Food Security Synthesis

The following food security synthesis helps to structure our thinking regarding causes and policy cures for transitory and chronic undernourishment (Tweeten et al., 1992; Tweeten, 1999). The seven-step logical framework is outlined below.

1. Transitory and chronic food insecurity is caused mainly by poverty. The nearly 800 million undernourished people noted in Table 27.1 are mostly part of the 1.2 billion people in abject poverty, defined as people living on less than $1 per day. People with adequate buying power overcome the frictions of time (e.g., unpredictable, unstable harvests from year to year) and space (e.g., local food shortages) to be food secure.

2. Poverty is best alleviated through broad-based, sustainable economic development. Altruism is commendable and plays a critical role in feeding members of the family. But for families with no "pie" to divide, issues of redistribution are moot. According to the FAO (1997): "The need is for policy measures that address all aspects of food insecurity with a view to providing safety nets for the vulnerable and to creating the conditions that can lead to an eradication of endemic hunger. This has to mean economic growth [emphasis added] Improving the equitable-ness of the income distribution can only achieve so much [in countries with low and falling income], and, as seen time and again, will be strongly resisted by the potential losers. So growth is necessary, and against a background of economic growth, experience shows that it is easier (although never easy) to implement measures that increase equity, particularly if the growth is broadly based to include the agricultural sector." Interregional and international charity to redistribute food has a proven record of responding to acute hunger (famine). It is never likely to be a dependable source of food for the chronically undernourished, however, in part because of donor fatigue, and in part because food aid diminishes market incentives facing farmers in poor countries. Few families or countries would wish to become dependent on the caprice of fickle donors for their long-term daily sustenance.

3. The most effective and efficient means to broad based economic sustainable development is to follow the standard model that ensures an economic "pie" to divide among people and among functions such as human resource development, infrastructure, family planning, a food safety net, and environmental protection. The standard model, outlined later, is applicable to any culture and provides a workable prescription for economic progress that ensures buying power for self-reliance and food security. (Food self-reliance emphasizes building agricultural and/or industrial productivity to produce food at home or the ability to purchase it abroad. It contrasts sharply with food self-sufficiency, a reckless policy if it compromises buying power so that a nation cannot afford to purchase food abroad when local production fails as it is prone to do.) Eventually, in conjunction with family planning, the standard model brings zero population growth. It is not prized for its ideology, but because it works. It is not a one-size-fits-all model. All components of the model need not be followed, but some key features are essential for a sound economy. It is a checklist of economic measures that will offer a different policy reform prescription for each failed economy, depending on which items on the checklist a country fails to satisfy. Although no country has adopted every component, many countries have adopted enough components of the standard model to bring economic success.

4. Political failure explains why some countries do not adopt enough components of the proven standard model to end poverty and food insecurity. Individuals and groups with authority often oppose reform because they lose power with political change — even if current policies egregiously compromise the public interest.

5. Political failure is inseparable from institutional failure. Food insecurity and economic stagnation are not the result of limited natural resources, lazy and fecund people, greedy corporations, environmental degradation, or rapacious rich nations. Rather they are the result of misguided domestic public policies, which in turn are the product of weak, mismanaged, and corrupt institutions, especially national government. Thus, the standard model is inseparable from institutional change.

6. Poorly structured, inadequate institutions often trace to cultural factors such as tolerance of the public for unrepresentative, corrupt, incompetent government, and indifference to the broad-based involvement of citizens in government. Government leaders of poor countries are themselves products of the culture and too often view their position as an opportunity for personal aggrandizement rather than to serve the public interest. Socio-institutional change is blocked by cultural characteristics such as tribal animosities that provide a fertile climate for governments not representing the public interest to play one group against another.

7. The core challenge to attain food security is socio-institutional change. How to bring about such change deserves attention by the best minds in economics, sociology, political science, and other disciplines.

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