Traditionally, within the realms of policy-making in the UN, climate change and food security have travelled on different trajectories; the former taking centre stage at dedicated Conference of Parties, under the auspices of the UNFCCC, while the latter gained its contemporary prominence after the 2008 food crisis with the launch of the annual Committee on Food Security.
At the conclusion of the Rio+20 negotiations, climate change and food security have come to share a common platform in the final declaration for the “Future we want”. The two phenomenon are embedded within the 56 page document alongside themes reminiscent of the conference, notably, the Green Economy and Sustainable Development.
However, the nexus between climate change and food security did not emerge at Rio+20, far from it. Organizations within each camp have previously stated the symbiotic relationship between the two. That is, previous publications have already stated how food security strategies can contribute towards climate change adaption and vice-versa. Indeed, since 2007, the IPCC has attributed about 32% of global greenhouse gas emissions to food – 14% to agriculture and 18% to deforestation, a figure that rivals the annual emissions of the EU, Brazil Russia and India combined!
Yet, I will remember one key outcome from Rio+20. The launch of the Zero-Hunger challenge by Secretary General Ban Ki Moon at one of the conference’s side-events came as a “ray of hope that has been shamefully devoid of progress for the almost billion people who go to bed hungry every night” according to Barbara Stocking, Chief Executive of Oxfam GB. The announcement was accompanied by a number of pledges and statements from superstars and political heavyweights in the Food security world including, the President of Niger, Mahamadou Issoufou, British Deputy Prime Minister Nicholas Clegg, the UN World Food Programme’s Executive Director, Ertharin Cousin, UN FAO Director General, Jose Graziano amongst others.
The Zero- Hunger challenge, an open-ended endeavour with no set deadline, is governed by five broad objectives that ultimately aspire to eradicate hunger around the world to ensure sustainable access for food withstanding climate change (although, there was no mention on how this could be achieved).
At its best the new Zero Hunger challenge gives us a glimpse of what the so-called, Sustainable Development Goals will look like in two years time. At its worst, the Zero Hunger challenge may be a blessing in disguise, a panacea akin to the highly controversial Green Revolution from the 1960s, where instead of hunger eradication, we are faced with the commodification of food and nature in favour of the business entities that control them as we’ve previously seen in Mexico and India
My concern with this new challenge is how little it takes into account previous shortcomings from similar initiatives – the benefit of historical analysis;
In 2009, following record prices rises in the cost of some food commodities, G8 leaders at the L’Aquila summit pledged $22 billion to “tackle hunger” through to the end of 2012. To date, the fund has only received 20% of the stated amount while the World Bank estimates that an additional 180 million individuals have joined the ranks of the hungry 800 million since 2009.
The Millennium Development Goals (MDG), launched in 2000, sought to address international development in eight key areas. One of the key targets looked to “Halve the proportion of people who suffer from hunger” by 2015, a less ‘ambitious’ undertaking than the UN Secretary General’s current vision for Zero Hunger. Adjusting to population growth and with less than three years to go, update this MDG target have been stagnant to say the least (the details of which warrant for a lengthier discussion in another article).
I’ve already mentioned the Green Revolution from the 1960’s, and Norman Borlaug’s attempt to address global warming with new crop varieties that could withstand the changing weather and dramatically boost yields.
Despite recognizing some of the technological and social breakthroughs that have emanated from such initiatives, a 2011 chart by the FAO shows how hunger-levels have continually increased over the past four decades. However, it is not all bad news, the launch of the Zero Hunger challenge at Rio+20 has shone the light on local initiatives that have been assiduously contribution to their respective communities in mitigating the challenges of food insecurity and climate change. At the forefront of these, is the FAO Director General’s previous position as head of the Fome Zero programme, which helped lift 28 million people out of extreme poverty in Brazil. Other initiatives include La Via Campesina’s network of 130 million farmers from around the world, Navdanya’s successful struggles against Monsanto and Pepsi Co. in rural India, Souk El Tayeb, Lebanon’s first farmer’s market, operating under the motto of “Make Food not War”, Malawi’s starter pack to smallholder farmers, Peru’s Projecto Interinstitucional de Rehabilitacion de Waru-warus to assist local farmers in reconstructing the ancient systems and many more.
In three weeks time, British PM David Cameron will convene a Hunger summit with heads of government who will be attending the London Olympics. One would hope that this will be more than a PR exercise, chastising the current economic system and calling to increase private investments in, mostly African, agriculture. I, for my part have already made a decision to forego these high-level meetings. Perhaps it is time that I, that we, begin to value (and listen) to the discussions amongst these peasants, rural workers and farmers for a much clearer insight on the relation between climate change, food security and, hunger. Chances are that they are way ahead of our thinking!
About the authorOday Kamal
Oday is a food consultant and researcher in the Middle East. He's currently working with the American University in Cairo on reforming food education and completing his MPhil at Oxford.