President Michael D. Higgins

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Listen to the President’s remarks here

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Tá an-áthas orm a bheith anseo inniu chun an siompóisiam comhbheartais seo, dar teideal “Feeding the World in 2050/ Beathú an Domhain in 2050” a oscailt.

I dtús báire ba mhaith liom an lucht eagraithe anseo san Institiúid Bia agus Sláinte sa Choláiste Ollscoile, Baile Átha Cliath, a mholadh faoina bheith ina n-óstach don ghrúpa saineolaithe arleibhéil seo; táim cinnte go spreagfaidh siad mórán plé ar an téama fíorthábhachtach seo sa dá lá atá romhainn.

[I am very pleased to be here today to open this policy symposium on “Feeding the World in 2050”. May I at the outset begin by congratulating the organisers here at the UCD Institute for Food and Health for hosting this high-level group of experts who will be discussing this very important theme over the next two days. ]

I am also pleased to note that this symposium is an official event of the Irish Presidency of the EU and that the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the Food Safety Authority of Ireland are co-sponsoring.

This event will be accompanied by a second Presidency event on Hunger Nutrition and Climate Justice in April which will facilitate a dialogue between key policy makers, global leaders and local people and practitioners facing the realities of rising food prices, failed crops and under-nutrition.

Both of these events are important in defining the Irish Presidency of the EU as a Presidency that will use its term to further plan the route for long-term sustainable solutions to issues such as hunger, an achievement which would be an important achievement of any Presidency.

The title of your conference, ‘Feeding the World in 2050” sets out one of the most serious challenges facing the global community. Today chronic hunger affects one in seven or approximately 925 million of the world’s 6.8 billion people every day; the principle source of hunger is the dire poverty exacerbated by gross inequalities that, scandalously, persist. Eradicating this poverty and its consequences is, I suggest, the greatest moral and ethical challenge we, as a global community, face today.
According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) the numbers of those experiencing hunger is on the increase for three reasons: 1) neglect of such agriculture as is relevant to very poor people by governments and international agencies; 2) the current worldwide economic crisis, and 3) the significant increase of food prices in the last several years which has been devastating to those with only a few dollars a day to spend. Nearly all of those who are hungry are in developing countries.

Furthermore the FAO estimates that world food production will need to increase by 60% by 2050 to meet the needs of the projected world population of 9 billion people.

This increase would be difficult in its own right without the additional threats which will be faced notably from climate change. Again the response to what is needed in increased food production must acknowledge not only the science and technology transfers that are needed to increase production but also the patterns of land holding, the vulnerability of those who work the soil and particularly the gender issues that arise.

The science as reported by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and International Food Policy Research Institute predicts that the overall impact of climate change will see an increase in extreme weather events such as droughts and floods in vulnerable parts of the world including Africa and Asia.

The impact of these circumstances on food security will see agriculture systems already vulnerable to change exposed to lower yields thus pushing vast number of already poor people deeper into poverty and hunger. In Asia alone, projected declines in crop yields such as rice and wheat threaten the food security of over 1.6 billion people. In Africa, decreased food availability will lead to fewer calories consumed per person thus increasing malnourishment in children. Potentially 52 million children in sub-Saharan Africa will experience malnutrition by 2050.

In responding to the challenge of climate change, and the need to ensure that we promote sustainable, environmentally sound agricultural growth, a number of other issues need to be confronted if we are to stand in solidarity with the worlds’ poor and ensure they have access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food. These include recognising the impact of rising oil prices which will drive the use of land and crops toward bio-fuels with serious implications for global food production and I am pleased to see that you will address this issue directly as part of your symposium.

It is also essential that appropriate prominence be given to the gender aspect of development policies and projects so as to ensure that women’s rights in the agriculture sector in developing countries are sufficiently recognized and strengthened.

In terms of agricultural productivity, for instance, we must ensure equal access to productive resources for women who represent the majority of smallholder farmers in developing countries. Control of resources such as land and credit is vital. We know that although women may formally have access to a resource, in reality they might not have a role in decision-making on how that resource is used.

Other measures that must be prioritised in this regard are facilitating women’s access to agricultural extension services, supporting cooperatives with female involvement at all levels, promoting the adoption of appropriate inputs and technology to free up women’s time for income-producing activities and support for women’s entrepreneurship. The FAO estimates that the undernourishment in developing countries could be lowered by 12-17% if the gap between men and women in access to inputs was eliminated.

Again some prescriptions from international institutions take little account of production realities on the ground. The De Soto model on land tenure which suggests using land as collateral for private bank loans has been, and will continue to be a model that contains significant challenges for women farmers, often dispossessing them of their fields.

The Irish public, perhaps due to historical experience of famine responds generously to appeals for famine relief.

Ceann de na trasnaíochtaí is dúshlánaí dár linn is ea gur féidir linn iarmhairt an ghorta a bhrath i bhfíor-am agus go gcorraítear sinn chun na truamhéala, ach ag an am céanna ní aithnimid cuid de na fírinní a bhaineann leis an maicreacnamaíocht agus leis an eacnamaíocht dhomhanda; an fhírinne, mar shampla, go ndéantar iarracht leas a bhaint as gorta, as ganntanas bia agus as athrú aeráide ar mhaithe le brabúis bhradaíola.

[It is one of the most challenging contradictions of our times that while the impact of famine can in real time be brought to our consciousness and thus move us to a compassionate response yet at the same time we fail to acknowledge some macro-economic and world economic realities that seek to exploit famine, food shortages and climate change for exploitative profits.]

I note that in this afternoon’s session, chaired by a predecessor of mine, former President Mary Robinson you will be discussing the effects of finance and market speculation on food security. This is a crucial issue. There is a conflict often between the speculative culture of recent decades and our better ethical impulses. If I may give an example: all of us as concerned publics may recognise the consequences of drought, yet for some others such food shortages simply afford an opportunity for short term gain. As Professor Howard Stein of the University of Michigan puts it:

“Commodity markets are being driven not by fundamentals of producers and end users but by other factors. Among other things, commodities are seen as good hedge when the value of the dollar falls which lowers the value of global commodities in non-dollar terms. Strategies now include speculation on food which has become a bio-substitute for fuels with frightening implications to the welfare of millions of net food buyers in poor developing countries. In 2011, for example, it is estimated that 61% of the wheat futures market was held by speculators compared to only 12% in the mid-90s prior to deregulation.

And Professor Stein continues:

“The amount of money flowing to speculation in food markets futures continues to grow appreciably and roughly doubled between 2006 and 2011. The result was a steep rise in food prices which more than doubled between June 2003 and June 2008. After declining following the financial crisis they started rising and peaked in April 2011 at more than 2 ½ times the deregulation level in June 1999. The impact on food consumers in poor African countries is well documented. IMF estimates that on average the internal price of food rises by .33% for every 1% in global food prices. In a survey of 58 developing countries, food prices were up by 56% between 2007 and 2010 putting millions more at risk of undernourishment and malnutrition.”

This new environment of high and volatile food prices calls for urgent measures to protect the food security of the world’s poorest food consumers. The international community, through the G20, has agreed to an agriculture markets information system to provide transparency in key commodity markets. This is just one small practical measure that can limit speculation and provide information for farmers about potential choices in the short term, but the bigger issues, as noted by Professor Stein, remain.

The right to food has of course been addressed in international legal discourse. It is perhaps appropriate to recall the international legal obligations of Ireland and other countries who share both the security and the obligations of the United Nations.

Ireland is a signatory to a number of human rights agreements that oblige us to take action to realise the Right to Food. These include:

· Article 25 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights on the Right to a Standard of Living
· Article 11 of the 1966 International Convention on Economic Social and Cultural Rights

At the Rome Declaration on World Food Security in 1996 Ireland joined other nations in reaffirming its commitment to ensure the Right to Food is realised at the Global level. Thus one can understand Ireland’s giving prominence to this issue during the presidency of the European Union.

Subsequent to the Rome Declaration, the UN Economic and Social Council produced General Comment 12 on the Right to Adequate Food in 1999. The Comment elaborates language detailing the necessary steps to be taken by states and civil society to respect, protect, facilitate, and fulfil the right to food. It clarifies state, civil society and community obligations to work together to enable the right to food to be realised – when every man, woman and child, alone or in community with others, has physical and economic access at all times to adequate food or means for its procurement.

The types of obligations defined in General Comment 12 were endorsed by states when the FAO Council adopted the Right to Food Guidelines in November 2004.

The obligation to respect requires governments not to take any measures that arbitrarily deprive people of their right to food, for example by measures preventing people from having access to food.

The obligation to protect means that states should enforce appropriate laws and take other relevant measures to prevent third parties, including individuals and corporations, from violating the right to food of others.

The obligation to fulfil (facilitate and provide) entails that governments must pro-actively engage in activities intended to strengthen people’s access to and utilisation of resources so as to facilitate their ability to feed themselves.

As a last resort, whenever an individual or group is unable to enjoy the right to adequate food for reasons beyond their control, states have the obligation to fulfil that right directly.

These Voluntary Guidelines represent the first attempt by governments to interpret an economic, social and cultural right and to recommend actions to be undertaken for its realisation. The objective of the Voluntary Guidelines is to provide practical guidance to States in their implementation of the progressive realisation of the right to adequate food in the context of national food security.

A comprehensive definition of ‘food security’ requires the special nutritional requirements of those most vulnerable groups to be taken into account when planning for food production, distribution and utilisation. This calls for improved ‘linkages’ between agriculture and health sectors to cover the three pillars of food security: availability (physical supply), access (ability to acquire food) and utilisation: (the capacity to transform food into the desired nutritional outcomes).

At the global level, it is clear that a consensus is increasingly emerging among concerned scholars and practitioners which stresses the need for an integrated and comprehensive approach to addressing food security and the right to food through linking agriculture, food security and nutrition interventions.

Moreover, international initiatives such as the ‘Rome Principles’ for Sustainable Global Food Security (GPAFS), the Comprehensive Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) and the Comprehensive Framework for Action (CFA) would seem to indicate that resource mobilisation, a favourable policy environment and political leadership are possible and could be on the horizon with appropriate advocacy by civic society, state actors and a renewed commitment by international agencies.

Ireland in its global advocacy on Hunger has consistently promoted the need to address the multi-sectoral causes of under nutrition and the need to realign our development response to link agriculture, health, nutrition and social protection interventions more closely to achieve improved nutrition outcomes.

Irish Aid, in launching the Hunger Task Force, in the appointment of a Special Envoy for Hunger, and in the facilitation of the Dublin Dialogue on the Comprehensive Framework for Action for the UN High level Task Force on Hunger (2010) has not only demonstrated a firm commitment to tackling global hunger but has shown a willingness to play a leading role in the international response.

At a global level, Ireland has given leadership on Hunger and Under-nutrition. In 2010 Ireland and the USA led the 1,000 Days of Action to scale up nutrition. This focuses on mothers and baby health in the crucial early days of life, through pregnancy to age two. The wider Scaling up Nutrition (SUN) movement followed. And in 2012, Ireland honoured its self imposed commitment to spend 20% of its overseas aid budget on hunger prevention, demonstrating its commitment to leading the fight against hunger.

Nevertheless, despite the growing recognition of the need to consider nutrition as part of any comprehensive response to food security, food security programmes all too often overlook or neglect nutrition. Indeed, nutrition has been described the Hunger Task Force as ‘an administrative and institutional orphan’, despite growing acceptance that under – nutrition makes a multi –faceted contribution to simultaneously meeting several of the Millennium Development Goals including maternal health, child mortality and education.

While many developing countries seek, need and welcome investment, at the present time in relation to food production, there is clear evidence of some powerful states putting a version of food security that serves their national interest ahead of international responsibility to the hungry of the world. Some states and corporations are taking over agricultural land in developing countries to secure their own food security, or boost corporate speculative profits, at the expense of the developing world. Despite the often, widespread popular opposition to such proposals, and the invariably weak governance environment in which the schemes are to be implemented, the support of the international community, if quietly voiced, and not unqualified, has encouraged the spread of the phenomenon. The grab for land and drive for profits are so obviously contributing to evictions, poverty and conflict.

Some Agri-Corporations have acquired the power to undermine national regulatory agencies that often are forced or induced to accept the claims and motives of the Corporations involved at face value. Such Corporations seek to open up markets for profits and the subsequent changes have tended to favour large-scale producers and global agribusinesses frequently at the expense of local producers who grow food for local markets, thus compounding problems of inequitable land ownership.

Balancing the increase in food provision and a humanitarian response that is culturally contingent is complex and is a clear area for interdisciplinary co-operation in analysis and project management. Farmers in the developed world receive substantial subsidies to produce food, which may be subsequently delivered to developing countries in the form of cheap or free food and in a manner that can dramatically undercut the ability of indigenous farmers to make a living as well as leading to an increased dependency upon foreign food aid among the receiving communities.

States and international organisations should consider the benefits of such local procurement for food assistance as could integrate the nutritional needs of those affected by food insecurity and the commercial interests of local producers. The large portion of the assistance of the World Food Programme, the largest and most widespread implementer of food assistance projects in the world, remains US provided food-in-kind assistance, although new initiatives such as Purchase 4 Progress, which enables low-income farmers to supply food to the World Food Programme’s operations, indicates a recognition of the need to shift away from what many in the development community describe as food dumping, a practice they see as remaining widespread at present.

In relation too, to a just trading regime – one size doesn’t fit all. Trade rules that ignore the point of development often force poor countries to open their economies to goods from rich countries in the name of liberalisation. But poor countries’ farmers and industries are sometimes forced to adopt an imposed liberalisation before they are ready to compete. Decades of forced liberalisation has devastated many poor countries resulting in huge job losses, poor health care and less education. Trade ‘liberalisation’ often comes alongside increased rights for foreign investors and pressure to privatise its economy, including replacing state credit systems by private banking – a feature of the De Soto model.

Jean Ziegler, former UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food (2000 – 2008) was very forthright when he spoke to journalists in 2004:

“Today, agricultural trade is far from being free, and even further from being fair…Market forces could not stop hunger and the organisation’s 146 member states should place the emphasis on ‘food sovereignty’. A country could, for example, not only reject measures for liberalisation, but also introduce protectionist tariffs for a particular agricultural product.”

Another group of smaller countries, which includes Japan, Norway, Switzerland and South Korea, want to keep some barriers to market access for farm products to preserve small-scale, vulnerable farming communities. Ziegler admitted on the sidelines of the annual meeting of the UN Human Rights Commission that his ideas “clash head-on” and “break the logic of the World Trade Organisation”. Poor peasant farmers account for three quarters of the 1.2 billion of the poorest people and should “be able to feed themselves in dignity” Ziegler said in his report to the Commission. |

“Models of export oriented agriculture that threaten the livelihoods of millions of peasant farmers should be reviewed”, the report said, criticising the dominance of food and agricultural multinationals in world trade. The report estimated that 840 million people were undernourished even though production was enough to feed the whole of the world’s population. “Hunger is neither inevitable nor acceptable. It is a daily massacre and a shame on humanity,” the report concluded.

Tá na dúshláin anois níos mó ná a bhí riamh, mar gur cosúil go mbeidh daonra an domhain ag méadú as cuimse idir seo agus 2050, agus ní mór dúinn táirgeacht an bhia a mhéadú dá réir chun riachtanas an phobail a shásamh.

[The challenges now are greater than ever as the world’s population looks set to expand rapidly by 2050 and food production must increase to meet their needs.]

I am pleased that Ireland’s EU Presidency is reflecting the political imperative to place hunger at the centre of our efforts, both now and in the years after 2015 when the Millennium Development Goals set at the beginning of the century are succeeded by new targets. I wish your meeting all the success your commitment and scholarship deserves.