The UN is 70 this year. World Food Day (WFD) is 35. This year WFD is sandwiched between two defining world agreements. The Sustainable Development Goals and Paris COP 21. Both of which are important in defining the food system, while the food system will define their success or failure.
WFD’s theme this year is, Social Protection and Agriculture: Breaking the Cycle of Rural Poverty. The annual FOA WFD report it called: The State of Food and Agriculture 2015 – Social protection and agriculture: breaking the cycle of rural poverty. FAO’s social protection agenda focuses on the interface between social protection, food and nutrition security, agriculture and livelihoods
What is Social Protection?
In a nutshell it is a policy or program designed to reduce poverty and vulnerability.
Social protection includes 3 broad components: social assistance, social insurance and labour market protection. Social protection policies aim to reduce socio-economics risks, vulnerability, extreme poverty and deprivation. Polices and tools that are used to ensure social protection include: cash and in-kind transfers, public works programs, school food provision, unemployment benefits. These are often relevant to smallholders, farmers and fishers, the role of women and land rights.
Under international law the right to social protection, and the right to adequate food, are human rights. Implementing social protection policies using a rights based approach is not only a legal and moral solution. It is also likely to lead to improved food security.
Rural poor are most affected
Throughout the developing world about 2.1 billion people receive some form of social protection. The group of people most in need are the rural poor. The least protected are found in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. These are also the poorest regions of the world, which will be most affected by climate change and water shortages and are biodiversity rich. Some of these places are targeted for agricultural expansion especially by external companies and countries seeking to ensure their own food security.
The rural poor are vulnerable. They are unable to adapt to sickness, old age or unemployment. They are vulnerable to climate change, such drought or flood, and crop failures. They are impacted by water pollution or the loss of traditional lands or fishing grounds. Providing people with nutritious food is not enough. Without social protection, poor communities are at constant risk of hunger and poverty, especially when faced with a crisis or shock of any nature.
Increased food consumption and availability does not automatically lead to improved nutrition outcomes. These depend on a number of additional factors including dietary choices and access to a variety of foods, sanitation, clean water and health care. Numerous agricultural interventions, such as home gardening and small livestock breeding, can also contribute to improving nutrition.
Women are key
Working with women under social protection and in ensuring household food security is essential. Their oft forgotten role in ensuring household food security, farming and as land managers is neglected and marginalised. In order to tackle hunger, underdevelopment this needs to be addressed and a good social protection framework can do this. They can be and should be the recipients of food or cash transfers, alongside recognising their rights as people and landowners.
What about the Environment?
Agriculture and social protection are connected. They are key to delivering rural livelihoods. Poor and food insecure people rely on agriculture for their livelihoods and even survival. These communities can depend on and thrive under social protection. Strong alignment between these two is needed to improve agricultural productivity, sustainable livelihoods and progress out of poverty and hunger. These people often work in harmony with nature and by supporting them they will be able to remain as custodians of the land and seas and nature.
Conspicuous by its absence from the much of debate is the environment. The system that not only enables development and access to ecosystem services and product such as freshwater is key for all people. When it starts misbehaving it is the rural poor who are most affected. There are no reasons it should not support and help deliver social protection. Farming systems that work with nature will be the ones that are more adaptable to change. They will be more resilient. They will conserve water and soil. Fewer inputs will be needed and they can grow a greater variety of food. This in itself will help ensure a nutritious diet, it will be more resilient to shocks and changes. This will reduce the vulnerability of the family.
By using 2015’s World Food Day to highlight social protection and agriculture, the UN is shining a spotlight on a huge opportunity. It is one that will not only enable the delivery of the SDGs and highlight the Paris COP21, but cross individual SDG boundaries. There is no doubt we need to tackle poverty, hunger and food insecurity. Social protection can help achieve this. It needs to be under pinned by practices and policies that ensure sustainable agricultural practices are followed. Ones that work with nature, conserve soil, water and agro diversity. If delivered together social protection and sustainable agriculture can start to tackle hunger, rural development and lead to truly sustainable food security locally and globally.
This is an important issue. It may seem remote for many of us; however our actions and choices have local and global ripples. We need to work together to ensure the UK government implements the SDGs in a joined up way. The Paris COP 21 must lead to a real action and food has to be part of this. We can all ask this our representatives. Finally think about food, what we put on our plate three times a day, can make a difference.
Well-designed social protection programs are good for people, planet and growth. If they prevent the depletion of assets, personal and environmental, and reduce the personal risk they can be a win-win-win; pro-poor, pro-growth, pro-planet.