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The many concerns of food security today

5 March 2021
“Overall, and without considering the effects of COVID-19, projected trends in undernourishment would change the geographic distribution of world hunger dramatically. While Asia would still be home to almost 330 million hungry people in 2030, its share of the world’s hunger would shrink substantially. Africa would overtake Asia to become the region with the highest number of undernourished people (433 million), accounting for 51.5 percent of the total.” (FAO, The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2020)

Pedro Walpole SJ

Three global dialogues on interwoven global concerns are taking place, at the core of which is the growing food insecurity in many parts of the world.

First, there are new numbers for Covid infections and deaths as vaccinations start to roll out in many countries. With this, Covid continues to reveal many weaknesses, gaps, and abuses of global to local systems, and a core one is the growing food insecurity.

Second, regional discussions around climate change and preparations for COP26 in November are beginning to move with urgency given the actual weather patterns and a renewed hope given the US commitment to re-enter the Paris Agreement. There is much grit and resistance in the machinery of climate negotiations that calls for social pressure to get the political accountability needed in taking the next serious steps to address increasing human vulnerability and food insecurity.

Third is the constant reporting on agroecology and its different forms and contributions, and also the limited recognition in many urban societies that techno-fix is not going to solve food insecurity or climate change.

Growing food insecurity

The number of economically vulnerable people has jumped because work is not a given and homes may not be secure in extreme weather events, while millions already lack water and food.

There were an estimated 135 million who suffered acute food insecurity before Covid, and now the projection is 272 million. Some argue that money should go not to hospitals but to farmers and local agriculture so that the crisis is not compounded by millions more people leaving the land in search of food and work.

The responses to food security from the start need to be inclusive of those suffering and the problem shared as a responsibility of the whole of society. Food security is a web of seemingly intractable concerns, issues, and conflict of interests with respect to the common/public good.

Locally it is about families having enough food each day so no one in the family goes hungry. It is a problem of diversity and distribution of food and of priority in how the land is used. These are some of the links coming from the local context that are needed to piece the picture together and build a resilient food system.

There are many local realities we need to bring together, such as upland corn farmers growing chemical-based animal feeds in the Philippines. In India, there is another level of challenge where national policies favor corporate interests over small farmers who traditionally live on the land. Vandana Shiva’s achievement in seed banking addresses many of these concerns for an agroecology perspective. We need to study these and understand the realities.

The regional picture is even more complex, before we even get to the global. In the 2020 report on The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, figures on hunger and severe food insecurity showed a steady increase in the Southeast Asian region. The Philippines has the highest recorded number of food insecure people with at least 18.8 million Filipinos who went hungry or suffered severe food insecurity from 2017 to 2019 – a jump from 12.4 million recorded in 2014 to 2016. Indonesia, the most populous country in the region at 270 million, is next with 18.7 million food insecure people, followed by Cambodia with 7.2 million, Malaysia with 4.7 million, Vietnam with 6 million, and Singapore with 300,000.

Food security in climate talks

Development goals are being retooled to address a Covid world but COP26 is the major global negotiation this year. Clearly food security is an integral part of these discussions and the rural livelihoods that can be supported by new initiatives.

Integrating nature-based solutions to climate change in the Paris Agreement Rulebook, highlighting the role of Indigenous Peoples in relation to the management of forests, oceans, and ecosystems are ways of paying for ecological services while securing the lives of local communities.

A review of the nine planetary boundaries and related facts highlight three points in  this updated poster of Boundaries on the Landscape (2021) previously developed in 2017: a) the rate of rise in greenhouse gases (GHG) that includes land use conversion in the forest areas of the Amazon, the Congo, and in Kalimantan, b) the mammal biomass of human livestock, and c) the greater human poverty and food insecurity.

Agroecology and civil society engagement in the UN Food Systems Summit

Explaining agroecology and its important contributions in terms of securing a less vulnerable world of all and reducing carbon emissions is very important. CIDSE developed a good chart on the Principles of Agroecology, part of a publication that attempts “to clarify what agroecology means, what it looks like and show that, when taken as a whole, agroecology and its various principles can lead to tremendous positive effects in terms of human rights and the right to food.”

In the meantime, an ongoing discussion is the preparation for the UN Food Systems Summit 2021 by the Civil Society and Indigenous Peoples’ Mechanism (CSM) for relations with the UN Committee on World Food Security.

In a letter to the Chair of the UN Committee on World Food Security (CFS), Mr Thanawat Tiensin, the CSM laid down the general conditions by which they will continue with the Food Systems Summit, as “the CSM cannot jump onto a train that is heading in the wrong direction.”

There are criticisms “about undue corporate influence in the Summit preparation, the missing human rights grounding, the lack of emphasis on the true extent of the transformation that the corporate food systems need to undergo to re-align with the utmost imperatives of people, peoples, and planet, the threat of democratic public institutions and inclusive multilateralism being undermined by multistakeholderism.”

The CSM finds it essential that critical progress is pursued in the shift away from corporate capture and re-grounding in individual and collective human rights and the experiences and knowledge of the people and Indigenous Peoples most affected, in the transformation of corporate food systems, and in defending democratic public institutions and inclusive multilateralism.

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