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Rina Saeed Khan


Published Date: Feb 8, 2015

Earthly matters: Zero hunger

It is estimated that by 2050, five billion people will be living in cities and with agricultural production already adversely affected by climate change, food security is going to become a huge urban problem. Already it is estimated that 58 per cent of households in Pakistan are food insecure (National Nutrition Survey 2011).

The country needs to come up with some urgent strategies to ensure that no one goes hungry and that people are fed properly (already so many Pakistani children are growing up stunted due to lack of access to nutritious food).

It is a massive challenge, but the good news is that there is no need to reinvent the wheel as we can learn lessons from Brazil’s Zero Hunger Strategy.

In just over a decade, Brazil has achieved great success in overcoming hunger and promoting food security through its Zero Hunger Strategy.
Implementation of a national strategy switched Brazil from an aid recipient to a model of success, can Pakistan do it?

Since the launch of the strategy in 2003, the promotion of food and nutrition security has become a major priority for the Brazilian government, and now they are more than willing to share their experience with other countries, including Pakistan.

In partnership with the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP), Brazil has set up the Centre of Excellence against Hunger to provide advice and technical assistance on programmes against hunger and poverty.

The Centre is currently supporting governments of the South to reduce hunger amongst schoolchildren through the promotion of school feeding programmes that are targeted, nutritious, cost-effective and use locally produced foods.

During the recent conference in Islamabad on “Pathways to Sustainable Development” hosted by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute, Cynthia Jones who is the Deputy Director of the Centre of Excellence against Hunger in Brazil, was invited via Skype to explain the Zero Hunger Strategy and its relevance to Pakistan. She pointed out that a Pakistani delegation had recently visited Brazil (thanks to Alfredo Leoni, the Brazilian ambassador to Pakistan) to learn about Brazil’s successful social programmes, “which are pulling people out of hunger and extreme poverty”.

In fact, Pakistan’s Ministry of National Food Security and Research had already launched the national Zero Hunger Programme in 2012. Subsequently Brazilian food security experts visited Pakistan and offered to share their experience with Pakistani officials to help them accelerate the pace of the programme. In June 2014, a ministerial delegation from Pakistan visited the WFP Centre of Excellence in Brazil, which is now supporting the further development of Pakistan’s Zero Hunger Programme. “The need is for an integrated strategy which covers food access and agriculture for small farmers,” explained Jones.

The Zero Hunger Strategy is based on access to food and the strengthening of family farming. One of the biggest achievements of the strategy was the boost of Brazil’s school feeding programme, which now connects both elements of the strategy. Brazil has the second largest school feeding programme in the world, serving 44million students in public education with at least one meal a day during the school year.

Today Brazilian law recognises that school feeding is a right, and that it should be linked to family agriculture: at least 30pc of the funds must be spent on food purchased from small farmers. The link between school feeding and family farming is considered to be a groundbreaking strategy to combat hunger and poverty, as well as to promote food and nutrition security. School feeding contributes to increased school enrolment and attendance and prevents stunted growth in children. Through the purchase quota for family farmers, school feeding also provides a steady demand for local food production, increasing the income and resilience of small farmers. “Brazil needed social inclusion so the programme targeted the most vulnerable groups,” explained Jones.

The Zero Hunger Programme in Pakistan aims to provide a national system for food and nutrition security. The five-year plan targets a total of 61 million food insecure people across the country, with a total cost of $16bn. Unfortunately, it has not made much progress since it was launched in 2012. According to Jones, for the programme to succeed, what is needed is “a strong central policy, an integrated national strategy and a strong political will which comes from leadership”.

The programme implementation needs to be decentralised and should be done by local governments that are close to the beneficiaries, with oversight provided by the community and civil society. “It will take a lot of coordination from different ministries to achieve zero hunger,” according to Jones.

A representative from the Ministry of National Food Security and Research at the conference pointed out that a dedicated cell had been established at the Ministry for the programme and that a National Coordinator, Malik Zahoor Ahmad, had been designated. The WFP in Pakistan is providing the capacity building and a pilot project would soon be launched in rural Islamabad. “A PC-1 for the project is being prepared … We have also requested the provincial governments to appoint focal points for better coordination of the Zero Hunger Programme,” said the representative. The Ministry needs to speed up its efforts and start the implementation of this valuable programme as soon as possible.

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