The struggle against hunger

When a few months ago Turpial publishers suggested me to write a book on the struggle against hunger, I was seized by the same doubts as one year and a half ago when I decided to put myself forward as General Director of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). Many readers may wonder why a diplomat, an expert in international relations or a politician gets involved in the adventure of writing a book on the struggle against hunger without being a specialist in agricultural and food issues. Through commitment and responsibility I quickly cleared up those early doubts and immersed in the campaign to promote and dynamise that great organisation which is the FAO, as I am doing now with this book. I consider that today more than ever, we need visions and voices with a multidisciplinary experience and sufficient knowledge of the global world to tackle, as Edgar Morin would say, “the complexity of the reality of the 21st century”, which requires in turn a certain political vision and experience. This is also the case with the area of agriculture and food. I have an enormous respect and admiration for agronomists, scientists and great experts of the livestock and food sectors who have managed, over many decades, to perform studies, apply innovative techniques and, in general, foster progress and breakthroughs in agriculture and the world’s food system.

The first paradox arises when wondering why it has not been achieved to eradicate hunger in the world in times of innovation and technological progress; this is simply due to the fact that science and technology cannot give an answer to the lack of political will nor to the multiple contradictions and struggles for power hiding behind the great majority of the decisions that affect the development of agricultural policies, those same policies which could ensure food and nutritional safety, both nationally and internationally. Without taking into account this perspective it is impossible to understand the deep reasons of such a collective and universal failure.

The history of humanity is closely linked to the human struggle for survival, which has as its first condition the securing of food needs. It was when human communities settled, became sedentary and found an ideal space to get food to feed them that the progress of humanity really started. Cave paintings remind us of hunting scenes and picture also the earliest agricultural harvests and livestock productions. Without any doubt, food safety has been a constant factor in human development and still is in the 21st century. It is the highest priority of the international community and is expressed as such in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

The right to food —which we consider among the utmost human rights— is an ethical principle of our world, both inescapable and achievable. However, faced with this unanimously recognised and legitimised reality, it is true that we still have to deal with unacceptable crises and scenarios that infringe this right, and that in many occasions can be predicted.

Almost 1,000 million people suffer from malnutrition and each year more than 10 million children under five starve to death, while 1,300 million have overweight problems and more than 3 million die over bad eating habits. The failure of food policies takes a high toll in human lives. We probably should not separate hunger and poverty from bad eating habits. Governments, food industries, markets and financiers must not only set forth responses for human nutrition, but are also faced with the political challenge of achieving an appropriate diet.

The Millennium Summit, with its eight development goals, set hunger and extreme poverty as its first task for 2015. Unfortunately, we are very far away from their completion. The international community and international bodies cannot put off any longer the potential solutions and decisions for the future.

It is highly likely that some readers will adopt a certain scepticism, many times justified, concerning the results shown at first glance by the struggle against hunger and poverty. This scepticism may be refuted and is a stimulus for those of us who maintain our commitment and will untouched to work for the implementation of middle- and long-term solutions, foster the transformation of the international system and take part in the design of efficient policies. It is essential, through political, cultural and economic contributions, to take the side of those who, day after day, struggle to leave the vicious circle of hunger and poverty, if only out of interest, as some politicians, economists and experts state.

Through this publication I only intend to put forward a discussion on the current state of starvation in the world and initiate a diagnosis of the situation that leads us to viable, efficient and verifiable concepts and projects. Based on their interest, we will go into more depth on the most useful proposals in food and agricultural issues, the current context and several initiatives by States and the international system to cause that the 21st century achieves hunger eradication and the attainment of food and nutrition safety for everyone.

The 21st century started with the impulse of the Millennium Summit, but the expectations it created vanished after the brutal attacks to New York’s Twin Towers. The new century should have started with a development aid volume quite different from that set until now by major world leaders and international institutions and bodies. However, international terrorism set the security agenda, focusing the attention on military issues and the fight against terrorism for more than five years. In September 2008, that same agenda was altered by Lehman Brothers collapse, and the financial and economic crisis overshadowed all other attempts to add to the international discussion and action any issue other than those relating to the sovereign debt crisis or that pseudo-financial arsenal which the Great Recession has brought us back.

Food safety and the struggle against poverty have been pushed into the background, as opposed to security and financial challenges, when precisely these are at the root of many crisis giving rise to armed confrontations, terrorism, social and political instability and conflicts that could have been appropriately resolved without resort to violence. There is no need to be a skilled analyst to ascertain that many of the reasons for which some countries and regions have endured crisis of several natures relate to food scarcity. Many political and social instability processes arise from volatility in agricultural prices or food shortages. One of the triggers of the Arab Spring was the lack of food safety in the region, and that situation repeats itself with less media relevance in the Sahel (Senegal, Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad).

More than a decade of globalisation has not given satisfactory answers to the food needs of the world regions and of tens of States. Against all logic, now that the world is more intertwined than ever and innovation and research make accelerated progress in food technology, now that we are able to set forth production and consumption-per-country forecasts and planning, the final response to the struggle against hunger and for food safety and human safety seems unattainable. Probably the question that is ignored on paper or on the screen is: was it always like this in the history of humanity? Now that we have the necessary technical and economic capabilities, maybe what is required is greater political commitment.

This book seeks humbly and modestly to put the struggle against hunger in the spotlight, while suggesting some reflections so that all citizens, and the public opinion in general, have enough tools to gain a better understanding of the true obstacles and challenges existing in our complex reality in order to achieve global food safety. Removing those obstacles is necessary, since they prevent us from attaining a unanimous goal, defended by all of us, which is eradicating hunger in the world; a viable goal which, however, escapes us year after year without reaching a true solution.

Therefore, I ask for the tolerance and indulgence of major agricultural experts, agronomists, farmers, food growers and citizens in the rural environment, because what I intend to do through this narration is not only illustrating the situation, but raising awareness and calling out citizens to demand responsibility from political representatives and a larger commitment from public and financial institutions. We all are called out to foster the task of eradicating hunger in the world, because for almost one thousand million people it is a daily life-or-death issue. “In the field of hunger and food policy, the need for speed is of course genuinely important”, as pointed out by the Economy Nobel prize winner Amartya Sen1. Let us do it as soon as possible and let us join our solidarity to the struggle of so many farmers and food growers, mostly women, who work every day in their small farms to feed their families and their relatives. They also deserve our admiration and commitment, and that we take a stand in this issue.
1 Amartya Sen. Food, Economics and Entitlements, Wider Working Paper 1. Helsinki, 1986.