By: Lucia Goyen
At the recent IPSA conference on Food Security, I was able to delve into the deeper issues of food sovereignty during the afternoon workshop titled Indigenous Peoples. In it, the two speakers, Murielle Borst from the Kuna and Rappahannock tribes and Alison Cohen from World Hunger Year outlined the use of food as a weapon and the lack of power many communities have over their basic food choices. Many development programs dealing with food security often have an element of nutrition training, something that can, and often does, conflict directly with local cultures. As Borst explained, these outside people, under the guise of food security and good intentions, are sometimes seen as using nutrition as a tool of gentrification. These programs usually include outside supplements, that while raising caloric intake, negate the eating practices of local communities and force recipients to change their eating styles to one more “Westernized”, which can cause obesity, diabetes, and other health problems, as we have seen in many Native American cultures. As the speakers explained, food shortages are part of larger systemic issues of power, politics, loss of environment, lack of clean water, etc. Without addressing all these issues, a community can never really be “food secure.”
The sad fact is that much of the world, even us here in the U.S., are so far removed from our food that we do not see the effects these changes have on our health, our way of life, and the way we relate to one another. Food and water are basic essentials of life, but many people have little control over what they can eat, where they can access water (if they can even access clean water), and how much they are made to pay for these basic rights. As with everything we have learned at Wagner, there is no panacea to solve the massive issue of hunger; people must be able to reclaim these rights and have true power to access real choices.
In a recent NY Times article, Andrew Rice digs in to a meaty issue: agro-imperialism. He tells us about American Botanist Robert Zeigler who flies to Saudi Arabia to lend his expertise regarding food security to come face to face with the intense reality that the problem is being confronted by some countries with aggressive "land grabs", or "purchases", or "investments", depending on how you see the issue. The fact that countries like Saudi Arabia are increasing their holdings in other countries for food production highlights the deep fear food insecurity poses and perhaps the beginning of a land rush.
The buying or leasing of land at crazy low prices on the one hand seems unfair. It doesn’t belong to them! Its exploitative of a poor country! But its also creating jobs, that pay a whole 75 cents a day. And it wasn’t being used before (if you close your eyes tight enough, you might not see all the people that live there). In Ethiopia every farmer leases land from the government, including, quite legally, the Saudis. Given this, and the fact that despite action to the contrary, development organizations and local governments have been saying for years that Africa needs agricultural investment, is it really a "land grab"? Rice asks us "Is there such a thing as agro-imperialism?"
Well, in Ethiopia, 10 percent of the population suffer from food shortages, so to me, it does seem a bit disgusting to be leasing land to foreign governments. Rice makes an excellent point when he says "it looks bad politically for countries like Kenya and Ethiopia to be letting foreign investors use their land at a time when their people face the specter of mass starvation". The countries leasing the land justify their argument, claiming they are doing it legally, creating jobs, exploiting the land more efficiently. These arguments are all too familiar. Remember the last time foreign countries came to Africa to use the land better? Heck- they managed to find rubber, oil and diamonds! And think of all the "jobs" that were produced!
Rice doesn’t go so far, but for me despite my inability to really pick apart the problem with the whole thing, just feel that its wrong. I’d love to be more specific but I can’t even figure out if food security is a production problem or a distribution problem. I’m hoping to learn more at IPSA’s upcoming Spring Conference on food security.
In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Is there such a thing as agro-imperialism?
“The world has more than enough food. Yet, today, more than 1 billion people are hungry. This is unacceptable.”
So, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon again reminded world leaders at today’s opening of the World Summit on Food Security in Rome. Sounds familiar? The fact is hardly new or surprising to leaders in the world. No sensible diplomat would also dispute that global hunger is anything but acceptable. However, this trumpeted consensus is instantly disillusioned by the real dispute among countries and agencies on strategies, best aid practices, and the levels of commitment required to combat the global hunger.
According to the Associated Press’s report, delegates at the summit disapproved the $44 billion pledge called for by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization but pledged to halve the number of hungry people by 2015. The summit also signaled a potential shift away from food assistance toward agricultural aid–technology, irrigation, fertilizer, high-yield seed, etc. for local farmers, livestock herders and fishermen. As Ban was quoted in the report, at the core of an international approach to food security is not just to feed the hungry, but “to empower the hungry to feed themselves.”
Although the focus on agricultural aid and “empower[ing] the hungry to feed themselves” at the summit in rhetoric could be promising, how or will these promises materialize into actions and results? What impact would the summit’s strategies yield during actual implementation on the ground?
In the past, despite the apparent pouring of resources and assistance from wealthy nations to the global South, many have argued, aid has rarely had their intended effects–or what may be said to be their intents. In a debate held in 2007 “Aid to Africa Is Doing More Harm than Good,” William Easterly suggested, “So aid would be a great thing if it worked. But the sad tragedy is that … money meant for the most desperate people in the world is simply not reaching them.” Moreover, as George Ayittey also put it, “First of all, aid, foreign aid, is not free.” Aid, in various ways, has often been tied to conditionalities and geopolitical interests that are not always in the best interest of the recipient countries. Whether agricultural aid and other strategies under consideration at the World Summit on Food Security will effectively tackle these issues or replicate the disappointing impact of past international aid and assistance is still a haunting unpredictability.
In the mean time, surely, world leaders gathering at the World Summit on Food Security are expected to continue with the hair-pulling and nail-biting if countries are truly serious and sincere in their commitment of how to help the needy help themselves.
Malnutrition, New York Times contributor David Rieff writes, is the “ghost at the party” in rapidly developing India. Despite the country’s rising development, 43 percent of children in India under age of 5 remain underweight. This figure perplexes readers even more next to comparative figures cited by Rieff from China and sub-Saharan Africa: a low 7 percent in China and 28 percent in sub-Saharan Africa. If India’s economic growth is indeed the success story that it has often been cited to be, why then is malnutrition still plaguing the children and people of India?
To our concern, Rieff reports, no one is quite sure why. Rieff points to the lack of women’s empowerment in rural and urban areas, the Indian government’s delayed response and sluggish initiative to act on the dire situation as major factors that contribute to the situation. However, the current status that perhaps demands more immediate attention is the “great deal of denial” among Indians that does not recognize this nutritional crisis and the severity of the stunt on the growth of India’s youth, lives, and, by and large, India’s future workforce and long-term well-being.
The path for India that Rieff is convinced of would help to radically bring change and improvement to the current malnutrition in India is a radical re-orientation of the Indian government to resemble China’s hybrid market-socialist and centralist state model. The merit of the Chinese system, according to Rieff, lies in the central power that the system confers the state to be more decisive and assertive in ways that India’s democracy does not allow. “Democracy is without question good for adults,” Rieff cited from an aid worker in India, “but I’m not convinced it’s necessarily the friend of small children.”
Despite the sensational quotation, I am unconvinced by the article’s hasty suggestion that if India is more like China, malnutrition in India would be eradicated. The article takes for granted that a more centralist state willing and ready to exercise its power would translate to an effective, better-performing state whose prioritization would always align with what is best for the country’s population. The Chinese government may have the power to make malnutrition a state priority, but would it? What solutions would it exactly propose to solve the malnutrition crisis? Clearly, malnutrition in India calls for immediate attention. But, more importantly, it calls for grounded solutions that target at the roots of the condition, not a wagering on political models and regimes.