Thursday, 8 June, 2023

Materialising Zero Hunger Challenge

Uttam Maharjan

The government has adopted the zero hunger challenge initiative in its bid to ensure that no Nepali remains hungry or dies of hunger. The campaign is of paramount importance in a least developed country like Nepal, where a large number of people are living a hand-to-mouth existence, especially in remote and rural areas. The country has now been in the quagmire of economic difficulties due to the stagnation of economic activity owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has haunted the country on the backwash of the 2015 earthquake and the implicit economic blockade at the hands of India.
With the imposition of lockdowns and prohibitory orders in all or some parts of the country to curb the virus spread, economic activity has gone haywire, with the tourism and hospitality sectors hardest hit. As a result, many workers have lost their jobs. Such people are scrambling to eke out a living. During the initial days of the nationwide lockdown, the government made provision for free meals for thousands of people affected by the pandemic. Even now, some organisations are feeding the poor and the helpless free of cost.

Right to food
The government has been reiterating that no Nepali will go hungry and no-one will die of hunger. This statement is related to the right to food and food sovereignty. The Ministry of Agricultural Development (MoAD) launched the Zero Hunger Challenge Initiative on December 19, 2014. The Right to Food and Food Sovereignty Act 2075 sought to meet this challenge. As per the Act, the three tiers of government - federal, state and local - should ensure that all citizens have regular access, without discrimination, to adequate, nutritious and quality food. Likewise, all citizens should be free from hunger and protected from food scarcity while all vulnerable groups of people should have access to food and nutrition and all citizens should be allowed to consume culturally accepted, or kosher, food.
Further, the Act has provision for emergency food distribution. Accordingly, in emergencies the three tiers of government should coordinate with one another to distribute food to targeted groups of people either at concessional prices or free of cost. The constitution has stipulated that every citizen has the right to be protected against food scarcity that may cause a threat to life, every citizen has the right to food sovereignty as provided by the law and every citizen has the right to social justice, including provision for food. So the right to food security and food sovereignty has been guaranteed by the constitution itself.
It is concerned with food security and helping the poor in avoiding starvation. Ensuring food security is a major challenge around the world. It would be pertinent to mention that the World Food Conference was held in 1974. As per the conference, food security would denote the availability at all times of adequate, nourishing, diverse, balanced and moderate supplies of basic foodstuff in such a manner as to promote an expansion of food consumption and to control fluctuations in production and prices. It stressed the supply side.
As per the World Food Summit held in Rome in 1996, food security exists when all people at all times have access to adequate, safe and nutritious food that fulfills their food preferences and dietary needs for an active and healthy life. This time, demand for and access to food was accentuated while defining food security. The summit came up with two key documents. The Rome Declaration on World Food Security urged all UN member states to halve chronical hunger by 2015. On the other hand, the World Food Security Plan of Action set targets for government and non-government organisations to ensure food security at individual, household, national, regional and global levels.
The Sustainable Development Goals also have, inter alia, provision for food security. SDG 2 is concerned with ensuring zero hunger in the world and sets a target of ending hunger, ensuring food security and improved nutrition and promoting sustainable agriculture by 2030. Many countries, including Nepal, are grappling with food shortages. In remote areas of the country, food scarcity has been a persistent problem. Even though over sixty-five per cent of the people are engaged in agriculture and allied activities, agricultural production and productivity leave much to be desired. It is an irony that an agrarian country like Nepal has to import foodgrain and other agro products to meet its requirements.
Food security is an international concern. The United Nations recognised the Right to Food in its Declaration of Human Rights way back in 1948. The right to food is essential for the enjoyment of all other rights. Food is the primary right of humanity and without enjoying the most basic right, the enjoyment of other rights cannot be conceived of.
There are many challenges to ensuring food security. Environmental degradation and climate change, growing population, depletion of resources, a decline in agricultural production and productivity and rising food prices are some of the challenges that need to be tackled to ensure food security. In Nepal, agriculture needs to be emphasised. For this, modern agricultural technology needs to be introduced. Timely arrangements for seeds, fertilisers and pesticides should be made. Irrigation facilities should be in place. Land management patterns should be designed.

Fair distribution
Markets for agricultural produce should be ensured for farmers. Transportation facilities should be made available for proper distribution of agricultural produce. After all, satisfactory development of the agricultural sector would ensure not only food security and food sovereignty but also boost the industrial and export sectors. Besides, rural development should also get a fillip. Without rural development, the overall development of the country cannot be notched up. This will go a long way in materialising the ambitious zero hunger challenge initiative.

(Former banker, Maharjan has been regularly writing on contemporary issues for this daily since 2000.