Michelle Jurkovich. Feeding the Hungry: Advocacy and Blame in the Global Fight Against Hunger.
Photo by Steve Knutson on Unsplash.
(Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2020, 169pp)
The Association of World Citizens has taken a lead in the promotion of a coordinated world food policy; with an emphasis on the small-scale farmer and a new awareness that humans are part of Nature; with a special duty of care and respect for the Earth’s inter-related life-support system. As Stringfellow Barr wrote in Citizens of the World (1952):
“Since the hungry billion in the world community believe that we all can eat if we set our common house in order, they believe also that it is unjust that some die because it is too much trouble to arrange for them to live.”
The plan for a World Food Board.
Sir John Boyd Orr; the first Director General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO); had proposed a World Food Board to stabilize food prices and supplies. The plan for a world food board was rejected following the lead of the US delegate; who said “Governments are unlikely to place large funds needed for financing such a plan in the hands of an international agency over whose operations and price policy they would have little direct control” (1) Boyd Orr resigned when the food board proposal was not accepted by government representatives; and then devoted much of his energy to the world citizen movement.
World Citizen Josué de Castro; who served as the independent Chairman of the FAO Council; was a leader in calling attention to world hunger; and for the need for strong governmental action to provide food security; and highlighted the need to combine a world; a national, and a local approach to the fight against hunger.
The Green Revolution.
However from the start; the FAO and government agricultural ministries put an emphasis on technical aspects of greater food production: better seeds, appropriate fertilizers; “the Green Revolution”. There was also a growing realization of cultural factors: the division of labor between women and men in agriculture and rural development, the marketing of local food products, the role of small farmers, land-holding patterns and the role of landless agricultural labor.
As Jurkovich points out; there has been a growing emphasis on the right to food. Typical of this approach is the General Comment 12; on the Right to Adequate Food of the U.N. Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights:
“The Covenant clearly requires that each State party take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that everyone is free from hunger and as soon as possible can enjoy the right to adequate food. This will require the adoption of a national strategy to ensure food and nutrition security for all, based on human rights principles that define the objectives, and the formulation of policies and corresponding benchmarks.” (2)
Humanity’s Freedom From Hunger.
Non-governmental organizations have played a vital role in efforts to ensuring humanity’s freedom from hunger. NGOs have been active both at the national level and in some of the world conferences organized by the FAO; such as the 1996 World Food Summit. As then FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf said in his talk; United Against Hunger:
“Responding properly to the hunger problem requires urgent, resolute and concerted action by all relevant actors at all levels. It calls for the need for all of us to be united. It underlines that achieving food security is not the responsibility of one single party; it is the responsibility of ll of us.”
NGOs have also highlighted the specific problems of indigenous peoples, landless peasants, and the forced evictions of small farmers.
A Mother’s Milk Substitute.
What is new in Michelle Jurkovich’s approach is asking can one pinpoint blame for violations on the right to adequate food. In dealing with the violations of political rights NGOs; such as Amnesty International are able to analyze who is responsible; and to whom one should appeal to change the situation: the Minister of Justice, the director of a prison, the chief of a local police. The violation is generally fairly clear; and one can find the names of the higher up in the chain of command. With food issues; it is more difficult. There is often no agreement on who is responsible for a situation; and to whom to appeal.
There are exceptions. A major effort developed; in part from the Graduate Institute of Development Studies in Geneva; where I was teaching. It was the International Baby Food Action Network; that stressed breastfeeding as against milk substitutes and baby food; largely produced by Nestlé. Nestlé had a widely used poster of a woman dressed in white; (who could be taken as a medical worker); advocating a mother’s milk substitute. Thus; it was decided to direct a boycott of Nestlé products. The advantage in the effort was that all the major decision-makers – Nestlé; the World Health Organization (WHO) and the boycott organizers were around Lake Geneva. The aim was to get a WHO Code on marketing and to get Nestlé to change its policies.
The “Big Ten” transnational Food.
The effort took 10 years; with strong opposition to a code within WHO; led by the USA, Japan, the Federal Republic of Germany and a few other conservative allies. Wanting to maintain “consensus” and remove fears of financial consequences for WHO; which depends largely on contributions from governments in addition to the regular budget; WHO Secretariat members were not going to push for a code. Finally a general and watered-down Code was finally set by the WHO.
Such victories are few. There are few cases where a product is concentrated in only one company; where blame can be centered on a common target. There are at least the “Big Ten” transnational food and beverage companies. Of course; these companies are not the only ones responsible for hunger in the world. Governments are primarily responsible for agricultural policies. For NGOs wanting to influence governments; there are varied understandings of the cause, responsibility, blame and solutions. Jurkovich gives no set answers; but she raises useful questions. A book worth reading closely.
1) For an analysis of Boyd Orr’s proposal see Ross Tabot The Four World Food Agencies in Rome (Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1990, 188pp.)
Also see the memoirs of a later FAO Director General B.R. Sen. Towards a Newer World (Dublin: Tycooly Publishing, 1982, 341pp.)
2) UNCESCR General Comment 12, UN Doc. ECOSOC E/C12/1999/5.
Rene Wadlow, President, Association of World Citizens.