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Fostering political will for food security

Ten years after the 1996 World Food Summit

Jean-Charles Le VallР№e

3 October 2006

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Food insecurity persists largely because of governance and policy failure at the national level (Paarlberg 2002). Paarlberg adds where national governments have performed well in the developing world, hunger has been significantly reduced, while in those regions where hunger is not yet under control, improving governance at the national level must now be the highest priority. Good governance, including the rule of law, transparency, lack of corruption, conflict prevention and resolution, sound public administration, and respect and protection for human rights, is of critical importance to assure sustainable food security. Where national governments fail to take appropriate action, food security fails. While such actions should involve a process of consultation and action by a full range of actors, the primary initiative lies with national governments and public investments (Paarlberg 2002). National governments remain the most appropriate, and frequently the only major supplier of essential public goods (Pinstrup Andersen 2003). Given the importance of these goods, how can the political will of national governments be fostered in efforts to reduce food and nutrition insecurity?

The world has the capacity to feed its population adequately today and in the future, and many international and national institutional arrangements for achieving this are in place (FAO 2002). Over the past several years, many reports and conferences on world hunger, such as the 2002 World Food Summit: five years later, have concluded with a call for more political will (Beckmann 2002). In addition, attainment of the Millennium Development Goal on hunger is principally constrained by political will (Scherr et al. 2003). If famine is to be eradicated, political will - national and international - is more essential at this point than technical capacity, e.g. food production and distribution (Devereux 1999). The concern is how to generate and sustain the political will, notably at the national level, to translate commitments into actions.

These prescribed actions are not often taken or are only partially implemented. Whether national leaders can initiate the complex processes needed to bring about rapid reductions in food insecurity depends on their standing and leadership in their own countries, on the capacity of the institutions over which they preside, on whether potentially feasible solutions exist, on the availability of resources, and on whether those responsible for taking action are persuaded of the validity of the prescribed actions (FAO 2003).

While new policy action is also needed in industrialized countries where food and nutrition insecurity, and unsustainable use of natural resources are significant problems, this paper addresses these problems only as they apply to developing countries. In this paper, political will is taken to mean: the extent to which those with political responsibility for the well-being and food security of a country's inhabitants, devote efforts and resources, through actions and policies, to fight food and nutrition insecurity. Within a given country, political will ranges from the highest political position centrally to the various local levels in government. Governmental programmes will benefit from said leadership when national leaders come forward to adopt them: it would firm up the bureaucracy, sensitize the media, encourage social and volunteer organizations, and heighten personal commitments. Consequently, political will can translate into national will.

The paper reviews: a) recent developments in global and national political relations, thinking, and related institutional changes, b) the effect of such developments on the incidence of hunger, c) the ability and willingness of governments to eradicate hunger, and d) the efforts to foster greater political will for food security.

These four points are central to the argument presented here and appear across the subsequent sub-sections. They are intertwined and only offer a complete picture in combination. The paper starts with a short statement to set the context for a national perspective on political will. It then reviews and appraises examples where political will has either frustrated attempts to address food insecurity and examples where political will has been formulated into a cohesive set of policies and programs to address food insecurity. These case studies then set the foundation for articulating the key constructs to focus political will in a way conducive to reducing food and nutrition insecurity.

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