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Food security for sustainable development: Perspectives from India, Brazil and South Africa (IBSA)

Authors :  Darana Souza and Danuta Chmielewska for IPC-IG Poverty in Focus magazine on the dimensions of inclusive development.

Brasilia,15 February 2012 – Food security has been in the spotlight at the global level as concerns over significant

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challenges in securing sustained access to food have been mounting.

These challenges include the degradation of natural resources and climate change, which are expected to substantially increase risks to agricultural production and people’s vulnerability to food insecurity in the coming years; at the same time, food production will need to increase by at least 70 percent by 2050 in order to meet the demands of growing populations (FAO, 2010).

Other persistent concerns such as rural poverty will only exacerbate these expected difficulties; indeed, over 70 percent of the world’s extremely poor—nearly one billion people—live in rural areas, particularly in Africa and Asia.

Furthermore, the livelihoods of smallholder farmers, who constitute the majority of the rural population in developing countries, are particularly increasingly insecure (IFAD, 2011), given their dependency on the weather for farming and their limited access to human, social and financial capital.

From the outset, it has been clear that one-dimensional answers will not be sufficient to tackle these challenges. Instead, solutions must be comprehensive and integrate factors such as the environment, agricultural production, and rural poverty. Additionally, alternative approaches should provide for socio-economic sustainability and equity by supporting the livelihoods of the rural poor and promoting environmentally sustainable agricultural practices.

Emerging economies have considerable potential to contribute to development practice.  Lessons learned by devising food production systems to reduce hunger, poverty and inequality in their own populations, could apply to efforts in other developing countries. Each of the IBSA partners—India, Brazil and South Africa—has developed nationally defined policy frameworks that guide each country’s food security agenda and distinctively treat the complexity of this phenomenon. This mini-lateral group is thus a noteworthy example for policy debate within the South.

The Brazilian official concept of food security is anchored  in its Organic Law of Food and Nutritional Security (LOSAN), which states that “food and nutritional security is the realization of everyone’s right to regular and permanent access to quality food in sufficient quantity, without compromising the access to other essential needs, based on health-promoting food practices that respect the cultural diversity and that are environmentally, culturally, economically and socially sustainable” (Brazil, 2006).Specific threads of the Brazilian policy discourse also reflect this broadly defined approach, wherein questions such as who produces the food, what is produced and how it is produced are pivotal. Brazil’s efforts are largely focused on smallholder producers, legally classified as ‘family farmers’,1 who form the bulk of the rural population.

This support is attentive to the promotion of agro-ecological food production models. Such orientations are present both in the Zero Hunger (Fome Zero) strategy and in the National Food and Nutritional Security Policy (PNSAN), which underpin the guidelines and objectives of the national public support to food security. Among the Brazilian government’s initiatives that respond to these matters, the National Programme for Strengthening Family Farming (PRONAF) is one of the main entry points.

Providing loans nationwide with low-interest rates to promote diverse rural activities, three of its credit lines (PRONAF Agro-ecology, PRONAF Eco and PRONAF Forest) seek to reconcile environmental concerns with the general support to family farmers. PRONAF Agro-ecology provides low-cost support to family farmers based on the principles of the National Policy of Technical Assistance and Rural Extension (PNATER). In addition, the newly created Bolsa Verde (´Green Grant´) provides lump-sum payments for environmental services for extremely poor farmers.Through the Food Acquisition Programme (PAA) and the National School Feeding Programme (PNAE),2 market access promotion delivers a variety of public benefits, particularly in education.

Despite these innovations, the promotion of new production models in the country still needs further consolidation. On the one hand, public support to family farming, measured in terms of budget allocation, is still limited compared to export-led agriculture, despite the critical relevance of family farming for Brazilian food security and rural development.

In the 2009-2010 agricultural year, the agribusiness sector was allocated a budget six times that of family farming— US$59.3 billion versus US$9.6 billion (MAPA, 2009). On the other hand, agricultural production is still significantly tied to the use of agro-chemicals, with Brazil ranking as the world’s largest user of these products3 (Souza and Chmielewska, 2011). South Africa’s macro-policy framework treats food security as a multi-dimensional challenge, acknowledging the definition developed from the World Food Summit of 1996.

This concept states that food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.

Reflected in the National Integrated Food Security Strategy (IFSS), it underpins a strategy that aimed to harmonise the different food security programmes in the country according to areas of priority (with a focus on household food production and trading), but that remained somewhat limited in its implementation.

The country is currently discussing its Zero Hunger plan, which considers at least three dimensions of the phenomenon: food production, food access, and food use. Important programmes reflect these orientations and include the Comprehensive Agriculture Support Programme (CASP), which is designed to support previously disadvantaged groups, e.g., small-scale and emerging farmers who constitute the majority of the population.

Through the Micro-Agricultural Financial Institutions of South Africa (MAFISA), access to finance is made easier via loans, savings and banking facilities, with a focus on crop production, farming equipment, and production on piggery, ostrich and poultry. It does not, however, have a particular focus on ecologically-based approaches.

Like South Africa, India adopts the World Food Summit’s multi-dimensional definition of food security (1996), as reflected in the concept note for the proposed Indian Food Security Act (NFSA). The controversial NFSA, which is under consideration by the Cabinet, seeks to enact a bill to ensure food security and statutory standing to related policies in India. Currently, it is at the heart of national debates on the right to food. In India, where three quarters of the population live in rural areas, mostly on small properties, with over 40 percent of them below the national poverty line, there is already a range of programmes anchored in benefits that the Supreme Court has declared to be ‘legal entitlements’ (Souza and Chmielewska, 2011).Included within the current policy framework is the Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS), a large programme that ensures that the most vulnerable sectors of society are entitled to a defined minimum quantity of subsidised cereals per month. This wide-reaching initiative aims to provide mainly food items at subsidised prices to pre-identified poor families. It also offers market opportunities to agricultural products through government procurement.This support, however, does not consider particular environmental concerns or farmers’ specific profiles. TPDS faces numerous challenges and is the focus of debates on reform efforts (Souza and Chmielewska, 2011).

Critically, the food security policies of these three countries represent diverse approaches to reconciling agricultural production, environmental integrity and rural poverty as well as to the contribution these make to sustainability and equity.Social, economic and environmental sustainability along with equity remain concerns for the Brazilian food security policy agenda, with increasing attention to production models based on family farming and agro-ecological practices. South Africa’s current policy, on the other hand, directs equity and social-economic sustainability efforts through support to household production, while focusing less on environmental issues.

India’s policy, in further contrast, concentrates on the right of access to food as an attempt to promote equity and social sustainability, while its connections with environmentally innovative food production models and with support to marginalised food producers have been less explicit.The achievements and gaps of these experiences go beyond the national scope and serve to inform South-South dialogue more broadly.Further debate and research in this regard could help to promote national and global efforts to consolidate comprehensive food security approaches supporting the transition to adaptive and resilient production systems in the face of environmental, economic and social challenges.

Finally, our initial review suggests that there are many pathways to addressing the complexities of the ‘right to food’, with each pathway having its own strengths and weaknesses.

Our findings highlight that setting these policy objectives at the highest level of policy and policy-making is an important element and can bring numerous benefits. Still, in the absence of consistent monitoring of their multi-dimensions, the full impact and sustainability of such efforts become much more difficult to gauge and adjustments become more difficult to realise.

Source: IPC-IG Poverty in Focus #23


Would you like to learn more about food security and the policy innovations taking place in the Global South? Refer to the following IPC-IG resources: 

Market Alternatives for Smallholder Farmers in Food Security Initiatives: Lessons from the Brazilian Food Acquisition Programme [IPC-IG Working Paper]

Public Support to Food Security in India, Brazil and South Africa: Elements for a Policy Dialogue [IPC-IG Working Paper]

The Food Security Policy Context in Brazil [IPC-IG Country Study]

The Food Security Policy Context in South Africa [IPC-IG Country Study]

South Africa’s ‘Food for All’ Campaign: A Promising New Plan to Tackle Hunger and Malnutrition? [IPC-IG Article]

East Africa Food Crisis: Understanding the Importance of Smallholder Agriculture [IPC-IG Article]


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Posted by on Feb 15 2012. Filed under Development Innovations, Featured News, Inclusive Growth, News, Online Discussion, South-South Dialogue, Thematic Areas. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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