Food security exists when “all people, at all times have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and preferences for an active and healthy life”1. Today, nearly 800 million people lack adequate access to food, more than 2 billion people suffer from deficiencies of essential micronutrients, and about 60% of people in low-income countries are food insecure2. Food insecurity negatively impacts human physical, social, emotional and cognitive development throughout the lifespan and is a major social and environmental disruptor with serious implications for the health of the planet.
Two representatives of Just Access, Luca Brocca and Ida Manton attended the second meeting on global diplomacy and food security held by DCU in Dublin on 26-27 April 2023.
The meeting focused on specific food security issues that each working group had elaborated on in the past months. In addition, three guests – Reverend John Godfrey, Larry O’Connell, and John Gilliland – gave presentations on the second day.
Consequently, many interesting ideas were generated, which each working group will work on in preparation for the third and final meeting in Rome in July 2023.
In this blog post, we present the main points discussed during the meeting by providing concrete examples and describing some of the solutions that were discussed.
As part of its work during the past months, Just Access has brought attention to the right to food as a human right, while also identifying its problems and proposing some practical solutions.
After two online meetings that were held together with prominent experts in the field of food security and human rights, Just Access came up with a thorough paper which will be discussed in the next paragraphs.
Firstly, the most relevant international instruments which enshrined the right to food were pointed out. It was interesting to notice that, although this right is recognised in many binding and non-binding international agreements and domestic laws, there is still a significant gap between what is decided de iure by States and what instead happens de facto, in reality.
In fact, although many international agreements ensure the right to food, according to a FAO report written in July 2022, around 702 to 828 million people (8.9 and 10.5 % of the world’s population) had to face hunger in 2021, and it is estimated that 670 million people will have to deal with food insecurity in 2030.3
Therefore, it is more than clear that, although most States in the world recognise the right to food and the importance of guaranteeing its protection for all people, what happens in reality is a whole other story. This is even more critical if we consider that the world is already producing more than the necessary amount to feed and ensure a healthy diet for all people in the world. Food production is indeed necessary, but not sufficient to guarantee food security4.
For this reason, the paper produced by the Food Insecurity and Human Rights Working Group (FISHR) that Just Access has convened pointed out the need for States to fully implement existing human rights obligations. This can be done by establishing an adequate legislative and judicial framework and improving the existing one. Claimants must not be subjected to retaliation for exercising their rights, and the independent and impartial claim mechanisms they must have access to should be established at a decentralised level, and should be free, accessible, and lacking in excessive formalities and language barriers for ethnic groups.
Next, the FISHR Group pointed out and described the four major drivers of food insecurity identified by the FAO: conflict, climate extremes, economic shocks, and growing inequality5.
One prominent solution referred to by one of our guests during the online meetings was classifying food as an economic public good.6 In fact, food is now treated as a commodity, and a solution would be reforming the whole system to give producers support from the government and the industry in the public interest, to establish a system of governance for food production, distribution and access at a global level.
Even though this looks optimal for solving the problem of the current unequal global food distribution, it was pointed out during the meeting in Dublin that it might be too much of an ideal solution, and very difficult to apply in practice. Still, it is not completely impossible, considering that small steps have been taken at the local level to solve unequal food distribution7.
In the FISHR Group’s paper, a great deal of attention was given to corporations and their influence in destabilizing the food system. First, the “corporate capture” of the FAO was mentioned. Around 69% of FAO’s 2022-2023 budget came from voluntary contributions, and donors have the opportunity to set priorities and determine how these resources are used. This is even more critical because of the lack of transparency in this system, since the financial donations are not fully disclosed and there is no way of understanding whether a risk assessment has been carried out.
Thus, the paper proposes the FAO adopts an enhanced transparency framework with detailed information regarding each entity’s contributions, the projects it funded, and the diligence assessments conducted.
Corporations can also influence the quality of the ultra-processed food produced by the industrial food industry. In fact, the FISHR Working Group decided to dedicate a section of the paper to explaining that for the right to food to be fulfilled, it is not enough for an individual to have access to food, but rather to good quality food. Therefore, it was proposed that States implement taxes and warning labels to discourage the consumption of junk food. In addition, the paper recommends using the funds raised through these taxes to subsidise the cost of high-quality food.
Food and the Sacred
Another working group focused on the important relation is between food and the sacred and on how we can consider religious values in reaching global food security.
The paper, as it was presented during the meeting in Dublin, pointed out the importance of the nexus of food and values such as celebration, sharing, community, solidarity, interconnectedness, dignity, and appreciation. It is indeed impossible to imagine a faith community in which some members are excluded from the sharing of food.
Also, the importance of non-wasting food in certain religious traditions like the Hindu one was pointed out, since food waste is regarded as intrinsically wrong. This brings into the discussion the question of fasting, which as such is a major feature of world religions. With Islam and Ramadan, we understood that it is associated with a whole range of values including patience and compassion. In the religious traditions of humanity, food and its production are intertwined with respecting nature and future concerns.
One last thing to mention about the importance of faith communities in relation to food security is their possibility to cross borders and to reach the most marginalized, which are two major obstacles in obtaining food security in the current international and legislative framework.
The agriculture and farming working group focused on the importance that should be given to individual farmers. In fact, the working group referred to the struggles of many farmers in adapting to change, including their fear of inviting other stakeholders to their farms, the lacking belief that they can sell directly to consumers, and the psychological problems that many suffer. These struggles are highly connected with the increasing phenomenon of polarization, which was the object of discussion of another working group at the Dublin meeting.
The working group noted that polarization can be found in many ways when looking at farms: large and small, conventional and organic, integrated and specialized, family-owned and corporate. Moreover, despite the very ambitious goals set out in Europe with the Green Deal, the Farm to Fork strategy and the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), farmers are still concerned about those objectives. In fact, it was pointed out that they actually create a divide between the interests of the EU, Member States and individual farmers. For this reason, the role of the individual should be enhanced and given more importance in these projects. The voices of farmers and other key groups should be brought to international processes like the COP28 and the UN Food Systems Summit Global Stocktake.
The Working Group on global issues focused on the importance of the EU, the OSCE, the relation between food security and financial systems, and upcoming international meetings in tackling food security.
As for the role of the EU, attention was drawn to an overview of EU policies and strategic goals in the field of agriculture and their impact on farming. Apart from EU measures that were mentioned in the previous paragraphs, the RepowerEU project was referred to because of the strong impact that energy policies can have in achieving food security.
Moreover, the working group made reference to the issue of overdependence of the EU on certain imports. For instance, the Russian role in producing fertilizers had a strong impact on the EU after the war in Ukraine started and sanctions were imposed on Russia. In fact, the EU was forced to ease some of the sanctions through the 9th sanction package to facilitate Russia’s export of fertilizers and agricultural goods. The working group felt a particular need to strengthen localization and help countries fight overdependence on imports of food and agricultural products.
As for the role of the OSCE, the Working Group emphasized its importance in tackling food security. Its strength lies in the inclusiveness and the very high number of participants (47), although the need for consensus is often a deterrent to reaching efficient solutions. Still, it shows a good example of a multilateral regional approach to security which is reached through dialogue and cooperation.
Food security in the last years has gained an increasingly important role in the OSCE agenda. Starting from 2009, when the Ministerial Council in Vilnius adopted a resolution entitled “The Food Crisis and Security in the OSCE Area”, many other multilateral meetings have been held to tackle this matter. In other resolutions, the OSCE referred to important ideas concerning sustainability, the need to draw particular attention to agricultural lands and the possibility of increasing targeted financial assistance to increase food production.
Further, a paper regarding the relation between food security and financial systems has been pointed out. Financialization refers to the process by which ordinary practices are increasingly influenced by financial motives, modes, and logic. This process strongly affects the food market, which in turn affects many other spheres of society, such as the environment and politics.
Finally, a few international meetings to which the Working Group should draw particular attention have been pointed out. These meetings include the Food System Summit Stocktaking Moment that will take place in Rome in July 2023, the SDG Summit in New York in September 2023 and the COP 28 in the UAE in December 2023.
The paper of the working group on democracy and polarization focused on the fact that food insecurity is not caused by a lack of available resources, but rather by systemic inequalities and injustice.
It is necessary that we consider the importance of democracy and the impact that a non-democratic regime has on the access to food for marginalized communities. As defined by Pope Benedict XVI, democracy will be fully implemented only when “every person and each people have access to the primary goods of life, food, water, healthcare, education, work, and certainty of their rights, through an ordering of internal and international relations that guarantees everyone a chance to participate.”8
Further, the impact of polarization on food security was mentioned. In fact, it can lead to political instability, economic inequality, and inaction on climate change, which are all components that strongly affect food security. Polarization was given a specific definition by the working group, which described it as a prominent division between major groups marked by severe radicalization between two distinct extreme poles that more or less have equal amounts of power.
The solutions proposed include outreach and dialogue as a way of paying more attention to each individual’s perspective, and narrative change to enhance the role of faith communities in this process.
The second day of the multi-stakeholder meeting featured four inspiring presentations by prominent guests. Each presentation was followed by questions and comments of the participants that allowed us to reflect on the different projects in view of the upcoming meeting.
It was of great importance that the venue was “the “fumbally”, a local café that in recent years has more than shown its sensitivity to the issue of food security. It was important for all participants to attend the presentation of Aisling, one of the two founders of this café, who passionately explained the impact of her business and the work she puts into it.
Fumbally’s main goal is to create a stronger connection between people and the food they eat. Aisling highlighted the direct connection with the suppliers, the regular visits to the farms, and the fact that they have a circular kitchen where everyone is considered on the same hierarchical level. This, of course, highlighted the role of the individual, which had been mentioned several times during the previous day’s meeting. She stressed that we must continue our meetings by considering even the most extreme scenarios and not just the general scheme of food insecurity.
She also pointed out that Fumbally is not a business for the glory of the industry, which she described as broken because of the role that large corporations have taken over in recent decades. The role of prominent corporations was raised several times during the previous day’s meeting, and we all reflected on the impact of ultra-processed foods often sold in the marketplace that do not meet the core of the right to food security.
An important comment on this issue came from Ida Manton, another member of Just Access who was also involved in organizing these multi-stakeholder meetings. She referred to the problem of time management found in many families in Western society. Considering the very common situation of two working parents with children, she referred to the difficulty of finding time to go to places like Fumbally, which is a luxury for most families. Nowadays there is a commercial model where everyone is always striving for more, and it is very difficult to resist that and not be one of the people who live a normal western life.
The meeting continued with a presentation by Reverend John Godfrey, who pointed out the work he and the Aughrim & Creagh Unions parishes have been doing at the Aughrim Climate Action Park. This biodiversity park also focused on the importance of connecting with the food we eat, while emphasizing the importance of faith communities to global food security. Local people tend the garden and learn new skills in the process. School children sometimes have lessons in the garden about planting, cycles of nature, biodiversity, and sustainable living.
Reverend John referred to his main inspiration for starting this great project, which was one of the Fridays for future protests that took place in front of Dáil Éireann with more than 10,000 children participating. Luca Brocca pointed out the importance of raising young people’s awareness of this sensitive issue and the constitutional right to protest in European countries, which allows young people to speak out on such sensitive issues.
What was most inspiring about the project, even more than the concrete results it achieved among the local population, was the passion that Reverend John tried to share with the participants. He was able to describe his project so passionately that all the participants were able to understand even more the importance of these local initiatives and the need for governments to fund them. “My heart flutters when I’m there”, is one of the expressions that Reverend John used to refer to his strong bond to that land.
Next in the meeting, Larry O’Connell, Director of the National Economic and Social Council (NESC), gave a presentation on climate transition in Irish agriculture. The NESC plays a very important role, advising the Irish Prime Minister on strategic policy issues relating to sustainable economic, social and environmental development in Ireland.
He pointed out the broad scope of the challenge we face as environmental, economic and social issues overlap in the food sector. Therefore, in order to find more effective solutions, it is necessary to work directly with farmers who, for understandable reasons, better understand what are the main difficulties we face. Farmers were given special attention in the Agriculture and Farming working group, which focused on the daily struggles they face due to current national legislation and lack of access to more advanced production methods. Therefore, government funds should be allocated in a more effective way to help sustain farmers and invest in this sector.
The two-day meeting concluded with a presentation by John Gilliland on the transition to delivering multiple public goods as a practitioner. He referred to his very inspiring experience as a practitioner in achieving net-zero agriculture and his current role in helping seven more farms move toward net-zero. He provided us with clear evidence that it is possible to produce healthy, high quality food while reducing the environmental impact of this activity. However, this can lead to financial difficulties, as national governments still do not adequately fund these types of projects.
He pointed out the importance of new precision measurement technology for measuring real change, which is essential for reaching Tier 3 in agricultural sustainability participation. The role of the Aerial LiDAR was highlighted because of its essential role in measuring carbon in trees and hedgerows, and thus in achieving net-zero agriculture. However, this carbon reduction is very expensive, and this is the main problem he and many other companies trying to achieve net-zero agriculture face due to lack of sufficient government support. Achieving net-zero can be done through a public-private partnership in which barriers are mutually recognized and equitably resolved, achieving a “just transition” while also providing other public goods.
This two-day meeting allowed all participants to get a more concrete idea of the work of each working group and how it can be linked to the ideas of the other working groups. The presentations on the second day were essential to understanding the importance of the local initiatives and what priorities we should focus on in the coming months. Just Access is grateful for the invitation and the opportunity to be involved.