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Can climate solutions support food justice and sustainability?

Sustainability is now the desire of all nations. Yet, climate disruption is powerfully shifting path from sustainable life-choices of food, water and energy. Consequently, the overpopulating world is witnessing food justice movements more than the conventional social justice movements known previously. Has hunger not motivated such movements?
seedwheelEveryone eats. Besides, eating to nourish human body, food spawns social peace to curtail youth radicalisation, aggression, fear and civil distortions like bloody wars as well as ills related to malnutrition. For millions of smallholder farmers involved in cultivating food, malnutrition and starvation are still self-troubling. ‘Starvation is the characteristics of some people not having enough food to eat. It is not the characteristics of there not enough food to eat’[1].

Scanning hunger trends and futures 
Today, hunger and starvation situations are harsh but not worse as compared to 18th century. The 2016 Global Hunger Index[2] (GHI) uses four broad technical indicators namely undernourishment; child stunting; child wasting; and child mortality for 118 countries to demonstrate that the level of hunger is declining. The GHI score for developing countries had reduced from 30.0 per cent in 2000 to 21.3 per cent in 2016. The concern, however, is that proactive effort is required if goal #2 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is to be achieved.seedfjb

The global community is in crucial times to collectively get the zero hunger job done by 2030. There is no time to wait. This is because there are approximately 800 million – 1.02 billion people[3] who fall short of the ‘2100 kcal per day’[4]. On the basis of what the World Food Programme describes as ‘hidden hunger’[5], the malnourished population is arguably over 2.5 billion. And, if the ‘sustainable world scenario’ is not realised, then 13-25% of children can become ‘undernourished’ by 2050 – the period 9 billion people will likely inhabit the planet[6].

Is climate change not disrupting the earth’s resource systems to trick people into hunger trap? Apart from climate uncertainties, new causes of hunger have mushroomed in complex forms and scales, including digital violence, in the global South where there is high digital illiteracy.

International alliance against hunger
seedinterThe impact of climate-induced food insecurity is unevenly affecting all societies but developing economies are the hardest hit. Food inadequacies triggered the formation of global alliances and calls for innovative action from Stockholm 1972 — Rio 1992[6] to raise ‘the levels of nutrition’ (FAO, 1992) and, during the 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), the delegates came up with voluntary commitments to achieve food security. What about the happenings at Marrakech COP22 and Paris 2015?

Nexus of food justice, security and rights
The 1996 World Food Summit defines food security as a condition ‘when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life’. How to feed ‘all people, at all times’ to fulfill this vision of global food agenda is a challenge. Many households, governments, NGOs and faith-based organisations are not able to feed all their people through mainstream food interventions. The indications are clear that actors can progress faster towards zero hunger by greenly funding and implementing Food Justice Bill (FJB). Some societies have recognised food justice as an assuring antidote to meristematically deliver food needs to all. Indices of food justice activisms or research activities had occurred in developed and emerging countries, including UK by FoodEthicsCouncil, Kenya by FoodFirst, Guatemala by Oxfam International, Ethiopia and India by IDS that stimulated the enactment of food justice-related instruments like Food Security Bill (FSB[7]). Food justice is  at the centre of the UN programme on Zero Hunger Challenge and the University of Sheffield is one of a few universities that runs an academic programme on food justice.

Literally, the meaning of FJB is not the same as Food Security Strategy (FSS) or Food Security Bill (FSB). From a new sustainability science context, FJB is distinctively a subset of FSS/FSB and best compares to the Right to Food. Most countries have been ‘slow in putting’ the latter into practice as a ‘human right’ (FAO, 2011: xiii). FJB has countless benefits for humans and nature. One of them is the elastic propensity to move food issues from the boundaries of ‘Rights’ to ‘Human Values’ reflecting the sense that, at a given time, a person may genuinely be incapable to feed him or herself due to socio-legally defined limitations. Is it not that ‘Rights’ go with ‘Responsibilities’? Fulfilling responsibilities in order to access food to eat is certainly beyond ‘all persons’ and, as such, the global agendas for zeroing hunger will be incomplete if they do not strategically build-in FJB. In classified war zones, it may be prudent to encourage governments to adopt ‘Right to Food’ in tackling hunger and malnutrition. In migrants’ situation, FJB does not promote ‘rights’ as priority. Instead, it encourages human values, which implies that migrants have micro-spaces to explore access to food at interpersonal, corporate and charity levels. Also, when it comes to the destruction of 0.5ha plot of food crops by adverse climate changes, this can be dealt with using climate solutions nested with human values — having spaces for disabilities and capacity inequalities.

Is integrated climate solution not needed?SDGs #2
Ideally, climate solutions should not exclude soft solutions of which human values are integral for fostering sustainability base for a society. The integration of human values into the formulation of climate solutions helps to facilitate fixing of complicated hunger ills alongside resolving conflicts and other sustainability challenges. Thus, integrated climate solutions mean producing and manufacturing of various foods through cleaner, greener and sustainable processes that rebuild resilience of the biosphere and avert pollution of both the hydrosphere and the atmosphere. This suggests that global governing institutions, donors and national governments ought to sufficiently invest in decarbonising economy, researching low-carbon knowledge system, sustainably conserving biodiversity, and funding ‘appropriate sustainable agricultural technology to deliver significant yield increases on small farms in developing countries’[8]. More importantly, reframing and co-creating local and international food policies to embrace FBJ can rapidly tip significant changes in social-ecological systems to aid zeroing of hunger among restricted and inactive persons, including prisoners, children, mentally-challenged persons and pregnant women living in marginalised conditions. A universal FJB will keep off the food saddle on the neck of central governments to working together with families, communities, churches and traditional authorities. It has high potential to globally force and move people out of chronic hunger and malnutrition. The UN SDGs will win big and society will be safer and sustainable.


Further readings
[1] Sen A., 1981. Poverty and famines: an essay on entitlement and deprivation. Oxford University Press: Oxford, UK.
[2]von Grebmer, K.; Bernstein, J.; Nabarro, D.; Prasai, N.; Amin, S.; Yohannes, Y.; Sonntag, A.; Patterson, F.; Towey, O. and Thompson, J., 2016. 2016 Global Hunger Index: getting to zero hunger. Bonn, Washington, DC, and Dublin: Welthungerhilfe, International Food Policy Research Institute, and Concern Worldwide.
[3] FAO, 2011. Right to food: making it happens. Progress and lessons learned through implementation. FAO, Rome.
[4] FAO, IFAD and WFP, 2015. The state of food insecurity in the world 2015. Meeting the 2015 International Hunger Targets: Taking Stock of Uneven Progress.  FAO, Rome.
[5] World Food Programme, 2007. World hunger series 2007: hunger and health. Earthscan: London.
[6]Pinter, L., 2016. Envisioning the transition to a green industry. A paper presented at the UNIDO/Central European University, Budapest, Hungary July 13. 2016.
[7] FAO, 1 992. Sustainable development and the environment: FAO policies and actions, Stockholm 1972-Rio 1992. FAO, Rome.
[8] The FSS is a large-system framework that deals with the past, current and future food security issues concerning an entire population while the FJB focuses on current food requirements of a particular underserved people constituting a fraction of a larger society at a time.
[9] Stockholm Memorandum, 2011. Tipping the scales towards sustainability. 3rd Nobel Laureate Symposium on ‘global sustainability: transforming the world in an era of global change’. 16-19 May 2011, Sweden.

Growing green foods to achieve hunger-free city and sustainability

cropped-upa21.jpgHunger remains a challenge in all cities, especially in developing urban economies. The hardest hit by hunger are children, refugees, unemployed youth and disaster victims. How to achieve ‘zero hunger’ has become a pressing issue on public policy agendas. The latest collective attempt to push an agenda that would bring millions of people as possible out of extreme hunger and poverty conditions was the global acceptance and endorsement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at the last UN Sustainable Development Summit held in Paris, France.

One can think, design and initiate different interventions and approaches toward the elimination of hunger and poverty overtime. In African cities, undertaking agricultural activities forms part of natural resource management, which helps to put fresh food into the mouth. The activity is re-intensifying because it matches and responses to different skills and human-environmental needs in cities. Within peri-urban interfaces, in particular, cultivating green foods is life-saving as it cushions pro-poor households against sudden change in food prices. As important as cultivating green foods or keeping ruminants strengthen green cycle of cities, it is often neglected. Urban society sees green food production as a city-degrading activity. Public disregard for growing green foods created situations where past policies discriminated against urban agricultural practitioners for centuries. The consequence of this is the innovation and creativity required to sustainably grow and process green foods to complement broader sustainable urban development goals such as reducing hunger and poverty were nipped off.

Despite the suppressive attitude to cultivating food in cities, the activity is continuing. Interestingly, it is not entirely continuing as a subsistence means of growing foods but also there is evidence of rising commercial dimension in sub-Sahara African cities[1];[2]. Commercial production has taken giant steps at different levels of production, investment and profitability. In Greater Gaborone, for instance, ‘agriculture in and around the city is primarily commercial as opposed to subsistence-oriented[3]’. Brigss and Mwamfupe similarly identified ‘a growing importance of commercial production in urban environments’ of Dar-es-Salaam while, in Kampala, Maxwell’s[4] assertion that some urban producers cultivated food ‘almost entirely for urban markets’ remained valid. Maxwell discovered poultry keeping as ‘the most common form of commercial urban agriculture’ and estimated that ‘70% of all poultry products consumed in Kampala’ originated from city farms. Among other urban agricultural systems going on in Lagos, ‘commercial horticulture is also well established in urban and peri-urban areas, generating employment and income for thousands of people and supplying city markets with a wide range of fruit, vegetables and ornamental plants’[5].  I had personally interviewed or, in a group, witnessed productive nature of growing of green foods at varied scales in Ghanaian cities of Kumasi, Tamale and Accra, Nigerian city of Lagos, Senegalese city of Dakar, Togolese and Benin cities of Lomé and Cotounu respectively, The roles that farming green foods within city environments play in providing necessary conditions to achieve ‘zero hunger and poverty’ is what matters most rather than it being practised on subsistence or commercial basis.

SD1Is it denied that hunger is persisting? It is increasingly imperative to realize that hunger, in cities, is no longer a plain issue of no food is available to eat or little food to eat but a deadly ill resulting from landlessness, low energy to process raw materials, electoral violence, neighbourhood mistrust, using digital violence to isolate, in-work poverty and floods. The causes of hunger are unpredictable in a case like civil wars. This perhaps explains why in spite of pragmatic policy initiatives to reverse hunger problems the undernourished people increased from 824 million in 1990-1992 to 832 million in 2003-2005. Despite genuine commitment expressed at the Millennium Summit to halve hungry population by 2015, the global community rather saw a rise in undernourished people to ‘more than 1.02 billion people worldwide in 2009’[6];[7]. However, ‘global hunger had declined slightly by 167 million hungry’ people[8] thereafter.

By 2010, sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and the Pacific regions all-together accounted for nearly 88% of the world’s undernourished population[9]. Malnutrition in sub-Saharan Africa is further worsened as it is also a region where the ‘highest levels of urban poverty’ is concentrated[10]. The emerging good news is that a well-thought report by the UN/DESA indicates a significant improvement has occurred – a decline in extreme poverty by 21% in sub-Saharan Africa. The report clearly informs that generally ‘one in five people in developing regions still live below the international poverty line of $1.90 a day’[11].

In the context of the West African countries, various governments are responding by positively initiating economic policy interventions to improve Gross National Income (GNI) per capita (2011 PPP $) (see Figure 1[12], UNDP, 2015). Is there not any relation between GNI and urban household earnings? Can growing green food do good things for poor urban households in terms of earning incomes?seedincome

On the basis of what can be termed as “hidden hunger”, the tighter hunger-poverty relationship is frightening (see Table 1[13]). The solutions are not straightforward. But the reality is that growing green foods can create vital micro-opportunities to resolve part of the hunger-poverty ills previously caused by unforthcoming food interventions. Hidden hunger – lack of ‘one single micronutrient alone or a combination of micronutrients’[14], – affected over 2 billion people worldwide. Hunger deserves a proactive attention because it imperils health, reduces productivity and diminishes the hope of educational attainment. At the city-level, hunger is more and more not a problem for an individual but also for urban governments because starving people cannot pay regular taxes and actively participate in urban development processes, which therein fertilize massive exclusion from political, food and human rights and sustainability leadership and governance. Hunger, as a consequence of high food prices, could cause civil riots as it had happened in part of the world in 2007 and 2008[15]. Urban governments apparently need nothing about food insecurity-motivated protests and, as such, responsible investment into the growing of green foods will generate sustainable profits to free human lives from hunger.


[1] Briggs, J. and Mwamfupe, D., 1999. The changing nature of the peri-urban zone in Africa: evidence from Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania. Scottish Geographical Journal 115 (4) 269-282.

[2] Doe, S.S.P., 2014. Advancing sustainability in developing world: multi-ingredients (dis)connecting people, policy and praxis from Ghana and Africa. Graduate Standards Press: Kumasi. pp x +135.

[3] Hovorka, A.J., 2005. Gender, commercial urban agriculture and urban food supply in Greater Gaborone, Botswana. In Mougeot, L.J.A. (ed.) Agropolis: the social, political and environmental dimensions of urban agriculture. Earthscan and IDRC: London. pp 137-152.

[4]Maxwell, D., 1995. Alternative food security strategy: a household analysis of urban agriculture in Kampala. World Development 23 1669-1681.

[5] FAO, 2012. Growing greener cities in Africa. First status report on urban and peri-urban horticulture in Africa. Rome, Italy.

[6] FAO, 2011. Right to food, making it happens: progress and lessons learned through implementation. Rome, Italy.

[7] UNDP, 2011. Human Development Report 2011. Sustainability and equity: a better future for all. [Accessed 01/10/2012].

[8] FAO, 2015. State of food insecurity in the world in brief. Rome, Italy.

[9]FAO, 2011.The state of food and agriculture (2010-2011), women in agriculture, closing the gender gap for development. Rome, Italy.

[10] UN-Habitat, 2008. State of the world’s cities 2010/2011: bridging the urban divide. Earthscan: London.

[11] UN/DESA, 2016. World economic situation and prospect 2016. New York.

[12] This figure is designed using data generated from HDR 2015.

[13]Table 1 is modified based on HDR, 2015; FAO, 2011[13]; FAO, 2012

[14] World Food Programme, 2009. World hunger series: hunger and markets. Earthscan: London.

[15] FAO, 2011. FAO in 21st century: ensuring food security in a changing world. Rome, Italy.

16. UNDP, 2015. Human Development Report 2015: Work for human development. New York.

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