Rio+20 : Hunger is a political problem

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20 years after Rio Summit, Olivier De Schutter, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, explains why hunger is still a political problem.

Since the first Rio summit, how has the hunger situation evolved?

In 1992, 840 million people in the world didn’t have enough to eat. They are now about 925 million and about 98 % of them live in developing countries. These figures probably have to be considered alongside population growth which remains strong – every year, there are 75 million more people on the planet. But this still means that 16 % of the population in developing countries is suffering from hunger in 2012 which is only a slight decrease from 20 % in 1990 and very far from the first Millennium Development Goal set in 2000. Also, in one region of the world at least – Sub-Saharan Africa –, the proportion of people affected by hunger is increasing rather than decreasing: today, 30 % of the population does not have a sufficient intake of calories.

Why do you think that we have still not solved the hunger problem?

Hunger is mainly caused by political factors. In most developing countries, there has not been enough investment in small family farms which aim to provide food for local communities. Rural poverty has increased. Millions of small farmers have migrated to cities even though the industry and service sectors have not grown enough to absorb this workforce: today, 3 billion people live in shanty towns on the outskirts of big cities in developing countries. Often, on the advice of international institutions, governments respond by importing foodstuffs and this has also sped up the decline of the local sector. It is a vicious circle that is difficult to break.

What do you think will happen over the next twenty years?

Strenuous efforts need to be redirected in two ways. Firstly, to rebuild local food processing systems. This is the only way to move away from the current competition for investments between agro-export and subsistence farming that is taking place at the expense of the most marginalised farmers. And secondly, agroecological practices need to be circulated to separate agricultural production from fossil energy and reduce agriculture’s environmental footprint. These transitions will only be possible if our governance mechanisms are improved. We are being held hostage by the short-termism that affects political decisions and markets. We have to break away from this by favouring long term political decisions. We can’t afford the luxury of waiting for Rio + 40: tomorrow is being played out today because by tomorrow, it will be too late.

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