Local solution to rising hunger

Global think tank finds the Indian food system resilient to achieve zero hunger target, warns of corporate pressure
Local solution to rising hunger

NEW DELHI: A global think tank has just recognised India’s food system as resilient enough to potentially achieve the goal of zero hunger. It said India’s food policy still promotes local procurement and distribution systems to support small farmers and secure food security of a large number of consumers by keeping them immune to global food price fluctuations.

However, it said India’s current system is under threat as state-brokered partnerships between small agroecological producers and industrial global agribusiness aggressively promoting multinationals food conglomerates through policy and finance may derail the country’s journey towards achieving the zero hunger target by 2030.

Experts say these partnerships are being made under pressure from biased global trade agreements such as the World Trade Organisation’s Agreement on Agriculture (AOA). The report points out that these agreements favour wealthy countries, which provide disproportionate subsidies to increase production and dump their produce in the Global South, which comprises poor and developing nations.

The International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food), is a global think tank that guides action for sustainable food systems around the world. It prods countries to make policy shifts to increase resilience in the face of growing hunger.

It cited a number of best practices of India and other countries in its latest report, ‘Food From Somewhere — Building food security and resilience through territorial markets’.

It underlined that the current industrial food chain failed to live up to expectations at a time when the world faced a series of shocks like the Covid-19 pandemic, Russian invasion into Ukraine and escalating climatic shocks that triggered supply chain chaos, volatile food prices, empty shelves and a surge in hunger levels.

According to the report, these shocks showed the limitations of the global industrial chains in a crisis-prone world. The report calls for shifts in policy to reverse the current trend by promoting sustainable and agroecological food systems.

It suggested redirection of public procurement to support sustainable small-scale producers, and shift in subsidies to invest in infrastructure and networks that underpin territorial markets.

Further, it recommended providing protection to local markets from corporate takeover; and encouraging sustainable, biodiverse farming and diverse diets.

Territorial markets are defined as a local food web, which includes public markets, street vendors, cooperatives, urban agriculture and online direct sales. They rely on smaller-scale food producers and vendors to serve communities. These markets successfully demonstrated the benefits of food security – including access to more diverse and nutritious foods, high degrees of resilience and adaptability to shocks, accessible prices, and environmental sustainability.

Rising hunger

The report advocates more localised and resilient food provision to achieve the goal of zero hunger by 2030. Nearly 30% of the world’s population is facing food insecurity, while 600 million additional people are projected to be facing hunger by 2030, putting the world’s zero hunger goal further away than ever.

The report takes a comprehensive review of the current global food systems and finds that localised food supply chains offer a resilient and equitable approach to food security.

It quotes India’s ambitious public distribution system designed to support farmers and 800 million people’s food security. Besides, targeted public procurement schemes such as the breakfast and noon meal scheme in schools that source from local smallholders, provide ample opportunity to establish another level of territorial market.

The report underlines the need of a fundamental shift towards close-to-home food supply chains (territorial markets) offering a more resilient, robust, and equitable approach to food security.

These territorial markets support the livelihoods of millions of small-scale producers, sustain diverse food cultures, boost biodiversity, promote community cooperation, and help feed up to 70% of the world’s population while using less than one-third of agricultural land and resources. While corporate chains broke down during the Covid-19 pandemic, territorial markets quickly adapted their operations and supply methods to keep communities fed, it said.

For example, in India – where a sudden lockdown sparked a worker exodus from big cities and widespread risks of food insecurity – the Kerala government set up 1,000 Janakeeya Hotels run by the all-women network Kudumbashree, providing an average of 70,000 subsidised meals every day. The produce came from the Kudumbashree local production programme, which also sells directly to consumers in monthly markets.

Unfortunately, these place-based territorial food markets are under attack. They are penalised by trade and investment policies and agricultural subsidies, and often lack adequate infrastructure such as sanitation and storage facilities, the study found.

“The evidence is clear – localised food systems are vital for feeding an increasingly hungry planet and preventing food insecurity and famine,” said Shalmali Guttal, IPES-Food expert, India.

“Bigger is not always better! It’s time for governments to act decisively to use public procurement to bolster sustainable small-scale producers, provide local and regional food markets with the infrastructure they need, and safeguard them from corporate dominance,” Shalmali Guttal added.

A separate global survey of urban food insecurity estimates that over 3/4 of the world's food insecure population are now in urban and peri-urban regions (1.7 billion people). The survey called for targeted policies to address urban and peri-urban hunger.

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