A panel discussion at the 2016 Wellesley College Impact Albright Symposium that I attended focused on the 2nd Sustainable Development Goal, namely, ‘End Hunger by 2030’. Weighing in on the panel titled, ‘Can We End Hunger by 2030? Will We?’, were former UN World Food Programme Executive Director, Catherine Bertini; chief of staff of the International Food and Policy Research Institute, Rajul Pandya-Lorch; former IFPRI director general and professor at Cornell University, Per Pinstrup-Andersen; and Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Wellesley College, Robert Paarlberg.
The panellists were on the whole optimistic that ending hunger is achievable, however all cautioned that only with prioritisation and commitment to gender equity and agricultural policies and budgets would it be feasible.
Starting off the panel, Pandya-Lorch emphasised that the 1st SDG, ‘End Poverty’ is closely linked with the 2nd, ‘End Hunger’ one. Quipping that ‘you cannot end poverty on empty stomachs’, she reminded us that there has been progress in reducing the statistic that every 10th person in the world goes hungry, but that this progress needs acceleration. The other panellists underscored what kind of actions were necessary in order to achieve accelerated progress, and hopefully end hunger by 2030.
Pinstrup-Andersen clarified the problem at hand: there is food, but there is on one hand inadequate access to this food as a result of food loss, food waste, and low incomes; and on the other hand over-adequate access to food resulting in obesity. And each one of us has a role to play in the situation, he added. While food availability is crucial, it is not sufficient, he said, adding that there is a need to direct more attention towards the nutrient quality of our food, and not just the calorific value. According to him, increased research into the imminent impact of climate change and resulting extreme weather events on agriculture and health; and investment in rural infrastructure and institutions are the two necessary tasks in order to achieve and end to malnutrition by 2030.
Catherine Bertini’s call to action was that leaders in countries around the world have to partner and support women in order to achieve food security, often beginning from the basics of literacy and education. Underscoring that in many countries women make up the larger proportion of cooks and farmers, Bertini also discussed the importance of addressing inter-generational hunger. If leaders create policies with gender realities in mind, and make the effort to reach and listen to, often rural, women ending hunger will be a reality.
Paarlberg’s lecture brought a touch of reality and almost dampened the optimism of the previous panellists. His contention was that we had had time and opportunity in the past to end hunger. But we didn’t. Choosing to focus his talk on India and the African continent, he pointed out the failures of policy follow-through by governments and lack of political voice of rural food producers.
Tellingly in the panellists’ addresses was the lack of emphasis on the farm, pasture and fishery part of how to end world hunger- the growing food aspect of it. Implicit in this was the acceptance of conventional agriculture, and the promotion of the ‘Green Revolution’, as the path to ensuring food security. A member of the audience questioned this assumption. Citing the detrimental environmental impacts of fertiliser and pesticide heavy agriculture as practised in the US, she asked what was being done to encourage alternative and non-conventional forms of agriculture globally. Her question went unanswered.
If Pinstrup-Andersen’s remarks on increasing micronutrient production, instead of solely increasing food production are to be taken seriously (as they should), we have to put effort into researching, creating policies, and advocating for alternative agricultures, which produce more nutrients than conventional agriculture.