ABOUT THE ECOSOC
The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) was established in 1945 by the United Nations Charter as one of the six main organs of the UN. It is at the heart of the United Nations system to advance the three dimensions of sustainable development – economic, social and environmental. Reforms over the last decade, particularly General Assembly resolution 68/1, have strengthened ECOSOC’s leading role in identifying emerging challenges, promoting innovation, and achieving a balanced integration of the three pillars of sustainable development and is charged with giving special attention to coordinated follow-up on major UN conferences and summits.
The scope of the ECOSOC’s functions offers an insight into the important role it plays within the United Nations system. To fulfil its mandate, it is required to take a wholistic approach and engage various stakeholders such as governments, UN bodies, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), financial institutions and experts from relevant fields. The ECOSOC is also composed of various subordinate Regional Commissions, Functional Commissions, Specialised Agencies, Programs, Funds, etc. It takes cognizance of the fact that sustainable development requires a multidimensional approach which addresses the interaction between the economy, society and the environment.
The ECOSOC convenes for several sessions in a year. The most important sessions include-
- The High Level Political Forum which provides political leadership, guidance and recommendations for sustainable development, and reviews progress in implementing sustainable development commitments;
- The Development Cooperation Forum which reviews trends and progress in development cooperation;
- Humanitarian Affairs Segment which strengthens coordination of UN humanitarian efforts;
- Partnership Forum which encourages collaboration among Governments, businesses and foundations, non-governmental organizations, academia and Parliamentarians; and
- Special Meetings which are convened to address global development emergencies or crises, to raise awareness and to serve as a high-level policy platform for coordination of actors working on a specific situation.
UNDERSTANDING THE AGENDA
What is food security?
The 1974 World Food Summit(WFS) defined food security as “…availability at all times of adequate world food supplies of basic foodstuffs to sustain a steady expansion of food consumption and to offset fluctuations in production and prices.” In The 1996 WFS, four key dimensions of food security were identified: availability, access, stability and utilisation. The approach used by bodies within the framework of the UN system such as the Food and Agriculture Organisation(FAO) has been to construct tools of measurement around these four dimensions to measure food security in a multidimensional manner.
The dimensions of food security
Availability of food from domestic production is the most important source of food. As economies begin to develop, domestic agriculture is the main source of food and agriculture is the main source of employment and income in the rural areas. Increasing rural incomes are a key contributor to economic growth.
As economies grow and diversify from food and agriculture, access to food becomes increasingly important to achieve food security. This is because when new sectors emerge, labour migrates towards them which means that the number of people working in agriculture lessen. When people no longer produce their own food, it is important that they have access to other sources. Thus, increase in labour productivity (in simple words, the quantity of output a unit of labour produces) becomes vital. Even if the number of people working in agriculture shrink, efficient and sustainable farming techniques should produce large enough quantities of food so that it may be made available to the entire population. There are several factors which can hinder accessibility: conflicts, disasters (especially natural disasters which are increasing due to climate change), price hikes which make food unaffordable for economically weaker sections of the population, weak institutions and poor governance. Further, marginalised groups also face several blockages to accessibility. Such issues need to be tackled through targeted policy interventions by governments.
Steady and reliable food supplies are necessary to achieve food security. Price and supply of food are inextricably linked. A sudden decrease in food supply leads to a sharp rise in prices which affects consumers adversely. Similarly, excess food supply can lead to a sharp decrease in prices which affects farmers negatively. While ideally the markets should be self-regulating, governments need to frame policies which ensure price and supply stability. This could involve methods such as storing excess food and releasing such stores when there is a shortage to keep prices stable or the government acting as an intermediary by buying supplies from farmers at high prices and selling them at lower prices.
Availability, access and stability cannot guarantee in food security if there is poor utilisation. For example, poor hygiene can lead to high levels of wastage. Poor nutrition can lead to stunting and inappropriate diets can give rise to obesity and diet-related non-communicable diseases.
Changes in approach
In 2019, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations has broadened the definition of food security to include two types: moderate and severe.
- Moderate food insecurity : people experiencing moderate food insecurity face uncertainties about their ability to obtain food, and have been forced to compromise on the quality and/or quantity of the food they consume.
- Severe food insecurity : People experiencing severe food insecurity have typically run out of food and, at worst, gone a day (or days) without eating.
The recognition of moderate food insecurity as an issue is a milestone as it significantly changes the way food security is perceived. While severe food insecurity provides a picture of emaciated bodies, starved of food and nutrition, moderate food insecurity is harder to align with images of deprivation. This type, however, is more widely prevalent, with even developed countries being affected. It includes even issues such as being overweight and obesity due to poor access to nutrition, which is especially dangerous for young children. Food security is not merely the absence of hunger but the ability to eat food which keeps people healthy.
How is food security related to the welfare of farming families?
Farming families are directly affected by the consequences of changes in demand and supply of food. If these impacts are negative, it could lead to a vicious cycle whereby farming families cannot produce more food which in turn negatively impacts the entire population. It is thus important that the relationship between food security and the welfare of farming families is given due recognition and that strategies are put in place to provide farming families a secure future.
THE UNITED NATIONS AND THE SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOALS
In 2015, The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was adopted by all member countries of the UN and at its heart are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The second SDG reads “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture”.
The strategies of the UN towards achieving food security currently are all provided direction by the SDGs. The ECOSOC too has transformed over the years to become a body dedicated to facilitating the attainment of these goals. The SDGs are not merely targets but calls-for-action to governments, NGOs and citizen to create a world which is kind to not only the present generation but the future generations too.
Why is the second SDG important?
In the Special Edition Report by the Secretary General on the progress towards the SDGs, it has been recognised that public investment in agriculture is declining around the globe which leaves small-scale food producers and farming families in need of greater support in terms of technology and investment for sustainable agriculture. The report also states alarming statistics. Approximately 1 in 9 people in the world were hungry in 2017(an estimated 821 million people in total). Africa remains the continent with the highest prevalence of undernourishment, with nearly 20 percent of its population suffering. Further statistics provided in the FAO’s State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World report, 2019, are also causes for worry. Taking into consideration both people affected by severe food insecurity and those affected by moderate food insecurity, it is estimated that nearly 2 billion people do not have access to safe, nutritious and sufficient food, including 8 percent of the population of Northern America and Europe. 149 million children around the globe are still stunted and no progress has been made in reducing low birth-weight since 2012. The number of overweight and obese school-children and adults continue to grow and in 2018, an estimated 40 million children under the age of five were overweight.
While it may not be possible to achieve every target under the second SDG, the statistics show that it is important to make concrete efforts towards making people food secure. Economic and environmental crises have hindered governments from solving food insecurity completely but the ECOSOC needs to coordinate efforts to enable all stakeholders to make maximum progress.
A more prosperous world by 2030
The second SDG has a broad list of targets under its ambit. In addition to achieving food security by 2030, The Agenda aims at securing the future of farming families to ensure that such food security is sustainable. The targets include doubling agricultural productivity and incomes of small-scale food producers, especially those of women, indigenous peoples, family farmers, pastoralists, and fishers; ensuring sustainable food production systems and implementing resilient agricultural practices that increase productivity and production, which help maintain ecosystems, that strengthen capacity for adaptation to climate change, extreme weather, drought, flooding and other disasters and that progressively improve land and soil quality; increasing investment, including through enhanced international cooperation, in rural infrastructure, agricultural research and extension services, technology development and plant and livestock gene banks in order to enhance agricultural productive capacity in developing countries, in particular least developed countries and removing trade barriers and restrictions for agricultural goods.
The SDG, in short, holistically approaches the crippling problem of food-related crises around the globe and any efforts made to this end need to take note of this approach.
WHAT HAS THE UN DONE IN THE PAST TO ACHIEVE FOOD SECURITY?
1943 : UN Conference on Food and Agriculture
The United Nations Conference on Food and Agriculture was held from 18 May to 3 June in Hot Springs, Virgina (USA), with the participation of 44 governments. Convened by US President Roosevelt, the Conference decided on the establishment of a permanent organization in the field of food and agriculture.
1945 : Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is established
The first session of the FAO Conference met in Quebec City, Canada, establishing the FAO as a specialized agency of the United Nations.
1961 : World Food Programme is established - A/RES/1714(XVI)
WFP was initially established in 1961 as a multilateral food aid programme with the support of the UN General Assembly resolution: A/RES/1714(XVI)
1974 : First World Food Conference
The first World Food Conference was held in Rome on 5-16 November 1974, where governments examined the global problem of food production and consumption.
1979 : Plan of Action on World Food Security
The FAO Committee on World Food Security adopted the Plan of Action on World Food Security at its 4th session, Rome, 5-11 April 1979.
1981 : World Food Day established - A/RES/35/70
By adopting GA resolution A/RES/35/70, the UN welcomes the observance of World Food Day annually on the 16th of October.
1992 : First International Conference on Nutrition - World declaration and plan of action for nutrition
In December 1992, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) organised the first International Conference on Nutrition, in Rome, Italy.
1996 : World Food Summit - Rome Declaration on World Food Security and World Food Summit Plan of Action
World leaders assembled in Rome in November 1996 for the World Food Summit. The FAO called the Summit in response to widespread under nutrition and sought to renew the global commitment to the fight against hunger.
2000 : UN Millennium Declaration
The Declaration was a new global partnership to reduce extreme poverty and hunger and came to be known as the Millenium Development Goals (MDG). Goal 1 includes a commitment to halve the proportion of people who suffer from hunger by 2015.
2002 : World Food Summit +5
The World Food Summit: five years later held on 10-13 June 2002 reaffirmed pledges to end hunger. The outcome document is: "Declaration of the World Food Summit: five years later.
2008 : UN Secretary General High Level Task Force on Global Food and Nutrition Security (HLTF)
The HLTF was established by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in 2008. The Task Force is chaired by the UN Secretary-General and the FAO Director-General is Vice-Chair.
2009 : Rome Declaration on World Food Security
World leaders unanimously adopted a declaration pledging renewed commitment to eradicate hunger from the face of the earth during the World Summit on Food Security.
2012 : RIO+20 - Zero Hunger Challenge
The Zero Hunger Challenge, an initiative by the UN Secretary-General, invites all countries to work for a future where every individual has access to adequate nutrition and resilient food systems.
2012 : Food Assistance Convention
The Food Assistance Convention, an international treaty, was adopted on 25 April 2012 in London. The treaty aims at "addressing the food and nutritional needs of the most vulnerable populations".
2014 : Second International Conference on Nutrition
The Second International Conference on Nutrition was held in Rome, Italy in November 2014 and adopted the Rome Declaration on Nutrition, committing countries to eradicate hunger and prevent all forms of malnutrition worldwide.
2015 : Milan Declaration on Enhancing Food Security and Climate Adaptation in Small Island Developing States
The Meeting addressed food security and nutrition from multiple angles: the importance of promoting sustainable approaches to agriculture and fisheries and building resilience to climate change and disasters; the benefits of improving rural livelihoods of smallholders and family farmers.
2015 : United Nations Sustainable Development Summit : Goal 2
The UN summit for the adoption of the post-2015 development agenda, a high-level plenary meeting of the General Assembly, was held from 25 to 27 September 2015 in New York. Sustainable Development Goal 2 aims to end hunger and all forms of malnutrition by 2030.
EARLY WARNING EARLY ACTION REPORTS ON FOOD SECURITY AND AGRICULTURE
In addition to providing long-term solutions for longstanding issues, the UN also needs to provide quick responses to food crises which emerge in specific countries due to disaster threats, conflicts and economic emergencies. Every quarter, the FAO releases an Early Warning Early Action Report on food security and agriculture. These reports provide action recommendations for each country and prompts the FAO and its partners to proactively prevent/mitigate potential food crises. Countries designated as “high-risk” for the quarter July-September include The Sudan, Yemen, South Sudan and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea among others.
ENDING FOOD SECURITY THROUGH REGIONAL COOPERATION
In tandem with the aims of the UN, groups of countries around the globe have made concrete efforts towards tackling food insecurity. The following is a glimpse at two initiatives which showcase how regional cooperation can help alleviate food crises.
A. Hunger-Free Latin America and the Caribbean Initiative
Latin America and the Caribbean has managed to rescue over thirty million people from hunger in recent decades, becoming the region with the greatest progress worldwide. In 2005, the region committed to not only reducing, but eradicating hunger by 2025. The Food Security, Nutrition and Hunger Eradication Plan 2025, which was built supported by FAO, is based on successful public policies created by the countries of the region. This plan includes school feeding programs, family farming support, food supply and social protection programs, healthy diet, risk management and climate change adaptation and mitigation. The initiative also aims to establish food as a human right by bringing together legislators to strengthen food-security laws and having in place appropriate budgets to meet the food needs of the vulnerable.
B. Africa’s Commitment to End Hunger by 2025
In 2014, the African Union committed to eradicating hunger by 2025. While this is a relatively new initiative, it shows great promise. The FAO works in close cooperation with organisations and governments which are working towards keeping the commitment. Successes so far include the development and implementation of national agriculture, food security and nutrition policies, strategies, and investment plans in countries such as Angola, Kenya, Ghana and Malawi; the AU Chairperson Initiative for nutrition in drought and conflict countries and the establishment of the Pan-African Parliamentary Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition.
QUESTIONS A RESOLUTION MUST ANSWER
What are concrete steps which can be taken to achieve the second SDG by 2030?
- How can access to nutritious food be improved?
- How can awareness about the importance of eating nutritious food be spread in order to combat rampant lifestyle diseases
- How can responses to food crises be improved
- How can new initiatives be funded?
- How can women be made food secure?
- How can small-scale farmers improve productivity?
- What are the measures which can be taken to secure the incomes of farming families and small-scale food producers?
- How can countries around the globe implement sustainable agriculture
- How can regional efforts help achieve food security
Profile of Chairperson:
ECOSOC: KRITAJNYA RAGUNATHAN
Kritajnya Raghunathan is pursuing a degree in law at the Faculty of Law, SRM Institute of Science and Technology and has an undergraduate degree in economics from Stella Maris College, Chennai. A passionate debater since her school days, she has won several prizes in debate competitions, MUN conferences and moot courts. Kritajnya has also co-authored a monograph titled “The Other Great Wall: China’s Urban-Rural Divide” which was published under the banner of the Chennai Centre for China studies. She enjoys reading and creative writing and is also a Bharatanatyam dancer.