Hunger's Solution Might Not Be Found at the FAO World Summit on Food Security

Big news came on Friday, when the USDA announced that Deputy
Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan would lead the United States
delegation to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United
Nations Ministerial Conference in Rome, Italy, taking place this week
from November 18-23. She will chair the conference, the first time a
woman has done so. In the press release, Merrigan had this to say:

President Obama has committed the United States to a
whole-of-government approach to tackle the problem of global food
security and the United States will work with more than 130 countries
as we move forward with this important effort.

Today, in the days before the ministerial conference, the FAO World Summit on Food Security begins. The summit has already been criticized for its draft declaration
[pdf], which doesn't commit to previously discussed plans of ending
hunger by 2025 or the $44 billion in annual aid needed to meet this

Back in July, President Obama spoke at the Group of 8 meeting about
building the agricultural economies of countries where hunger is
prevalent, as opposed to solely providing food aid. I reported on the
G8 meeting here,
questioning what such an initiative could look like according to an
administration obsessed with shiny new technologies. Then I gave my
suggestions for alleviating hunger through supporting smallholders:

If we really want to help the hungry, we should invest
in tools, arable land for communities, and education about sustainable
farming in Africa. We should teach seed-saving and intercropping, so
that diets will be diverse and healthy. Most of all, we should avoid a
one-size-fits-all approach to hunger, as there are no easy answers.
Empowering locals to work within their own climate, governance and
culture will ensure that real strides are made in alleviating hunger.

Apt for this discussion, I am currently reading Small is Beautiful, by economist E. F. Schumacher. He dedicates one forth of the book to economic development, on which he writes:

Development does not start with goods; it starts with
people and their education, organization, and discipline. Without these
three, all resources remain latent, untapped, potential... Here, then,
lies the central problem of development. If the primary causes of
poverty are deficiencies in these three respects, then the alleviation
of poverty depends primarily on the removal of these deficiencies. Here
lies the reason why development cannot be and act of creation, why it
cannot be ordered, bought, comprehensively planned: why it requires a
process of evolution.

He continues, explaining why silver bullet thinking should be abandoned in favor of local solutions:

If new economic activities are introduced which depend on special education, special organization, and special
discipline, such as are in no way inherent in the recipient society,
the activity will not promote healthy development but will be more
likely to hinder it. It will remain a foreign body that cannot be
integrated and will further exacerbate the problems of the dual economy.

The FAO is well aware of our current agriculture system's inability
to feed hungry mouths, because it was a co-sponsor of the International
Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge Science and Technology for
Development (IAASTD).
The IAASTD revealed the results of four years of research on the
current state of agriculture in April 2008, which declared that the
status quo of modern chemical- and resource-dependent agriculture
practices will not feed the world as it grows hungrier.

Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Burlesconi will be the only leader of
a G8 country present at the summit. If world leaders are serious about
ending world hunger, which has reached an all-time high of 1 billion
people this year, they must move beyond rhetoric and take action on the
findings of the IAASTD report.

You can follow the conference here on Twitter for updates, and watch webcasts of select events here.

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