Food Security, Food Sovereignty, and political will

Food security
There are complexities of issues, policies, and national-international perspective over food security, hunger and famine. The interesting aspect is that defining and setting policies for food security had always been in the hand of powerful agencies. Most of these agencies are dominated by the think tanks and representatives of rich countries. The politics of favoring interests of rich countries lies within the domination of multilateral implementing agencies such as WTO, WB, Asian Development Bank (ADB), IMF, International Finance Corporation (IFC), United Nations (UN) agencies etc. Multilateral agencies are complex and paradoxical in policies and practices rather bilateral agencies in terms of “trade-off”. For example, AoA of WTO benefits rich nations by exploiting poor nations in the name of trade justice and trade liberalization. The process happened in such a perplexing way that representatives and thinkers of poor nations realized the paradox of exploitation from the impacts of this trade rule.

FAO’s definition focusing on “access” rather “food production and sufficiency of poor nations” reminds us the politics of favoring rich nations in line with WTO. In 1983, FAO defined, “ensuring that all people at all times have both physical and economic access to the basic food that they need”. FAO stresses on “access” besides demand and supply side of food equation. Interestingly, the definition could not recognize the large group of people without purchasing power. Therefore, access and supply of food may not ensure their “food entitlement”.

In 1974, World Food Summit (WFS) defined, “availability at all times of adequate world food supplies of basic foodstuffs to sustain a steady expansion of food consumption and to offset fluctuations in production and prices”. Surprisingly, this definition could not give special attention to vulnerable and marginalized poor across the LDCs. However, in 1986, WB recognized “chronic food insecurity” associated with “structural problem”, “low income” besides “transitory food insecurity” caused by natural disaster, economic collapse or conflict. The definition further appears as, “access of all people at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life”. WB still missed stressing on “production” and “food sufficiency”.

In 1994, UNDP’s HDR came up with “Human Security”, which covered a range of components including food security. From human security perspective, food came up much more as entitlement and social security aspect rather stand alone issue. In 1996, world food summit came up with more complex definition stressing ‘physical and economic access’ to ‘sufficient, safe and nutritious’ food. The definition is further refined in The State of Food Insecurity 2001 as ‘physical, economical, and social’ access to ‘sufficient, safe, and nutritious’ food. The later version of food security definition added words like ‘sufficient’, ‘safe’, and ‘nutritious’. It could be ridiculous in the context of conflict stricken, famine, and hunger affected countries to think about safe and nutritious food. The world leading agencies have been fallen in the trap of bureaucratization, which resulted in producing tons of documents beside numerous dialogues and conferences with out any significant outcome and change on the ground. We need to revisit this issue of multilateral agencies’ role in addressing and changing food insecurity on the ground.

The concept “food security” is exploited, partly because the leading agencies’ stand point is not clear. When trade liberalization clearly exploits food security of developing nations, the so called development agencies do not take side of marginalized farmer of the developing nations. As Glipo notes,

To the degree that food sovereignty incorporates fundamental questions of economic sovereignty, land reform, women’s rights and small farmers’ rights, it has become a more comprehensive platform for advocacy among those seeking fundamental changes in the national and global order. To the extent that it advocates a new development paradigm that rejects the rigidity of free trade and the export-oriented industrial agriculture model of the North, many accept its relevance to third world conditions. (2003: 22)

So called agencies, thus, played tricky role with food security and technically saved face of WTOs and their allies. However, more or less these food security efforts goes in line with ‘access to food’, which ultimately reminds the existence of market and ability of people to buy from the market. Thus, vibrant and radical agencies for the marginalized peasants of the south deny “access to food” for food security and replace it by “production of food” for food-sufficiency, which is food sovereignty.

This study focuses on ‘entitlement’ to food, which is in line with Amartya Sen’s ‘entitlements’ of ‘individuals’ and ‘households’. And ‘entitlement’ complies with ‘power relation’ from the perspective of RBA. This issue will be further discussed at the power relation section.

Political will for food security
11 years after the 1996 WFS summit food insecurity remains high across the world. The same is echoed by Flavio Valente[i],
“It is unacceptable that more than 850 million human beings continue to go hungry everyday despite repeated – and repeatedly breached – commitments of governments and intergovernmental organizations.”

Despite of WFS and lots and lots of seminars, conferences, and dialogues, food insecurity and hunger remains. The quest for knowing ‘why hunger exists’ could lead us to find root cause. Le Vallée (2006) stressed on ‘willingness of government’ so as the ‘greater political will’ to eradicate hunger and ensure food security. Political will of a government could solve food insecurity within a nation state. For example, a country like Bangladesh, which had been corrupt and failed for couple of decades because of lack of political will. Off course, absence of good governance resulted in corruption and food insecurity. Therefore, good governance could ensure an idol mechanism through which political will could alleviate food insecurity. Good governance should have rule of law, accountability, transparency, sound public administration, respect and protection for human rights.

Good governance —————— political will

If it is the policy of ‘pruduction’ and ‘self-sufficiency’ for food security, the government of a nation state has to adopt that policy and its implication. If it is ‘access to food’ in the market, which is sometime beyond government’s control because of global trade and free markets, still government needs to avoid policy intervention to protect her citizens. If it is international politics for exploiting developing countries, the government needs to have strategies for not to be exploited. Paarlberg (2002) says, “Food insecurity persists largely because of governance and policy failure at the national level”. Paarlberg adds where national governments have performed well in the developing world, hunger has been significantly reduced, while in those regions where hunger is not yet under control, improving governance at the national level must now be the highest priority (cited in Le Vallée 2006). Therefore, the responsibility and duty of national government is the only measure for production, supply, and entitlement of food unless conflict and disaster issues destabilize a nation state.

Some may argue that globalization and trade liberalization have impacted food insecurity locally. Top down pressure of multilateral and bilateral agencies could obligate a developing country to adopt and implement self-destructing policies. Still Paarlberg (2002) says, “Despite globalization, most food insecurity today is still highly localized and locally generated”. Ultimately it is states responsibility to fight against international policy intervention, which is against state’s interest.

There is a need for synergy between national and international political will. Unless political will of international community wants an end of food insecurity rather food conspiracy, it could be a struggle to overcome hunger and insecurity from a national perspective. Political will should not end in frustrated attempts to address problem rather it should end in policies and programs. But there is a doubt about international political will?

The conept of food security is misinterpreted by rich countries and their allies, which is a food conspiracy. Developing countries now distrust western counterparts for agricultural trade off. As Glipo notes, “In the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh where rapid trade liberalization practically demolished small-scale agriculture…national peasant movements are strong in these countries and are leading the movement to dismantle the WTO and its oppressive trade agreements, particularly the AoA and the TRIPs agreements (2003: 21).” This growing distrust leads these Asian countries to believe in “food sovereignty”.

Globalization Vs Food Sovereignty
In the name of globalization and free market economy, the rich and powerful nations have been exploiting the poor nations. And this is a cruel reality, which has been realized by the citizens of poor nations lately today. As Bello[ii] notes, The free market policies that the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank imposed on some 100 developing and transitional economies between 1980 and 2000 had induced, in all but a handful of them, not a virtuous circle of growth, prosperity, and equality but a vicious cycle of economic stagnation, poverty, and inequality.

Globalization and it neoliberal programs has the intention to destabilize social and economic atmosphere of developing countries and eventually taking control over market along with natural resources. After the end of colonial legacies, this is an imperialist aggression in the form of trade agreements to have control over the markets of poor nations. TNC and big players out of corporate driven globalization have been wiping out small payers of developing nations at the so called open market. Thus, trade invasion is much more sophisticated and complicated in nature than military invasion of colonizers’ era. American and British invasion in sovereign nations Iraq and Afghanistan is examples of neo imperialism, which is a new form of colonial invasion. This indicates growing threat against national sovereignty. However, this paper may keep track on food sovereignty issues.

Asia-Pacific Network on Food Sovereignty’s (APNFS) agenda is to remove WTO from food and agriculture and to ensure food sovereignty through developing national policies for food and agriculture. And the agenda is to develop protection mechanism from external hazards like AOA. Pesticide Action Network (PAN) – Asia Pacific, IBON and Via Campesina are some networks that want no more WTO and their slogan is food sovereignty. These protestors and advocacy groups had chosen “food sovereignty” as objective because “food security” is already misinterpreted by northern elites for their own benefit. Thus, food sovereignty is not confusing concept for the oppressed peasants and policy advocacy groups. As Glipo notes, “food sovereignty came popularly to mean not only the struggle for food security and food selfsufficiency…” A considerable definition was given by International NGO/CSO Planning Committee (IPC),

Food Sovereignty is the right of individuals, communities, peoples and countries to define their own agricultural, labour, fishing, food and land policies, which are ecologically, socially, economically and culturally appropriate to their unique circumstances. It includes the true right to food and to produce food, which means that all people have the right to safe, nutritious and cultural appropriate food and to food-producing resources and the ability to sustain themselves and their societies

Food sovereignty opposes export oriented model of agriculture. It protects farmers who are landless, small, marginalized and rural women. It promotes agro-ecological model and community based natural resource management. Food sovereignty paradigm has come through a series of conferences of NGOs, Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), and social movements and become more comprehensive. The elements of food sovereignty are identified in the following box.

Elements of food sovereignty

i. priority of local agricultural production to feed people locally;

ii. access of smallholder farmers, pastoralists, fisherfolk and landless people to land, water, seeds and livestock breeds and credit. Hence the need for land reform; for the fight against GMOs and patents on seeds, livestock breeds and genes; for free access to seeds and livestock breeds by smallholder farmers and pastoralists and for safeguarding water as a public good to be distributed equitably and sustainably used; and for secure access to fishing grounds by artisanal fisherfolk;

ii. the right to food;

iii. the right of smallholder farmers to produce food and a recognition of Farmers Rights;

iv. the right of consumers to decide what they consume, and how and by whom it is produced;

v. the right of countries to protect themselves from under-priced agricultural and food imports;

vi. the need for agricultural prices to be linked to production costs and to stop all forms of dumping. Countries or unions of states are entitled to impose taxes on excessively cheap imports, if they commit themselves to using sustainable production methods and if they control production in their internal markets to avoid structural surpluses (supply management);

vii. the populations’ participation in agricultural policy decision-making;

viii. the recognition of the rights of women farmers who play a major role in agricultural production in general and in food production in particular;

ix. agroecology as a way not only to produce food but also to achieve sustainable livelihoods, living landscapes and environmental integrity.

Source: ITDG 2005

The forum on ‘food sovereignty’ debated over the above elements and later on came up with four priority areas, which are known as four pillars or principles. These are 1) right to food, 2) access to productive resources, 3) mainstream agroecological production, and 4) trade and local market. Right to food is legal obligation where as food security is technical concept. And food sovereignty is a political one. And so far food sovereignty is most comprehensive solutions for ensuring livelihoods of the marginalized rural population. In addition, it protects poor and developing countries form exploitative interventions of globalization and trade agreements led by elite countries.

End Notes:
[i]Secretary General, FIAN International, International Human Rights Organisation for the Right to Food.
[ii] Walden Bello, ‘The Future in the Balance’ Acceptance speech, Right Livelihood Award, Swedish Parliament, Stockholm, 8 December 2003.


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