One of the most important topics in international relations is the issue of human rights, and within that, rights such as that of food. In fact, the right to food is a key aspect of international human rights law. Food has been referenced in numerous human rights conventions and documents, and continues to receive attention in human rights activism. For example, it is stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) that in Article 25 (1) “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”
In addition to the right of food in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “In 1974, the World Food Conference issued the Universal Declaration of Eradication of Hunger and Malnutrition, asserting that “Every man, woman and child has the inalienable right to be free from hunger and malnutrition in order to develop fully and maintain their physical and mental faculties” (George Kent, 2005: 195). If one looks at the history of international human rights as it pertains to food, one finds a number of actions taken to help fight against food insecurity (which include the Atlantic Charter being signed in 1941, the World Food Board (1946), the Food Aid Convention (1967), onwards (Hastedt, Glenn, Lybecker, Donna, Shannon, Vaughn (2014). Chapter 9, Food Aid as a Solution to World Hunger, pages 148-169.).
Yet, the despite the attention to food issues in international human rights law, one of the greatest existing challenges in the international system today is eliminating world poverty. It is important to fight against poverty, given that “Hunger and malnutrition are at the foundation of global inequality. Malnutrition causes impaired vision, an inability to concentrate and to learn, greater vulnerability to disease and poor health, and a short life expectancy” (Payne, 2013: 198). Because of the dangers with malnutrition and poverty, members within the international community have been working–through international development–to reduce the number of individuals that have food insecurity, and/or that are living in poverty. The World Bank just published their 2015/2016 report on various Development Issues. In the report, entitled Development Goals in an Era of Demographic Change, they discuss the state of various development issues, that include extreme poverty. Speaking on this topic, they right that while there has been a large reduction in poverty, that there is still much more that is to be done. In fact, one of the Sustainable Development Goals is to “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture” (104).
There are many ways that actors are working to end poverty. This article will concentrate on the issue of food aid, and how such aid can help to eliminate hunger (food insecurity) and world poverty.
What is Food Aid?
Food aid (or food assistance) is understood as the providing of food (or food subsidies) to those who are in need for food. Food aid is one type of foreign aid. There are many issues related to food aid. This aid can be offered directly to individuals, to NGOs, or to governments, who both in turn help distribute it to people in need. This can also take the place any time of the year (or context).
There are many ways in which activists and policymakers are attempting to reduce (and eliminate) the poverty gap in the world through food assistance. Historically, the was an entity called the World Food Council (WFC). With regards to the WFC, it was a ” United Nations (UN) organization established by the General Assembly in December 1974 upon the recommendation of the World Food Conference. Headquartered in Rome, Italy, the WFC was designed as a coordinating body for national ministries of agriculture to help alleviate malnutrition and hunger and to facilitate the development of new agricultural techniques to increase food production. It was also created in part to check the power of developing countries in the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The activities of the WFC were suspended in 1993″ (Britannica).
With regards to more recent examples, the Untied Nations has a World Food Programme. Here they offer various forms of food aid, whether it is through school meals, food vouchers, or other programs, the idea is that this entity will help reduce food insecurity. In fact, the World Food Programme has four specific objectives, which are:
- Save lives and protect livelihoods and emergencies
- Support food security and nutrition and (re)build livelihoods in fragile settings and following emergencies
- Reduce risk and enable people, communities, and countries to meet their own food and nutrition needs
- Reduce undernutrition and break the intergenerational cycle of hunger (WFP/our work)
In the United States, President Barack Obama, in the 2014 Fiscal Year budget, “proposed common sense reforms that would enable us to reach up to four million more people in food crises around the world with the same resources, by making the successful USAID Title II program more flexible, efficient and effective. At a time when 51.2 million people around the world are displaced by conflict—the largest amount since World War II—these reforms are needed more than ever. Rising costs have dramatically decreased the amount of food that a dollar of Title II funding buys. This year, the President’s request builds on positive reforms enacted in the 2014 Farm Bill that enable USAID to reach more people annually with the same resources” (USAID). And, in the recent budget, there have been calls by the President to “to build on these important changes, and further modernize food aid in line with other major donors, expanding the reach and impact of life-saving emergency food operations. The FY 2016 request seeks additional flexibilities within the Title II account that will allow USAID to reach about two million more people in emergency crises each year” (USAID). Interestingly, the United States government has various Emergency Food Assistance programs such as the U.S. In-Kind Food Aid program (that helps in food emergencies), Cash Transfers for Food, as well as Food Vouchers programs.
International Efforts to Provide Food Aid
There are also international efforts to help individuals who are facing food insecurity in conflict zones or situations. One recent example of this is with regards to Syrians that have experienced the civil war in the country. In fact, as As Kent argues in his essay Food is a Human Right (in Claude & Weston’s (Human Rights in the World Community), “Food plays a special role in international humanitarian law–that part of international law that is particularly concerned with conflict situations” (194). This importance of food as it pertains to conflict situations has been evident with the attention that some organizations are providing the issue.
For example, the World Food Programme is focusing a significant amount of attention to providing food aid resources to Syrians living in the Kuridistan area. With regards to why they are emphasizing food aid for Syrians in Kurdistan, Matteo Perrone, who is the WFP Emergency Coordinator related to Syrian refugee in neighboring Iraq says that ““Our assessments have shown that while some families have the resources to meet their food needs, many Syrian families in the Kurdistan region still need continued assistance”. According to the report, the “WFP will channel all available resources to over 48,000 refugees who still require support to meet their food needs. The monthly voucher value will be reduced to $10 per person per month for over 47,000 moderately vulnerable refugees, while nearly 1,000 refugees considered the most vulnerable will continue to receive $19 per person per month to meet their food needs.”
However, Syria is far from the only conflict zone where food assistance is needed. For example, the USAID put out a press release on July 31st, 2015, explaining that they have sent large amounts of wheat to Yemen. According to the press release, “The wheat shipment from USAID totals 35,800 tons and is valued at approximately $21 million. It will support the emergency food assistance efforts of the UN World Food Program (WFP).”
In addition, In a November 2nd article from Wired Magazine, Laurence Chandy argues that one way to reduce world poverty is through technology. Namely, much of this has to do with interconnectivity, particularly when looking at not domestic and international globalization and technology. Chandy argues that “Poor people have traditionally lived on the margins of society and had limited connections with other people, markets, and government. Instead, they assemble what informal networks they can. These are invariably small, comprising people that are similarly deprived of income, information, and power, and who are vulnerable to the same shocks, such as a bad harvest. Informal networks can take the form of elaborate structures—rotating saving groups for credit, oracles for information, kinship obligations for social welfare—that fascinate anthropologists as much as they infuriate economists for their inefficiency and the limits they place on productivity.” He goes on to say that “Incorporating poor people into formal networks removes these limits and unleashes new possibilities for poverty reduction. Poor people are more capable of navigating their own way out of poverty when they have greater access to markets and information and can assert their identity.” Moreover, with these technologies, states and non-state actors are better served to help these individuals, whether it is on food aid, or other forms of aid.
With regards to food aid, it could be argued that the stressing of networking can allow people to better express to their leaders (and others) the sorts of challenges that they are facing, as well as explain what sort of development needs need to be met. In fact, Pierre Ferrari, in a 2013 article in CNN entitled “How to end world hunger” made similar arguments, saying that that organization of farmers is important. Namely, that it is imperative to “[connect] them to each other, to supply chains and then to markets.” While he is not directly speaking about technology, it is clear how one could use technology to help with this interconnectivity (as Chandy argues).
Other Ways to Stop World Hunger
Along with the ideas mentioned above, there have been other ways that individuals have advocated in order to reduce world hunger. For example, Alex Renton of The Guardian lists “Eight ways to solve world hunger.” These ways are the following:
- Prevent Land Grabbing (he argues that “An ugly side of current scares over future food supply is wealthy, land-poor states, like those in the Gulf and South Korea, acquiring tracts of undeveloped countries to use as allotments. It is a campaigning cause of the multi-charity IF campaign against hunger. Ethiopia, Sudan, Madagascar and Cambodia have been targeted and a total area the size of Spain may already have been acquired.”
- Block the Speculators (saying that “Huge sums of investment fund money have flooded into the commodities markets since the financial crisis, looking for returns no longer available in equities. Automated trading systems that exploit tiny flaws in the market and encourage volatility make it impossible for traditional traders to keep prices stable and hedge against spikes.”)
- Reduce the Production of Biofuel (he argues that goals to lower carbon emissions based on fossil fuel has led Global North states to use food to convert to fuel”) (although, it should be pointed out that it is also critical to continue to reduce fossil fuels).
- The Reliance on Meat has led to high feeding of animals, thus reducing the food supply.
- The importance of helping small farmers–which could help increase food production throughout the world, and especially in parts of the world that are lacking.
- Focus on Infant Nutrition–something that many in the world are continuing to focus on, given the importance of this as it relates to human rights, and reducing food insecurity.
- Biotech: With regards to this issue, he writes that “Huge gains could be available for health and agricultural productivity if the promises of genetic modification can be believed. Gene-splicing crops to help them withstand drought and flood may be vital. Pigs and chickens could have their digestive systems altered so that they eat food not required by humans, and pollute the environment less.”
- Poverty Reduction: With decreases in poverty, this is expected to have a positive impact on also reducing food insecurity.
There are many reasons to believe that food insecurity can be cut, and that food aid can help in that process, even though there are challenges with these various approaches (Renton, 2013).
There is a continued effort to ensure that food aid is being provided. But it is important that the focus on fighting food insecurity continues. This means that it will continue to take an international effort–combining the work of individuals, governments, as well as non-governmental organizations to fight poverty. This requires not only effective coordination between these actors, but continued investment (both in terms of time and money) to fight poverty. One way to do this is by ensuring that development goals, such as the right to food, are secured through global funds. Bill Felice, the author of The Global New Deal: Economic and Social Human Rights in World Politics, specifically argues for a Global Public Goods Fund. Felice writes: “Economic and social human rights depend on the protection and provision of public goods…[G]lobal public goods include basic education, a healthy environment, food and water, primary health care and sanitation, and housing. Elements of these goods are all non excludable and nonrivalrous in consumption, and these goods are frighteningly undersupplied. Individual states can provide equal access to these public goods for each of their citizens only through multilateral action in international law and international organization” (263).
Hastedt, Glenn, Lybecker, Donna, Shannon, Vaughn (2014). Chapter 9, Food Aid as a Solution to World Hunger, pages 148-169.
Kent, G. (2005). Food is a Human Rights, pages 191-199. In Human Rights in the World Community. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Payne, R. (2013). Global Issues. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey. Pearson.