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Recognising the Empty Bowls

Chronic” hunger is the elephant in the room that the neo-liberal states prefer to brush off.

The Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) report on the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2018 finds global hunger to have risen for three consecutive years since 2015, to reach 82.1 crore people or 11% of the global population in 2017. This marks a reversal of the positive trends of nearly a decade’s fight against global hunger, more importantly, amidst years of positive inventories in the global cereal market, and puts a question mark over the political commitment behind the Sustainable Development Goal of zero hunger by 2030. The FAO’s Crop Prospects and Food Situation report for March 2018 had estimated the global cereal production in 2017 to be 1.2% higher than that in 2016, driven by South America (with a 25.4% increase over 2016 cereal output) and Africa (a 10.8% increase from 2016) in the main. Yet, ironically, 29 out of the 37 countries identified by the FAO to be in need of external food assistance due to conflicts/displacement/weather shocks, are in Africa. While the (lack of) internal governance drives localised food insecurity, the widespread lack of access galvanises attention towards the modalities of international assistance to mitigate starvation.

According to the United Nation’s World Food Programme, international food aid had evidenced a paradigm shift from programme-based assistance to emergency/relief aids, when the incidence of global food emergencies doubled from an average of 15 a year in the 1980s to 30 in the 2000s, to ensure speedier responses to such increasing emergencies. Whether this has actually benefited the hungry is dubious. Immediate assistance saves lives, but inadvertently generates the risk of policy impasse to ameliorate “chronic” hunger in the long run. In countries where food deficits are so recurrent as to assume near-permanent deficiency, satiating a chronically hungry, growing population with emergency aid alone is potentially untenable, because such assistance is “reaction” to starvation, rather than its “prevention.” Though such ad hoc implementation violates the entitlement-based credo of food security as advocated by the humanitarian agencies themselves, it seems to fit well into the bill of neo-liberal polities. With private governance of neo-liberal food systems, large multi/transnational corporations exercising hegemonic powers along the global food chains benefit the most from such food transfers. Evidences show that their entrenched commercial interests in the export of surpluses (from donor countries)/in-kind food aid have denigrated/impeded local/triangular purchases of food aid. The latter could have enabled an efficient distribution of food within the developing countries.

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Updated On : 30th Oct, 2018

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