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To end hunger, global policy can’t be ‘business as usual’

Originally published by Global Post on 03/24/2014

International food prices have fallen since 2008, when agricultural commodity prices doubled, pushing millions around the world from bare subsistence to hunger and raising the number of food insecure people to nearly one billion.

Is the crisis over, then? Far from it, according to Olivier De Schutter, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food. As he told the UN Human Rights Council earlier this month, global policymakers have yet to address the structural causes of the crisis. In particular, they have failed to recognize that industrial agriculture is not the ultimate solution to global hunger — and that it is, instead, part of the problem.

In part, De Schutter drew his conclusions from his official mission to Malawi last year. As I toured the country last month, it was easy to see what he saw: the promise and allure of hybrid seeds and synthetic fertilizer, as well as their limits.

De Schutter took over as Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food six years ago, as the global food crisis was breaking. His UN mandate is to advance the “progressive realization of the right to food,” and he has been a tireless advocate at a critical juncture for global agricultural and food policy. He will hand over his mandate to an as‐yet‐unnamed successor in April, and he used his final report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva to deliver a sweeping assessment of the progress to date and the daunting challenges ahead.

His message was upbeat but firm: “The eradication of hunger and malnutrition is an achievable goal. Reaching it requires, however, that we move away from business as usual.”

Twentieth century food systems ʹhave failedʹ

Unfortunately, most global policy responses to the 2008 food crisis have strayed little from business as usual. They have been too influenced by busine