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writing for godot


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Wednesday, 24 April 2019 05:42


-Undernutrition is the biological translation of a socioeconomic disease with serious human rights (HR) implications.

-Tell me what you eat and I will tell you who you are.

-Agriculture in rich countries is a competitive business; agriculture in poor countries is a way of life.


Never forget: A context is the consequence of political decisions! (Isabel Alvarez for the Civil Society Mechanism, FAO)

1. It is essential to question --right from the start-- what it is that we are placing at the center of our discussion on food systems. Health and care of both people and the planet have to be at the center of food systems. With this perspective as a starting point, definitions must be agreed upon and actions have to be taken --now from a much broader view. Additionally, the goals pursued will have to be in the public interest rather than respond to other spurious interests.


2. To this end, several people-centered tools already exist that are applied to actual peoples' needs. Human rights clearly provide the political framework to go in this direction, from the right to nutrition to women's and children’s rights …in conformity with the indivisibility of rights.


3. In addition to this framework, there is an additional context to bear in mind. Over the last few years, we have witnessed a transition and a change in our lifestyles. Undoubtedly, the contexts of urbanization, of technology and of rapid change in our lives is real, but we are not to assume that this occurs naturally, or even that this is unmovable --as the commercial (private)* sector gurus wants us to believe. It is the existing policies that underpin both the system and its context where we have to set our actions towards.

*: The term ‘private sector’ is, most of the time, used to refer to the commercial sector, but is sometimes also unfortunately used to refer to civil society --and we do not want to risk this confusion. Human rights activists thus avoid using the term ‘private sector’ carelessly; they prefer being clear and instead use 'commercial sector', 'corporations' or 'industries'. Better even, in relation to the right to nutrition, they refer to ‘unhealthy commodities industries’ or ‘industries producing and selling ultra-processed products’.  As for you, you must beware of those talking about “regulating health and nutrition policies from commercial and vested interests” making it sound as though it is the health policies or governance processes that need to be regulated --rather than the industries! I suggest alternative, more accurate, language such as 'safeguarding health and nutrition policies from commercial and vested interests'.


4. Reference is also to be made about the-decisions-made-by-people-regarding-what-they-eat. Let us not assume that everyone can decide --thereby forgetting that many people cannot decide, either because they do not have the resources, or because the food they eat in the context they live-in is controlled by forces/actors they cannot change. Moreover, persons who eat in schools and hospitals (and all places where there is public procurement), do not have any decision-making power. Let us be fully aware of the fact that the food purchased for these spaces does not tend to respond to nutritional criteria.


5. We understand that these are challenges calling for a broader outlook on such issues that are not to be considered so-called ‘externalities’. What is more, they are interpreted as being lineally introduced into the system, and yet, we know that they are part and parcel of the food system that controls us --with its well known consequences of malnutrition and NCDs.  Therefore, the interrelationship between the food system and its ‘externalities’ is not to be viewed as lineal, but rather as an integral part of a more complex system of interrelations.


6. In all these constructs, data are important, but the narrative around this data collection is also key: Who is behind it? Where, how and for what purpose is knowledge acquired? In this sense, it is essential to engage in a 'dialogue of know-hows' (dialogo de saberes as it is known in Spanish), as well as incorporating ancestral knowledge that, historically, has fed (and still feeds) the world for centuries while preserving biodiversity.


7. We cannot ignore the power imbalance in food systems and we simply must address it. In order to put the health and the care of people and of the planet at the center, we need to count on people, to insist on claim holders’ full participation in this process, as well as to guarantee equity and equality in the access to food --and insist in people enjoying livelihoods that are based on autonomy and sovereignty. The responsibility for this process is enormous, and we must all play our part.  (I. Alvarez)


It is the states' responsibility --not the consumers'-- to guarantee the human right to adequate food and nutrition.


8. As individuals in isolation we cannot take decisions bearing the weight of the system's responsibility; we cannot either confront the system itself as an isolated entity.


9. No matter how difficult, the system and policies we have to strive for are to fulfil the objectives of public interest while guaranteeing good health for people and for the planet in the long term. (I. Alvarez)


10. Furthermore, state proponents of ‘multi-stakeholderism’and PPPs in the food and nutrition domain often call for “the need to maintain the ‘balance’ between the points of view of different actors”, e.g., between small-scale food producers and agroindustrial complex corporations, and between Big Food companies and urban consumers. However, regardless of the ‘consensus’ that these groups may reach, human rights-based governance requires giving priority to the most marginalized both producer and consumer groups that may not be urban. The only possible way to move forward on this is to de-facto engage with claim holders of the most marginalized groups and let them decide about the needed ‘balance’. Interests and visions of different actors necessarily differ and putting too much emphasis on traditional stakeholders’ balance and ‘consensus’ cooked-up at the top will, for sure, play into the hands of those actors who are more powerful, have more resources and influence at their disposal and are the ones most likely to benefit. (CSM/CFS, FAO)


11. This brings me to my favorite nutrition Iron Laws:

  • Multidisciplinary implementation does not, by itself, work.
  • International financial considerations overrule policy in the areas most of us work.
  • We do not need nutrition scientists to improve nutrition as much as we need  …you fill the blanks.
  • Austerity measures will always cut nutrition programs.
  • Bureaucrats are more comfortable with programs than with policy changes.
  • Nutrition planners obey orders from their political masters.
  • More bureaucracy leads to atrophy of local community organization; and
  • Malnutrition also exists in rich countries. (Sol Chafkin, 1976!)


12. To these, I add:

  • Successful nutritional policies are those that create effective demand; when satisfied, these demands then create additional supplies.
  • Even with a sound assessment and analysis based on sound nutrition considerations, there is no guarantee that the resulting decisions and actions will necessarily favor the right to nutrition of the most needy. (Can we blame others for this?  No. It is us who have to keep trying…).
  • How this is accomplished (market or government) is not what is fundamental to the notion of food security as long as the indivisibility of HR is respected. (Kirit Parik, SCN News, No 20 July 2011)


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City

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-When I feed the poor, I am called a saint; when I ask why the poor are hungry, I am called a communist. (Dom Helder Camara)

-“Of course the people were not actually starving --you can keep them from starving on cassava, and malnutrition is much safer for the rich than starvation. Starvation makes a man desperate; malnutrition makes him too tired to raise a fist. The Americans understand this well --the aid they give makes just that amount of difference. People on the receiving end do not starve, they wilt.” (Graham Greene, The Honorary Consul)

-“I was hungry and you formed a committee; I was homeless and you filed a report; I was sick and you held a seminar. You have investigated all aspects of my plights. Yet I am still hungry, homeless and sick.”. (David Watson, Life in the Eighties) your social media marketing partner

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