The Zero Hunger Goal in the High Level Panel’s post-2015 Report: a missed opportunity

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The UN High Level Panel on the post-2015 Development Agenda has just released the final report with recommendations to the UN member states and the Secretary General, having a clear aim to become the main document for discussion in the preparatory talks between now and the UN General Assembly that will actually endorse the post-2015 agenda and routemap.

The main message of the document is that we cannot get satisfied with a half-way reduction of poverty for the next generation, as we previously agreed upon in 2000. The human society can and must get rid of extreme poverty (those surviving with less than $1.25 per day) before 2030, and it will be done through economic growth and redistributive policies, as the world has effectively done since 1990. We did already a great part of the job (reducing in 20 years almost 1 billion extreme people) and we may end the job in the 17 years ahead.

Conversely, the Zero Hunger Goal that has drawn so much support within the UN System (Ban Ki Moon’s Zero Hunger Challenge and the running Latin America Hunger Free Initiative) is not properly addressed in the HLP document. This Zero Hunger aspirational goal that has played a leading political role in the Zero Hunger Policy of Brazil or the Zero Hunger Pact in Guatemala, and it has even been praised by such a neoliberal platform as the Brookings Institution, is not given the same driving power as the Zero Extreme Poverty Goal. Surprisingly as it may sound (because David Cameron is co-chairing the Post-2015 HLP and the anti-hunger British-Brazilian initiative within the G-8, the panel dropped some zero targets that had strong backing, amongst those universal health care and ending malnutrition.

Having a close look at the proposed goals, we can compare the precise wording used in goal 1 “Bring the number of people living on less than $1.25 a day to zero before 2030” (what seems to work as an absolute global and national goal at the same time) and “reduce by x% the share of people living below their country’s 2015 national poverty line” as a nationally-owned supplementary indicator, with the indicator used for hunger “End hunger and protect the right of everyone to have access to sufficient, safe, affordable, and nutritious food” and the additional “Reduce stunting by x%, wasting by y%, and anemia by z% for all children under five” (no references to national hunger-related measurements). The first hunger goal is very blurry, with no deadline or technical specification. When is it expected to be achieved? Which type of hunger measurements are they referring to: undernourishment as measured by FAO, chronic malnutrition (stunting) as measured by WHO or acute malnutrition (wasting) as measured by WHO and UNICEF? Will it be global or national? The second goal is more technical and it is meant to be set at national level, so the final global contribution will very much depend on national commitments.

To date, only 38 countries have already reached the MDG 1 dealing with hunger, and no more than 50 are expected to do it by 2015. As not as equal progress on hunger reduction has been achieved so far, it seems evident that HLP drafters do not believe in the Zero Hunger Goal as much as they do it in extreme poverty eradication. Why is that? Perhaps, because reality has proven that eradicating hunger is much more difficult than rising the extreme poverty threshold? Perhaps, because achieving food security for all would require questioning the whole food production system and achieving the zero extreme poverty does not? Perhaps because hunger reduction is closely link to agro-ecological and more sustainable practices, community-owned and managed resources, agrarian reform, open knowledge and patent free research, staple food for national markets instead of cash crops for export and similar evidence-based recommendations that attack the very pillars of the corporate neoliberal global order?

It seems clear to me that if we were to achieve a food secure world where every human being had enough food to live a healthy life, the very foundations of the industrial oil-based food system should be contested, the very nature of food as a pure private good should be questioned and the balance of power should shift from agri-business oligopolies to polycentric nodes of governance (Elinor Ostrom’s contribution to natural resource governance), more similar to Community-based Agriculture in the US or Incredible Edible in Todmorden, UK. We cannot keep on saying that the hunger problem is merely a “lack of access”, because it reinforces the commodity dimension of food, overshadowing or neglecting the other dimensions of food as vital human need, food as a binding human right and food as a cultural element (by cultivating and eating).

As a final suggestion, I would opt by rewording the Goal 5 on hunger as follows:  “Bring the number of chronically malnourished under five children to zero before 2030 and ending the hunger-related deaths before 2025 by, amongst others, eliminating acute wasting in under five children”. Our children are the next generation who must finish the task of ending extreme poverty. Let them be adequately fed for that. Otherwise, they will be mentally and physically handicapped for their entire lives. Primum vivere, deinde philosophare.

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