Cover Image
close this bookOvercoming Global Hunger (WB)
close this folderSession three - targeted interventions: what works best to reduce hunger
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentTargeted interventions: what works best to reduce hunger
View the documentDiscussant remarks
View the documentDiscussant remarks
View the documentWorkshop spokesperson remarks
View the documentWorkshop spokesperson remarks
View the documentFloor discussion

Discussant remarks

Ruth Bamela Engo-Tjega

I represent the Advocates for African Food Security, a coalition of more than thirty nongovernmental organizations, representatives of United Nations bodies, governments, and inter governmental organizations working together on the issue of food security, with a special focus on the role of women food workers.

The work of this umbrella group, created in 1986, is built on three targeted interventions The first one derives from each human beings basic right to food, but in this case the right to food is not, as usually perceived, a right to receive food passively or a right to be assisted, but rather a right to merit one's own food. It is an active right that creates a responsibility to its holder and duties to the country and the international community expected to provide an appropriate environment.

The second targeted intervention of my organization focuses on women who are the main food providers, with a world of experience in all the stages of food systems. This intervention entails the recognition and support of women who are involved in food activities so that their productivity will eliminate hunger in their communities. One aspect of the support they need is a reduction of their burdens so that they have enough time to invest in ending hunger in their communities.

The third targeted intervention of the Advocates for African Food Security is the need to understand what we are aiming at and to define food security. Indeed, food security for the advocates means food produced, preserved, processed, stored, and distributed as close as possible to where it is consumed.

This perspective ensures that the index of local food security will be higher than the index of dependency on externally provided food, and the presence of a national strategy ensuring that the right to food is addressed at the highest political and planning levels.

To ensure the implementation of these three targeted interventions, the Advocates for African Food Security have initiated a process with three specific functions: the debate function, the advocacy function, and the need to build anti-hunger structures within the continent of Africa.

The debate function's objective is to clarify ideas concerning food security and hunger; ensure that major aspects of various definitions and strategies pertinent these issues are understood at the intentional, national, and local levels; and that the roles and duties of each group or level are well defined. This is important for negotiation and for planning purposes.

This debate is realized through the Advocates' yearly symposia and their participation in meetings like this one. The debate function has helped the Advocates to come up with their own definition of food security, which initially was: "food locally produced, processed, and stored, available year after year despite natural or human-made famine" The debate function also helped us to measure the limitations of our first definition as we recognized that all foods could not be locally produced This debate also helped to communicate to audiences like this and to individual countries that food is not a woman's issue, but a community issue that needs to be part of macroeconomic planning, whether it be at the international or country level.

The debate function finally helped to spell out states' internal and external duties, which range from providing land, credit, training, and other executive, legislative, and administrative measures oriented specifically toward the realization of food security, to ensuring that international policies on food do not place people of certain countries in a state of perpetual dependency.

The Advocates' second function is an advocacy function. The widespread concern to overcome hunger has not led to concrete actions We realize that hungry people, as we have all repeated in this conference, do not have a voice Our advocacy therefore started at the international negotiating level in 1986 with the negotiation of the United Nations Program of Action for African Economic Recovery and Development, through the LDC Program of Action adopted in Paris in 1990, and lately with the New Agenda for the Development of Africa in the 1990s adopted in 1991. Our involvement in these negotiations was to ensure that resources flowing to Africa will consider food security as one of the priorities in a continent where 168 million of its 650 million inhabitants go hungry.

In this advocacy process we learn that food security strategies are expensive and necessitate important infrastructures, such as storage, research, and so on. We learn to encourage the international community and institutions like the World Bank to address these expensive aspects that African countries cannot yet afford instead of distributing food. We also learn to highlight the danger created by industrial countries that flood African countries with surpluses of their subsidized food, discouraging local production, changing patterns of consumption, and eliminating many possibilities of employment, thereby encouraging migrations.

Building antihunger structures in Africa constitutes an action that gives a purpose to the Advocates' debate and advocacy functions. One aspect of this work has been to bung African women food workers to many of the international and national debates. This gives them the opportunity to clarify their own positions; to know what they stand for; and to understand the key role they play, not only in their families and communities, but also at the national and inter national levels, so that they can comprehend the magnitude of the problem and understand the need to work with others.

Our last three symposia were held in Ghana, Tanzania, and Cameroon In Ghana (1991), in a village with a deficit of food, the symposium led to women traders getting a vehicle from a rural bank to ensure that instead of spending four weeks searching for food to be sold in the village, they would only use three days. In Tanzania landless women farmers prepared a document for presensation to the local government that explained the importance of the link between food security and land ownership In so doing they became the voice of the hungry, the advocates within Tanzania In Cameroon the focus was on the quality of street foods used by the majority of hungry people in urban areas, reminding all of us that food security must, from the beginning, deal with both quantity and quality.

In conclusion, ladies and gentlemen, I will share the following experience with you. When we were asked yesterday to give our vision of food security in the year 2000, my vision was, "that African palaces will eat the food of their land happily, and will make the whole continent feel happy and proud to do the same." I was a little bit destabilized when my neighbor on the right was shocked by my level of unconsciousness, that I could be here at this conference and not understand the urgency of the problem and be incapable of understanding that I needed to contribute three to five words toward a strategy that will work right away. He actually left the group, and I missed him This event made me think and helped me state something that is very close to my heart visions are abstractions that are so dear that you can actually touch them Visions need to be extremely clear and detailed so that we can, with no difficulty, put them into life. But clear visions have something a little bit spiritual that generally comes through a long experience of want and hope. It is a dream of a future that is not present and that may never come, but its importance remains.

My plea for all of us hunger activists is that we should spend some time listening to the visions of the hungry. It may help our interventions to be more targeted.