Guest blog post by Peter Mann, Director Emeritus of WhyHunger’s Global Movements Program
Hidden Hunger and the Right to Food
A recent article in the New York Times by Nicholas D. Kristof on Sunday July 3, “An African Adventure and a Revelation” provided some eye-opening information for me on the “hidden hunger” behind the “visible hunger” – the lack of micronutrients and their significance for ending hunger. In contrast to the negative news we usually hear from Africa, Kristof found many hopeful signs, with 6 of the 10 fastest growing economies in the world in sub-Saharan Africa. What was most striking for me were some of the nutrition initiatives he found. One was food fortification. He writes:
Food fortification, vaccinations, vitamin A supplementation and other initiatives have sent child mortality tumbling in the developing world. Malaria nets, vaccinations against measles and medicine against river blindness – these are huge public health advances which make a reality of the dream of a world “with almost no malaria deaths, with almost no transmission of mother-to-child H.I.V”. The education and the health of women and girls are absolute priorities if we are to overcome hunger, but first they have to survive. Women, who are the majority of rural food producers, count for sixty percent of the world’s hungry.
Hidden Hunger and the Global Food Crisis
These nutritional advances are of paramount importance but they are being threatened by the global food crisis. The number of undernourished people is rising in 2011 to nearly one billion, largely because of rising food prices. Food-price inflation reduces the purchasing power of poor families, forces them to reallocate their household spending and reduce their dietary diversity. In turn, this leads to increased micronutrient malnutrition, with the well-known results of iron deficiency, anemia, low birth weights, stunted growth in children, with serious problems for the health of pregnant and lactating mothers.
Other aspects of the global food crisis also threaten the right to food and nutrition. Despite increasing urbanization, the majority of hungry people still live in rural areas: 50 percent of these are small farmers, 20 percent are agricultural workers, and 10 percent are pastoralists, fisherfolk, and forest users. Both the rural and the urban poor lack adequate and secure access to natural resources, especially land, to wage labor and to safety nets and pensions. They often face widespread forced evictions such as land grabs, they lack secure land tenure, and access to natural resources such as water, as well as basic tools and resources for marketing their products. Their vulnerability is largely overlooked by governments and the private sector.
A Human Rights Approach
This is where a human rights approach to food and nutrition security seems particularly urgent. It forces governments and the private sector as well as UN agencies to acknowledge their accountability for food and nutrition rights. Poor people are not simply beneficiaries of aid, they possess rights to food and nutrition. Governments have to protect, respect and fulfill the right to food and nutrition, and the economic and political system has to favor equitable social and economic development, not economic growth alone.
Social movements have a vital role to play in applying strong popular pressure to eradicate hunger, malnutrition and poverty. The mobilization of civil society, labor unions, farmer and fisherfolk organizations, indigenous peoples and women can change the power structures and policies that dominate today’s decision making. This shift in power is already being shown in the work for food sovereignty. It is manifest on the global governance level in the renewal of the Committee on WorldFood Security (CFS), and on the scientific-technological level in the IAASTD Report. On the Micronutrient Malnutrition level, it suggests a new paradigm which empowers claim-holders to claim their rights to adequate nutrition.
- Land grabbing and nutrition: Challenges for global governance (2010 Right to Food and Nutrition Watch) www.rtfn-watch.org
- 2011 State of the World: Innovations that Nourish the Planet (The WorldWatch institute, 2011) www.worldwatch.org and www.NourishingthePlanet.org
- FIAN International www.fian.org
- ETC Group http://www.etcgroup.org/