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Comprehensive World Food Policy
by Rene Wadlow
2014-10-16 09:29:46
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16 October is the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization's World Food Day − a yearly reminder that there are people who are constantly hungry due to poor agricultural methods, inadequate distribution, poor food storage, and armed conflict.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) calls for the day to ensure humanity's freedom from hunger.  Frank McDougall, an Australian economist and delegate to the League of Nations, had influenced Eleanor Roosevelt who then persuaded her husband Franklin to make food a world priority.  President Roosevelt called a Conference on Food and Agriculture in May 1943.  A preparatory commission was set up, chaired by Lester Pearson who was then the Canadian Ambassador to the United States.  A signatory meeting for the FAO constitution was held in Quebec on 16 October 1945, date which was later chosen to be World Food Day.

The FAO headquarters was set up in Rome, Italy, where the International Institute of Agriculture (IIA) existed.  Although the IIA was created in 1905 by King Victor Emmanuel III, it had close relations with the League of Nations.  Also, having FAO in Rome was a symbol that Italy was accepted in the world community despite its joining the Allies late in the day.  Sir John Boyd Orr, a Scot nutritionist, League of Nations activist and later active world citizen, was the first Director-General.  He tried to deal with both immediate and long-term issues relating to agriculture, food, and nutrition.  Boyd-Orr set the pattern for strong leadership of the FAO secretariat on food issues, with most governments dragging their feet.

When William and Paul Paddock published in 1967 their book Famine 1975 ,   the book was met with smiles. “Alarmist” was the general evaluation, for the end of the 1960s was a period of relative optimism.  The “green revolution” was on its way; peaceful atomic energy was around the corner; population would decrease with higher living standards and perhaps population was not as much of a problem after all if improvements could be made in the distribution of wealth through better trade agreements and foreign aid. 

Five decades later, there is less optimism.  The green revolution has turned out to be not a revolution but a mild improvement in certain areas − at a rather high cost in terms of water and fertilizers needed.  The richer farmers have benefited more than the poor, and the spread of these new seeds has in fact slowed down.  Atomic fuel as a means of easily available energy is being increasingly questioned due to problems of radioactive waste and environmental protection measures.  Population pressure has grown with no real leveling off in sight.  Hopes have now dimmed that trade agreements and foreign aid would lead to a better world distribution of goods and services.  Today, there are wide-spread fears of economic depression, of monetary instability, and of increasing unemployment.

A central theme which Citizens of the World have long stressed is that there needs to be a world  food policy and that a world wood policy is more than the sum of national food security programs.

The focus on the formulation of national plans is clearly inadequate.  There is a need for a world plan of action with focused attention given to the role that the UN and regional institutions must play if hunger is to be sharply reduced.  It is clear that certain regional bodies, such as the European Union, already play an important role in setting agricultural policy both in terms of production and export policy.  There may be a time when the African Union also will play a crucial role in setting policy, monitoring and coordinating agriculture.

It is certain that attention must be given to the local and national level of food production, distribution, and food security.  Attention needs to be given to cultural factors, the division of labor between women and men in agriculture and rural development, in marketing local food products, to the role of small farmers, to the role of landless agricultural labor, and land-holding patterns.

Unfortunately, there are hardly ever adequate national food policies, in part because of a lack of political power on the part of rural populations.  The control of government administration by the urbanized elite is strong in nearly every country − even those where the bulk of the population lives in the rural area.

For the formulation of a dynamic world food policy, world economic trends and structures need to be analyzed, and policy goals made clear.  Government food and agriculture policies need to be analyzed and reviewed carefully. The agricultural policies of the European Union and the larger food-exporting countries − USA, Canada, Brazil,Australia − need to be reviewed along with the impact of agricultural subsidies and export encouragement.

A world food policy for the welfare of all requires a close look at world institutions and patterns of production and trade.  As Stringfellow Barr wrote in his 1952 book Citizens of the World   “Since the hungry billion in the world community believe that we can all eat if we set our common house in order, they believe also that it is unjust that some men die because it is too much trouble to arrange for them to live.” 


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