics. Malnutrition is often a rural phenomenon and alternatives offered are linked to the rural environment such as improving the productivity of agricultural and forestry activities, promoting their sustainability, and ensuring biodiversity. Thus, problems and solutions are in rural contexts and for this reason, social considerations are fundamental.
Many traditional agricultural activities are full of knowledge gained through practice. Training a farmer involves the learning of techniques, uses and customs that can be achieved by living in rural areas, not just in schools. Education thus plays a critical role because it must be able to identify, recognize, and transmit knowledge that is sustained informally through generations.
SDG 2 aims to end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture. SDG 2 wants to ensure everyone’s access to sufficient and adequate food and it wants to break the hunger figure of 800 million, as has already been done with about 120 million. Certainly, this is linked to economic capacity because hunger is more a problem of income (lacking the money necessary to but food) than of food stocks (except for very localized and temporary situations). There is enough food for everyone.
In this process of developing rural sustainability which depends on adequate agricultural and forestry activities, the role of women is very important. As mentioned earlier, this is not merely a matter of incorporating agricultural production techniques but a social transformation that reinforces life in very vulnerable situations.
While young men migrate to the cities looking for jobs, most of the women remain in the rural areas. Thus, many of the action responses must focus on the women as well because they are integral to the social transformation that’s needed.
This SDG, like the other SDGs, has a strong political burden. Structural measures are needed to change our modes of production and consumption. Governments need to be involved in taking steps to make the changes.
But it is also true that food is a concern that allows our direct personal involvement. Our food choices support a mode of agriculture or another. Where, and how, we buy food has impact on supporting either a system that strengthens the farmer or one that reinforces the agro-industrial model. By buying local, organic and seasonal products, we support a sustainable, reasonable and humanizing model.
The agro-industrial model has been extended from the northern to the southern countries and so farmers turn to monocropping, losing their autonomy. The income they gain is not dependent on their activity but on investment markets which are miles away and whose sole purpose is to maximize profits. In these types of markets, sustainability, community value, or self-esteem of farmers as producers are not valued.
From the educational point of view, the role of responsible consumers is very important. In this context, we need a strong and resilient social commitment with determined political action that allows to change our way of thinking and to understand our relationship with food.
Ultimately, if we begin to study our food choices, we will begin to draw a thread of coherence that will also challenge other aspects of our daily lives such as transportation, our holidays, our housing, or the way we understand the world and our social relations.
Education not only opens our eyes to the right to food, but allows us recognize the many factors involved in the exercise of this right. More importantly, it suggests good practices that we can incorporate in our daily life.
This post is also available in: Spanish