Introduction 4-color page

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Winter 2010, Volume 37, Number 1
Editorial Board
Chair Stephen J. Wermiel
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Wilson Adam Schooley
ABA Publishing
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Rights and Responsibilities
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Cover Image Wilson Adam Schooley
Section of
and
Introduction
Criminal Negligence
Why Is the World Starving
with a Surplus of Food?
By Wilson Adam Schooley
I
s there a human right to food? Asking the question reveals the misperceptions we have about the issue. Hunger is so basic, so biological. It seems
simple to solve—feed the hungry—yet separated from ideology by its biological
imperative. But the issues are internecine and intensely ideological.
We perceive that people are hungry because there is not enough food.
But the reality is people are starving—over a billion people are hungry in the
world—not because there is not enough food, but because they are poor and
disempowered. We have plenty of food: one and a half times enough to feed
everyone on the planet. Producing, and even distributing, more food will not
solve the global food crisis. Indeed, doing so may exacerbate the problem.
The cure for world hunger is much more ideologically intricate, logistically
complicated, and rights-based. The cure lies in addressing the causes: the poverty, discrimination, and disempowerment at the root of hunger.
So the question is not whether there is a human right to be provided with
food, but whether there is a right to be free from hunger through empowered
access to the means to feed oneself. It is as much a question of human dignity,
individual liberty, and social justice as of health and nutrition.
The challenge of answering that question with more than merely a “yes”—
with, instead, a solution—raises the further question of how, in this age and
world of plenty, a global food crisis even exists. That there is horrifying hunger
worldwide is undeniable. Almost 50 million Americans could not get enough
to eat last year; the rest of the world is far worse off. More than 25,000 people
a day die from hunger, malnutrition, and related disease. The levels of malnutrition are staggering. The worst hit: women and children. And only thirty-six
countries—almost all in Africa and Asia—account for 90 percent of the world’s
malnourished children.
What happened to the progress of the last fifty years? The “Green Revolution”
promised and delivered scientific breakthroughs to conquer famine in the
developing world and saved a billion people from hunger. But it turned out
the “revolution” had, in current lingua franca, “blowback.” Many millions are
hungry today partly because of it. Arguably, the Green Revolution exported
the industrial model of food production from the Global North to the Global
South. Along with the short-term hunger-cure came huge long-term benefits to
private enterprise, which favored large agriculture on rich land pushing small
peasant farmers onto fragile forest-perimeter lands, the nutrients of which were
quickly depleted. Many of those farmers fled to the cities, where they are now
on the streets, hungry and looking for work. (The majority of the world’s
billion hungry are farmers and their families.)
Traditional systems of food aid can actually further the spiral. When we give
food to developing-country governments or international organizations, they may
sell it at prices below the cost of production, undercutting local farmers and costing
the countries their agricultural base. The process opens these markets to corporate
products from developed countries and can make these Global South countries
continued on page 23
Published in Human Rights, Volume 37, Number 1, Winter 2010. © 2010 by the American Bar Association. Reproduced with permission.
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electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association.
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2-color page
humanrights
humanrights is an official publication of the ABA Section of Individual Rights and Responsibilities.
ccess and Entitlement in Ethiopia’s
2The Human Right to Food and Dignity 16AFood
Markets
The human right to adequate food has come into focus at
the global level through a steady, decades-long process.
This right was articulated as early as 1963, when a Special
Assembly on Man’s Right to Freedom from Hunger met
in Rome, and it has been mentioned at many subsequent
global food conferences.
By George Kent
6TaheLand
Politics of Stigma: Starving in
of Plenty
At one time or another, we have probably all had our
heartstrings tugged by the effective marketing strategies
of international development, relief, and aid efforts. The
problem is that these advertisements tend to put the
world’s problems into an overly simplified dualistic scenario
with malnutrition, poverty, and death on one side, and the
simplest cure of all—money—on the other.
By Kristof Nordin
9FPoor
ighting Famine: A Band-Aid for the
Has Become an Industry for
the Rich
The failed momentum of the Green Revolution deprives
some places of the world from maximizing their agricultural
potential. This denies global markets a tremendous source
of food; Africa, after all, has almost twice as much arable
land as the European Union, and much of that land could be
just as productive.
By Roger Thurow and Scott Kilman
12The State of Hunger in 2009
America is one of the world’s wealthiest nations. Yet we
remain the only country in the developed world where
millions go hungry, despite having sufficient resources,
technology, and farmable land to provide nutritious,
affordable food for all.
By Lori Silverbush and Kristi Jacobson
with Kathy Goldman, Mariana Chilton,
Jenny Rabinowich, and Jim Weill
Ethiopia is a land of opposites. While much of the country
yields bumper harvests year after year, other areas are
perpetually dry and dusty, and about once every decade,
the seasonal rains fail to arrive. Thus, the country is faced
with the recurring problem of too much food in some places
and not enough in others.
By Eli Cane
18FBattle
ood: An Essential Weapon in the
Against HIV and AIDS
Food is a human right, and for people living with HIV and
AIDS (PLHIV), it is also a primary defense in the ongoing
struggle to maintain their health, stamina, and quality of life.
By Kara Greenblott
22TPrice
he Right to Food: HIV and Food
Increases
Malnutrition and food insecurity play a pivotal role in the
AIDS epidemics of eastern and southern Africa, affecting
both risks of HIV transmission and subsequent AIDSrelated impacts such as premature illness and death on
household labor power and through the fracturing of
intergenerational knowledge transfer.
By Scott Drimie, Stuart Gillespie, Paul Jere,
and John Msuya
26
Human Rights Hero
Erik’s Harvest
Through Make-A-Wish
San Diego, Erik could
have wished for anything—a new computer
or a bedroom makeover—
instead he asked how
he could help hungry
children in Africa.
By James Radina
Photo by Wilson Adam Schooley
Printed on recycled paper
Human Rights (ISSN 0046-8185) is published four times a year by ABA Publishing for the Section of Individual Rights and Responsibilities (IRR) of the American
Bar Association, 321 N. Clark St., Chicago, IL 60654-7598. An annual subscription ($5 for Section members) is included in membership dues. Additional annual subscriptions for members are $3 each. The yearly subscription rate for nonmembers is $18 for individuals and $25 for institutions. To order, call the ABA Service Center at
800/285-2221 or e-mail [email protected] The material contained herein should not be construed as the position of the ABA or IRR unless the ABA House of Delegates
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Bar Association.
Published in Human Rights, Volume 37, Number 1, Winter 2010. © 2010 by the American Bar Association. Reproduced with permission.
All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an
electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association.
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The Human Right to Food
and Dignity
By George Kent
Human Rights and
Other Rights
People sometimes use the word rights
as shorthand for human rights. That is
unfortunate because there are many
different kinds of rights: property
rights, contract rights, consumer
rights, and so on. A hospital might
have a patient’s bill of rights, and
prisoners might have their own rights,
whether established by the local institution, the local government, or the
national government. Organizations
of many different kinds set out rights
for their members.
Rights-based social systems can
be conceptualized as a generic abstract form. In any well-developed
rights system, there are three major
roles to be fulfilled: the rights holders, the duty bearers, and the agents
of accountability. The task of the
agents of accountability is to make
sure that those who have the duties
carry out their obligations to those
who have the rights. Thus, to describe or design a rights system, we
need to know:
A. The nature of the rights holders
and their rights;
B. The nature of the duty bearers and
their obligations (duties) corresponding to the rights of the rights
holders; and
C. The nature of the agents of accountability, and the procedures
through which they
ensure that the
duty bearers meet
their obligations to
the rights holders.
The accountability
mechanisms include,
in particular, the
remedies available
to the rights holders
themselves.
Rights imply entitlements, which are claims
to specific goods or services. Rights are, or are
supposed to be, enforceable claims. There must
be some sort of institutional authority to which
rights holders whose
claims are not satisfied
can appeal to have the
situation corrected.
Most people are motivated to provide for
Enforceability means
themselves and only need decent
opportunities to do so.
that the duty bearers
must be obligated to
systems. The term human rights is
fulfill the entitlements, and they
reserved for those rights that are
must be held accountable for their
universal and relate to human digperformance.
nity. In principle, if one has a human
If we agree that these ABCs are
right, one can make a claim that
the key elements of rights systems, we
the government and others must do
can highlight these dimensions when
or desist from doing specific things
exploring or assessing any concrete
to further human dignity. Human
example. For example, we could study
rights are universal, by definition.
traditional rights systems based on
While human rights are universal,
local cultures to see how they identify
they do allow some latitude for difrights, duties, and accountability.
fering interpretations, depending
Analyzing rights systems in terms of
on local circumstances. They are
these three elements would make it
mainly, but not exclusively, about
clear that rights involve much more
the obligations of national governthan just norms or codes of ethics.
ments to people living under their
Rights imply the existence of specific
jurisdictions, as spelled out in intertypes of institutional arrangements.
national human rights law. All the
The international human rights
international human rights agreesystem, based on a series of internaments are available on the website of
tional agreements, is one concrete
the Office of the High Commissioner
manifestation of rights-based social
Associated Press, AP
S
tudying human rights treaties, we sometimes get lost in
particulars and lose sight of
the basics. What is the meaning of the
“rights” part of the right to something,
whatever that something might be?
This essay explores the core meaning
of rights, focusing on the sometimes
misunderstood right to food.
Published in Human Rights, Volume 37, Number 1, Winter 2010. © 2010 by the American Bar Association. Reproduced with permission.
All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be2copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an
electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association.
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for Human Rights at www.ohchr.
org/EN/Pages/WelcomePage.aspx.
The Human Right to
Adequate Food
The human right to adequate food
has come into focus at the global
level through a steady, decades-long
process. This right was articulated
as early as 1963, when a Special Assembly on Man’s Right to Freedom
from Hunger met in Rome, and it
has been mentioned at many subsequent global food conferences. Like
many other meetings, in November
1996 the World Food Summit concluded with the declaration supporting “the right to adequate food and
the fundamental right of everyone to
be free from hunger.”
Up to that point, talk about the
right to food was mainly rhetorical,
a nice flourish in global conferences,
but there was little discussion of
what it meant. The 1996 Summit was
different, however, because in its
concluding Plan of Action, Objective
7.4 called upon
the UN High Commissioner for Human
Rights, in consultation with relevant
treaty bodies, and in collaboration with
relevant specialized agencies and programmes of the UN system and appropriate intergovernmental mechanisms,
to better define the rights related to food
in Article 11 of the Covenant and to
propose ways to implement and realize
these rights. . . .
Several initiatives were taken to
respond to this call, including supportive resolutions from the Commission on Human Rights; a Day of
Discussion on Right to Food held
by the United Nations’ Committee
on Economic, Social and Cultural
Rights; and Expert Consultations on
the Human Right to Adequate Food
held in Geneva, Rome, and Bonn.
Then, in May 1999, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights released its landmark
document, Substantive Issues Arising
in the Implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social
and Cultural Rights: General Comment
12 (Twentieth Session, 1999), The
Right to Adequate Food (Art. 11).
Commonly known as General Comment 12, it is available on the website
of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights at www.
unhchr.ch/tbs/doc.nsf/MasterFrame
View/3d02758c707031d58025677f00
3b73b9?Opendocument.
This document constitutes a definitive contribution to international
jurisprudence. Its Paragraph 6 presents the core definition:
The right to adequate food is realized
when every man, woman and child,
alone or in community with others,
has physical and economic access at
all times to adequate food or means
for its procurement.
General Comment 12 cites the
foundation of the legally binding
human right to adequate food in
Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. It draws a distinction
between the reference in that article’s
first paragraph to an adequate standard of living, including adequate
food, and its second paragraph,
which calls for recognizing “the
fundamental right to freedom from
hunger.” General Comment 12 says
that “more immediate and urgent
steps may be needed to ensure” the
fundamental right to freedom from
hunger. Thus, hunger and malnutrition signify more acute, more urgent
problems than are indicated by inadequate food in itself.
The distinction is addressed again
in Paragraph 6:
The right to adequate food will have
to be realized progressively. However, States have a core obligation to
take the necessary action to mitigate
and alleviate hunger as provided for
in paragraph 2 of article 11, even in
times of natural or other disasters.
Thus it is important to distinguish
the broad concern with food supplies from the immediate need to
deal with hunger and malnutrition.
The food-supplies approach focuses
attention on what is in the family’s
or the nation’s cupboard, while the
concern with hunger and malnutri-
tion focuses attention on the conditions of people’s bodies.
As explained in General Comment
12’s Paragraph 8, the core content of
the right to adequate food implies . . .
The availability of food in a quantity
and quality sufficient to satisfy the
dietary needs of individuals, free from
adverse substances, and acceptable
within a given culture;
The accessibility of such food in ways
that are sustainable and that do not
interfere with the enjoyment of other
human rights.
The distinction between availability
and access is important. Paragraph 5
observes, “Fundamentally, the roots
of the problem of hunger and malnutrition are not lack of food but lack of
access to available food, inter alia because of poverty, by large segments of
the world’s population.” When there
is plenty of food around in the stores,
there is food available, but people without money cannot make a claim on that
food, so they do not have access to it.
Paragraph 7 explains that adequacy means that account must be
taken of what is appropriate under
given circumstances. Food security
implies food being accessible for
both present and future generations.
Sustainability relates to long-term
availability and accessibility.
Paragraph 14 summarizes the obligations of States as follows:
Every State is obliged to ensure for
everyone under its jurisdiction access
to the minimum essential food which
is sufficient, nutritionally adequate
and safe, to ensure their freedom
from hunger.
Paragraph 15 draws out the different kinds or levels of obligations
of the state. These obligations may
be sorted as follows:
• Respect. “The obligation to respect existing access to adequate
food requires States parties not
to take any measures that result
in preventing such access.”
• Protect. “The obligation to
protect requires measures by the
State to ensure that enterprises
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electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association.
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or individuals do not deprive
individuals of their access to
adequate food.”
• Fulfill (facilitate). “The obligation to fulfil (facilitate) means
the State must pro-actively
engage in activities intended to
strengthen people’s access to
and utilization of resources and
means to ensure their livelihood,
including food security.”
• Fulfill (provide). “Finally, whenever an individual or group is
unable, for reasons beyond their
control, to enjoy the right to
adequate food by the means at
their disposal, States have the
obligation to fulfil (provide) that
right directly. This obligation
also applies for persons who
are victims of natural or other
disasters.”
Or, to put it more simply,
• Respect means to do no harm to
others.
• Protect means to prevent harm
to others by third parties.
• Facilitate means to help others
to meet their own needs.
• Provide means to meet others’
needs when they cannot do that
themselves.
Historically, national and international responses to problems of
malnutrition have been based on
compassion and the argument that
reducing malnutrition can benefit the
society as a whole. These responses
have ranged from small local feeding
programs to large-scale international
actions involving the United Nations
Children’s Fund, the World Bank,
the World Food Program, and many
nongovernmental organizations
(NGOs). Now, however, there is
increasing recognition that adequate
food is a human right, and thus there
is a legal obligation to assure that all
people get adequate food.
Other Rights to Food
People can have rights to food in a
local hospital or prison that are not
based on the human right to adequate
food as formulated in international
agreements. If everyone at a particular school agreed that all students
should be entitled to, say, a piece of
candy with every meal, then that
would become a right at that school.
That would be a locally established
right, not a human right.
The U.S. government is one of the
few in the world that opposes the idea
of a human right to adequate food,
based mainly on its long-standing
The hunger problem
is frequently
addressed by the
powerful in terms
that are inherently
humiliating.
opposition to the concept of economic rights. Nevertheless, within the
United States, the Supplemental
Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as the Food Stamp Program), the National School Lunch
Program, and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women,
Infants and Children establish clear
entitlements for people who meet the
programs’ criteria for eligibility. They
also have mechanisms of accountability such as the Fair Hearings available to those who feel they are not
getting what they are supposed to get.
Thus we can say that in the United
States there are rights to food, but
they are not based on international
human rights agreements.
Similarly, in India there is a
strong right-to-food law, but it was
originally established on the basis of
national law, not the international
law relating to the human right to
adequate food. The Supreme Court
of India has specified the entitlements of children to midday meals in
detail, including minimum levels of
calories and protein, but this specification is based on national law, not
international human rights law.
Often the distinction between the
universal right to food based on international human rights agreements
and rights of purely local origin is
blurred because there is room for
interpretation of international law.
Also, social service programs are are
often described as implementing international human rights even though
they actually have local origins.
Dignity
General Comment 12’s Paragraph 4
highlights the linkage of the human
right to adequate food to “the inherent dignity of the human person” and
points out that it is indispensable for
the realization of other human rights.
It is also inseparable from social
justice. Thus it connects with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
of 1948. This launching document
of the modern human rights system
begins by saying “recognition of the
inherent dignity and of the equal and
inalienable rights of all members of
the human family is the foundation
of freedom, justice and peace in the
world . . .” The first article of the
declaration begins by affirming, “All
human beings are born free and equal
in dignity and rights.”
General Comment 12 emphasizes
that the right to adequate food “must
not be interpreted in a narrow or restrictive sense which equates it with a
minimum package of calories, proteins and other specific nutrients.” In
other words, simply delivering prepackaged meals in the way one might
deliver feed pellets to livestock cannot
fulfill the right. That sort of approach
would be incompatible with human
dignity. Delivering such meals might
be sensible in a short-term emergency,
but it cannot be the means for realizing the human right to adequate food
over the long run.
This means that with regard to the
Published in Human Rights, Volume 37, Number 1, Winter 2010. © 2010 by the American Bar Association. Reproduced with permission.
All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an
electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association.
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levels of State obligations, high priority
should be placed on facilitating, by
establishing conditions that enable people to provide for themselves. Providing
food directly takes priority only when
people cannot provide for themselves
for reasons beyond their control.
Human rights are mainly about
upholding human dignity, not about
meeting physiological needs. Dignity
does not come from being fed. It
comes from providing for oneself.
International agencies sometimes
treat the hunger problem through
large-scale interventions based on
specially formulated foods brought in
from the outside. They are sometimes
criticized for taking a “medical” approach to the problem. That description is inaccurate, because doctors
generally talk with their patients. Theirs
is actually more of a veterinary approach, with the beneficiaries not
consulted at all, as if they were livestock.
In Whose Hunger? Concepts of
Famine, Practices of Aid, Jenny
Edkins criticizes humanitarian assistance programs that “treat lives
to be saved as bare life, not as lives
with a political voice.” If people are
to be addressed as dignified human
beings, they should have a say as
to how they are treated. To live in
dignity, people must have the opportunity to have their voices heard,
which is why every human rights–
based program should have safe and
effective recourse mechanisms available to the rights holders themselves.
People should have institutionalized
remedies available to them that they
can call upon if they feel they are not
being treated properly. There should
be some meaningful action they can
take if they feel their rights are not
being respected.
These institutionalized recourse
mechanisms ensure that rights holders have a voice, and thus a measure
of dignity. Human rights are not
simply about setting standards. The
core of any human rights system lies
in the way in which it ensures that
rights holders will be heard.
As Ivan Illich put it in Tools for
Conviviality, people need to provide
for themselves because “people die
when they are fed.” Ensuring that
individuals’ biological nutritional
needs are fulfilled through authoritarian measures is different from
fulfilling one’s human right to food.
Serving pork to a Muslim prisoner
violates his human rights, even if it
contains all the nutrients he needs.
In any well-structured society, the
objective should be to move toward
conditions under which all people
can provide for themselves. If people
have no chance to influence what
and how they are being fed, if they
are fed prepackaged rations or capsules or are fed from a trough, their
right to adequate food is not being
met, even if they get all the nutrients
their bodies need.
The hunger problem is frequently
addressed by the powerful in terms
that are inherently humiliating. The
issue needs to be handled as a partnership, based on genuine concern for the
well-being of those who are hungry,
and direct engagement with them.
Describing the human right to adequate food in terms of international
human rights law might suggest that
rights come as some sort of gift from
above. However, a different perspective can be taken, as described by an
NGO called EqualinRights (available
at www.unhchr.ch/tbs/doc.nsf/Master
FrameView/3d02758c707031d580256
77f003b73b9?Opendocument):
EqualinRights moves from an understanding that human rights are tools
to protect human dignity, as defined
by people themselves from within
local social and cultural contexts.
This means that local dialogue on
the meaning, relevance and application of human rights-based strategies
within these different contexts is a
critical starting point. Human rights
come from within, not from without. So for us, our support is about
facilitating the internal learning and
self-empowering process for people.
Applied in this way, we believe that
human rights can be a very powerful
framework for bringing change to unequal power structures and relation-
ships that perpetuate poverty.
The human rights that are set out
in international law do not originate there. Rather, that law codifies
rights claims that come from a widespread moral consensus among ordinary people. Thus, local rights-based
programs ought to be based at least
in part on interpretations and assertions of rights that begin at the local
level. They should include strong
local components, with local people
engaged as active participants, not
only in the implementation but also
in the design of such programs.
Rights should not be interpreted in
a mechanical way. Rights are not just
about the delivery of goods and services; they should be based on clear
recognition of and respect for human
dignity. In Rights, Justice, and the
Bounds of Liberty, Joel Feinberg says,
Having rights enables us to “stand
up like men,” to look others in the
eye, and to feel in some fundamental
way the equal of anyone. To think of
oneself as the holder of rights is not
to be unduly but properly proud, to
have that minimal self-respect that
is necessary to be worthy of the love
and esteem of others. Indeed, respect
for persons . . . may simply be respect
for their rights, so that there cannot
be the one without the other.
People commonly ask how it will
be possible to feed future generations.
The question is insulting. Why ask
how people are to be fed, as if food
had to be provided by some external
agent? Most people are motivated
to provide for themselves, and only
need decent opportunities to do that.
Why is it that most people can be
valued as competent persons, while
the hungry are regarded as little more
than passive, gaping mouths? Who,
when provided the means, would not
feed themselves and their families?
George Kent is professor of political
science at the University of Hawai’i.
Kent’s book on ending hunger worldwide (Paradigm Publishers, Boulder,
Colorado) is expected to come out
later this year.
Published in Human Rights, Volume 37, Number 1, Winter 2010. © 2010 by the American Bar Association. Reproduced with permission.
All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an
electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association.
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The Politics of Stigma Starving in
a Land of Plenty
By Kristof Nordin
Associated Press, AP
A
t one time or another, we
have probably all had our
heartstrings tugged by the
effective marketing strategies of international development, relief, and
aid efforts. Maybe you remember the
advertisements—pictures of children
in developing countries with distended stomachs, surrounded by flies,
with a voice-over saying that “for the
price of a cup of coffee” you can save
these children’s lives. These seemingly
innocent pleas are actually quite symbolic of the problems that have arisen
with international assistance efforts
since the end of World War II. The
problem is that these advertisements
tend to put the world’s problems into
an overly simplified dualistic scenario
with malnutrition, poverty, and death
on one side, and the simplest cure of
all—money—on the other.
Understandably, in this complicated world simplicity has its merits,
but there is another reason that these
emotional appeals resound so loudly
within our subconscious—the guilt
that arises when we feel that we are
not fulfilling a moral obligation.
What do we do when problems arise
outside of our physical reach, in
another city, in another country, or
in another continent? We give. We
have been taught that to give is the
ultimate act of generosity. Over the
centuries, all of the major religions
have taught that we should take the
plight of the poor, hungry, and disadvantaged as our own. The Bible
and the Torah teach that “If there is
a poor man among you . . . you shall
not harden your heart, nor close
your hand to your poor brother; but
you shall freely open your hand to
him, and generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he
lacks” (Deut.15:7). The Koran says,
“Do not turn away a poor man . . .
Women and their babies wait at a pediatric malnutrition ward at the Lilongwe,
Malawi, Central Hospital.
even if all you can give is half a date”
(Al-Tirmidhi, Hadith 1376). There
is even an ancient Buddhist canon
that states, “Life is sustained by food
and food is life, thus, to give food
to others is like giving life to them”
(Mahabharata: 13.63.26).
Unfortunately, many of us have
come to equate the concepts of
generosity and giving with that of
simply giving money. Over time, this
idea has embedded itself so deeply
that the connection between happiness, spirituality, and money has
almost become synonymous. For international development work, then,
it becomes comforting to know that
for the price of a cup of coffee we can
right the wrongs of the world.
For the last twelve years, my wife
and I have been working in the areas
of sustainable agriculture, nutrition,
and health in the small southern African country known as Malawi. The
entirety of our work could be considered to fall within the parameters of
“international development and assistance,” but we have made a conscious
effort to keep it out of the realm of “international funding and donations.”
All of our work within Malawian
society, from our grassroots individual
efforts to our work at the governmental policy level, is approached with the
same philosophy—“the people with
the problem are the people with the
solution.” Myles Horton, The Highlander Center. The mantra of sustainability is one that is repeated over and
over within the realm of developmental programs, but to truly achieve this
ideal one must put it into action beginning with local people using locally
available resources.
Our work has confirmed that
many of these world problems boil
down to a stagnation or obstruction in the realization of human
potential. The psychologically based
“humanist” movement tends to view
individuals and societies in terms of
this potential. It has been theorized,
by psychologists such as Abraham
Maslow, that if people are able to
meet their basic needs, they will be
able to gradually progress to more
advanced stages of self-actualization.
Maslow ranked these needs into a hierarchy that builds upon one another.
Without actualization at one level it
becomes difficult, if not impossible,
to advance to the next. Maslow out-
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lined five levels: physiological, safety,
belonging, esteem, and self-actualization. Most development work falls
into the first two tiers. Physiological
needs include basic biological necessities such as food, air, water, and
shelter. Safety includes basic human
rights and stability within organized
social structures.
As physiological needs are not met,
or if they are undermined, the impact
on a society’s stability and security are
direct and immediate. As access to safe
drinking water has become limited, we
have seen “water wars” erupting, diplomatic threats being traded, and social
unrest arising. Shelter is another issue
that often enters into the political area
as we are currently seeing in the conflict
between Israel and Palestine surrounding the West Bank settlements.
Since the end of World War II,
however, food has had a unique history of being manipulated as a political tool. It has long been known that
food is an extremely powerful motivator of nations’ actions. Leon Trotsky,
the Bolshevik revolutionist, once
stated that “Any society is only three
meals away from a revolution.” In
the United States, the idea of food
being used as a political weapon
became the topic of general discussion by the end of the 1970s, when
the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture,
Earl Butz, stated in a Time magazine
article that “Food is a weapon. It is
now one of the principal tools in our
negotiating kit.” What to Do: Costly
Choices, Time, Nov. 11, 1974.
The uniqueness of food’s role in
politics may be, in part, due to our
acquisition of knowledge since the
end of the 1940s that food may also
be physically manipulated. Advances that were made toward the end of
World War II in agricultural sciences
gave us a radically altered perspective of the concept of food security.
No longer were we to be held captive
by the unpredictable outcomes of
crops, seeds, soil fertility, or weather
patterns. Now we were in control.
Scientists set about converting many
of the wartime weapons-making factories into synthetic fertilizer and agro-
chemical facilities. New advances in
hybridization led to “super-varieties”
of staple crops that had what geneticists refer to as “hybrid vigor.” These
crops grow very robustly the first year
and carry with them the traits of their
parent stock. One of the most significant drawbacks to these hybrids, however, is that the offspring seed tends to
be unproductive or sterile and therefore cannot be saved by the farmer
for replanting in successive growing
seasons. These new hybrid varieties,
along with the synthetic fertilizers and
other chemicals, were touted at that
time as being the answer to the world’s
hunger problems. In a movement that
became known as the Green Revolution, industrialized countries began
exporting and aggressively advocating
for the use of these new technologies
in developing countries. This was also
the period that marked the advent of a
vast majority of international development efforts.
At the time of this Green Revolution, Malawi was still under colonial
rule by the British. Despite its small
size and relative lack of high-value
resources such as the oil, diamonds,
and gold that have been both a blessing and a curse for other African
countries, Malawi is extremely rich
in other natural resources. It sits on
the shores of one of the world’s largest freshwater lakes and is located in
the semi-arid tropics, which allows
for crops to be grown throughout
the year. With all of this natural
agricultural potential, it may be
surprising to find that Malawi also
suffers from a “hungry season.” This
is the label that has been given to the
period of time when the stored crops
from the previous growing season
run out and people are waiting to
reap the next harvest. Ironically,
this is also the time of year that coincides with Malawi’s rainy season,
which runs from about December
to March. This means that the most
productive time of Malawi’s agricultural year is also the time when Malawians are hungriest because they
are waiting for one crop to mature—
maize (corn). It is interesting to note
that in all of Malawi’s history, the
first year that food insecurity was
reported to be a problem was 1949.
Since that time, the hungry season
has become an annual event.
There are several reasons for
this rapid agricultural degeneration. First, the colonial government
helped to promote the adoption of
hybridized maize as a staple crop.
But along with the introduction of
these new seeds and chemicals came
an entirely new way of implementing
agriculture, known as “monocropping.” When the Green Revolution
was initiated in countries like Malawi, traditional agriculture faced
a rapid transformation. Almost
overnight, countries moved away
from a “no-input” agriculture in
which, apart from human labor, all
the financial requirements for food
production were free, to a “highinput” agriculture that required
money to obtain the high-cost inputs
like seeds, chemicals, and fertilizers.
These countries also moved away
from having year-round access to a
diverse food supply. They now had
to try to grow all of the food that
they needed for an entire year in a
short four-month rainy season. Then
they had to try to store all of this
food for the remainder of the year.
Food and nutrition security, which
used to be achieved through the utilization of hundreds of indigenous
food plants, now became dependent
upon the growing and eating of only
a handful of introduced crops. The
resulting malnutrition, combined
with the country’s chronic hungry
season and the ravaging effects of
HIV, has meant a significant decrease
in Malawian lifespan. Malawians
commonly used to live into their 80s,
90s, and even 100s; they now die on
average between 38 and 40.
In 1964, colonialism came to
an end in Malawi and the dictator, Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda,
took power and declared himself
“President for Life.” Dr. Banda
wanted Malawi to be known for its
agricultural capabilities, especially
in the area of maize production. He
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pressured local farmers into converting large portions of their fields to the
production of the crop by holding
annual field days and crop inspections
throughout the country to ensure that
people were adhering to the government’s agriculture policies. With this
type of pressure from the government,
maize quickly gained a tremendous
foothold in Malawi’s agricultural sector, eventually replacing traditional
staple crops such as millet and sorghum
almost completely.
But Dr. Banda’s legacy may not
lie as much in his forced production
of maize as it does in what he was
able to achieve psychologically in
the country. The president had an almost fanatical passion for all things
English. To him, the English model
was the ideal that all Malawians
should strive for. In 1968 he made
English an official language of the
country and forced schools to send
home any student who was heard to
be speaking a local vernacular. He
also created Kamuzu Academy, a
secondary school for the best and the
brightest students in the country, in
which students were taught subjects
such as Shakespeare and Latin. This
aspiration was admirable, but the
problem was that he forbade Malawians to teach at their own school
and imported all of the teachers
directly from England. As this overemphasis on all things western took
hold, the country found itself facing
a national identity crisis. Malawian
traditions and practices came to
symbolize “backwardness” in many
people’s eyes. Traditional knowledge that had sustained generations
of Malawians, without the need for
foreign donors and relief programs,
gradually became something to be
disdained. The oral tradition of passing on essential life-knowledge from
generation to generation began to
crumble as younger generations came
to view this knowledge as outdated
and as a hindrance to development.
Traditional food crops that had been
enjoyed for hundreds of years became
stigmatized by all levels of society and
came to embody a form of “mental
poverty” that swept over the country.
Instead of viewing the country as a
place that had been blessed with an
abundance of natural resources and
the potential to provide its people
with everything they needed, people
now became convinced that Malawi
was one of the poorest countries in
the world, with little to no access to
resources of any kind.
This stigma that has been placed
on local resources manifests itself in
many ways. A look at the current diet
shows that almost everything that is
eaten now has been introduced from
a foreign country. If you are a guest
at a person’s house, Malawians will
go out of their way to spend money
to provide foreign foods, because
to serve local foods is now seen as a
sign of disrespect. A walk through
a local grocery store will highlight
many imported items that are draining the country’s financial reserves:
fruits, vegetables, herbal teas, dried
goods, spices, seeds, and even basics
like chickens and eggs—all of which
could easily be produced in the country. Overreliance on maize as a staple
food has become so widespread that
it is now seen as the “only” food. A
person can literally eat a large meal of
other foods, but if maize isn’t served
that person will go away saying that
they haven’t eaten and that the host
has been rude. These are all changes
that have taken place within the last
few decades, and unfortunately they
are changes that have come about far
too quickly and easily in a nation that
bows to westernized ideals and holds
their own culture in contempt.
Dr. Banda left power in 1994, but
the government continues to push
his maize-based agenda. The majority of agricultural policies revolve
around the production of ever larger
harvests of maize throughout the
country. This promotion of highinput maize production is often
accomplished through the establishment of revolving loan funds,
subsidy programs, starter packs,
fertilizer coupons, the introduction
of new varieties of hybrid seeds,
agricultural extension services, and
even through the teaching of these
issues within the national school
agriculture curriculum. The ironic
thing is that for the last three consecutive growing seasons, beginning
in 2006–07, the country has actually
managed to produce a significant
surplus of maize—almost one million metric tons each year. In order
to obtain these higher yields, however, the government has had to spend
hundreds of millions of dollars on
agricultural subsidies. The 2009–10
budget alone allocated US$127 million solely for the subsidization of
synthetic fertilizers. But despite these
higher yields of maize being exactly
what the government has been striving for, it has done nothing to alleviate the fact that almost half of the
country’s children continue to suffer
from malnutrition-related stunting.
In the nation’s push for food security, they have managed to sacrifice
nutrition security. An even greater
irony is that with all of this surplus
maize in the country, the hungry seasons continue to persist.
Each year, usually at the request
of the government, development
agencies rush in to provide food aid
in the form of more maize—the analogical equivalent of administering
alcohol to treat alcoholism. For instance, an official government
report from the Malawi Vulnerability
Assessment Committee clearly states
that “Cereal production for the 2009–
10 consumption year shows that Malawi produced 3.6 million MT [metric
tons] of maize against a national requirement of 2.4 million MT. This
means that it has 1.2m MT surplus.
For a third year running Malawi will
get all its cereal requirements from its
own production and there will be no
need for formal staple imports.” The
State of Food Security and Vulnerability in Malawi for 2009–10. In September of this year, the international
news agency AFP issued a report
stating that “The UN’s World Food
Programme launched an international
appeal for 5.2 million US dollars
(3.5 million euros) Thursday to help
continued on page 25
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Fighting Famine A Band-Aid for the
Poor Has Become an Industry for the Rich
By Roger Thurow and Scott Kilman
Boricha, the Ethiopian
Highlands, 2003
In the searing heat of late spring,
before anyone realized that what was
happening here was just the beginning of something much bigger, a tiny
girl stumbled through a field of rocks
toward a group of international aid
workers. She was barefoot and limping. Flies dotted her face, craving the
moisture of her eyes, lips, and nostrils. A shabby gray dress smudged
with dirt hung limply from her
shoulders. Though she was no more
than eight years old, she carried her
baby sister on her back, a turquoise
blanket binding them together.
Without speaking, for that would
have required too much energy, the
girl weakly stretched out her arms,
one hand supporting the other. Her
dark, frightened eyes were desperate.
Please, they beseeched, something to
eat, anything at all. In a famine, the
starving speak with their eyes.
Beyond the girl, on the edge of
the rocky field, was a warren of olivegreen tents. Inside them, 166 children
were dying of starvation.
Emmanuel Otoro, the director
of Ethiopia’s Disaster Prevention
and Preparedness Commission for
the Boricha region, gently stroked
the girl’s cheek. A second of comfort was all he could spare. Then he
parted the flaps of one of the tents
and entered a scene nearly incompre-
Associated Press, AP
Editor’s Note: This article
is from Enough: Why the
World’s Poorest Starve in
an Age of Plenty by Roger
Thurow and Scott Kilman.
Excerpted by arrangement
with PublicAffairs, a member
of the Perseus Books Group.
Copyright © 2009.
A father carries his malnourished child to a shelter in Barmil, Ethiopia.
hensible to the modern mind.
Starvation is death by deprivation,
the absence of one of the essential
elements for life. It’s not the result
of an accident or a spasm of violence,
the ravages of disease or the inevitable
decay of old age. It occurs because
people are forced to live in the hollow
of plenty. For decades, the world has
grown enough food to nourish everyone adequately. Satellites can spot
budding crop failures; shortages can
be avoided. In the modern world, like
never before, famine is by and large
preventable. When it occurs, it represents civilization’s collective failure.
Just inside the canvas walls of the
tent, Emmanuel came upon two infants receiving nourishment through
nose tubes. He swatted away the flies
buzzing around their heads. “We’ve
never seen a disaster like this before
around here,” he whispered to a group
of nurses and aid workers.
It was an astonishing statement,
given Ethiopia’s history. In 1984, more
than 12 million people had teetered
on the verge of starvation, and nearly
1 million of them died. The suffering
was so intense, so vast, and so piti-
able that the world swore such famine
would never happen again. Yet not
even twenty years later, “never again”
was happening again, in Boricha and
many of Ethiopia’s blighted regions.
And this time, even more people were
desperate for something to eat.
Emmanuel made his way to a
corner of the tent where five-year-old
Hagirso sat like a rag doll on a flimsy
mattress, propped up between the
spindly legs of his father, Tesfaye
Ketema. A few days before, Tesfaye
had cradled his emaciated son for
an hour and a half as they rode in a
donkey-drawn wagon over rutted
dirt roads to this makeshift famine
clinic. Hagirso was starving to death.
He weighed just twenty-seven pounds
when he arrived. His arms and legs
were bone-thin, his head swollen from
the effects of protein deficiency. He
did not cry or plead for help. His eyes
were deep, dark, empty holes. Farewell, they said.
The year before, Tesfaye, along
with many other Ethiopian peasant
farmers, had reaped his best harvest
ever. Then he trekked happily to the
market town of Boricha carrying
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heavy sacks of grain. But the historic
bumper harvest overwhelmed the
country’s underdeveloped markets
with a surplus, and prices collapsed.
What Tesfaye received from the merchants of Boricha was barely enough
to cover his planting and harvesting
costs. At the end of the day, including
labor and transportation expenses, he
reckoned he actually lost money.
The next planting season, he cut
back on costs by sowing cheaper,
lower-quality corn seed on his threequarters of an acre and abandoning
the use of expensive fertilizer. He
knew this would result in a smaller
harvest, but he calculated he would
still reap enough to feed his family.
Farmers all across Ethiopia reacted in
the same manner. Some who worked
the country’s largest farms took
thousands of acres out of production.
Others shut off their simple irrigation
systems to reduce expenses.
Then all of Ethiopia looked heavenward for rain. But in many places
the rains never came and Ethiopia’s,
and Tesfaye’s, harvest shrank even
further than expected. Tesfaye’s family soon ate through their reserve
from the previous year. As the pain
of hunger gnawed relentlessly, Tesfaye began selling off his few possessions to buy food. First he sold his ox,
which pulled his plow. Then he sold
the family cow, which provided milk.
Then he sold the goats. With nothing
left, Tesfaye watched Hagirso waste
away. Instead of lugging bags of surplus corn to the market town as he
had the year before, he now carried
his dying son.
In the emergency feeding tent,
he stared at the starving little boy
slumped between his legs. “He is our
youngest,” he mournfully told the
nurses and aid workers. Surrounded
by the dying children of other peasant farmers, Tesfaye was heavy with
worry and guilt. What, he wondered,
had he done to his son?
As Emmanuel Otoro moved from
starving child to starving child, from
horrified parent to horrified parent,
he heard the same lament over and
over. A thought began to form: This
wasn’t just a disaster scene. It was a
crime scene, for what was happening
to these families had not been their
own doing.
The Promises and Failures
of the Green Revolution
Four decades before, the Green Revolution had introduced scientific and
technological breakthroughs, such as
new wheat and rice strains and new
farming methods, that ultimately succeeded in conquering famine throughout Asia and Latin America. Millions
upon millions of lives were saved as
the Green Revolution rolled through
India and Pakistan and then across
Asia. Basket cases became breadbaskets. Norman Borlaug, a dogged plant
breeder from small-town Iowa, hailed
as the father of the Green Revolution and the savior of more lives than
perhaps any other human being in history, had won the Nobel Peace Prize.
These scientific and technological
breakthroughs were also introduced
to Africa. In Ethiopia’s Great Rift
Valley highlands, as fertile a place as
any on the continent, food production steadily increased. The Boricha
region, a plateau overlooking a
chain of Rift Valley lakes, declared
itself food self-sufficient at the dawn
of the new millennium. Ethiopia, so
hungry for so long, was closing in on
the goal of feeding itself.
Yet something was terribly
wrong. The record harvests brought
only more misery to the farmers, as
the surpluses led to price collapses.
Beyond the harvest gains, certain
vital aspects of the Green Revolution never made it to Africa. There
had been no investment in rural
infrastructure to enable the movement of crops from where they were
plentiful to where they were scarce,
no development of markets so farmers could get fair prices, no financing
to support farmers, no subsidies to
cushion them against price drops, no
crop insurance to compensate them
for weather disasters. The political
will to finish the job of ending famine
had evaporated in Africa.
African agriculture and the Ethio-
pian peasants and their children were
left to die. For Emmanuel Otoro,
this neglect was the unprecedented
disaster. “First, the market failed,”
he observed as he turned away from
Tesfaye and Hagirso to leave the tent.
“And then the weather.”
In the Ethiopian capital, Addis
Ababa, Volli Carucci of the United
Nations’ World Food Program
(WFP), which had the task of feeding the hungry, unfurled a map of
Africa across the shiny expanse of a
conference table. Ethiopia, he demonstrated to a visitor with a sweep
of his hand, was only the tip of the
iceberg. Hunger was raging across
the continent. Up and down the east
coast, from the Horn of Africa to
the Cape of Good Hope, and west
across the hem of the Sahara, from
the Red Sea to the Atlantic Ocean,
crops were failing and more than 40
million people were starving, saved
only by food aid pouring in from
North America, Europe, Japan, and
Australia. Beyond the zones of fullblown famine and starvation, there
was the everyday grind of chronic
malnutrition that was leaving several hundred million more Africans
with gnawing, half-empty stomachs.
Countries were growing as weak as
their people, for hunger also eats
away at economies. Hungry children
can’t study, hungry adults can’t
work, malnourished people die more
quickly when other diseases strike.
You’re hungry and malnourished
and get malaria, you’re a goner.
Diarrhea, cholera, measles: You
have no strength to fight them. Tuberculosis, gone. Pneumonia, AIDS,
gone. Everywhere people were blind
and lame, too small for their age, too
old-looking for their years. That too,
Carucci explained, was hunger and
malnutrition—deficiencies of micronutrients such as vitamin A, iron,
and zinc—at work.
Hunger in all its forms was spreading, not retreating, despite all of the
scientific advances and the decades
of intense effort by so many people.
“Starvation is an ancient emotion. It
is something people in Europe and the
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United States have forgotten about,”
Carucci, an Italian, lamented. “Looking into the eyes of someone dying of
hunger becomes a disease of the soul.
You see that nobody should have to
die of hunger.”
Since the time of the Green Revolution, the world has known how
to end famine and tame chronic
hunger. We have the information
and tools. But we haven’t done it.
We explored the heavens. We wired
the world for the Internet. We embarked on quests to conquer AIDS
and assail global warming. We lifted
hundreds of millions of people out
of poverty and into the middle class.
Yet somehow we haven’t eliminated
the most primitive scourge of all.
Norman Borlaug had warned of
the consequences of such failure,
pleading in his 1970 Nobel lecture in
Oslo, “Man can and must prevent
the tragedy of famine in the future
instead of merely trying with pious
regret to salvage the human wreckage of the famine, as he has so often
done in the past. We will be guilty of
criminal negligence, without extenuation, if we permit future famines.”
Disturbing Trends,
Dire Predictions
The 14 million Ethiopians starving in 2003 bore silent witness on
behalf of the world’s hungry—850
million of them around the globe at
the time—to the missteps and neglect that allowed famine to invade
the twenty-first century and persist
in a world that produces more than
enough food for everybody. And
they warned of an even more dire
worldwide food crisis yet to come.
Within a few years, surging demand,
soaring prices, and spreading hunger
would trigger food riots in a number
of countries, prompting panicky governments to temporarily ban exports
of their grain and rattling economies
across the globe. The desperate supplication of the barefoot girl in Boricha
was only the beginning.
By 2008, the number of undernourished people in the world had
swelled to nearly 1 billion, the largest
number since the early 1970s, when
the full impact of the Green Revolution was just kicking in. After dropping in the 1970s and 1980s, the size
of the world’s hungry population
changed little in the 1990s as the new
millennium approached, though the
proportion of the population in hunger declined because of an expanding
population. Now, though, the cost of
grain, having settled at a new plateau
after gyrating wildly in 2007 and 2008,
is once again increasing the ranks of
Africa is agriculture’s
largely untapped
final frontier.
the hungry. Many of the new hungry
are in sub-Saharan Africa, where
457 million were undernourished
in 2007, an amount that was up 53
percent since the U.S. Department
of Agriculture (USDA) began calculating these numbers in 1992. The
region could soon be home to half
of the world’s hungry, even though
it has just about one-tenth of the
world’s population.
United Nations health and food
organizations calculate that 25,000
people throughout the developing
world die every day from hunger and
malnutrition and related diseases.
That’s three times as many daily
deaths as occurred during the 1994
genocide in Rwanda, when an average of 8,000 people were slaughtered
each day during a 100-day orgy of
killing. Or as officials of the WFP
have grimly noted, it’s the equivalent
of sixty jumbo jets crashing each day.
Hunger’s grip on children is particularly cruel, contributing to about
6 million young deaths annually at
the beginning of this century. Of
the children who survive, 300 million
are classified as “chronically hungry,” which means that night after
night they go to bed with an empty
stomach; 150 million children under
the age of five are stunted from
malnourishment, which means they
likely never will reach their full potential, physically or mentally.
The failed momentum of the Green
Revolution deprives some places of the
world, particularly Africa, from maximizing their agricultural potential. This
denies global markets a tremendous
source of food; Africa, after all, has
almost twice as much arable land as
the European Union, and much of that
land, as Ethiopia proved, could be just
as productive. Africa is agriculture’s
largely untapped final frontier.
This neglect is battering consumers around the world. For most years
of this young century so far, the
world has consumed more grain than
it has produced, draining reserves
and elevating prices. Borlaug had
put us out front in the race to keep
food production ahead of the rate of
population growth, but now the food
supply has become less secure. We’re
falling behind not so much because of
a population increase but because of
the population’s increased prosperity. As the formerly hungry of India
and China move toward the middle
class, they are eating better, escalating
the demand for grain-fed meat and
dairy products. Meanwhile, volatile
oil prices this decade have pushed
politicians in a number of countries,
chief among them the United States
and nations of the European Union,
to promote alternative sources of
fuel that are made from food. In the
United States, ethanol-fuel makers
were devouring about 30 percent of the
nation’s corn crop by 2009, roughly
double the amount they used in 2006.
Many farmers reduced their plantings
of some crops, such as soybeans, wheat,
peas, and lentils, to grow more corn
for cars instead. Biofuel companies are
now competitors of the hungry.
The consequences of this growing
demand are dwindling supplies and
greater vulnerability to natural disasters that could lessen harvests.
Global grain reserves plummeted in
2007 and 2008 to their lowest levels
in three decades, ending a long period
continued on page 24
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The State of Hunger in 2009
By Lori Silverbush and
Kristi Jacobson
Associated Press, AP
A
merica is one of the world’s wealthiest nations.
Yet we remain the only country in the developed
world where millions go hungry, despite having
sufficient resources, technology, and farmable land to
provide nutritious, affordable food for all. Hungry in
America is a feature-length documentary that shines a
light on the problem of domestic hunger, presenting both
an exploration of hunger’s root causes and a verité portrayal of the many faces of hunger in the United States.
As filmmakers, it is our job to ask tough questions
A single mother of three has been receiving food stamps for
about why a nation that could feed all of its people has
several months, but often the allotment runs out before the end
failed to do so. To that end, we have reached out to experts
of the month and she ends up visiting a food pantry.
and those on the front lines of the fight to end hunger,
asking for their take on the problem and its solutions. To a one, they agreed that the problem is solvable, should we decide as
a nation to make it happen. What follows are three essays by crusaders on the concept of food as a basic human right, and
what it will take to end hunger.
Lori Silverbush and Kristi Jacobson are filmmakers in New York City.
Let’s Hear It for the Eaters
By Kathy Goldman
Food as a human right? Of course!
People cannot live without it. Here
in the United States floods are rare
and we do not have famine, tsunamis, or wars––the natural and unnatural causes of hunger worldwide.
In fact, the United States sends
quantities of food all over the world
to help stem starvation and want.
But here at home we have an abundance of food—in stores small and
large, farmers’ markets, everywhere
you turn. So what is the problem in
America? Lack of money to buy the
food. The solution is simple: Make
sure every family and individual has
enough money to cover the cost of
their basic food needs. Unfortunately,
that is not going to happen soon.
Instead we have set in place structures that kick in when “just go out
and buy it” fails—government food
support programs such as food stamps;
the child nutrition programs including
school breakfast and lunch; summer
meals; the Supplemental Feeding Program for Women, Infants and Children
(WIC); child care/day care meals; and
meals for senior citizens. The Emergency Food Network of food banks, soup
kitchens, and food pantries has grown
to fill the gap when those do not meet
the need. Unfortunately, even all of
those efforts are not enough and do not
reach many of those living in poverty.
Why do we even have this “system”?
There are significant contradictions:
Americans do not want to be reminded
that there are poor and hungry people in
their midst. The exception is the “hunger
season”—the period from Thanksgiving through Christmas when it is all
right to remind people of the reality. Yet
Americans cannot stand the thought of
people going hungry and we donate tons
of food, millions of dollars, and hours of
volunteer time to help. In a crisis, where
there is no organized network we bring
food to churches or community centers
or directly to our neighbors.
If we can agree that food is a basic
necessity and a right but that it is unlikely that the U.S. food system will
be overhauled soon, what can we do?
First, we can make the current structure broader and better. That would
mean a significant increase in federal
dollars to programs that work but
that need more funds such as food
stamps, (now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program).
The amount of food stamps people
get should be based on the reality
of need, not the current outmoded
calculation (you try feeding four
people four meals from one turkey
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leg). Actually, during this economic
crisis, the Obama administration
increased the amount of food stamps
for families and individuals by about
19 percent and localities increased
outreach. In New York City, for
example, participation has increased
by 700,000. During this recession
more people, including many who
never thought they would need this
support, have signed up. Hopefully
this will help destigmatize food
stamps as we now accept Social
Security, Medicare, and Unemployment Insurance, all of which were
“unacceptable” at their inception.
And those food stamp dollars go
right into the economy. Think about
the stimulus when more people eat!
Another example of how expanding an existing program could make
a big difference: school breakfast and
lunch. Under the current system, a
complex family income application
determines whether a child is eligible
for free or reduced-price meals. (All
meals are federally subsidized—even
the ones for kids who pay.) The application excludes many and creates
an “it’s poor kids’ food stigma.
The result is that in middle and high
schools, many do not eat at all for
fear that their peers will think they
are poor, or that the food is inferior.
But if school meals were universally
free, it would destigmatize them!
Public education in this country is
free—our children get seats, books,
even musical instruments, and no
one bats an eye. And, just think of
the stimulus if tens of thousands
more children were eating every day.
Schools would need to hire more
cooks and cafeteria staff, thus providing more jobs in every community. Millions of dollars now spent
on collecting forms and checking off
each child’s income category every
day could be reallocated to educational purposes. Our children could
receive delicious, nutritious meals
and learn about healthy food, and
we could have a major impact on
the obesity and diabetes epidemics.
Those federal dollars would come
back many times over in decreased
health-care costs, both now and
down the line.
It is important to step back and
look at some broad issues. Food is
not just a “poor people’s issue.” All
members of society eat. The focus
for food policies in this country is
the U.S. Department of Agriculture
(USDA). Under the current system,
the USDA is geared to the needs and
support of the growers, not the eaters. The usual answer to questions
and problems is that “market forces”
will be the solution, but that has
never really been true; the United
States has numerous farm supports
in place. The government often pays
farmers not to grow food, and where
there is an overabundance, USDA
purchases from the growers, all
geared to artificially inflate prices.
USDA then distributes the purchased commodities to schools and
other programs free or at low cost.
So much for market forces.
We should note that the important food programs for low-income
Americans were supported in Congress by the farm states and their
leaders, basically out of self-interest,
and not out of concern about the
effects of poverty. (An aside: If you
think politics is not a factor in food
allocation and distribution, spend
a little time reviewing the relationship between products grown in a
president’s state and the commodities purchased by the government.
During the Carter administration it
was peanuts, peanut butter, peanut
granules, peanut oil; Reagan brought
us raisins and prunes; and chickens
were abundant when Arkansas gave
us Clinton.) The farm bloc states have
powerful political clout that is most
often used to benefit large-scale corporate farms, and it is not likely that
the government will be moved to take
the profit motive out of food production and sales in order to make sure
all Americans eat. So what can we do
to give the “eaters” a voice?
How about creating a Department of Food Policy? On both a
federal and local level a Department of Food Policy could have a
profound effect. Does your state,
city, town, county have anyone paying attention to food? How does
it get to your neighborhoods? Are
there “food deserts” in your area—
food-barren neighborhoods? Are
there modern supermarkets with a
variety of healthful foods available
to all and where they are located
and how many are needed? Is there
planning for food needs in the event
of a catastrophe? (For example,
are designated food stores required
to have generators so refrigeration
does not shut down as it did in lower
Manhattan after 9/11?) Is junk food
allowed in school vending machines?
Is junk food advertising to children
strictly controlled? Is there a limit on
the number of fast-food operators
in your neighborhoods? Shouldn’t
fast-food operations be kept at least
two blocks from schools (as is done
with liquor stores)? What’s wrong
and what’s right with the way your
area handles food stamps and other
support programs? The current recession shows that yesterday’s middleclass job-holder can slip quickly into
today’s low-income or unemployed
category. Is the welcome mat out for
all or is government barring the door?
These are just a few examples of
why we need to change the focus
of local, regional, and federal food
policies and attention. Once average people begin to realize that they
have a stake in food issues, they will
also begin to look closely at what
happens to those families and individuals who cannot go out and buy
the food they need, and systems will
change. Sure, certain radio and TV
stations will scream about interference in the free market, but let’s face
it—the United States does that already. It is just a question of interference on whose behalf. We, the eaters,
need to be heard.
Kathy Goldman is co-director of
Community Food Advocates in New
York City.
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Ending Childhood Hunger in America
By Mariana Chilton and Jenny Rabinowich
Preventing child hunger is possible;
so is ending it. When compared to developing countries, where a child dies
every five seconds of malnutrition, it
may seem like the United States has
no hunger problem worth mentioning. But just because hunger is not as
visible in this country does not mean
that there is no problem: The more
than 17 million children who experience hunger and food insecurity (defined as lack of access to enough food
for an active and healthy life) in the
United States are invisible precisely
because of the American public’s
lack of understanding of the nature
of hunger, and our policymakers’
unwillingness to tackle hunger as a
national priority.
What will it take to end hunger
in America? We must make ending
hunger a national goal that we all
share, and hold ourselves accountable as a part of the solution. We
have tolerated hunger for too long.
Rates of food insecurity in the United States, as measured by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), have
spiked dramatically since the beginning
of the economic recession in 2008. Since
1995, between 30 to 35 million people
every year in the United States had
experienced food insecurity, now that
number stands at 49 million, or 14.6
percent of the total U.S. population.
This alarming increase, which should
indicate a national emergency, has gone
largely unnoticed by the public and
garnered little response from policy
makers. Meanwhile, those who are
experiencing food insecurity cannot afford to wait. Households with children
experience rates of food insecurity that
are double those of households without
children, while black and Latino families experience food insecurity at rates
that are three times higher than those of
white families. These disparities highlight the fact that hunger is not simply
an issue of food, but a symptom of
other systemic human rights violations.
Not only are hunger and food insecurity
painful, and often shameful, experiences
for those forced to suffer through them,
but food insecurity among families is
also a serious public health problem.
Food insecurity among children is associated with fair and poor child health,
with high hospitalization rates, and with
truncated social, emotional, and cognitive development. Among school-age
kids, food insecurity affects their school
performance, their math and reading
test scores, and their ability to pay attention and behave; among teenagers, it
is associated with suicidal ideation and
depression. Food insecurity is not an
innate congenital or genetic disorder,
nor is it an infectious agent that strikes
at random. Nor is it inevitable—the
United States produces enough food
to feed every one of its citizens. Food
insecurity is completely man-made and
entirely preventable. The way to prevent
and to treat child hunger is to adopt a
human rights approach to food.
By a human rights approach to
food and nutrition, we mean that access to enough healthy food is a fundamental human right of all people,
everywhere, regardless of age, race,
ethnicity, gender, or national origin.
Conversely, this approach means that
we must characterize food insecurity
and hunger as unacceptable and a violation of fundamental human rights.
The right to food means that
everyone must have reasonable opportunities to secure enough food for
themselves or their family. Fulfilling
the right to food does not mean providing food; rather, it means ensuring that all people have access to the
opportunities that enable them to
purchase and/or grow the food they
need, and that there is a system in
place to catch those who are unable,
either temporarily or permanently, to
procure food for themselves.
The United States is one of only
two countries that have yet to acknowledge that access to food is a
fundamental human right, even as we
are reminded at every meal that food
is something we cannot live without.
While this case of American exceptionalism should be remedied, and
the United States should go on record
as agreeing that all people everywhere
should have access to food, our country’s failure to uphold international
standards should not stop the rest of
us from taking the reigns and ending
hunger in America once and for all.
To end hunger, we need to take
immediate and specific steps. We need
both government intervention and
our individual participation to treat
hunger as the emergency and human
rights violation that it really is.
A national strategy to end hunger
creates a structural process for agencies, organizations, corporations, and
citizens to work toward ensuring access to enough affordable, nutritious
food. This strategy involves four steps.
The first step is to understand the
scope and demographics of hunger
in this country. Such mapping is
already being done by the USDA,
which looks at food security rates by
race, ethnicity, gender, household
type, and region. An understanding
of the different factors that affect
food insecurity will aid us in expanding nutrition programs to reach
those who are most vulnerable: children, female-headed households,
immigrants, the elderly, the poor,
and other marginalized groups.
The second step is to improve
government agency coordination
and cooperation. Hunger is not only
an issue that concerns the USDA,
and the complex causes of hunger
require that a solution come not only
from the USDA. The Department of
Health, the Department of Education, and the Department of Housing
and Urban Development must be in-
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volved to address the multiple social
issues that create hunger and that are
associated with its effects—poverty,
deprivation, poor health, and low
educational attainment.
The third step is to improve accountability. Improving accountability will require a clear allocation
of responsibilities and time frames for
the progressive realization of ending
hunger. The U.S. government must
first make it very clear to the American public what the actual rates of
food insecurity are. They must establish clear benchmarks and targets, but
those targets are useful only if actions
are taken to meet them. Few people
actually know what the food insecurity
numbers are, because the national
rates of food insecurity are released
with little media attention and are not
readily accessible, nor are they clearly
understood by the American public.
This lack of widespread knowledge
about the rates of food insecurity and
hunger in the United States allows
our legislators to continue to ignore
the problem of hunger.
The fourth step is to ensure the
adequate public participation in the
development, implementation, and
evaluation of a national strategy to
end hunger. This participation must
include all of us. All of “us” includes
the most food-insecure sectors of the
population. People who are hungry
know better than anyone what the
causes of hunger are, and how that
hunger affects their lives and their
families. One such example of participation is Witnesses to Hunger (www.
witnessestohunger.org)—a project
in which forty women are speaking
out through multiple forms of media
to educate the public, the press, and
policymakers about the experience of
hunger and their ideas for change.
Clearly, a national plan demands
all of our participation. Our participation is one of the greatest values of
our democracy, and our greatest challenge. We should participate in ending hunger not as an act of charity,
but as an act of our own humanity.
Imagine, 12 to 17 million children no
longer invisible and no longer food
insecure, because all of them are embraced as part of our human family.
Mariana Chilton is the director of the
Philadelphia GROW Project and Witnesses to Hunger and is a professor
of health and human rights at Drexel
University School of Public Health
in Philadelphia. Jenny Rabinowich
is the research and policy coordinator of Witnesses to Hunger at Drexel
University School of Public Health in
Philadelphia.
Ending Childhood Hunger by 2015
By Jim Weill
It is always shocking to hear how
many Americans cannot afford
enough healthy food to get through
the month—36.2 million people
lived in such “food insecure” households in 2007, the last year for which
official data have been released—but
it is especially troubling when you
consider how many of the hungry
are children. More than 12 million
children—nearly 17 percent of all
children in the country—live in
homes that are struggling with hunger, hindering them from growing,
learning, and succeeding in school.
During his presidential campaign,
President Obama pledged to end
childhood hunger in America by 2015.
It is an ambitious pledge and one that
he is clearly standing behind. According to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, the president instructed him that
“what I want you to do first, the most
important thing in this job, is to make
sure America’s kids are well fed.”
By 2015, this country should be a
place where all children have the adequate and nutritious food they need to
build healthy bodies and strong minds.
We have only six years to reach this
goal of ending childhood hunger, and
it will not be easy. But this is a goal
that the Food Research and Action
Center (FRAC) believes the United
States can and must reach.
It also is a goal that the American people fully support. Polls have
consistently found that voters do not
think the nation is doing enough to
solve hunger, and they want government and political leaders to address
the hunger problem and make sure
that everyone in the country has
enough to eat. (A compendium of
several years of public opinion research—undertaken for FRAC by a
bipartisan team of Peter D. Hart Associates and McLaughlin and Associ-
ates—can be found at www.frac.org/
pdf/hungerpoll08_/fullreport.pdf. A
summary can be found at www.frac.
org/pdf/hungerpoll08_/summary.
pdf.) And the goal of ending hunger
has had strong bipartisan support
dating to the 1970s, when senators
George McGovern and Robert Dole
first tackled the nation’s hunger problem on a bipartisan basis.
Achieving the 2015 goal will require
the nation to strengthen policies so that
schools and other institutions that care
for children, and especially low-income
parents, are better able to provide
children an adequate, healthy diet.
Parents or other caregivers must have
the resources to purchase and prepare
adequate, healthy meals for the family.
Schools, child-care centers and homes,
and after-school and summer sites—
the places where children are learning,
playing, developing, and being cared
for—must meet children’s nutritional
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needs when they are in those settings.
Children should be treated with respect,
so that help is given in a way that
does not identify a child’s socioeconomic status or carry any stigma.
FRAC has identified seven essential
strategies for reaching the goal of ending
childhood hunger by 2015. They focus
both on improving and expanding the
nation’s nutrition programs, and bolstering the economy and strengthening
other supports for families in order to
move more people out of poverty, the
root cause of hunger in this country.
First, we must restore economic
growth and rebuild an economy that
creates jobs with better wages for lower-income workers across the nation.
Second, we must lift the incomes
of low-earning workers by increasing
the minimum wage and strengthening refundable tax credits and other
supports that help make work pay.
Third, we must strengthen the
SNAP/Food Stamp Program by making monthly benefits adequate for a
healthy diet (right now they are about
one-quarter below the government’s
recommended Lost-Cost Food Plan).
Congress also should expand eligibility
to a broader range of hungry families.
Fourth, we must strengthen child
nutrition programs to ensure that
many more children receive the benefits of a good school breakfast and
lunch, as well as healthy nutrition
in other important developmental
settings, such as child care and afterschool and summer programs. These
programs are due to be reconsidered
in Congress next year, and Congress
must produce improvements that
will make a real difference in the
lives of our children.
Fifth, the entire federal government must be engaged in ending
childhood hunger. This should be a
government-wide priority, and meeting it will require focus not just from
the U.S. Department of Agriculture
(which runs the large nutrition programs), but also from such agencies
as the departments of Health and
Human Services and Education, and
the Corporation for National and
Community Service.
Sixth, we also must work at the
state and local level to make sure that
nutrition programs are being used as
fully as possible. Nationally, only about
forty-six low-income children receive
school breakfast and only seventeen
low-income children receive summer
meals for every one hundred who
receive school lunch. States, counties,
cities, schools, and nonprofits can make
much better use of the programs.
Seventh, we must make sure all
families have convenient access to
reasonably priced, healthy food. Let’s
get healthy food resources into what
are now “food deserts” in many rural
areas and poor city neighborhoods.
Attaining the 2015 goal is certainly
possible, but it will require using
every day of the next six years to
adopt and implement smart strategies. The Obama administration
takes the 2015 commitment seriously
and it is incumbent on the rest of us—
members of Congress, governors,
other public officials, advocates,
business, religious leaders, labor, and
service providers—to do so as well.
Ending child hunger will require all of
us coming together so we can move
forward and take every step needed
to reach a nation of well-fed children.
Jim Weill is the president of the Food
Research and Action Center, the leading national nonprofit organization
working to improve public policies and
public-private partnerships to eradicate hunger and undernutrition in the
United States.
Access and Entitlement in Ethiopia’s Food Markets
By Eli Cane
It was a sobering moment when
Mekonen, the Ethiopian farmer
we had been interviewing, said that
he hadn’t heard of the Commodity Exchange. Mekonen was, in a
sense, most emblematic of those we
had come to film—more so than the
coffee traders, who exported their
goods to large, international clients.
And yet his admission that he did
not know of the Commodity Exchange was an invalidation of our efforts, and a reminder that the system
that was designed to help him—the
system we had come to Ethiopia to
document—was at the mercy of political and economic demands.
I had recently been inspired by the
idea that the access to enough food,
as well as to variety and quality, were
fundamental rights that these demands placed under constant threat.
I was first introduced to this idea
by a charismatic Ethiopian economist
named Dr. Eleni Gabre-Madhin,
and in a short talk she described her
efforts to solve Ethiopia’s persistent
food-shortage problems by implementing an agricultural commodities
exchange. Documentary director
Hugo Berkeley and I became convinced that we had found someone
whose understanding of the problem
was as visionary as her proposed solution. Famine, she said, was not so
much about lack of production, but
lack of entitlement––lack of access.
This concept was not hers alone, but
she was unique in her ability to trans-
Published in Human Rights, Volume 37, Number 1, Winter 2010. © 2010 by the American Bar Association. Reproduced with permission.
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late theory into practice.
From an agricultural perspective,
Ethiopia is a land of opposites. While
much of the country yields bumper
harvests year after year, other areas
are perpetually dry and dusty, and
about once every decade, the seasonal
rains fail to arrive. Thus, the country
is faced with the recurring problem of
too much food in some places and not
enough in others.
Dr. Gabre-Madhin’s research
on the problem pointed toward
the country’s inefficient markets.
Ethiopia’s agricultural system was
broken up into hundreds of local
regional markets that didn’t seem
to “talk” to one another. Without
reliable networks for trading, information about the price of goods
in other markets, or a mechanism
to move food around the country,
people tended to trade in small,
established networks. The result?
The country’s farmers essentially
became penalized for having a good
year, because the local price of their
goods would plummet—sometimes
so much that it wasn’t feasible to
pay people to harvest it—and those
who lived only a few hundred miles
away in drought-afflicted areas
might starve.
The most striking example of this
problem was the famine in 1984.
Like most people, I remembered the
haunting images of the famine and
the massive international relief effort which, like so many of its kind,
delivered aid only after catastrophic
damage had occurred. What I didn’t
know until I met Dr. Gabre-Madhin
is that in the same year that one million people died in the north of Ethiopia, surplus crops lay rotting in the
fields of the south. This staggering
fact propelled us to document one
of the most ambitious and historic
attempts to solve Ethiopia’s recurring famine problem, which eventually turned into a film that aired on
PBS’s Wide Angle in 2009.
Dr. Gabre-Madhin’s solution was
simple: Fix the markets, and you’ll
fix the supply problem. She would
set up a trading platform that addressed Ethiopia’s specific problems
by uniting buyers and sellers, acting
as neutral third-party guarantor of
quality and quantity, and by broadcasting market activity and price
information to rural areas so farmers would know the national price
When the elements
of an organized
market were
introduced, they
were immediately
usurped by the
powerful and the
privileged elite.
of their goods. The film, if we were
lucky, would stand testament to the
moment when a truly innovative idea
mixed with awe-inspiring dedication
to combat an age-old tragedy. And
yet, the film we made ended up being
about something very different.
Coffee exports are the lifeblood of
Ethiopia’s economy, amounting to
half a billion dollars annually when
times are good. In the midst of the
financial crisis of 2008, coffee export
orders plummeted, and the government moved quickly to mandate that
coffee be sold on the newly formed
Commodity Exchange. They hoped
the mandate would incentivize farmers
to produce more, and stem the flow of
revenue lost to illegal or unreported
sales by shifting the trade to a 100
percent transparent system. In principle, this development was great for
Dr. Gabre-Madhin and her team—it
meant volume, participation, legitimacy, and a foothold in a massive in-
dustry. Yet their capacity was strained
to the breaking point, and suddenly
they were not working to fix Ethiopia’s
grain markets or solve problems of
food security, but tending to the country’s biggest cash crop.
When Hugo and I arrived to film,
the fledgling exchange had been
trading coffee for about six weeks
and was already buckling under the
weight of this burden. Over the subsequent months, the story that unfolded became less about food and
more about addressing the economic
emergency at hand. The system that
Dr. Gabre-Madhin had designed
was a good one—but it had been
engulfed by the economic demands
of the country. Here, finally, was
a solution that worked, delivering
reliability, affordability, and choice,
yet it was not being used to fix the
food markets for which it had been
designed, and the film became more
about her struggle to return to her
original mission.
As usual, the losers in this dynamic are subsistence farmers like
Mekonen, who live under constant
threat of famine, and for whom the
rain, not the market, is everything.
When the elements of an organized
market were introduced, they were
immediately usurped by the powerful
and the privileged elite. This was the
concept we set out to portray, and in
the most unexpected way, we did.
Dr. Gabre-Madhin and her team
are making great strides now toward
transforming Ethiopia’s grain markets, and are aided by many valuable
lessons learned from the coffee industry. Our experience documenting the
first year of the Ethiopia Commodity Exchange served as a sobering
reminder that powerful and systemic
forces may conspire to deny disenfranchised people their right to food unless
a commitment to protect that right is
maintained at the highest level.
Eli Cane is a documentary film producer
with Normal Life Pictures, based in
New York City.
Published in Human Rights, Volume 37, Number 1, Winter 2010. © 2010 by the American Bar Association. Reproduced with permission.
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Food An Essential Weapon in the
Battle Against HIV and AIDS
By Kara Greenblott
“The success of antiretroviral drugs
(ARVs) is no more; many patients
are seriously suffering,” says Hadija
Rama, program manager for the
Isiolo Pepo la Tumaini, a nonprofit in
northern Kenya that helps people living with HIV. “They have developed
health complications because they
cannot afford basic food, let alone a
balanced diet. . . . Some families have
been forced to increase spending on
food to ensure their HIV-positive
family members have a balanced
diet, at the expense of other essential requirements . . . Meanwhile,
other, poorer individuals living with
AIDS had started to reject free, lifeprolonging ARV medication because
of the side effects of taking the drugs
on an empty stomach.” HIV-Positive
People Feeling the Pinch of High Food
Prices, www.plusnews.org/Report.
aspx?ReportId=78176.
F
ood is a human right, and for
people living with HIV and
AIDS (PLHIV), it is also a primary defense in the ongoing struggle
to maintain their health, stamina, and
quality of life. For those on lifesaving
ARVs, food helps them meet the challenge of strict adherence to their medication. For vulnerable families and
communities, food serves as a weapon
in the battle to prevent further spread
of the virus. And for those already
living with the disease’s devastating
effects (such as the death of a parent
or spouse), food can mitigate the often
overwhelming impact, and help families get back on their feet.
This article uses a human rights
perspective to examine the role of
food (and the right to food) in the
context of delivering prevention,
treatment, care, and support to
PLHIV and others affected by HIV.
It considers the following questions:
Why is a human rights perspective
needed? And what does it mean
within the context of food and the
HIV pandemic? Why are food,
nutrition, and HIV inextricably
connected? How can we practically
apply human rights concepts within
the realm of the global HIV response?
What are the unique challenges and
where do we go from here?
Why Is a Human Rights
Perspective Needed?
Human rights conventions set the
foundation for development objectives of the countries that ratify
them, and act as a standard for what
can be expected from that country’s
citizens. “When addressing food and
health issues in the HIV context,
this means that the international
and regional human rights instruments protecting relevant rights are
the starting point for setting aims of
development programs.” Alessandra
Sarelin, Human Rights-Based Approaches to Development Cooperation, HIV/AIDS, and Food Security,
29 Hum. Rts. Q. 2 (2007).
Moreover, these instruments help
us to view the process of providing
services to people affected by HIV
and AIDS as one of fulfilling their
rights, instead of providing charity.
Empowerment is a crucial concept
of rights-based approaches to development, and although targeting
the poor and disadvantaged is not
new to the development agenda,
by acknowledging that the poor
have human rights, “beggars are
transformed into claimants.” André
Frankovits and Patrick Earle, The
Rights Way to Development: Manual
for Human Rights Approach to Development Assistance (Human Rights
Council of Australia, 1998). Furthermore, governments are made accountable to those claimants for the
fulfillment of their rights.
Several human rights treaties and
conventions make links between the
right to food and HIV, most commonly by describing food as a precondition to achieving the right to health.
In General Comment 14 on the right
to the highest attainable standard of
health, the Committee on Economic,
Social and Cultural Rights makes
far-reaching links between the right
to health in Article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social
and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), and
the right to food in Article 11 of the
same covenant.
The committee makes clear that
state obligations under the right to
health include measures relating to access to food. States must “ensure access
to the minimal essential food which
is nutritionally adequate and safe.”
CESCR, General Comment on the
Right to the Highest Attainable Standard of Health, G.C. no. 14 ¶ 4, 11, 43,
U.N. Doc. E/C 2000 (Dec. 4, 2000).
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s 2004 “Right to Food Guidelines” notes that “States should address
the specific food and nutritional needs
of people living with HIV/AIDS or suffering from other epidemics . . .” UN
Food and Agriculture Organization
(FAO), Voluntary Guidelines to Support the Progressive Realization of the
Right to Adequate Food in the Context
of National Food Security, adopted by
the 127th session of the FAO Council,
Nov. 2004, www.fao.org/righttofood.
The obligation to fulfill rights
means facilitating and promoting
the enjoyment of those rights. For
PLHIV and others affected by HIV,
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this obligation means (1) states are
obliged to take positive measures to
facilitate (enable) PLHIV and affected communities to enjoy the right to
health; (2) in situations beyond their
control, states intervene to provide
necessary support and services; and
(3) states promote the right to health
by making information available
and promoting activities to facilitate informed choices about one’s
health, nutrition, and lifestyles. See
CESCR, 2000; Sarelin.
Finally, nondiscrimination is a paramount principle in human rights law
and is found in various international
instruments. General Comment 12
urges governments to focus on “the
need to prevent discrimination in access
to food or resources for food. This
should include guarantees of full and
equal access to economic resources,
particularly for women, including the
right to inheritance and the ownership of land and other property . . . .”
CESCR, General Comment on the
Right to Adequate Food, G.C. no.
12 ¶ 26, U.N. Doc. E/C 1999 (Dec. 5,
1999); Arne Vandenbogaerde, The
Right to Food in the Context of HIV/
AIDS, www.fao.org/righttofood/
publi09/hiv_aids.pdf (2009).
Applying a rights-based approach
in the context of HIV means delivering HIV services and food in an integrated manner (to address the rights
to both); ensuring access to the specific food requirements of PLHIV;
and promoting nondiscrimination in
every way possible.
Why are Food, Nutrition, and
HIV Inextricably Connected?
The story from northern Kenya at the
opening of this article is not unique.
Similar accounts of patients not
taking their medications because of
food shortages have been reported
from across Africa, Asia, and Latin
America. For PLHIV, as for all humans, food is a human right. But for
this particularly vulnerable group, the
need to ensure consistent and reliable
access to nutritious food takes on
considerable urgency.
Without addressing the special nu-
tritional needs of PLHIV, a downward
spiral of risk, vulnerability, and illness
is certain. And when the individuals
dying of AIDS are principle earners of
the family income, or primary caregivers of infants and children, the impact
goes far beyond the suffering of the
infected person. The impact can undermine the food security, livelihoods,
health, education, and welfare of
families and communities for generations to come. Why, then, is food so
essential to those infected and affected
by HIV and AIDS?
of opportunistic infections, complications, and early death. See Henrik
Friss, Micronutrient Interventions
and HIV Infection: A Review of Current Evidence, 11 Tropical Med. &
Int’l Health 1849 (2006).
Antiretroviral Treatment
ARVs interact with food and nutrition in a variety of ways, resulting in
both positive and negative outcomes.
ARVs can reduce the viral load of
PLHIV and contribute to improved
nutritional status, but they can also
create additional nutritional needs and
dietary constraints. The right foods
must be taken at the right time in order
to maximize a patient’s adherence to
the drugs; minimize unhealthy, often
painful side effects; and achieve optimal drug efficacy.
Malnutrition and PLHIV
Even for people without HIV, immune functions are undermined by
malnutrition. But malnutrition is significantly more complex for PLHIV
because of the added stress placed on
an already-weakened immune system.
HIV diminishes
nutritional health
in three mutually
Vicious Cycle of HIV and Malnutrition
reinforcing ways:
(1)Reduced food inInsufficient dietary
take. PLHIV often
intake,
malabsorption,
consume less food
diarrhea,
altered
because of loss of
metabolism,
and poor
appetite, mouth
nutrient
storage
and throat sores,
Increased HIV
pain and nausea,
Nutritional
replication,
disease
side effects of medideficiencies
progression,
cation, or from
increased illness
worsening household poverty and
Increased oxidative
food security; (2)
stress and immune
Altered metabolic
suppression
processes. HIV and
AIDS change the
body’s metabolism
Source: Stuart Gillespie and Suneetha Kadiyala, HIV/AIDS and Food and Nutrition
so that more energy Security: From Evidence to Action (International Food Policy Research Institute, 2005).
is demanded—20
to 30 percent for
Mothers and Children
those who are symptomatic; and
The transmission of HIV from mother
(3)Impaired nutrient absorption.
to child (in the womb, during the
Nutrients are poorly absorbed because
delivery, or through breast feeding) acof diarrhea and vomiting, damaged
counts for the vast majority of children
intestinal cells, and other effects of
infected with HIV. Without intervenopportunistic infections.
tions to prevent transmission, 30 to
The vicious cycle of HIV and
40 percent of HIV-positive women
malnutrition can rapidly accelerate
will pass the virus to their infants. See
weight loss and wasting. Significant
www.unaids.org.
Malnutrition in the
weight loss in HIV-positive individumother
is
associated
with poor birth
als is associated with increased risk
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outcomes among HIV-positive women.
Maintaining a healthy diet during
pregnancy and while breastfeeding can
mean the difference between life and
death for the newborn.
For infants and children, the progression of HIV to AIDS is more rapid
than in adults, increasing their malnutrition risk. Approximately 20 percent
of infected children will have rapid
progression of disease and die by 12
months; 50 percent will die by the age
of 3; and less than 25 percent will survive beyond the age of 5. See Elizabeth
M. Obimbo et al., Predictors of Early
Mortality in a Cohort of Human Immunodeficiency Virus Type 1-Infected
African Children, 23 Pediatric Infectious Disease J. 536 (2004); Claire de
Menezes et al., HIV and Food: From
Food Crisis to Integrated Care (ACF
International, 2007). Many of these
children will experience (and may die
of) malnutrition, either as a direct
physiological consequence of the
virus, or from the family’s inability to
provide a nutritious diet.
The association between HIV and
severe malnutrition is increasingly
obvious. A study at Queen Elizabeth
Central Hospital in Malawi showed
that 34.4 percent of children admitted for severe malnutrition were
HIV-positive. See Susan Thurstans
et al., HIV Prevalence in Severely
Malnourished Children Admitted
to Nutrition Rehabilitation Units in
Malawi: Geographical and Seasonal
Variations: A Cross-Sectional Study
(2006). Sadly, one agency running
therapeutic feeding centers in Malawi noted that “once discharged,
many of the same children and their
siblings returned with repeated episodes of malnutrition, suggesting
poor capacity of the families to meet
nutrition requirements.” See Claire
de Menezes et al.
Vulnerable Groups
The relationship between HIV and
food also affects those who are not
infected with the virus, because HIV
is intimately connected to food insecurity. A large body of evidence
demonstrates that as people become
desperate to feed themselves and
their families, they resort to risky
coping strategies to avoid hunger.
Risky strategies include migration
to urban areas for employment; sex
in exchange for rent, food, etc.; and
sending children to temporarily live
with friends or relatives, where they
may not have adequate protection
from exploitation or abuse. Even
taking children out of school to augment family income contributes to increased risk of HIV, as education has
been shown to be one of the greatest
protective factors against acquiring
HIV for young people.
HIV disproportionately affects
prime working-aged adults, killing the
most productive members of society.
For families whose breadwinner(s)
are HIV-positive and experiencing
declining health, the entire household
is more likely to become food insecure,
because the person they rely on is
physically less able to produce income.
Negative coping strategies follow,
such as the sale of productive assets
(e.g., livestock or land), further exacerbating vulnerability. The combination
of challenges facing PLHIV and their
families places them in a deleterious
cycle that is difficult to reverse. See
Kara Greenblott, Social Protection in
the Era of HIV and AIDS: Examining
the Role of Food-Based Interventions
(World Food Programme, 2007).
How Can We Apply These
Human Rights Concepts
To fulfill the rights of people infected
and affected by HIV and AIDS, programmatic responses must recognize
and address the inextricable links
between food security, nutrition, and
HIV, both in terms of the physiological impact of the virus on PLHIV
and in terms of the socioeconomic
impact of the pandemic on vulnerable members of our societies.
Paragraph 28 of the 2006 UN
Political Declaration on HIV/AIDS
lays the political groundwork for
recognizing, creating policies for,
and delivering integrated HIV, food,
and nutrition programs:
The United Nations Member States
resolve to integrate food and nutritional support, with the goal that all
people at all times will have access to
sufficient, safe and nutritious food
to meet their dietary needs and food
preferences, for an active and healthy
life, as part of a comprehensive response to HIV/AIDS.
Rights-based approaches in the
context of HIV should focus on
developing the capacities of both
“rights holders” (PLHIV and those
affected by HIV) to claim and realize
their rights, as well as the capacities
of “duty bearers” (i.e., governments
and their international partners) to
meet their obligations in the provision
of food and HIV-related services.
This article advocates the following
three strategies for addressing both
sides of this equation:
Integrate HIV, Food, and Nutrition
Interventions
Integrated programming means we
ensure that food security and nutrition are assessed, analyzed, and
supported in all aspects of prevention, treatment, care, and support to
people affected by HIV and AIDS.
While there are a myriad of ways to
integrate programming, there are
two examples worth mentioning.
Link food to antiretroviral treatment
(ART) and prevention of mother-tochild transmission (PMTCT). Linking
food and nutrition support to ART
and PMTCT programs offers a range
of benefits: Food rations increase participation in these services by PLHIV
and HIV-positive mothers who otherwise can’t afford transport and other
associated costs. Nutrition assessment,
education, counseling, and timely dietary support, can improve nutrition
status and adherence to drugs, and,
for HIV-positive mothers, ultimately
improve maternal and infant health.
Counseling on optimal child feeding
is crucial to reducing HIV transmission, and can be further supported by
providing safe, suitable food for the
infant and young child, as well as for
the mother. Fulfilling a mother’s right
to accurate nutritional information will
help her to make a safe, informed decision about how to feed her children.
Published in Human Rights, Volume 37, Number 1, Winter 2010. © 2010 by the American Bar Association. Reproduced with permission.
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Promote access to food for HIVand AIDS-affected families.The right
to adequate food does not mean
that everyone is entitled to receive
food. It denotes people’s right to
feed themselves in dignity through
economic and other activities, and
states’ responsibility to support these
efforts. See Vandenbogaerde. Helping PLHIV and affected families
to construct homestead and community gardens, promote savings
and loans groups, undergo business
training, learn vocational skills, and
receive other livelihoods support are
all effective ways to promote access
to food, while preserving dignity.
When people are not able to
provide for themselves, states must
intervene and protect their rights to
food and health. Social protection in
the form of social transfers (e.g., pensions for the elderly, school fee waivers) are the norm in the west, but still
underutilized in developing countries,
although they are effective antidotes
when people are forced to make untenable choices—i.e., between food,
education, and health care. Modern
definitions of social protection include legal assistance to enforce the
inheritance rights of widows and
orphans, and assisting ill parents in
the creation of a succession plan for
their children. See Kara Greenblott,
Social Protection for Vulnerable Children in the Context of HIV and AIDS:
Working Towards a More Integrated
Vision, www.crin.org/docs/Social%20
Protection,%20Greenblot.pdf (IATT
on Children and HIV and AIDS, supervised by UNICEF, 2008).
Ensure the Right Kind of Food
The right to the “minimal essential
food which is nutritionally adequate
and safe” is a vital stipulation made in
paragraph 28 of the 2006 UN Political
Declaration on HIV/AIDS. For infants
born to HIV-positive mothers, the situation is extremely complicated. Current
guidance from the UN World Health
Organization (WHO) recommends
that HIV-infected mothers breastfeed
their infants exclusively for the first six
months unless a “replacement food”
meets WHO conditions of being “ac-
ceptable, feasible, affordable, sustainable and safe (AFASS)” before that
time. When replacement feeding becomes AFASS, it is recommended that
the mother switch to the replacement
food to minimize risk of transmission.
The problem is that “providing a
nutritionally adequate diet for a 6 to
24-months-old baby in the absence of
breast milk is extremely challenging for
these moms, especially in food-insecure
environments. The lack of a nutritionally suitable food commodity for this time
period is one of the most urgent challenges faced by service providers.” Kate
Greenaway, Food by Prescription: A
Landscape Paper (GAIN Working
Paper Series No. 2, 2009).
Generally, ready-to-use therapeutic
foods (RUTFs)—foods that are nutrient
dense and digestible for those with special dietary needs—have enjoyed popularity in humanitarian circles in recent
years. But as they can be prohibitively
expensive for many resource-constrained settings. More research and
resources are needed if we are to fulfill
the right to adequate food for all.
Promote Nondiscrimination
Stigma reduction campaigns, HIV
education, training on the rights of
children, and other efforts to protect
PLHIV (and children made vulnerable by HIV) from social exclusion
are much needed. A common result
of marginalization is reduced access
to food and vital services.
At one hospital in Zambia, care
providers admitted that HIV-positive
patients were often not given the
same services because doctors knew
they were going to die. See Menezes.
UN assessments in Malawi and Lesotho revealed cases where caretakers
did not treat orphans the same as
their own. There were biases toward
biological children when it came to
sharing food, paying school fees, and
assigning chores. See Greenblott;
Greenaway. Throughout southern
Africa, children living outside of family settings (and not in school) do not
benefit from school feeding and other
forms of social protection that they
would otherwise receive had they not
become “invisible” to the state.
Where Do We Go from Here?
Structural impediments. Donors,
governments, and implementing agencies have historically separated health
from food programs, creating structural impediments to the shift toward
integrated programming. While most
agencies employ health specialists,
nutritionists, and even people who
focus on specific diseases, none have
point people who focus on family care,
PLHIV, or vulnerable children and
their holistic needs and rights.
Evidence and advocacy. Despite
calls for more evidence over the
last decade, there is still a dearth of
empirical data confirming the links
between food and nutrition on one
hand, and HIV transmission, HIV
progression, treatment adherence, and
treatment efficacy on the other. Better
data combined with improved advocacy are needed to shift donors, host
governments, and service providers
from ad hoc “integrated experiments”
to national programs that fully integrate both sides of the formula.
Similarly, key funding sources,
such as the various U.S. departments providing foreign assistance,
struggle to work together effectively.
Collaboration has improved, but
there is a long way to go before we
have truly integrated programs.
Sharing what we know. We are still
climbing the steep side of the learning
curve when it comes to the three recommended strategies in the preceding
section. We need to better understand
(1) what kinds of integrated programs
really work and are sustainable; (2)
what affordable kinds of foods meet the
special dietary needs of PLHIV; and
(3) how to undo the damaging effects
of stigma and discrimination.
Adequate food and nutrition
cannot cure HIV infection, but they
can delay the progression of HIV to
AIDS, reducing health-care costs
and allowing PLHIV to remain productive. Adequate nutrition is absolutely essential if we are to achieve
the optimal benefits of ART and
reduce the transmission of HIV from
mother to child.
continued on page 24
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The Right to Food HIV and Food Price Increases
By Scott Drimie, Stuart Gillespie, Paul Jere, and John Msuya
During 2007 and 2008, a combination of new and ongoing forces drove
global food prices to extremely high
levels. Energy prices and subsidized
biofuel production, income and
population growth, globalization,
and urbanization were among the
major forces contributing to surging
demand—while on the supply side,
land and water constraints, underinvestment in rural infrastructure and
agricultural innovation, lack of access
to inputs such as seeds and fertilizers,
and weather disruptions impaired
productivity growth and the needed
production response. According to
International Monetary Fund data,
rice and wheat prices soared in late
2007 and early 2008—up 60 percent
and 89 percent respectively over
2006 levels. These rising food costs
pose serious problems for the poor,
including the urban poor, rural landless laborers, and many smallholder
farmers. As poor households spend
more money on food staples, higher
prices translates to reduced energy
consumption and less-diverse diets of
lower quality.
Malnutrition and food insecurity play a pivotal role in the AIDS
epidemics of eastern and southern
Africa, affecting both risks of HIV
transmission and subsequent AIDSrelated impacts such as premature
illness and death on household labor
power and through the fracturing of
intergenerational knowledge transfer. The response to such epidemics
thus needs to focus on broad-based
approaches to prevention, treatment
and care, and mitigation to reduce
the economic and social impact of
the AIDS epidemics, as well as interventions to improve nutritional
status and food security.
Two rapid regional assessments
of the impact of high food prices on
people living with HIV (PLHIV)
and on the regional response to
AIDS epidemics undertaken by
the Regional Network on AIDS,
Livelihoods and Food Security
(RENEWAL) revealed that food
and economic crises, whether driven
by rising food prices or other factors,
exacerbate and intensify the vicious
cycles that play out between HIV,
food insecurity, and malnutrition.
The studies found that food prices
affected HIV prevention. Sudden increases in food insecurity often lead to
migration as people search for work
and food. Mobility is a marker of
enhanced risk of HIV exposure, both
for the person searching for work and
food, and for other adults who remain
at home. Recent studies in Botswana,
Swaziland, Malawi, Zambia, and Tanzania have also shown associations
between acute food insecurity and
unprotected transactional sex among
poor women.
Higher food prices also affected
care and treatment. Adults living
with HIV require 10 to 30 percent
more energy than they did before
they were infected, and children may
need up to 100 percent more. Rising
food costs constrain the ability to ensure an adequate nutritional intake.
Also, for PLHIV, inadequate dietary
quantity and quality, exacerbated by
the spike in food prices, may lead to
more frequent, more severe opportunistic infections and a more rapid
progression to AIDS. For PLHIV,
nutrition is important for adherence
to treatment regimens. Some of the
negative side effects of antiretroviral
therapy are reduced if medicines are
taken with food, and if limited available cash is diverted to food purchases, there may be less money to
spend for transportation to clinics,
which may be costly.
Higher food prices affected attempts to mitigate or reduce the
social and economic impacts of
AIDS. Evidence clearly shows that
it is the poor and food-insecure who
suffer greater and more enduring
livelihood impacts from health and
economic shocks. Chronic food insecurity constrains resilience and forecloses options to adapt to any stress.
Other effects include children being
taken out of school to work for cash
or food. The increase in costs of
supporting an orphan may result in
fewer extended families being able to
care for and feed additional orphans.
So what can be done? The food
price crisis—superimposed as it is on a
broader and deeper livelihoods crisis in
southern and eastern Africa—strengthens the rationale for linking food and
nutrition security with AIDS programming. It also makes it much harder to
achieve and sustain such linkage.
To stimulate better understanding
and response, a platform for regular
public discussions on these issues at
national and regional levels must be
established. Such a move would help
raise awareness and sustain interest and action on the HIV-hunger
connection. Networks of PLHIV,
nongovernmental organizations,
UN agencies, and research bodies
can take leading roles to ensure that
governments and donors respond
to food crises, and to ensure that
vulnerable groups have a voice and
are heard. Ultimately, national governments, donors, and international
organizations need to go beyond lip
service to properly fund and support
programs that integrate HIV, food,
and nutrition responses.
Scott Drimie, Stuart Gillespie, Paul
Jere, and John Msuya are with the
Regional Network on AIDS Livelihoods and Food Security, a project of
the International Food Policy Research
Institute (www.ifpri.org/renewal).
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Introduction
continued from inside front cover
dependent on that foreign food.
The result can break down small,
local, indigenous food farming and
enrich large, limited, corporate industrial production. Investment in rural
infrastructure has been all too rare.
Instead, corporations gained access
to extraordinary indigenous agricultural biodiversity, and used it to produce just a few products, which they
sold back to farmers. If the farmers
wanted credit, they had to sell that
product—that particular seed. Many
peasant farmers were marginalized
and impoverished. Local, organic,
diverse agriculture was lost. In the
Philippines, for example, there were
1,700 varieties of rice. Now there are
four. The same pattern is in danger
of being repeated with a new version
of the Green Revolution. The first
revolution was partly funded by big
petroleum and became dependent on
petroleum products. Today’s “revolution” is funded largely by information
technology money and may make
farmers dependant on genetically
engineered food.
The United States significantly
overproduces grains, so grain companies can buy cheap at subsidized
prices that do not recognize true
production costs. To make overproduction work financially, grain must
be sold in massive quantities, which
requires a market. That market can
and has been found in the Global
South, which has become dependent
on our grain. Those countries used to
produce a billion dollars of surplus
every year. Now, they have to import
$11 billion a year in food.
The paradigm only works when
there is enough overproduction and
prices are low or trending downward (as they were for the last thirty
years). When prices go up, the result
can be a food crisis like that of 2008.
The short-term causes of the price
increase were fuel shortages and
drought. Volatile oil prices led to
alternative sources of fuel made from
food. In the United States, ethanolfuel makers took 30 percent of the
nation’s corn crop by 2009. Many
farmers reduced their plantings
of other crops, such as soybeans,
wheat, and peas to grow more corn
for cars. But the more fundamental
causes were structural—a global
food system highly subject to economic shock because, when prices
edge up, speculators jump on the
commodities and send prices skyward. This phenomenon occurs
because virtual monopolies control
the buying and selling of food in a
largely unregulated financial structure. In this system, there is a lot of
profit to be made from the volatility
of the market if you control both
buying and selling, and buy cheap
and sell high. This kind of speculationeffect happened with the recent tortilla
crisis in Mexico. As the price of corn
rose because of demand for grain-based
ethanol fuel, transnational corporate
producers hoarded corn and withheld
it from the market—which drove prices
of the national staple up dramatically—
and then finally released it for sale at
much higher prices.
Through this labyrinthine global
food ecosystem runs a central thread
that brings us back to the introductory
theme: The global food crisis is a
question of social justice, and the
answer lies in a human right to have
empowered access to the means to
feed oneself. People are hungry because they are poor. People are poor
because they are disempowered in
the global marketplace, deprived
of the resources to live—such as access, land, water, credit, time, and a
fair price for their own products and
labor. Africa is a prime example. We
think of it as a poor, starving continent. In fact it is an extraordinarily
fertile land, which is being (once
again) colonized by countries from
around the world to grow food for export. We, as a world, need to help empower Africans to feed themselves—
not persuade them that they need
products we will sell. The crisis in
Haiti focuses us on another example:
a country historically disempowered
by global policitcs and enterprise—to
the point of extreme fragility, where
already half its food was imported before the quake, consequently thrown
into crisis and chaos when the quake
hit, and now more dependent on imported food than ever.
The articles in this issue of Human
Rights explore vital facets of the crisis
and its possible solutions. As Thurow
and Killman write in their piece, “[S]
o much of the chronic, everyday hunger in the world is now a man-made
catastrophe, caused…by people, institutions, and governments doing what
they thought was best for themselves
or sometimes even what they thought
at the time was best” for the hungry.
Thirty years ago, Norman Borlaug,
the putative father of the Green Revolution, said we would be guilty of
“criminal negligence” if we allowed
hunger to persist. Although, ironically,
some of his work may have inadvertently abetted the offense he decried,
we have gained from it not only the
billion saved, but the experience of
what went wrong.
It is our obligation to learn from
those mistakes. The first step is understanding them, then disseminating
and applying that knowledge. We
hope this issue of Human Rights—not
normally a conduit of public health
dialogue—underscores that hunger is
actually an issue of social justice and
human rights, and so broadens the
conversation. Our authors bring to the
discussion profound experience and
special insight, and bring to light valuable analyses of some of the challenges
and trenchant strategies for solutions.
With the light of this learning,
we can grow our resurgent resolve
to feed the hungry into effective empowerment of the planet’s poor to
feed themselves.
Wilson Adam Schooley is on the
editorial board of Human Rights and
an adjunct law professor, writer, actor,
photographer, and attorney practicing
with the Schooley Law Firm in La Mesa,
California.
Published in Human Rights, Volume 37, Number 1, Winter 2010. © 2010 by the American Bar Association. Reproduced with permission.
All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an
electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association.
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Food
continued from page 21
As Dr. Paul Farmer, infectious
disease specialist and human rights
advocate, often repeats, “Providing
medicine without also providing
food is like washing your hands and
Fighting Famine
continued from page 11
of gluts that had steadily pushed
down the inflation-adjusted, or real,
price of food. Between 2006 and
2008, prices of many of the world’s
staples doubled. Rioting erupted in
dozens of nations in 2007 and 2008,
escalating global security concerns. It
all left the WFP scrambling to keep
up. The WFP traditionally fed those
in rural areas who didn’t have access
to enough food because of crop failures. Now suddenly it also had to feed
swelling numbers of urban residents
unable to afford the food available. At
the same time, its own costs for food
aid were escalating.
The global financial crisis that
began in late 2008 doused crop
prices like everything else. But hunger fighters are bracing for the situation to get worse once the economy
recovers. Deserts are expanding,
lakes in Africa are drying up, water
tables in China and India are sinking, and climate change is expected
to complicate the growing of staple
crops in the tropical zones around
the equator. Africa is perhaps the
most vulnerable, as the majority of
its farmers are dependent on rainfall.
Bringing more land into production would take a long time, for that
opportunity, too, was squandered.
Dire predictions are pouring in from
many quarters. In July 2008, the
USDA predicted that the number of
malnourished will rise to 1.2 billion
by 2017. The world is on course to
give back many of the gains of the
Green Revolution.
then drying them in the dirt.” It is
time to acknowledge and enforce the
right to food for people living with
and affected by HIV.
Kara Greenblott is co-owner of Nzinga
International, a consulting firm working
in the areas of HIV, food and nutrition
security, livelihoods, orphans and vulnerable children, and social protection. This
A Battle That Can Be Won
Many well-meaning people believe
that hunger in the world is a given;
that, like the poor, it will always be
with us. They think hunger is a natural disaster, as it was in the wake of
the Asian tsunami of 2004. Or that it
is a tool of political control wielded
by desperate dictators, or that it follows as a consequence of war, as in
Biafra and the Congo. They believe
that beyond their donations to the
United Nations Children’s Fund or
the WFP, there is nothing else they
can do about it; they can alleviate
the suffering but not prevent it.
The truth is, so much of the chronic, everyday hunger in the world is
now a man-made catastrophe, caused
one anonymous decision at a time,
one day at a time, by people, institutions, and governments doing what
they thought was best for themselves
or sometimes even what they thought
at the time was best for Africa.
Even now, many of the people
making those decisions—among them
renowned economists, development
experts, politicians, preachers, farmers, humanitarians—have no idea
what impact they had or what part
they played in reversing decades of
progress. Farm subsidies in the United
States and Europe, for instance,
started out as a vehicle for helping
poor farmers recover from economic
calamity or war. But over the years
they have grown to be a matter of
addiction. By 2007, the world’s rich,
developed countries were paying $260
billion in support to their own farmers,
making it impossible for competing
unsubsidized farmers to grow strong
article was commissioned by Project
Concern International (PCI) to raise
awareness and advocacy around the
urgent need for integrated HIV, food
security, and nutrition programming.
Gwenelyn O’Donnell-Blake supervised
the writing of this article and assisted
with the editing. She is director of PCI’s
Washington, D.C. office and technical
officer for Food & Nutrition Security.
in places such as sub-Saharan Africa.
On top of that, the international financial institutions controlled by the
United States and Europe have long
forbade African governments from
subsidizing their own farmers if they
are to receive any loans. So it is, too,
with American food aid, which began
as warmhearted generosity toward the
hungry and evolved into a jealously
protected entitlement for those providing the aid. A Band-Aid for the poor is
now an industry for the rich. In Ethiopia in 2003, the United States provided
more than $500 million in Americangrown grain to feed the hungry, but
only $5 million in agricultural development aid to help them avoid becoming
hungry in the first place.
The hunger that grows from
these decisions—the catastrophe
that is man-made—is preventable.
And there is more to do than donate money. There is the need for
informed people to advocate for
policy reform and new practices that
work for the world’s poorest, to be
aware of the global consequences of
self-interested decisions, to roll up
sleeves and get to work in the fields.
Fighting hunger isn’t hopeless. It
is a battle that can be won, for this
generation has more weapons at its
disposal than any other.
Roger Thurow, a former Wall Street
Journal foreign correspondent, is
senior fellow for global agriculture and
food policy at the Chicago Council on
Global Affairs. Scott Kilman is the
chief agriculture reporter for the Wall
Street Journal and is based in Chicago.
Published in Human Rights, Volume 37, Number 1, Winter 2010. © 2010 by the American Bar Association. Reproduced with permission.
All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an
electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association.
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Politics of Stigma
continued from page 8
feed more than half a million Malawians until the end of next year.” See
www.google.com/hostednews/afp/
article/ALeqM5iUKH3J_4xi_oVLpcdtaUC5Sl3Ug.
Much of the financial aid that
is currently spent on food-related
humanitarian relief is often a BandAid approach used to cover up the
symptoms of a much greater problem. As we have moved away from
diversified agriculture, development
organizations that are concerned
about malnutrition and nutritionrelated deficiencies are now spending millions of dollars each year on
supplementation and fortification
programs. Throughout the world we
now fortify foods in the same way
that we apply chemical fertilizers to
our soil—as a recurring treatment to
a self-inflicted ailment. One example
is vitamin A. Malawi is a country
that could be overrun with vitamin
A–rich foods, and yet local mothers routinely take their children to
health centers to receive capsules of
imported vitamin A supplements.
Other items, such as cooking oils,
are now fortified with vitamin A.
These fortification and supplementation programs do very little to move
countries forward in a sustainable
way. If, on the other hand, people
were to be taught about locally available foods that have high-nutrient
values, and how to grow and use
them in a sustainable way, then within a matter of months these countries
could be on the path to breaking their
dependency on outside assistance.
We can, and should, all continue
to reach out to those in need, but in so
doing we need to remember that the
word give can mean much more than
just providing monetary assistance;
it is also a term that is used to convey
the idea that something empowering
will result, such as when food is able to
give life-sustaining nourishment. The
world can no longer afford to tackle its
problems of undernutrition and overnutrition without beginning to embrace
the diverse natural systems that sustain
it—just as development agencies can
no longer afford to view their responses
to humanitarian needs simply in the
context of financial aid. These systems,
too, need to be replaced by holistic approaches that offer solutions to problems in harmony with the traditional
wisdom, knowledge, resources, and
cultures of the countries in which these
organizations work.
My wife and I have learned that
when development work is conducted
sincerely within this realm of mutual
respect, the natural consequences become a true exchange of ideas, learn-
humanrights hero
continued from back cover
support to children through community gardens and fish
ponds in Zambia, Ethiopia, and Malawi. Erik’s Harvest is
about kids helping kids though sustainability and education.
Today Erik is with a new family that provides the love and
support he needs at home. And on November 7, 2009, Erik’s
wish came to its exciting culmination. He was a guest of
honor at PCI’s “Hands Across Borders” event and presented
a check to the CEO in honor of Erik’s Harvest. He shared
his story and inspired about 650 supporters at PCI’s largest
fund-raising event.
I strongly believe that this is just the first step for Erik;
he is creating a movement. From day one, he wanted to help
ing, and progress, as well as a deeper
appreciation for each other’s cultures.
As we have worked to bring back a
sense of pride regarding Malawi’s
traditional resources, the country has
begun to have a resurgence in the use
of these resources. Villagers, farmers, teachers, students, extension
workers, health workers, and even
government officials have all begun
to unite to build on the knowledge
of the country’s ancestors and incorporate this knowledge back into the
building of a sustainable future. This
low-to-no-input approach quickly
achieves sustainability because it is
not dependent upon outside funding, foreign interventions, start-up
costs, or administrative overhead. It
is a person-to-person initiative that
continually strives to break the mental poverty that has now convinced
so many people that their quality of
life is directly proportionate to their
quantity of money. When people
begin to acknowledge that they truly
are the ones with the solutions, they
also begin to realize that many of
these solutions lie no farther than
their own front yard.
Kristof Nordin is currently a community educator in Malawi, Africa, along
with his wife, Stacia Nordin, who is
a technical advisor to the Malawian
Ministry of Education on issues of
school health and nutrition.
all the kids in Africa, and throughout his wish experience he
wanted to make sure Erik’s Harvest would continue to help
kids long after his wish had been granted.
James Radina is a volunteer at Make-A-Wish San Diego.
Make-A-Wish Foundation grants the wishes of children
with life-threatening medical conditions to enrich the
human experience with hope, strength, and joy. Since its
inception in 1983, the San Diego chapter of Make-A-Wish
has granted 2,500 wishes to children in San Diego and
Imperial counties. Donations in honor of Erik should be
sent to the Make-A-Wish Foundation of San Diego
(www.wishsandiego.org) or Project Concern International
(www.projectconcern.org).
Published in Human Rights, Volume 37, Number 1, Winter 2010. © 2010 by the American Bar Association. Reproduced with permission.
All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an
electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association.
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4-color page
NONPROFIT
ORGANIZATION
U.S. POSTAGE
PAID
AMERICAN
BAR
ASSOCIATION
AMERICAN BAR ASSOCIATION
321 North Clark Street
Chicago, IL 60654-7598
humanrights hero
Erik’s Harvest
By James Radina
Photo by Wilson Adam Schooley
A
s a volunteer Wish Granter for the
Make-A-Wish Foundation of San
Diego, I’ve learned that wishes ordinarily fall into one of four categories: “I
wish to go…,” “I wish to meet…,” “I wish to
have…,” or “I wish to be…” But fifteen-yearold Erik was no ordinary young man.
When my wish-granting partner and I arrived
at Erik’s home, we were shocked to find very
poor living conditions. There was no parent or
guardian to be found and it looked as if there
hadn’t been one around in a while. Erik insisted
that we come in and sit with him. We could see
Kenyan global social justice advocate Wahu Kaara, African musician
in his eyes that he was bursting to share his wish
Oliver Mtukudzi (Tuku), Erik, and singer Bonnie Raitt at a recent event
idea with us.
celebrating the women of Africa.
He sat up in his wheelchair and beamed.
“You know those children in Africa that don’t
computer or a dream-bedroom makeover. He knew he could
have access to food and have to walk a long distance for
fresh water?” he asked. “Is there a way I can help them? Can
have had any of these wishes if he’d asked. But every time
my wish be to send water and food to help all these kids?”
we spoke from that point forward, all he wanted to know
Needless to say, we were speechless. The San Diego
was how many kids he was going to help.
chapter of Make-A-Wish had never granted an “I wish to
We were excited to see where this idea would lead, so we
give...” wish before. Here was a young man with nothing,
went to work. First stop was Project Concern International
with no role models or support at home, and because of an
(PCI), a San Diego–based health and humanitarian organizainfomercial he saw on TV, he wanted to change the world.
tion whose worldwide programs are dedicated to preventErik’s wish to provide unconditional support to kids in
ing disease, improving community health, and promoting
Africa didn’t stop there, as he asked about other countries
sustainable development. Through this partnership, Erik’s
too. Erik wanted nothing for himself; he didn’t ask to fly to
Harvest was born—a program that provides education and
Africa for fun and, even though he loves video games and
continued on page 25
spends much of his time at home, he didn’t ask for a new
Published in Human Rights, Volume 37, Number 1, Winter 2010. © 2010 by the American Bar Association. Reproduced with permission.
All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an
electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association.
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