By Ernest Corea
Yet another high-level panel has designed yet another “roadmap” to universal prosperity and a hunger-free world – by 2030. A new set of goals is likely to replace the current Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). “Once again, the goalposts of development are being moved instead of the goals being met,” says a jaded observer of international affairs.
The panel was created by UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon. Its co-chairs were Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and British Prime Minister David Cameron.
The panel’s proposals are part of the verbal effervescence that will be noticeable as the international community’s attention turns to thoughts of how to proceed after the 2015 deadline for the attainment of the current MDGs has been reached.
The Associated Press (AP) quoted the panel as saying: “Our vision and our responsibility are to end extreme poverty in all its forms in the context of sustainable development and to have in place the building blocks of sustained prosperity for all.” Goals to be met along the way include “ensuring food security, sustainable energy and sustainable natural resource management; creating jobs and promoting economic growth and good governance; achieving gender equality and ensuring stable and peaceful societies.”
The panel added: “After 2015 we should move from reducing to ending extreme poverty, in all its forms. We should ensure that no person – regardless of ethnicity, gender, geography, disability, race or other status – is denied universal human rights and basic economic opportunities….. We can be the first generation in human history to end hunger and ensure that every person achieves a basic standard of wellbeing. There can be no excuses. This is a universal agenda, for which everyone must accept their proper share of responsibility.”
Brave new words, for a brave new world. Ah, so.
These and other proposals will be discussed and dissected at the UN General Assembly sessions later this year. Other proposals are also likely to surface as 2015 draws closer.
So, given the significance of the issues covered and the importance of the correctives suggested, here’s a quiz question on the new proposals: Will they produce (a) a giant global yawn (b) a harvest of words (c) a combined and effective global assault on the world’s inequities and their universal product, hardship? Readers may craft their own answers.
Meanwhile, the MDGs themselves, with two-years-and-a-bit of existence left, are expected to get another public airing at the forthcoming Conference of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) which will be held in Rome, June 15-22. Much of the conference agenda is connected with aspects of the MDGs. Specifically, a key agenda item will deal directly with the overall subject of sustainable food security. Discussion will encompass environmental aspects of production and productivity.
To encapsulate for the benefit of readers who might have forgotten the details, the MDGs are eight goals that UN Member States are committed to achieve by the year 2015. The UN Millennium Declaration, signed in September 2000, enjoins world leaders to combat poverty, hunger, disease, illiteracy, environmental degradation, and discrimination against women. The MDGs are derived from this Declaration. Each MDG has targets set for 2015 and indicators to monitor progress from 1990 levels.
The entire strategy of setting common development goals for countries in different stages of development has been criticized as being unrealistic. Supporters of the MDG approach argue, however, that without tools for measurement, progress towards development will continue to be hopelessly uneven and in some cases even non-existent. The incentive to do better may be lost.
Moreover, the MDGs create a backdrop against which advocacy can be carried out in support of other goals that might not be directly part of development but which seriously affect development. High on this list would be corruption.
For the sake of the world’s poor and hungry – the wretched of the earth as Frantz Fanon called them – people of goodwill would have hoped that considerably more progress would have been made than is talked about now. Some progress has in fact been made, however, and anybody committed to a “half full” and not a “half empty” approach would note this, with some degree of satisfaction.
Cuba, whose economic difficulties following changes in the former Soviet Union received much adverse comment, is one of 16 countries that have fulfilled an important task relating to what can accurately be described as the “food security MDG”: halving hunger.
The importance of meeting this goal has been emphasized by the targets attached to it. These are:
Target No. 1 – Halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people whose income is less than one dollar a day.
Target No. 2 – Achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all, including women and young people.
Target No. 3 – Halve between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people who suffer from hunger
The other 15 who have met the “halve hunger” goal are Armenia, Azerbaijan, Chile, Fiji, Georgia, Ghana, Guyana, Nicaragua, Peru, Samoa, Sao Tome and Principe, Thailand, Uruguay, Venezuela and Vietnam. Their achievements will be acknowledged and they will each receive a Certificate of Recognition at the FAO Conference.
Representatives of all these countries will no doubt be elated, as well they should be. Although he is in poor health and does not call the shots in his nation, for Cuba’s Fidel Castro there will no doubt be special joy in this development.
During his years of authority, Castro was perennially interested in food security issues both at home and abroad. Castro will be pleased at his country’s achievement not only because of this but also because his words of wisdom uttered close to two decades ago will be formally adopted as policy by FAO at its June conference. In deference to Castro’s interest in food security issues, his contribution to Cuba fulfilling a key task of the “food security MDG”, and his prescience, FAO’s Director-General Graziano de Silva sent him a “heads up” on this in a personal letter of commendation in April.
So, consider this: At the time of the FAO World Food Summit of 1996, Castro urged that total eradication of hunger, and not a halfway approach, was imperative. He was, some observers said at the time, outraged that the food summit was satisfied with adopting a tepid approach to ending hunger. In his letter of congratulations to Castro and the Cuban people Graziano reminds him of this: “They say that in the press conference that followed the summit you said that even if the target (halving hunger) were achieved we would not know what to say to the other half of humanity if it would not be freed from the scourge of hunger. “
With Castro’s foresight on the record, Graziano writes, sharing a point of triumph with Castro and offering him the ultimate vindication: “I have the great pleasure to inform you that the decision of its members and for the first time in its history, the FAO Conference to be held next June in Rome, take the total eradication of hunger as the number one goal of our organisation.”
The proposed approach is similar to what Ismail Serageldin, currently the Director of Egypt’s showpiece Bibliotheca Alexandrina, articulated as chairman of the Consultative Group on Agricultural Research (CGIAR).
Pointing out that slavery was abolished under the leadership of abolitionists, he urged that a group of New Abolitionists was required to combine their efforts on ending all hunger. Nobody will quarrel with the goal of eradicating global hunger, but what is the appropriate path towards that goal?
Agriculture, primarily recognized as a source of food, is also an important aspect of development, overall. The agricultural dollar spreads across the countryside creating wealth as it moves. This, of course, has an impact on income, health and nutrition, education, the environment, and empowerment.
Re-emphasising agriculture so that it helps to meet the goal of universal food security while also serving as a catalyst of development involves a range of issues including productivity, crop diversity, natural resources management, biodiversity protection, capacity building, institution strengthening, national laws and policies, and international trade. Effective agricultural research, to strengthen and expand agricultural knowledge, the basis of new technologies, is essential. Supporting agricultural research, it has been said is like putting money in the hands of the poor.
The tasks of agricultural research are more complex than at the time of the green revolution. Agricultural knowledge has grown and so has knowledge about agriculture. The ecological imprint of agriculture is so great that the late Nobel laureate Norman Borlaug called for a “blue revolution” that will combine “water-use productivity” with “land-use productivity
To achieve these goals, the world needs broad and effective partnerships – involving farmers, civil society, researchers, policymakers, and politicians — committed to reinvigorating sustainable agriculture. Some South-South partnerships exist. Brazil’s Agricultural Research Corporation (EMBRAPA) is a leader in this field. India’s Department of Agricultural Research and Education, Ministry of Agriculture (DARE), as well as several private research foundations, collaborate with partners in the neighboring region and also in Africa. China has similar programs, with an emphasis on collaboration with African partners.
Strong national research organizations in the South could serve as research hubs, creating networks of collaboration to create and share knowledge and research-based technologies for agricultural development. If the need to move ahead from theory to practice is ignored – if the poor remain forever condemned to a harvest of words, and no more – the results over the long term will be human tragedy.
The writer has served as Sri Lanka’s ambassador to Canada, Cuba, Mexico, and the USA. He was Chairman of the Commonwealth Select Committee on the media and development, Editor of the Ceylon ‘Daily News’ and the Ceylon ‘Observer’, and was for a time Features Editor and Foreign Affairs columnist of the Singapore ‘Straits Times’. He is Global Editor of and Editorial Adviser to IDN-InDepthNews as well as President of the Media Task Force of Global Cooperation Council.