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27 October 2015

World Food Day 2015 event in Sweden brings together different perspectives on social protection for food security

Photo by Abbie Trayler – Smith/ Panos

Photo by: Abbie Trayler – Smith/ Panos

The Swedish World Food Day celebration was held the 21st of October in Stockholm. The event was a collaboration between the Swedish International Agricultural Network Initiative (SIANI), Ministry of Enterprise and Innovation and the Swedish FAO committee. This year the theme of the World Food Day was “Social Protection and Agriculture: Breaking the Cycle of Rural Poverty”. The World Food Day is celebrated to raise public awareness about hunger in the world, and to encourage action towards eradicating hunger.

Anders Malmer, the member of the Swedish FAO Committee and the head of SLU Global opened the event. He highlighted the urgency of ending world hunger and stressed the importance of raising public awareness about food security issues and the fight against hunger.

“72 countries have reached the hunger target goal, but still, around 800 million people do not have sufficient access to food. Moreover, the number of people migrating and poor people living off the vulnerable agriculture, combined with crisis and conflicts, is steadily increasing. The ongoing migration crisis might be just the “tip of the iceberg” if issues of poverty and hunger are not addressed.” said Anders Malmer, quoting WFP’s executive Director Ertharin Cousin.

Following the opening remarks, Benjamin Davis, Deputy-Director of FAO’s Agricultural Development Economics Division and the leading author of the SOFA 2015 presented the major points of the report.

The report brings the latest statistics on the state of food and agriculture in the world, and this year’s edition focuses on social protection in agriculture. Benjamin Davis underscored the importance of high and stable productivity of local staples for economic growth and food security. He also noted that poverty and hunger reduction requires accelerated productivity of smallholder agriculture and its diversification.

His key point was about the connection between the productivity of smallholder farmers and their food consumption. “Poor people’s consumption patterns are generally driven by their social situation and tend to have a short term focus. Thinking pattern like “eat first and make profit later” leads to short term thinking in agricultural production. It is crucial that we do not ignore this “social side” of consumption and production. That is why social protection programmes are instrumental for global food security and development”, argued Benjamin Davis.

However, having only social protection programmes is not enough to move people out of poverty. Linking social protection with agricultural interventions are necessary to reach out to the areas where the poverty is highest, but the number of beneficiaries from social protection is still lowest.

“Policy coherence between social protection and agricultural interventions is very important for maximizing poverty reduction and food security outcomes. Some actions that can advance the policy nexus between these two areas are mobilizing political support, promoting coherence through programming (adjust design of social protection and agricultural intervention, combine them into single programs, or coordinate and align multiple programs) and designing features that would maximize synergies”, pointed out Benjamin Davis.

After that Addise Amado, Projects and Community Services Coordinator at the Ethiopian Graduate School of Theology (EGST) and guest of Church of Sweden shared experience from his work with Food Security Strategy (FSS) and Productive Safety Net Program (PSNP) in Ethiopia.

Ethiopia has reoccurring problems of drought and social conflict. According to the statistics from 2011, 34% of Ethiopians live below the national poverty line and 44% of children under five are undernourished. The food gap, the period in the year when households report being unable to feed themselves can reach up to 3 months.

When being food stressed people first start to minimize the risks through crop and herd dispersal and by looking for jobs off the farm. However, when crisis persists people start to sell livestock, collect debts and also reduce food intake.

In response to the 2002 drought, Ethiopian government revised the FSS strategy into the PSNP. The major objective of the programme was to smooth food consumption for chronically food insecure. The programme also aimed to protect household assets by avoiding damaging coping strategies and to build community assets by directing public work at infrastructure development.

PSNP covered 7,8 million people in 2009-2010 and, although reduced its coverage after that, has a record of successful application of federal risk financing mechanisms in times of  acute crises.

Despite generally positive outcomes there were quite a few challenges that Addise Amado pointed out when making a summary of the programme. “PSNP has been heavily dependent on external donor support and has little or no gender and children sensitivity. Moreover it has been associated with problems of coordination and capacity, thus receiving criticism for lacking efficiency. The program is currently under development towards a more systems approach, with explicit focus on nutrition of children and women. The program will receive increased governmental financing for the next phase, 2015-2020”, reported Addise Amado.

Next to present was Svetlana Boincean from International Union of Food workers (IUF), who presented a human-rights perspective on social protection.

In her talk Svetlana revealed statistical data according to which 60 % of child labor takes place within the agricultural sector and that agriculture is one of the three most dangerous industries to work in. Only 20 % of the world’s population has adequate social security coverage; over half does not have any coverage at all; only about 5 % of the worlds agricultural workers have access to any form of labor inspection or legal protection of their health and safety rights. In fact, the conditions for agricultural workers have not changed much since 1975 when Rural Workers’ Organisations Convention C.141 was adopted.

Representing the Swedish Union Kommunal, Svetlana presented their focus on international work related to improving rural livelihoods through social protection.

“Agricultural workers often have no access to portable water during their work day. In some cases workers are provided with water from pesticide containers or polluted water bodies. Safe drinking water should be secured for all agricultural workers. There are workers dying of dehydration in both developing and developed countries today!”

“Social protection is a human right and should be extended to all workers and their families in rural areas. Over the life cycle, all in need should have access to essential health care and to basic income security”, concluded Svetlana Boincean.

The event ended with a panel discussion which provided a broader picture of social protection. First out was Dag Ehrenpris, a development Economist from PRO Global, Sweden. He provided his insights on social inclusion and food security for older people through social protections schemes, touching upon the issues of rural aging and universal pensions:” Older people, trapped by chronic poverty and untreated chronic disease also suffer from hunger and malnutrition; It is often the older women and men that bear the brunt of food shortage, especially when caregivers of young dependents.”

“Old-age pensions are a key component of any social protection system. Pension systems do more to reduce poverty and inequality than all taxes and other social benefits in the EU, and in many LICs/MICs. Even a minimum of income security avoids destitution and the stigma of poverty: loss of dignity, social exclusion and discrimination. Social pensions benefit not just old people but whole families and can help stimulate local market development”, said Dag Ehrenpris.

The second panelist was Anne Poulsen, Director of UN World Food Program (WFP) Nordic Office who presented the work WFP has been doing though the E-card tool that has been developed together with Mastercard to make money transfers for refugees in Syria.

The final panelist, Thorsten Wetterblad from Sida, presented Sida’s work on “Integration of Social Protection in the operationalization of Sida’s country strategies”.

“Social protection is an investment in people; it enables households to invest in productive activities and human capital which raises their productivity and incomes. Social protection is a crosscutting thematic issue and a method that creates synergies and enhances realization of our strategies. Moreover it is a way to reduce vulnerabilities and increase resilience. Social protection is a strong instrument in development cooperation”, concluded Thorsten Wetterblad.

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