World Food Security

Dan Watson

What is the implication of development targets concerning management, process, or outcomes? Today I’m going to briefly discuss this question with reference to the 39th session of the United Nations Committee on World Food Security. Ban Ki Moon in his videoed opening address noted the committee’s work towards “ensuring that all people realise their right to food” and highly praised their response to rising food pricing and the growing impact of climate change. Chief amongst their achievements, he said, has been championing the rights of small holders. Indeed the preliminary report from the meeting suggests that “agricultural growth involving smallholders, especially women, will be most effective in reducing extreme poverty and hunger when it increases returns to labour and generates employment for the poor”.

The Daily Observer in the Gambia recently took to expressing its concern in an editorial at the lack of supportive resources for women that are shouldering a disproportionate burden of the crop cultivation responsibility. The reason for this, says the piece, is that too many resources are going towards the larger commercial farms. For the editor at the Daily Observer the adequate involvement of women in the economy has been accomplished. What is lacking is the support from government to help them manage the movement of men away from rural areas. It is not clear whether pursuing agricultural growth in this sector will generate employment for the poor given that this article stresses the plight of overworked women overworking their land. The UN’s scheme may no longer be appropriate to apply to the Gambia’s economic and demographic situation given that it has largely undergone demographic transition. So, whilst the UN’s targets are still appropriate the process policy proposals are no longer fit for purpose. The Gambia is an interesting case as it highlights how the committee’s proposals may have an effect in the long term. The next committee proposal that I will look at may still hold a greater significance for the Gambian women struggling to make ends meet on the farm.

The committee also implores developing nations to construct systems of social protection to ensure that the most vulnerable sections of society, those who have not immediately benefited from economic growth, are insulated from hunger. Nigerian press has reported the success of these initiatives as funded by the US.  There a food security initiative has proved funds to support “care-givers of orphans and vulnerable populations generate more sustainable income.” On the face of it this appears to be a very positive management and process change. However, the article I’ve referred to here is not focused upon this facet of the bilateral aid; the impetus for the US aid ad outlined here is due to a commitment to stability in the Niger Delta. The outcome that the US would assess this aid by would not follow directly along the path of causality that we might expect upon hearing of the change in process.

Similarly, the UN’s ideas act at different levels. Some act at the nexus of management or technology, advising planning and action, some are operative at the outcome stage. Those at the outcome stage are generally the UN’s performance targets. It can be argued that performance targets largely ignore process as they are concerned only with the outcome. The 5 objectives of Ban Ki-Moon’s Zero Hunger Challenge launched at Rio+20 are fine examples of this. Upon achieving these targets countries will then be subject to analysis of the process that they undertook. Clearly this isn’t exactly how the UN works. The proposals made at the outcome level are nearly always complimented by advice at the management or technological level.

What is the significance of this observation for food security? Well, the committee’s suggestions regarding governance and management are in chorus with the rest of the UN’s proposals. Almost all UN agencies, at some point, refer to the need for “an improved governance system, based on transparency, participation, accountability, rule of law and human rights.” This is parceled together in the hope that open management, open planning, will render transparent the processes of food security development. Consequently, the UN can make informed comments on the outcomes, those being the only variable that it can fully witness.

What is most revealing about this insight is what is observed when we compare development process objectives with those speaking to outcomes. Lecturing on governance can be dangerous, as I have noted previously. Where I anticipate the committee to have more success is in its more firm concepts of process. Educating on the subject of sustainable farming has seen much success. Similarly, the Kenyan Public Health Ministry introduced very effective food fortification programme. In applying technology-based regulation the Kenyan government has had great success.

A final example from the committee’s proposals to illustrate my point. In saying that “Growth needs to result in better nutritional outcomes through enhanced opportunities for the poor to diversify their diet” the report references outcomes through changes in management. The opportunities in question will be changes in process, technological or social, that act to enable this planned change to the diet of the poor to become an nutritional outcome. On their own these two factors are not particularly helpful. But, through introducing processes known to be effective (better consumer awareness regarding adequate nutrition and targeted distribution of supplements) the report signposts key policy changes that do not require a lecture in management style (transparency for instance) as they are easily measurable and likely to succeed in achieving the well defined targeted outcome.

Selectively applying proven technological process changes may be a better path to development than outcome targets. Further, the act of drawing definitive technological policy or even outcome policy, may both be more effective in fostering development than implementing top-down changes from the management viewpoint. To be sure, an advantage of supplying outcome targets is that it allows for innovation from the development actors. However, when an internationally successful process has been found it can be greatly beneficial to propose or enforce compliance with this technological aspect of policy.

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