Building a local food regime

  • With a federal structure, there is a high chance that meaningful interventions could come from the bottom-up
- Man Bahadur BK

Feb 13, 2018-

Eradicating hunger is a major challenge for sustainable development. According to a report released by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), there are about 795 million people around the world who are suffering from chronic hunger, including 159 million children who are chronically malnourished. Almost 490 million undernourished people reside in the Asia Pacific region, out of which 35.4 percent are situated in South Asia. Agriculture is a source of livelihood for 86 percent of the rural people in the world. According to the FAO, the rate of agricultural production is expected to fall to 1.5 percent between now and 2030, and to 0.9 percent between 2030 and 2050. Meanwhile, the population is estimated to increase by 34 percent within that time period. In Nepal, the conflict, the neoliberal economy, the corporate regime, natural disasters, climate change, economic crises and post-peak use of fossil fuel are the major challenges for the realisation of the right to food and food sovereignty.

Still insecure 

The total number of food insecure people in Nepal was estimated to be 2.2 million in 2016. The number of people suffering from food insecurity and hunger in Nepal is higher in the high hills and mountain areas. The far western region has the highest prevalence of food insecurity; it is home to 76 percent of the highly food insecure people. Sixty percent of the farmers in Nepal suffer from food shortages, most of whom live in the mid and far west. They are scattered in small, isolated communities making food assistance intervention difficult. Recently, the catastrophic earthquake, political unrest in the Tarai-Madhes and the blockade along the southern border has further degraded the state of food security in Nepal. As a result, the poor have exhausted their savings just so they can buy food. 

The government is prioritising the improvement of food security and nutrition through an earthquake recovery plan, food security monitoring and early warning systems. However, central issues such as damaged infrastructure due to the earthquake, unequal access to food, poor delivery of basic services, and a lack of economic opportunities remain unaddressed. The public sector has failed to reach target groups like women, Dalits, Madhesis, etc. as these groups have not been properly identified for support through the supply system. Additionally, food aid and Nepal Food Corporation’s distribution of subsidised rice has not been properly managed and is affected by continuously rising prices.

Intervention efforts

Nevertheless, the right to food and food sovereignty has been constituted as a fundamental right in the constitution of Nepal. The country is now in the process of implementing such constitutional provisions by formulating necessary legislation. In addition to implementing constitutional provisions to ensure the right to food, the Government of Nepal has committed to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), it has also launched the Zero Hunger Challenge initiative and developed the National Action Plan 2016-2025 that aims to end hunger by 2025.

Nepal aims to graduate from Least Developed Country (LDC) status by 2022 and aspires to emerge as an inclusive, equitable, and prosperous middle-income country by 2030 with the spirit of a welfare state. The country aims for sustainable poverty reduction and human development with low vulnerability and higher human security. That aim implies an enhancement of food security, and an end to  hunger. The food security policy must evolve as a basic element of the social security policy. In the short to medium term, safety net programmes should also be considered to address gaps in food quality and quantity. Diversification of livelihood strategies should be promoted as coping strategies for food insecurity. There should be integrated intervention in four areas of the rural economy: entrepreneurial skill, capital formation/asset building, market linkages and technology and extension services. Access to finance is crucial. The community banking approach would enhance financial inclusion and bring an emancipatory shift in the livelihood of the people. 

Responsible investment in the agriculture and food system should be promoted as part of a required policy intervention. Large parts of the population in developing countries do not have adequate purchasing power even when food commodities are available in the market. Excessive price volatility poses social and political challenges to national authorities. So, the state should have a regulating mechanism to address such volatility. 

The crux of food security is based on food system governance which has dominated by the corporate regime in Nepal. Widening disparity has been the result of liberal capitalism that promoted this corporate regime. It has not only damaged the local food system but made food supply difficult. So, a local food regime must be built by ensuring entitlement to and representation of locals. Protective measures should also be in place to build this local food regime. Such a regime could be classified as a form of protective liberalism. 

Now that Nepal has been federally restructured, there is room to build a local food regime, particularly because the constitution has assigned the role of primary intervention in the agriculture sector and food security to the local level governments. So there is a high chance that meaningful interventions could come from the bottom-up to build a local food regime. 

Civil society can play a crucial role in pressuring the government. Civil society can also assist vulnerable groups in empowering themselves to claim their rights. Participation in social activities or networks can provide a strong safety net. Thus, the civil society should encourage such vulnerable groups to participate in social activities/networks. 

- BK is Joint Secretary for the Government of Nepal and a postdoc research scholar at Brandeis University, USA under the Fulbright Research Fellowship 2016/17

Published: 13-02-2018 08:16

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