U.N. World Food Programme adds longterm lens to quick-response focus

Emergency food aid was Job No. 1 when the World Food Programme was founded in 1961. U.N. General Assembly Resolution 1714, adopted in December of that year, stated:

‘In the administration of the Programme attention should be paid to … Establishing adequate and orderly procedures on a world basis for meeting emergency food needs and emergencies inherent in chronic malnutrition ….’

Annex, ¶ 10(a). WFP fulfilled that role in the ensuing half century, providing food aid across the globe. But those efforts have not been enough: today, by the WFP’s own count,

‘From Africa and Asia to Latin America and the Near East, there are 870 million people in the world who do not get enough food to lead a normal, active life.’

cousinThe persistence of hunger, in parts of the world detailed in this interactive map, has led WFP to include a longterm lens within its focus. So indicated WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin yesterday, when she returned to her alma mater, the University of Georgia School of Law, to keynote the annual symposium of the Georgia Journal of International & Comparative Law. ((c) Georgia Law photo by Cindy H. Rice) To sustain development of sufficient, healthy food sources, Cousin said:

‘We must move from food aid to food assistance.’

By “assistance,” she referred to approaches that would build food security over time – particularly for women, given their fundamental role in food production. It’s a focus reflected in another paragraph of Resolution 1714 (1961), which urged the WFP to pay attention to:

‘Implementing pilot projects, with the multilateral use of food as an aid to economic and social development, particularly when related to labour-intensive projects and rural welfare …’

Annex, ¶ 10(c). In her speech yesterday, Cousin stressed the challenges posed by imbalances in demand and supply, and then described some WFP projects intended to meet those challenges. Examples:

  • A partnership called EthioPEA, aimed at helping women in Ethiopia, working through cooperatives, plant, grow, and sell a staple crop – chickpeas – in order to meet market demands.
  • The Global Dry Land Alliance, in which Qatar has taken the lead in sponsoring research aimed at increasing food security in the 100 “dry land” states, constituting 40% of the world’s land mass. The alliance will research conservation and resource management, as well as improvements in crops that are traditional to dry-land regions – sorghum, for instance – but that, Cousin said, have garnered little R&D attention to date.

For skeptics who might underscore structural challenges – inequalities rooted in traditions of governance, land tenure and land use, and gender roles – Cousin offered this energetic retort:

‘Just because it’s always been that way doesn’t mean it has to stay that way.’

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