Local action against hunger needed in 2011, says CWS

‘Hungry people can’t afford to wait for world bodies to solve the problems’

January 10, 2011

If 2010 was the year of large-scale disasters — including the devastating Haiti earthquake and wide-spread floods in Pakistan — 2011 is likely to be the year when issues of hunger become increasingly significant on the global stage, international humanitarian agency Church World Service (CWS) says in a New Year’s assessment.

The relief and development agency that includes the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) among its members also says that 2011 will need to be the year of ground level action, with governments, local communities, and humanitarian players taking the lead to enact their own solutions to hunger and food crises.

“The hungry and poor can’t afford to wait for world bodies to solve the problems. More than ever, 2011 should be the year to think and act locally,” backed by even greater international supports, said CWS Executive Director and CEO John L. McCullough.

“Hunger has always been with us, but in 2011, it will increasingly take on more importance, both as a fact of life for tens of millions and as an issue for the humanitarian community to respond to and lift up,” he said.

"We also know we can't treat problems in isolation: You can't address the issue of food without dealing with the issues of climate change and water."

And indeed, the year 2010 found global actors focused on the inter-related issues of hunger, climate change and water at international forums, such as the Cancun, Mexico, Climate Summit.

Some successes were found — such as agreement in Cancun of setting global emission mitigation targets. In September a renewed focus was made on keeping the world on track toward reaching the Millennium Development Goals by 2015, including the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger.

But troubling trends that began in 2010 — including the steepest rise of food prices since the global food crisis of 2008 and the impacts of commodities market trading — are likely to continue this year, according to a growing number of agriculture and economic experts, with the grave likelihood that millions more people will be forced into poverty and that those already poor will experience even greater hunger and malnutrition.

Maurice A. Bloem, CWS’s deputy director and head of programs, cited the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s November Food Outlook/Global Market Analysis, as a troubling sign: The report said that international prices for most agricultural commodities “have increased in recent months, some sharply.”

The FAO Food Price index gained 34 points since the previous food outlook report in June — averaging 197 points in October, only 16 points short from its peak in June 2008, the FAO said.

“The upward movements of prices were connected with several factors, the most important of which was a worsening of the outlook for crops in key producing countries, which is likely to require large draw downs of stocks and result in tighter global supply and demand balances in 2010/11,” the report said.

Experts attribute the worsening outlook for crops and food insecurity — the unavailability of sufficient, safe and nutritious food — in great part to crop failures brought on by drought. For example, a drought in Russia this past summer caused exports of wheat to drop dramatically, helping fuel global food price increases.

Bloem said such trends will put increased pressure on the world’s vulnerable persons, who already are having difficulty making ends meet and finding food and nutrition security — the access to healthy and safe food. One result is that millions of mothers are not able to provide proper nutrition in the developmentally critical first 1,000 days, or roughly first three years, of a child’s life.

“This has to continue to be an important focus globally,” Bloem said.”Much is already being done, but more needs to be done — and must be done at ground level — by country governments, by community and municipal governments, by community groups, and by humanitarian groups like Church World Service.”

Steps that CWS is advocating include:

  • Ensuring that the needs of the most vulnerable — the urban poor and refugees and mothers and children under the age of 3 — are properly addressed. This can at least partly be done by addressing severe acute malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies through a community-based approach using affordable, ready-to-use therapeutic foods and micronutrient powders or supplements for home-fortification of foods;
  • Seeking sufficient investments in local agriculture, especially to support smallholder farmers and small-scale rural and urban “homestead” food production or home gardens, coupled with initiatives to promote dietary diversity, and the sustainable production of animal-source foods, vegetables and fruits;
  • Advocating at national and global levels for additional funds to address the present food crisis, funding for critical research on global food systems (of which climate change issues are also a part), and continued advocacy on trade justice and trade policy issues, which are key to food sovereignty and the security of smallholder farms; and
  • Promoting leadership by and among consumers to practice and demand more sustainable production and consumption — through social movements, purchasing habits, and legislative advocacy that drive change at corporate, market and policymaking levels.

McCullough said one of his own New Year’s resolutions and that of CWS overall is in making “sustainable consumption” a public priority. “All of us need to ask, what can we do, what can I do?” he said.

The new homesteading

One thing the world’s rural and urban poor can do to improve their own access to more and better quality food — with minimal cost and space — is with small-scale homestead gardening, McCullough said. “Even in the poorest urban settings, there are household and small community spaces that are often available for shared family gardening. And it doesn’t require much by way of assistance to help start small gardens that can keep on producing.

“There’s nothing new about backyard gardening,” said McCullough, “but what is new is a rising groundswell to make homestead food production part of an intensified, global food security policy and strategy for the world’s poor.

“At ground level, development agencies are making that trend more of a priority than ever, focusing on fresh, cheap and sustainable ways for vulnerable families to grow much of their own food and nutritional sufficiency,” he said. “But there’s still much to be done.”

Church World Service is a global humanitarian relief and development agency that has fought global and domestic hunger for more than 60 years. Some 1,600 CWS CROP Hunger Walks held across the U.S. each year raise millions of dollars for hunger-fighting programs at home and abroad. CWS is a member of the international ACT Alliance of faith-based humanitarian assistance and development organizations, which also includes the PC(USA).

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