Organisation - September 6, 2018

How can we end hunger?

Text:
Albert Sikkema
1

On 30 and 31 August, WUR hosted the international conference ‘Towards Zero Hunger - Partnerships for Impact’, on the United Nations’ sustainable development goals, as part of its centennial celebrations. Resource asked some of the speakers how we can rid the world of hunger and malnutrition. What are the crucial actions we need to take?

text Albert Sikkema illustration Henk van Ruitenbeek

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Lawrence Haddad

Director of the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN)

‘GAIN wants to encourage the consumption of healthy food around the world, especially among the most vulnerable groups. The key thing is to make it uncomfortable for governments to do nothing to stop hunger. If there’s a lot of hunger and malnutrition, there is a tendency to see it as normal or a “curse”. But it is neither. Hunger and malnutrition are the result of choices about how we use our scarce resources. You can choose to use those resources differently. The media, civil society, you and I, we all need to keep this issue on the agenda and come up with facts about the extent, spread and consequences of hunger and malnutrition. We also have to help governments and companies combat hunger with effective strategies, solutions and policy rules.’

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Ertharin Cousin

Former director of the World Food Programme

‘As the director of the UN’s World Food Programme, I worked with my colleagues to help 80 million people a year get better access to food. Now that I’m an academic at Stanford University, my role is that of an information broker. I work on interventions that can create sustainable development and sustainable food systems. I see a key role for joint actions. You need all the parties on board in sustainable development: the local community, local and national administrators, international organizations, companies, scientists and NGOs. This doesn’t just apply to developing countries, it also applies to countries like the United States. The US also has communities that don’t have access to healthy food and who live in “food deserts”. Sometimes healthy food might be available but unaffordable for these communities. What is more, people don’t always know the difference between healthy and unhealthy food, so education is also an important element in achieving sustainable food systems.’

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Marijn Faling

PhD candidate in the Public Administration and Policy group at Wageningen

‘My doctoral research focuses on policy entrepreneurs — people or organizations that sell innovative policy to governments. I’m looking at climate-smart agriculture, i.e. policy that is aimed at improving food security and responding to climate change. Policy entrepreneurs operate in a field where different parties and stakeholders have influence. For example, the ministry in charge of agriculture will have a different view of climate-smart agriculture than the ministry responsible for the environment, and NGOs have different interests to companies. How can you get them all agreeing? A crucial aspect is that policy entrepreneurs can frame the issue in different ways. They need a range of different messages to sell the same idea to different parties. In the fight against hunger, we often look first at technological solutions such as artificial fertilizer and better seed, but you also need a good institutional environment that lets farmers practice sustainable agriculture. Governments often don’t have the resources to develop policy for this. That is when policy entrepreneurs can play a role in limiting hunger.’

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Arthur Mol

Rector magnificus at Wageningen University & Research

‘A survey showed that WUR’s teaching and research are making a significant contribution to 12 of the 17 sustainable development goals. We work on food security, clean drinking water, sustainable cities, health, partnerships and so on. Collaboration is crucial for us. We can’t utilize our knowledge to make any practical progress on the sustainable development goals unless we collaborate with public and private parties that implement our know-how and recommendations in the field. We need others to achieve something. For example, to curb the environmental impact of pesticides in agriculture, you need an effective agency for the approval, registration and monitoring. WUR has advised Ethiopia on this and I visited the monitoring agency’s national office. It was an untidy room with stacks of paper where nothing was recorded on the computer and where they were severely understaffed. That’s one of the institutions you need to build up in order to achieve healthier food and cleaner drinking water. To do that, we need to not just collaborate but also learn how to build up institutions in countries like Ethiopia.’

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Linda Veldhuizen

Postdoc in the Plant Production Systems chair group at Wageningen

‘I am the Sustainable Agriculture & Food Systems network coordinator for a UN organization that focuses on food security and better diets. I work on the Missing Middle concept, in which we try to bridge the gap between production and consumption and between global goals and local conditions. An important step in this transformation is changing people’s behaviour. If people switch en masse from an unhealthy diet to a healthy one, this can change our food system for the better and let us beat obesity. Another important step is encouraging local value chains in developing countries that can improve diets and living conditions.’

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Paul Polman

CEO of Unilever

‘Companies need to change the way they look at profitability and collaboration with governments and NGOs, as in many areas wastage now costs more than sustainable behaviour. Deforestation and climate change, for instance, are more costly than the sustainable alternatives. That is creating a market for sustainable development. For Unilever, sustainable food production is already the most important source of income. We are buying more and more products from small-scale farmers for a fair price, whereby we regularly collaborate with local partners. But Unilever can’t achieve sustainable palm oil production all on its own; we need international coalitions for that. A crucial question is whether the financial sector will invest in this. Investors should put their money in companies that deal responsibly with resources. And regional development banks should concentrate on covering the risks for companies that want to invest in sustainable development rather than financing more development projects.’

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  • Toon van Eijk

    How to rid the world of hunger and malnutrition?
    Fitting motto for WUR: ‘as you sow, so shall you reap’

    Resource asked some of the speakers at the WUR-SDG-Conference: ‘Towards Zero Hunger: Partnerships for Impact’ how we can rid the world of hunger and malnutrition. What are the crucial actions we need to take?

    * Lawrence Haddad, Director of the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), says: “The key thing is to make it uncomfortable for governments to do nothing to stop hunger”. Thus, take political action.
    * Ertharin Cousin, Former director of the World Food Programme, says: “I see a key role for joint actions. You need all the parties on board in sustainable development: the local community, local and national administrators, international organizations, companies, scientists and NGOs”. Thus, a joint, integrated multi-actor approach. But ‘how’ do you organize and implement this?
    * Marijn Faling, PhD candidate in the Public Administration and Policy group at Wageningen, says: “In the fight against hunger, we often look first at technological solutions such as artificial fertilizer and better seed, but you also need a good institutional environment that lets farmers practice sustainable agriculture”. Thus, the institutional environment is crucial. This implies political and policy action.
    * Arthur Mol, Rector magnificus at Wageningen University & Research, says: “We can’t utilize our knowledge to make any practical progress on the sustainable development goals unless we collaborate with public and private parties that implement our know-how and recommendations in the field”. Thus, PPPs (public-private partnerships) are crucial. But ‘how’ to move beyond talking about PPPs and implement integrated actions?
    * Linda Veldhuizen, Postdoc in the Plant Production Systems chair group at Wageningen, says: “An important step in this transformation is changing people’s behaviour”. Thus, the bottom line is changing people’s behaviour. But ‘how’ do you do this in an effective, efficient and large-scale way?
    * Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, says: “Investors should put their money in companies that deal responsibly with resources. And regional development banks should concentrate on covering the risks for companies that want to invest in sustainable development rather than financing more development projects”. Thus, companies that deal responsibly with resources are essential. But do private companies have a good reputation in acting societally and environmentally responsible? And why would publicly financed regional development banks cover the risks of private companies if those companies truly believe in sustainable development and act accordingly?
    * Three major players in the field of food security, Akunwumi Adesina (president African Development Bank), Paul Polman, and Ertharin Cousin shared their views on the SDG ’zero hunger’. “Their conclusion: the willingness and the resources are present, it is the leadership that is lacking”. Thus, leadership is the main problem. But if the ‘willingness’ of the many partners in the development process is already present, why is coordinated action not forthcoming then? In my view it is an illusion to think that any ‘leadership’ can have the necessary intellectual overview and actual power to implement coordinated action. I have labeled this ‘the illusion of intellectual holism’ in earlier publications (www.toon-van-eijk.nl). If the political and financial willingness to collaborate is truly present, why are we talking about, for example, PPPs, already for decades?
    * A main conclusion of the WUR-SDG-Conference: “To reach zero hunger … asks for the application of transdisciplinary and multi-actor approaches to co-innovation and co-investment”. Thus, trans-disciplinarity (implying transcending disciplinary boundaries) and multi-actor ‘action’ are required. But these issues are talked about since I graduated from this university in 1978 (M.Sc). In 1998 I earned a Ph.D. with the thesis Farming Systems Research and Spirituality. The subtitle was: ‘An analysis of the foundations of professionalism in developing sustainable farming systems’ (http://edepot.wur.nl/121226). Some of the subchapters in this thesis are: subchapter 7.3. Holism in agricultural science and rural development; subchapter 9.1. A holistic framework for multi-dimensional development: different categories of factors; subchapter 10.3. The orchestration of synergy; subchapter 11.2. The illusion of intellectual holism; subchapter 11.3. Trans-disciplinarity; subchapter 12.2. Intuition: the holistic art of anticipation and integration; and subchapter 12.3. The art of agronomy.
    In the period 1978-2018, forty years, undoubtedly some progress has been made on the issues of trans-disciplinarity and multi-actor approaches, but has it been enough in terms of practical results? Above scientists still speak of the necessity to have an integrated multi-actor approach and political action. But, ultimately, I think that Linda Veldhuizen’s remark about changing people’s behaviour constitutes the bottom line. The transcending of disciplinary boundaries and the pro-active participation in integrated multi-actor approaches ARE different kinds of behaviour.
    The multi-dimensional process of development is influenced by ecological, technological, economic, political, socio-structural, cultural and psychological factors. All these interdependent factors are in turn influenced by the factor of the collective consciousness. The collective consciousness is the underlying, most fundamental aspect of human society. It is the root factor, the primary, most basic factor that underlies all human behaviour. If we want to get rid of hunger and malnutrition, we need to pay more attention to this underlying core factor. Unfortunately, the collective consciousness is the missing link that hitherto is sidestepped in discussions on how to rid the world of hunger and malnutrition. But, fortunately, everybody can in principle participate in raising the quality of the collective consciousness by raising the quality of one’s own individual consciousness through effective and efficient techniques for consciousness development. In order to go beyond symptom fighting and to facilitate true behavioural change, we need to work on this hitherto neglected aspect of the multi-dimensional development process. A fitting motto for WUR would be: ‘water the root to enjoy the fruit’ or ‘as you sow, so shall you reap’.
    PS: For much more on the collective consciousness I refer to my thesis and website (see above).

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