Aspirational Activism is urgently needed: the Zero Hunger possible utopia from Guatemala to the world


Utopian thinking is key to break the business-as-usual narratives towards sustainable and fair food systems. A hunger-free world is the goal of utopian public policies.

I am convinced the public nutrition workers and anti-hunger professionals need to adopt an activist attitude against hunger, either as academics, journalists, policy makers or entrepreneurs, because we cannot remain neutral or detached from the hunger holocaust nicely described by George Kent: 3.1 million under-five children die of hunger-related deaths in the world every year. Yes, we need more engaged activism but perhaps of different nature. The down-to-earth results-oriented activism so common in this age will not suffice to eradicate hunger from Earth.

In that sense, another important attitude is urgently required in our rather pragmatic and bureaucratic nutritional world, namely being “Aspirational”. By producing science, developing technologies, amplifying our outreach, advocating for better policies, activating our peers, and agitating minds and souls with innovative ideas, we will not get rid of hunger because we don’t know how a hunger-free world looks like. We never had that and hence we have to imagine it. Actually, we shall dare imagining a world with no hunger and malnutrition, with different types of public policies that would distribute the sustainably-produced food or with universal food schemes where everybody would get free food simply because it is a vital resource – as the Irish get free water in their homes, the Spanish get free health and the Belgians get free education under universal welfare states.

In the year that celebrates the 500th anniversary of the first edition of Thomas More’s Utopia, published in Louvain in 1516, I want to vindicate “Possible Utopias” to be applied to nutrition. Every political idea or institutions was at the beginning a “political utopia” until it was actually materialized in real contexts. For example, voting rights for women were dismissed as utopian in mid-XIX century although render effective along the XX century. Slavery abolishment was regarded quite utopian during the XVI debates on whether American Indians had soul or not. Today it is a fait accompli. And during the French Revolution, the aspirational goals of equal rights to equal men and women, State laicity or fraternity within human beings were the fundamental utopias that mobilized the common people to rally against the Old System and to build a New Order.

Back in 2005, I was part of a utopian political initiative with Jose Graziano da Silva, current FAO Director General and then President Lula’s Special Advisor on Food Security, and Andres Botran, former Guatemala’s State Secretary on Food Security and current Presidential Commissioner to eradicate chronic malnutrition. During a regional food security conference, we launched an aspirational idea to have the whole Latin America and the Caribbean region with no hunger by 2025. Initially, it was just a dream, with the three of us working hand by hand with no funds, a few contacts and a committed attitude towards hunger eradication. We amplified our message through the Presidents of Brazil and Guatemala, we advocated within FAO -at that time the institution I was working for- and donors (initially the Spanish Cooperation and then the Brazilian and Mexican agencies stepped in) to get additional support, we activated colleagues from other Latin American countries to join us in the challenge and we indeed agitated several ministerial meetings and presidential summits by introducing sentences in the final statements defending the political goal of having a Hunger-Free Latin American and Caribbean in 20 years. We finally succeeded in having a project to support the secretariat, to insert the zero hunger goal in the regional political declarations (the CELAC plan for food security, nutrition and hunger eradication has been recently approved) and to launch the Parliamentarian Fronts against Hunger  a network of initiatives (17 at national level and four in regional Assemblies) that are providing legal and high-policy backstopping to food and nutrition policies. This thrust in political will has been effective since the region has been the best performer in hunger reduction during the MDGs lifespan. According to FAO, Latin America and the Caribbean dropped the number of undernourished people from 66 million in 1990 to 34 million in 2015, what exceeded the MDG1 indicator to halve the proportion of undernourished population by 2015: it was 14.7% in 1990, 5% in 2015 and it may be less than 2% -technically speaking a zero level in public health- by 2025.  So, the once utopia can perfectly become a yet-to-be reality.

This Latin American political ambition was then inspirational for the Zero Hunger Challenge launched by the UN Secretary General and the Sustainable Development Goals agreed upon by all UN member states. In that sense, Graziano did a terrific job in convincing Ban Ki Moon to endorse this aspirational but doable utopia. Nowadays, fighting for a future without hunger is guiding the world’s food and nutrition policies. From Guatemala to New York, we just initiated a possible utopia that was finally transformed by many others into a global (and real) political mandate.

This little story has a clear corollary: we shall unleash our imagination to design a more sustainable and fairer food system for all, based on the universal right to food, the consideration of food as a commons or a public good, and the capabilities and knowledge we actually have to produce enough food to feed us all adequately.

We shall use the word “aspirational” or “utopian” more often, especially in the political discourses. Our leaders need to be more inspirational so as to mobilise the crowd as well as more aspirational to gather a higher constituency capable of changing the current broken food system. Let’s dream together a world with no hunger before 2030. And be aware that dreams may one day become true. Ours may get materialised in less than 20 years.