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close this bookCERES No. 104 - March - April 1985 (FAO Ceres, 1985, 50 p.)
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View the documentUS teleconference experiment yields consensus on hunger
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US teleconference experiment yields consensus on hunger

The feedback from an ambitious US project to test the applicability of telecommunications technology for stimulating public debate on the subject of global food security has convinced the project organizers that not only did the experiment prove the potential of a new educational approach, but that, as well, there is a wide consensus within the nation on many elements of national and international policies related to the hunger issue.

In its annual report for 1984, the US National Committee for World Food Day described as "remarkably successful" the nationwide three-hour satellite teleconference which last October 16 linked an international panel of experts in Washington, DC, with local community groups at more than 120 sites in all 50 states for what was termed "a national town meeting on food and hunger issues". In a much more detailed analysis of participants' reactions issued early this year, Elise Warns Stork, the teleconference project manager, noted that participants' recommendations "represent the views of a diverse national audience comprised of college students, faculty and administrators, religious leaders, local hunger activists, agricultural extension personnel, local government representatives, farmers and other food producers, consumer groups, international development coalitions and a variety of other concerned Americans. That such a cross section of individuals and groups agreed on specific ways in which to improve American and international policies should compel policy makers to give serious consideration to their views."

The teleconference was designed as the central component of a World Food Day educational package that included the advance distribution of college-level curriculum materials and follow-up reports and recommendations from the participating community groups The three-hour teleconference format provided for a one hour opening presentation by the Washington panel on pre-selected themes, including US food policies, African famine, the role of women in agriculture, and a review of the global food situation since the World Food Conference in 1974 A videotaped message from FAO Director-General Edouard Saouma calling for a continued commitment to multilateral cooperation led off the presentation from the panel, which included John R. Block, US Secretary of Agriculture. In the second hour the satellite transmission was halted while local groups conducted their own discussions on the issues, formulating questions which were then posed to the panel in Washington during the final hour of satellite transmission. After the transmission, participating groups were invited to submit recommendations for action in five areas: by the US Government, the international community, "food crisis" governments, US colleges and universities, and local groups.

An analysis of both the questions posed by local participating groups and their subsequent recommendations tended to emphasize certain issues, most notably the relationship of military spending to hunger, population growth, the depolitization of food aid, and the applicability of American agricultural methods and policies to the developing world. Many recommendations suggested that, in order to depoliticize food aid and development assistance, the US should attempt greater continuity of policies from one administration to the next, should reorient donor policies away from bilateral relations and toward more multilateral giving through UN agencies and the World Bank and should reject policies of "tied aid" and military assistance to developing countries. Respondents were unanimous in their support for US policies which encourage food crop rather than export crop production. Many questioned the applicability of American systems and procedures in the developing countries and faulted the US for being "overly ethnocentric" in its approach to development.

In addressing recommendations to the international community, the participating groups concentrated on such issues as the fundamental right to food, the need for preventive international action against hunger, the role of trade and of multinational corporations, the lack of concern for environmental degradation and the role and policies of the international monetary system. A number of groups urged an international policy of assessing all "able governments" for one per cent of gross national product to be directed toward food aid and development assistance. Man expressed their support for the UN system and other international bodies as vital to the search for solutions against hunger.

On the other hand, in making recommendations to governments facing food crises, participants often stresses their concern over continuing dependency relationships between beneficiaries and donors. They stressed that food crisis governments must take greater responsibility for feeding their own people, and suggested a number of lines of action including "food first" policies, improved food distribution, producer incentives, family planning, and education and training.