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Global Fight against Hunger

  • 16th October, 2020

Syllabus: Prelims GS Paper I : Current events of national and international importance; Economic and Social Development – Sustainable Development, Poverty, Inclusion, Demographics, Social Sector initiatives, etc.

Mains GS Paper III : Issues related to direct and indirect farm subsidies and minimum support prices; Public Distribution System objectives, functioning, limitations, revamping; issues of buffer stocks and food security.

After decades of steady decline, world hunger has slowly been on the rise since 2015. An estimated 821 million people in the world suffered from hunger in 2018. If nothing changes, the immense challenge of achieving the Zero Hunger Target by 2030 will not be achieved at the same time, overweight and obesity continue to increase in all regions of the world, according to The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2019.

The most devastating conflict of the 20th century, even arguably of all known history, was the Second World War. The war and its aftermath saw large-scale hunger and privation across all of Europe and other parts of the world that the conflict had touched, on a scale hitherto unknown.global-hunger

Eisenhower's experience as the Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force, which landed on the beaches of Normandy in 1944 and ultimately oversaw the final phase of thewar in western Europe that ended with Germany’s defeat, had given him a unique insight into the deadly privations the devastating conflict had wrought on children in almost every country on the continent. It was this experience that forged his conviction that childhood hunger and peace were incompatible.In 1960, Eisenhower, who was by now into his second term as President of the United States, again focussed an address to the UN on global hunger and proposed that the UN spearhead the creation of a multilateral effort to provide food aid wherever it was needed. “The United States is already carrying out substantial programmes to make its surpluses available to countries of greatest need. My country is also ready to join with other members of the UN in devising a workable scheme to provide food to member states through the UN system, relying on the advice and assistance of the Food and Agriculture Organization,” he told the UN General Assembly. This proposal was then brought to fruition in 1961, when another American Second World War veteran, George McGovern, led the efforts of President John F. Kennedy's administration at the UN to help establish the World Food Programme (WFP) — the winner this month of the Nobel Peace Prize. Within months of its creation, in September 1962, the WFP faced its first test. A deadly earthquake in northern Iran had claimed the lives of more than 12,000 people and rendered tens of thousands homeless and desperate for succour. The UN’s infant agency flew in 1,500 tonnes of wheat, 270 tonnes of sugar and 27 tonnes of tea, marking its baptism.By 1965, the experimental agency with an initial mandate of three years had proved its worth to the world after responding to multiple crises and was enshrined as a fully fledged UN programme: it is to last for “as long as multilateral food aid is found feasible and desirable”.

What is the International Alliance against Hunger?

In June 2002, during the World Food Summit: five years later, world leaders reviewed progress made towards meeting the 1996 World Food Summit goal of halving the number of the world's hungry by 2015, in so doing their final declaration called for the creation of an International Alliance against Hunger to join forces in efforts to eradicate hunger. Launched on World Food Day, 15 October 2003, the IAAH works to generate political will and concrete actions through partnerships between intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations and national alliances.

How swiftly the world market for food can change could be observed in the mid-2000s. For two decades, leading up to the millennium, global demand for food had increased steadily, along with growth in the world’s population, record harvests, new technologies, improvements in incomes, and the diversification of diets. Food prices continued to decline through 2000. However, in 2004, prices for most grains began to rise. Rising production could not keep pace with the even stronger growth in demand. Food stocks became depleted and then, in 2005, food supply was squeezed by disappointing harvests in major food-producing countries. By 2006, world cereal production had fallen by 2.1 per cent. In 2007, rapid increases in oil prices increased fertilizer and other food production costs.As international food prices reached unprecedented levels, countries sought ways to insulate themselves from potential food shortages and price shocks. Several food-exporting countries imposed export restrictions. Certain key importers began purchasing grains at any price to maintain domestic supplies. However, it also became evident that the global economic crisis in 2008 and 2009 undermined food security in many countries. Hunger has increased in many countries in which the economy has slowed down or contracted, mostly in middle-income countries.

Largest operation

The next two decades saw the organisation facing some of its sternest tests in terms of the scale of humanitarian crises it had to address. From the famines in the Sahel in northern Africa in the 1970s to the famine in Ethiopia in 1984 and the conflict in southern Sudan in the late 1980s, the WFP learnt to marshal resources as varied as camel caravans and flotilla of cargo planes provided by national air forces. “In 1989, Operation Lifeline Sudan is launched: leading a consortium of UN agencies and charities alongside UNICEF, WFP releases 1.5 million tonnes of food into the skies above what has since become South Sudan. The dawn-to-dusk, 20-aircraft, three-sorties-a-day airdrop remains, to this day, the largest in history. It saved hundreds of thousands of lives,” the WFP says on its website.In the six decades since its founding, the WFP has now grown to become the world’s largest humanitarian agency, providing aid to almost 100 million people in more than 80 countries. Commanding one of the biggest non-military and non-commercial logistics operations worldwide, the Rome-headquartered agency on any given day has up to 5,600 trucks, 30 ships and almost 100 aircraft engaged in delivering food and other assistance to those needing aid as well as developmental support, including in some of remotest and often conflict-stricken parts of the globe.

The organisation has widened its operational remit and is now a leading provider of not just emergency food aid but also an agency engaged in supporting the nutritional requirements of communities through food assistance programmes. These vary from supporting school meals projects in different countries, including India, to the provision of cash and vouchers as a complement to in-kind food distributions.While theatres of conflict remain the largest areas of widespread deprivation and hunger, the WFP’s interventions have been witnessed in the wake of multiple natural disasters: the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the 2010 earthquake in Haiti and closer home Nepal’s devastating temblor five years ago.The organisation has also honed its response capabilities to the point where it is able to serve as the frontline telecommunications and logistical support provider to all UN agencies and NGOs in any crisis situation — from the Ebola outbreak in West Africa to the Nepali earthquake of 2015.

Not free from criticism

For an agency funded entirely by donors ranging from governments, companies and individuals, the WFP has had to face its share of criticism. These range from charges that the aid it provides encourages corruption among local politicians and officials, who often sell the food supplies in the black market hurting local farmers and traders, to complaints that it destabilises whatever rudimentary market conditions that may be prevailing by making it hard for small local producers to compete.But with conflicts still raging from Syria to Yemen and Afghanistan, communities threatened by climate change and the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic pushing millions more to the brink of starvation, as the WFP’s executive director David Beasley says in a statement acknowledging the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize: “Every one of the 690 million hungry people in the world today has the right to live peacefully and without hunger. Without peace, we cannot achieve our global goal of zero hunger; and while there is hunger, we will never have a peaceful world.

High Level Task Force on Global Food and Nutrition Security:

The dramatic rise of global food prices and the crisis led the United Nations (UN) Chief Executives Board in April 2008 to establish a High-Level Task Force on the Global Food Security Crisis. Composed of 23 key members of the UN system, it was chaired by former Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. The primary aim of the Task Force was to promote a comprehensive and unified response of the international community to the challenge of achieving global food and nutrition security.Progress continues in the fight against hunger, yet an unacceptably large number of people still do not have enough food for an active and healthy life.

Hunger in Numbers:

The latest available estimates indicate that about 821 million people in the world were undernourished in 2018. One in nine people do not get enough food to be healthy and lead an active life. Hunger and malnutrition are biggest risks to health worldwide — greater than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. Considering all people in the world affected by moderate levels of food insecurity together with those who suffer from hunger, it is estimated that over 2 billion people do not have regular access to safe, nutritious and sufficient food, including 8 per cent of the population in North America and Europe.Africa is the region with the highest prevalence of undernourishment, at almost 20 percent. Hunger is also slowly rising in Latin America and the Caribbean, although its prevalence is still below 7 percent. In Asia, Western Asia shows a continuous increase since 2010, with more than 12 percent of its population undernourished.

The Millennium Development Goals and food:

In 2000, world leaders gathered at the UN to shape a broad vision to fight poverty, which was translated into eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and remained, until 2015, the overarching development framework for the world. The global mobilization behind the Millennium Development Goals has produced the most successful anti-poverty movement in history. The MDG target of reducing by half the proportion of people living in extreme poverty was achieved in 2010, well ahead of the 2015 deadline. The proportion of undernourished people in the developing regions fell by almost half. However, a lot more work needs to be done. That work is now the focus of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Zero Hunger Challenge:

The United Nations Secretary-General launched the Zero Hunger Challenge in 2012 during the Rio+20 World Conference on Sustainable Development. The Zero Hunger Challenge was launched to inspire a global movement towards a world free from hunger within a generation. It calls for:

  • Zero stunted children under the age of two
  • 100% access to adequate food all year round
  • All food systems are sustainable
  • 100% increase in smallholder productivity and income
  • Zero loss or waste of food

Food and the SDGs:

Food is at the core of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the UN's development agenda for the 21st century. The second of the UN's 17 SDGs is to "End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture." Achieving this goal by the target date of 2030 will require a profound change of the global food and agriculture system. Some of the components of this goal are:

  • Ending hunger, and ensuring access by all people to safe, nutritious food;
  • Ending all forms of malnutrition;
  • Doubling the agricultural productivity and incomes of small-scale food producers;
  • Ensuring sustainable food production systems;
  • Increasing investment in agriculture;
  • Correcting and preventing trade restrictions and distortions in world agricultural markets;
  • Adopting measures to ensure the proper functioning of food commodity markets.

UN agencies working for food security:

World Food Programme:

The World Food Programme (WFP), aims to bring food assistance to more than 80 million people in 80 countries and is continually responding to emergencies. But WFP also works to help prevent hunger in the future. They do this through programmes that use food to build assets, spread knowledge and nurture stronger, more dynamic communities. This helps communities become more food secure.

World Bank:

Investment in agriculture and rural development to boost food production and nutrition is a priority for the World Bank Group. The World Bank Group works with partners to improve food security and build a food system that can feed everyone, everywhere, every day. Activities include encouraging climate-smart farming techniques and restoring degraded farmland, breeding more resilient and nutritious crops and improving storage and supply chains for reducing food losses.

The Food and Agriculture Organization:

Achieving food security for all is at the heart of the efforts of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Its main purpose is to make sure people have regular access to enough high-quality food to lead active, healthy lives. Its three main goals: the eradication of hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition; the elimination of poverty and the driving forward of economic and social progress for all; and, the sustainable management and utilization of natural resources, including land, water, air, climate and genetic resources for the benefit of present and future generations. FAO also issues the food price index, which is a measure of the monthly change in international prices of a basket of food commodities.

International Fund for Agricultural Development:

The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) has focused exclusively on rural poverty reduction, working with poor rural populations in developing countries to eliminate poverty, hunger and malnutrition, raise their productivity and incomes, and improve the quality of their lives. All IFAD-funded programmes and projects address food and nutrition security in some way. IFAD has supported about 483 million poor rural people over the past four decades.

Ending hunger must be a priority for all:

Hunger strikes more than 840 million people. It saps strength and dulls intelligence. It destroys innocent lives, especially children. And by weakening a nation's workforce, hunger cripples a nation's growth. FAO helps countries to make progress toward the World Food Summit (WFS) goal of reducing the number of hungry people by half by 2015. It also works toward the Millennium Development Goals.Working together we win - Working separately we don't. Working together means joining forces, agreeing on where there is opportunity and challenging when required. It is essential to work together and have many voices as a united force in order to effectively increase global awareness and public campaigns on issues of hunger and poverty, to make both hunger and poverty a part of the past. Newsletter #5 of the International Alliance Against Hunger.According to the former President of Germany, Mr Johannes, Rau, the fight against hunger calls for patience, endurance, great commitment and persuasiveness. We need patience and endurance because the fight against hunger is long and hard. We should not allow ourselves to become disheartened if progress is sometimes less than we had hoped, or if we suffer set-backs in some areas, and must keep our eyes firmly fixed on our goal: a world without hunger

Four countries are successfully fighting hunger:

1. India: India’s recent National Food Security Act will help 800 million people access publicly financed or subsidized food. The government will distribute coarse grains, such as millet, sorghum and maize, in addition to the basic staples, rice and wheat. Coarse grains are highly nutritious and they are also highly resistant to climate-induced stresses such as drought and flood.It is estimated that over 31 million Indian farmers grow these crops, and the inclusion of these crops in the law is likely to stimulate production, contributing both to climate adaptation and food security. Add to that the increased income the farmers that grow these crops will receive when the government buys their crops, and India can make progress in addressing the problems of hunger, poverty and climate change in one targeted intervention.

2. Kenya:The flip side of the climate change adaptation coin is reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that agriculture produces. The livestock sector is responsible for 14% of all human-induced greenhouse gas emissions, making it a key sector for action. In developing countries, reducing emissions makes sense only if food production is not compromised. In Kenya, the World Agroforestry Centre is helping farming households to produce more milk with fewer emissions, through training to improve livestock feeding practices.Climate-smart actions in Kenya have huge potential. The Kenyan government estimates that these actions can be scaled up to reach 1.8 million households by 2018, decreasing the country’s emissions by 3.3% of its 2010 emissions, while sustaining 180,000 jobs in the sector and improving smallholder incomes by $1,000-$2,000 a year. In addition to meeting goals on hunger and nutrition, poverty reduction and climate change, two additional SDGs are covered here: driving economic growth and creating decent jobs for all. Of the farmers involved, 25% were women and the next phase of the project will examine how to increase the participation of women, contributing to a third goal: SDG5 to empower women and girls.

3. Colombia: Colombian farmers who used to enjoy reliable rainfall are increasingly taking a hit when extreme floods and droughts occur, wiping out the crops they rely on for cash and food. To help farmers adapt to these harsh conditions, a knowledge exchange with farmers in Senegal was facilitated by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and national partners in both countries. Senegalese farmers have a wealth of indigenous knowledge for coping with long droughts and have also been working in some regions with the national meteorological agency to develop more accurate and useful seasonal climate forecasts that can be disseminated across the country by radio and SMS.Inspired by Senegal’s innovative system, a new collaboration was developed in Colombia between the Colombian Ministry of Agriculture, six National Growers Associations, the National Agricultural Research System, as well as local experts and non-governmental organizations. This partnership has focused on developing better climate and site-specific information that farmers can incorporate into their planning systems and strategies. Nearly 160,000 farmers are now receiving improved climate advice in Colombia. As a result, they are better equipped to make decisions about what to plant, when and where. In the medium term, the project is expected to reach over 1.5 million farmers. Given that 25% of farmers in Colombia are women, by giving them equitable access to climate information, SDG5 can also be tackled here.

4. Nigeria :In Nigeria, 14.5 million people are smallholder farmers. That is 14.5 million whose income will take a drastic hit when climate disasters strike. That is why the Nigerian government has pledged to insure these farmers against extreme weather events. Scientists at the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI) and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) are now working with Nigeria to formulate a four-year road map providing guidance for reaching the goal of nationwide smallholder coverage.

In India, a similar kind of large-scale programme is already in place and 22 million farmers are already covered with index-based weather insurance, which pays farmers automatically when determined weather events occur. This could be reaching a certain temperature for a sustained period of time, or reaching a certain level of rainfall. Using various scientific techniques to analyse crop-weather relationships, the CGIAR Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) developed new rainfall triggers in India that are specific to different regions and crops. Nearly 1 million farmers are now benefiting from better insurance products.We urge countries and investors to recognize the power of financing agricultural research and development and ask them to work with farmers to find the long-term solutions. It is a smart choice that will contribute to many more SDGs than reducing hunger.

Guaging the depth:

PreQ : In connection High Level Task Force on Global Food and Nutrition Security consider the following statements:

1. High-Level Task Force on the Global Food Security was established in April, 2008.
2. High-Level Task Force on the Global Food Security composed of 25 key members of the UN system and it was chaired by former Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Which of the Statements given above is/are correct?

(a) 1 only
(b) 2 only
(c) Both 1 and 2
(d) Neither 1 nor 2

MainsQ : Hunger and malnutrition are biggest risks to health worldwide — greater than AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis. Discuss. What steps have been taken to cope up with this risk by the countries like India, Nigeria, Columbia and Kenya ?