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Nutritious food is a human right

By Judith Hitchman | China Daily Africa | Updated: 2014-11-23 13:31

Better governance of local food systems will help battle global malnutrition

Twenty-two years after the first global summit on nutrition, the Second International Conference on Nutrition was held from Nov 19 to 21 in Rome to address global malnutrition. Nutrition has, to a large extent, been discussed under the auspices of the World Health Organization in a separate forum from all other food issues that are covered in the scope of the Food and Agriculture Organization's Committee on World Food Security. This is illogical, as nutrition cannot, and should not, be disassociated from the fundamental human right to food and the governance of our global food system.

But how do social movements fit into this picture? Food, including nutrition, should be considered as an inseparable whole. It should not be a commodity, falling into the scope of the World Trade Organization. The social movement's vision is one of healthy, nutritious food, produced by small-scale food producers and eaten by local communities. Food sovereignty defines our right to decide how and what we produce and eat. But multinational corporations dictate what we should buy and consume. Agribusiness, agrochemical and pharmaceutical companies are now working together to produce highly processed, "enriched" and "modified" foods that are being marketed to consumers through global hypermarket chains, to the detriment of small-scale producers and short and direct distribution chains such as Community Supported Agriculture. China, which already has a rapidly growing network of at least 500 CSAs, is slated to host the next global CSA conference next year.

Transnational corporations and big humanitarian NGOs grabbed much of the preparatory process for the nutrition conference. Member states and the private sector excluded the voice of social movements, who have had to knock hard at the door to gain limited access. And what access we have gained has been as observers, with no direct contributions to policymaking.

Nutrition is an integral part of food sovereignty. It is implicit in agro-ecology, all traditional food systems and our rights to determine how food is produced, distributed and prepared. All traditional diets historically include a dimension of nutrition and are respectful of the soil and environment, health and nutrition. Peasant agriculture and small-scale fisheries account for 70 percent of agricultural production of the world - with only 30 percent of the resources in terms of land. Yet many agricultural workers are among the hungry, malnourished or undernourished, working for industrial food producers who control their lives. These questions can only be resolved through building coherent and more sustainable local food systems at national levels, establishing good governance of resources and ensuring a respect of human rights.

It is important to mention that the Committee on World Food Security is the UN agency that coordinates all UN work on food-related issues. Social movements were deeply involved in the reform of the UN Committee on World Food Security in 2009, when its civil society mechanism was created to give all 11 UN-recognized constituencies integral roles in CFS' working program and decision-making process.

The mechanism allows social movements, through their representatives, to make major contributions to policy; it also ensures that peasant agriculture, small-scale fisheries, pastoralists, indigenous peoples, urban poor, agricultural and food workers, women's gender concerns and consumer voices are all not just heard, but taken into account. It is now the most inclusive of UN voices in defending the right to food. This is no easy task for those of us whose networks and movements have given us the mandate to defend the interests of small-scale producers and consumers. Social movements participate in building policy and governance, but not through votes, which is the prerogative of member states and should remain so. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization also supports CSF's policy decisions in its implementation at the global, regional and national level through their new decentralized policy.

Social movements need to be present to ensure that the governance of our food systems includes the food we want - healthy and locally produced by small-scale farmers and fishers. We need to fight against food systems that destroy our lands through monocropping and land, ocean and resource-grabbing; the use of genetically modified crops; and chemical inputs that destroy the health of people, animals and soil.

We need to ensure that the elected governments of our member states, ensure that we, the citizens and consumers, are guaranteed the right to safe, healthy food of our choice. And that the governance of food systems as a whole remain within the scope of the CFS, with the FAO integrating nutritional concerns. Hunger and malnutrition are the result of a globalized food industry, based on neo-liberalism, where the rich get richer and the poor ever poorer. The FAO and CFS are the UN agencies whose mandates must and should continue to be where all food questions - including nutrition - are voiced, and where civil society and social movements can best contribute to ensuring that the respect of the right to food continues to build coherent policy on all food issues. They must, above all, empower and ensure that the voice of those who are central to sustainable local food systems - the small-scale food producers of the world and consumers - is heard.

We must give a clear mandate to those responsible for policy on food systems, health, nutrition and social protection to ensure that our food systems are not controlled by transnational corporations or foreign investments that deprive millions of people of their land and oceans, their historical rights and resources.

As Jose Graziano da Silva, director general of the FAO, said at the opening ceremony of the Civil Society Organization Forum: "Globalization does not necessarily result in the right to food for all, or overcoming malnutrition. Family farmers play a key role in the implementation of the right to food."

The author is an advocacy officer at Urgenci International Community Supported Agriculture Network. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

 Nutritious food is a human right

Zhang Chengliang / China Daily

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