Federal Minister Özdemir at opening the “Politics against Hunger” conference on June 4th, 2024 in Berlin.

Advancing the human right to adequate food

Participants on the Policies against Hunger Conference agreed on peace as a precondition to eradicate hunger. They stressed the need to transform food systems and to develop more inclusive approaches, and they discussed achievements, hurdles and challenges in the battle against hunger.

This year’s Policies against Hunger Conference, which took place in Berlin, Germany, and online, on the 4th and 5th June 2024, was dedicated to the topic Twenty Years of Action: Advancing the Human Right to Adequate Food, referring to the 20th anniversary of the Voluntary Guidelines to Support the Progressive Realization of the Right to Food in the Context of National Food Security (Right to Food Guidelines).

The conference was organised by the German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL). Around 200 participants from 38 countries jointly discussed the successes and challenges in realising the right to food.

“We need to join forces,” said German Federal Minister of Food and Agriculture Cem Özdemir at the opening of the conference. Climate change, conflicts and wars are threatening the right to food. Hunger is on the rise and Sustainable Development Goal 2 (SDG 2) – Ending Hunger by 2030 is far out of reach.

Fighting climate change and hunger at the same time

Eight per cent of the world’s population are projected to be hungry in 2040, according to Maurizio Martina from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Martina pointed out that combating climate change and hunger often did not go hand in hand. 

“We have to make sure that both objectives are focused on. Fighting against hunger cannot be separated from fighting against climate change,” he said.  The global community had to do more to tackle the impact of climate, especially on rural communities.

Right to food in times of war

“We cannot link humanitarian aid to political action,” said Jochen Flasbarth, State Secretary at the German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). “We need to stay engaged, even with countries like Afghanistan with illegal governments.” 

“The right to food remains paramount whether there is a conflict or not,” added Nosipho Nausca-Jean Jezile, Chair of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS). The CFS endorsed the Voluntary Guidelines to Support the Progressive Realization of the Right to Food in the Context of National Food Security, which now serves as its basis, in 2004. Jezile referred to the dramatic situation in Gaza and Sudan, where access to food was damaged, as were access to produce food or access to prepare food.

Focusing on rural areas

Seventy-five per cent of the extreme poor live in rural areas, and many of them are small-scale farmers. “They need assistance,” urged Shantanu Mathur, Lead Adviser, Global Engagement and Multilateral Relations at the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), pointing out that longer-term development was extremely important in the fight against hunger. Small-scale farmers produce one third of the world’s food. They need access to agricultural technologies.

Fifty million people live in food insecurity in the Sahel, while millions of hectares of land are lost to degradation in the region each year. Dependence on food imports is high, Margot Van der Velden, Regional Director for Western Africa at the World Food Programme (WFP), reported. She named four points that are most necessary to tackle food insecurity: food assistance (which was often difficult to continue), investments in Large-scale Resilience Programmes (focusing on soil as the foundation of food, like The Green Wall initiative), buying home-grown food and social protection programmes.

The case of Brazil

Just what successfully combating hunger can look like was demonstrated by the example of Brazil, of which Valéria Burity, Special Secretary of State for the Coordination of the Brazilian Zero Hunger Programme at the Brazilian Ministry of Social Development (MDS), gave an account.

With its Fome Zero (Null Hunger) programme, founded by President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in 2003, Brazil declared combating hunger and extreme poverty a government mission. Since then, it has scored remarkable success in this area.

With the example of the Brazilian Council for Food and Nutrition Security CONSEA, Professor Elisabetta Recine, CONSEA Chair, showed how participation can be successful. Set up in 2003, the Council was established at the level of the President of the Republic, and its objective is to advise the President. It is part of a national policy system.

CONSEA brings together the various aspects of food security and links civil society and the government. One third of the Council comprises government representatives (24 ministries), and two thirds are civil society representatives (farmers’ organisations, human rights campaigners, etc.). The President always has to be a civil society representative.

From arms to farms

Presenting the From arms to farms project, journalist and film producer Bernward Geier showed how conflict and hunger can be combated simultaneously.

After decades of civil war between Islamic rebels and government troops, Mayor Rommel Arnado succeeded in pacifying his town of Kauswagan in the Philippines. A total of 24,000 people of Moslem or Christian faith live in Kauswagan and the 13 villages belonging to it.

Rommel managed to get a few thousand combatants to swap their arms for land and training in organic farming. Geier reported that to date, 4,000 soldiers had surrendered their weapons and were engaged in organic agriculture. A school of organic agriculture had been established in the region, food security had been achieved for the population, and the area was now almost free from violence.

School meals for food security

School meals can make an important contribution to food security. Here, participants of the conference discussed what had to be considered regarding sustainable and sensible implementation.

“School meals are low-hanging fruit to improve school enrolment and healthy diets,” said Fatima Hachem, Senior Nutrition Officer, Nutrition and Food Systems Division at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). They contribute to children growing up to become educated and strong adults, Hachem maintains. But she also points out school meals can have a negative impact on nutrition because they sometimes do not meet the necessary requirements for healthy food.

In order to develop sensible concepts for school meals, it is important to adapt food volumes to the demands of different age groups and see to a balanced nutrient content. Furthermore, to support the local communities, local produce ought to be made use of. Food production has to be responsible and sustainable.

Participation is important

“We must listen to those people who are hit hardest by poverty and food insecurity,” said Claudia Müller, Parliamentary State Secretary, German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) in her closing remarks, stressing that the BMEL was seeking to use the Voluntary Guidelines to Support the Progressive Realization of the Right to Food in the Context of National Food Security as a guiding concept for its activities in support of smallholders. Food system transformation could only work if local structures were focused on, she said.

Ines Lechner, editor, Rural 21

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