14 February 2013
Economic and Social Council
ECOSOC/6561

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Economic and Social Council

Special Joint Meeting with Second Committee

3rd Meeting (AM)


Focus, Pragmatism, Determination among Keys to Meeting ‘Eminently Solvable’

 

Challenge of Ending Hunger, Special Joint Meeting Told

 


Economic and Social Council-Second Committee Event to Build on Momentum from Rio+20


Calling strongly for concrete policy actions and targeted investments to enhance food security and scale up nutrition, top officials from the Economic and Social Council and the General Assembly’s Second Committee (Economic and Financial) stressed today that “hope, focus, pragmatism and determination” — bolstered by deeper cooperation — were crucial to ending hunger, a global challenge that was “eminently solvable”.


Co-chairing the special meeting, Economic and Social Council President Néstor Osorio (Colombia), said the event, on “Food Security and Nutrition:  Scaling up the global response”, was intended to rally support for coordinated international action on malnutrition, and to address both the immediate issue of volatile food prices and long-term questions of production, trade and consumption of food.  The meeting was built around a panel discussion featuring Government and civil society representatives, who shared national experiences and outlined programme and policy options for securing a hunger-free future for all.


The joint session, co-chaired by George Wilfred Talbot ( Guyana), Chairperson of the Second Committee, also sought to build on momentum generated by last June’s United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development.  During that historic Summit, known as Rio+20, world leaders had pledged to boost output from sustainable agriculture, as well as farming productivity, an effort that would entail creating a freer, more equitable trading system.


Mr. Osorio said that more recently, the heads of Rome-based United Nations agencies — the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP) — had issued a joint plea for coordinated international action to address both the immediate crisis posed by volatile food prices and more long-term structural challenges.  “Today, we gather to answer that call by taking stock of developments in this area and determining how to scale up the response.”


For its part, the Economic and Social Council was deeply committed to strengthening that response, and indeed, today was not the first instance in which the issue of food security had come before the 54-member body, he said.  For example, the Council had convened in 2008 to address the impact of spiralling food and commodity prices, especially on developing countries.  Moreover, the Annual Ministerial Review touched regularly on the issue in some way, he pointed out, recalling that the 2012 Review had wrapped up with high-level delegations adopting a Ministerial Declaration designed to raise productivity in agriculture as part of overall efforts to spur growth and create jobs.


Mr. Osorio went on to highlight efforts under way in other parts of the United Nations system, including the “terrific” work under way in the Committee on World Food Security, including through its adoption of the Global Strategic Framework for Food Security and Nutrition.  “This is a major step forward in our hunger-fighting efforts,” he said.  “Our challenge now is to ensure that present commitments are transformed into meaningful action.”  He praised United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s High-Level Task Force on the Global Food Security Crisis and his “Zero Hunger Challenge” initiative for “keeping the spotlight squarely where it needs to be”.


Mr. Talbot said “more and better must be done” to tackle food insecurity, a problem he described as “eminently solvable”.  Governments, the United Nations system, civil society and the private sector all had important roles to play in strengthening agriculture and tackling malnutrition, he said, warning that dithering “could prove deadly”.  The twofold mission to establish a more secure future required addressing volatile food prices and making structural policy changes in production, consumption and trade.  Pointing to “glimmers of hope” seen in recent trends, such as rising agricultural investment in Africa and the strengthening of safety nets across the developing world, he said they were vital to the fulfilment of the Rio+20 pledge of a “future free from hunger”.


He said that dialogue between the Council and the wider public through a social media campaign had been instructive, revealing “a public thoroughly invested in the United Nations and its commitment to a global response to our shared problems”.  That raised hopes, but also expectations, he said, adding that the international community must now identify the root causes of food insecurity, and draw upon best practices from around the world to offer practical, empirically grounded solutions while encouraging stakeholders to work even more closely together in building support for action, especially on the Rio+20 commitments.


Addressing the meeting via video link from Rome, FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva said that ending hunger for nearly 870 million people around the world was one of the main challenges for the international community.  “And we can do it,” he declared, urging concrete steps to improve access and curb the food loss and waste affecting nearly one third of the food stocks produced today.  Through those and other steps, he said, the Millennium Development Goal on hunger could be reached by the 2015 deadline.


Yet, there was, he continued, a need to replicate on the global level significant national-level actions similar to Niger’s renowned 3N (Nigériens Nourissent les Nigériens, or “Nigériens feeding Nigériens”) Initiative and Guyana’s sustainable agriculture production programme.  Among the factors driving food insecurity were rapid population and income growth, climate change, and, in some instances, conflict.  Expressing hope that, with food security under discussion at the United Nations and in global forums such as the G-20, it was becoming evident that stakeholders now recognized it as a political issue — the first step towards ensuring a comprehensive international response.


“In a globalized world, we cannot have food security in only one country or one region,” he emphasized, calling attention to FAO’s strategy to speed up its response in cases of emerging food crises.  Further, the Committee on World Food Security was the most inclusive global platform for stakeholders to tackle the myriad challenges involved, he said.  There was room for closer cooperation between the Committee and the Economic and Social Council.


Finally, Mr. Graziano da Silva urged the international community to adopt a specific time frame for the eradication of hunger and extreme poverty.  With the deadline for reaching the Millennium targets rapidly approaching, reaching Goal 1 (halving extreme poverty and hunger) was possible.  “Let us make a final push and use this momentum to set a bolder goal moving into the post-2015 period,” he said.  “Let us collectively embrace the Zero Hunger Challenge and fix an established time frame to end hunger and extreme poverty.”


The Economic and Social Council will reconvene at 3 p.m. Friday, 15 February, to conclude the first part of its 2013 organizational session.


Background


The Economic and Social Council held a special joint meeting this morning with the Second Committee (Economic and Financial) of the General Assembly, in which the two bodies held a panel discussion on the theme “Food security and nutrition:  Scaling up the global response”.


Panel Discussion


Co-chairing the special joint meeting were Néstor Osorio (Colombia), President of the Economic and Social Council, George Wilfred Talbot (Guyana), Chair of the Second Committee, and José Graziano, da Silva, Director-General, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations (via video link).


Featuring as panellists were Leslie Ramsammy, Minister for Agriculture of Guyana; Amadou Allahoury Diallo, High Commissioner of the 3N Initiative “Nigeriens feeding Nigeriens”, Office of the President, Niger (via video link); Jonathan Shrier, Special Representative on Global Food Security, United States; Loretta Dormal Marino, Deputy Director-General, Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development, European Commission; and Professor Isobel Pollock, President and Chief Executive, Institution of Mechanical Engineers.  Participating as discussants were Jos Verbeek, Lead Economist and Manager, Global Monitoring Report, World Bank; Ellen Gustafson, Member of the Advisory Board, Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition; and Debra A. Jones, Director and United Nations Representative in New York, Save the Children.


Mr. RAMSAMMY, asked about best practices established in his country’s sustainable food production systems, first described the challenges confronting countries like Guyana, including the need not only to ensure sufficient food, but also safe and nutritious food.  In addition, food security issues must be addressed alongside questions of energy, climate, financial and resource security, he stressed, adding that people in the developing world did not want to subsist through agriculture, but saw it as a way to generate wealth.  It must also remain a public good, with Government investment in drainage, farm-to-market roads and technology.


Guyana spent 14 per cent of its budget on agriculture, focusing on infrastructure development, he said, adding that he was working to address the issue of unnecessary food importation.  The country had imported 90 per cent of its poultry products in 1990, he recalled, noting that it was now completely self-sufficient in meat and eggs.  Such gains required investment in research, and the Government had established a rice research centre that had boosted rice yields from 1.5 tons per hectare to 6 tons per hectare.


Research had also produced rice varieties capable of resisting floods and saltwater intrusion, leading to improved farming techniques, he continued.  Guyana pursued such modern farming techniques as hydroponics, shade technology and drip irrigation, vital responses to climate change aimed at protecting and promoting farmers’ investments.  Official development assistance (ODA) must focus on research capable of helping to tackle problems caused by climate change, and on raising production standards to ensure the ability of Guyana and other countries to take advantage of economic partnership agreements and expand their trade with North America and Europe.


Mr. DIALLO provided details about the 3N — “Nigeriens feeding Nigeriens” — Initiative, saying it aimed to ensure food security in his country.  The health and well-being of Niger — landlocked in the heart of the Sahel with barely 11 per cent of its land suitable for farming — was largely dependent on the stability of its agriculture sector and the vital work of small farmers.  Yet erratic weather and other shocks to the sector over the past three decades or so had sparked cycles of food insecurity and malnutrition, he said.  The Government had responded with the 3N Initiative to build national food-production capacity, enhance supply and boost resistance to natural disasters and other crises.


He said that the 3N Initiative was based on a five-pronged strategy to increase and diversify production; enhance agriculture infrastructure; build resilience; improve nutrition; and create an enabling environment to ensure stable and sustained production.  Citing specifics, he said alleviating the impact of cyclical drought was the main task, and targeting small farmers was key in that regard.  The Government had responded with programmes to improve infrastructure and expand and upgrade irrigation systems.  It was also working with small farmers to diversify crops and production methods.  He said the 3N strategy would help avert famine, which in turn would help reduce child mortality, curb livestock deaths, and end population flight from rural to urban areas.  The Initiative would also allow the country to produce more of its own food, thereby reducing imports and cutting transport costs.


Mr. SHRIER, asked about the domestic and international impact of his country’s recent drought and about policies to tackle the impact of extreme events on agriculture, said the drought had been the most damaging to hit the United States since 1988.  The Department of Agriculture had designated more than 2,200 counties in 41 of 50 states as drought-stricken.  The corn and soybean crops had been the most affected, while the effect on wheat had been much less profound.  With production expected to rebound in 2013, the outlook was strong, he said.


A number of steps had been taken to sustain the productivity and resilience of agriculture, including drought partnership workshops to outline the resources available to help recovery efforts, he said.  Specific measures to help farmers and communities included the Agriculture Department’s reduction of the borrower interest rate from 3.75 per cent to 2.5 per cent, and its work with crop insurance companies to assist those impacted.  The Department had also invested in moving water to livestock lacking any, and in the rehabilitation of severely affected land, he said, adding that the Department had released reports assessing the effects of climate change on agriculture and forests, and outlining options for managing resources under changing climate conditions.


Ms. MARINO, responding to questions about agricultural and nutrition policies in the European Union, said there was no area of the world that should not be taking measures to tackle food insecurity.  The European Union had policies in place — and in the making — aimed at addressing the issue within and outside the euro zone, he said.  The Common Agricultural Policy, the region’s overarching measure in that area, had been updated over the past four decades to promote food security within Europe and more effectively address environmental concerns.  There was a priority focus on research, which was of key importance in ensuring that the policy addressed emerging issues, she said, citing the European Union’s focus on children’s nutrition, and, in the environmental realm, on ending the use of landfills in the next 20 years.


She went on to say that the European Commission was actively involved in global discussions on food security, and was supporting the work of the Committee on World Food Security.  As part of the European Union Agenda for Change, the bloc would continue to enhance cooperation on food and nutrition with private sectors in Africa and other regions of the developing world.  She said the European Commission also supported efforts by partner countries to meet World Health Organization (WHO) goals in child nutrition, including addressing stunted growth among young people.  Noting that agriculture was often the main productive sector in countries faced with food insecurity, she said that providing assistance to small farmers was key to tackling that challenge.  While the European Union remained committed to helping development partners address that critical issue, they must themselves take the political lead at home, she emphasized, adding that besides scaling up support for farmers and farming communities, they must also implement policies to enhance local capacities and production.


Ms. POLLOCK, asked about the reasons for global food waste, and the international community’s role in reducing waste, said the developed and developing worlds responded differently to waste, but engineering and technology could help to address the issue in both.  In developing countries, spoiling in the supply chain between field and market was a major factor, exacerbated by poor crop handling at harvest, as well as inadequate storage and transport infrastructure, which led to losses of between 35 and 50 per cent of fruit and vegetable crops.  Waste in developed countries occurred more often through rejection and unnecessary purchasing in the marketplace, while loss in consumers’ homes was due to wastefulness.  The problem could be tackled, but required a broad-based response, she said.


She went on to emphasize that the international community must establish appropriate mechanisms to transfer engineering know-how from developed to developing countries in order to help prevent unnecessary losses.  International bodies like the FAO and the Committee on World Food Security, needed programmes to monitor and verify food waste and loss, with the data disseminated globally to help drive cultural changes.  Governments must work with those international bodies, with developed-country Governments tackling waste through marketing and consumer behaviour.  She called for international aid programmes to employ engineers and technical experts to reduce mistakes and waste in developing countries, and to ensure that equipment used in those countries was compatible and suitable.


Mr. VERBEEK, the first discussant to comment on the panel’s presentations, emphasized that enough food was produced in the world to end hunger.  From that realization, much more attention must be devoted to identifying the right policies, implementing them effectively and ensuring they were adequately monitored and followed up.  While specific policy responses would, and must, differ from one country to the next, he said, all countries must focus on nutritional policies, among others.  That effort should target “the first 1,000 days” of a child’s life, as research had shown that children lacking proper nutrition during that period rarely recovered and could face serious health challenges throughout the rest of their lives.  He concluded by noting that, despite national Governments’ increasing awareness of food security issues, they very rarely paid attention to nutrition.  That must change, and social policies should, therefore, contain nutrition targets, he stressed.


Ms. GUSTAFSON said it was important to focus on more than “commodity agriculture” and to ensure not only the production of healthy food, but also that it was produced in environmentally sustainable ways.  She said she was pleased to hear that Guyana and Niger were focused on feeding themselves.  Indeed, domestic, culture-specific health and nutrition goals should be supported by all stakeholders, she said, calling for a frank and open discussion aimed at seeking concrete actions to curb food waste.  “We have to ensure that we are not just scaling up old ideas,” she emphasized, calling for innovative measures to address that challenge.


Ms. JONES also called attention to the need to scale up nutrition in the first 1,000 days of a child’s life, warning that, without such action during that period, the impact and damage would be irreversible.  Save the Children was working to deliver evidence-based interventions to address the issue.  More broadly, a multi-sectoral country-level approach was absolutely necessary to address the resilience of children and their families.  Calling for actions across a range of socio-economic spheres, she said nutrition and health should be integrated into such approaches.  She also appealed for a greater focus on stunting as a means to gauge nutrition in specific countries.  Finally, she urged concerted action to end hunger, halve stunting, and ensure universal access to food, water and sanitation.  “We need to get to zero on many of the current Millennium Development Goals,” she stressed.


Interactive Dialogue


An interactive dialogue followed the panel discussion, with participants raising such issues as the correct use of terminology pertaining to food security, trade barriers, subsidies and protectionism, the impact of commodity speculation on food-price volatility, the zero hunger challenge, the effects of climate change, multi-stakeholder partnerships and South-South and triangular cooperation.


The representative of South Africa noted the important role of women small-scale farmers in developing countries, and called for improved access to land, marketing, seeds, fertilizers and credit to increase their productivity.


Mr. SHRIER agreed that women were vital to a solution to food and nutrition security challenges, saying they could have a greater impact if they enjoyed equal access to resources and opportunities.  Research suggested that equal access for women to the means of agricultural production could lead to 30 per cent increases in food production.


The representative of Gabon asked about the food supply chain in Europe, expressing concern that horse meat could have found its way into the Gabonese market due to his country’s close trade links with that region.


Ms. MARINO said the European Union’s monitoring systems had pinpointed the presence of horse meat very swiftly, adding that the issue was a matter of misleading consumers, rather than a threat to health.  The European Union was looking into what could be done in response, and the options included reintroducing measures to ensure that meat could be traced to its original source.  She said that, while she was in favour of that idea, it would be costly and required careful consideration.


Also taking part in the interactive dialogue were representatives of Argentina, Brazil, Jordan, Japan, Germany and Tunisia.  A representative of the Food and Agriculture Caucus also participated.


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For information media • not an official record