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World Food Day should go beyond flag-raising
GNA Feature by Christian Agubretu

Accra, Sept. Ghanadot/GNA - Come October 16 and the whole world - about 179 countries - would be celebrating the World Food Day. It is a day set aside by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) to increase and heighten awareness and to remind the world that hunger is real and should be eradicated through flag-raising; food fairs, TeleFood and other activities.

Ghana has put up about a 30-member National Planning Committee, which is under the chairmanship of Ms Anna Nyamekye, Member of Parliament and Deputy Minister of Food and Agriculture, not only to plan and mark the day but also to whip up public interest, involve students, especially those studying agriculture, and reward outstanding farmers and also women in the food production chain.

Since its inception in 1979 by the United Nations, the day has been celebrated under various themes and one is tempted to ask how many times have the world not been confronted with frightening figures of the numbers of the hungry. As usual, the more crippling figures are from the developing countries - Asia and Africa are mentioned as places where hunger is endemic.

Since 1979 the food situation has improved in the world but not as one would have wished on the two continents. FAO says: "Despite the progress achieved in agriculture and rural development more than 850 million people still remain hungry and poor. Our greatest challenge is to reach the World Food Summit and First UN Millennium Development Goal to halve by 2015 hunger and poverty worldwide."

Invariably, it should be recognized and appreciated that FAO is still pricking the world's conscience that hunger exists in real terms. The fact is that the world should now demonstrate that the hunger situation is not only written on mere platitudes, the raising of flags and other awareness creating activities. The world should seize the bull by the horns.

FAO admits that "the challenge of increasing investment in agriculture is especially great in Africa. Governments in that region have recognized the urgency of committing their own resources to agriculture. In the Maputo Declaration of 2003, African Heads of State committed their governments to allocate 10 per cent of their national budget to agriculture and rural development within five years thus doubling the present level of resources to agriculture".

One is tempted to ask whether the governments have been doing this. If they had the will to solve the problem one would have been seeing the results. Could it be said that governments have too much on their plates and that they have forgotten the poor and the hungry? Have those in authority ever felt the pangs of hunger?

Perhaps it is necessary to remind them that in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, Anthony, the orator, told the Romans that when the poor had cried, Caesar had wept. History also has it that any time Gandhi, the famous Indian leader, realized that his people had became hostile and were not prepared to listen to him, he went on a fast to feel what the hungry was feeling. He then came back from that retreat and was able to communicate effectively with his people.

In another Shakespearian book – “King Lear”, the protagonist, was thrown out from the comfort of his palace and was visited by the elements of weather in a storm and in his absolute nakedness and piercing hunger. He then cried out to ask whether that was what the wretched of the earth felt.

Again, it was through the fasting Jesus underwent for 40 days and 40 nights that he gained control over the world and overcame the temptations of Satan. From there He established his rule.

Do our African leaders feel what it takes to be without shelter, hungry and destitute? When African governments pontificate to the heavens about their achievements in food production one wonders how these are seen on the table or on the floors or on the ground of the poor?

The FAO says 70 per cent of the world's hungry lives in the rural areas. "That is where it is critical to provide food and employment. The seed planted by a farmer leads to a flourishing agribusinesses that paid taxes, and helped build rural schools and roads. Agricultural development is the first step of a long-term sustainable economic growth. Everyone gains from investment in agriculture."

Copious literature could be found on the right to food; food security; access to food and poverty alleviation policies all prescribing solution to the problem of hunger. For instance, FAO says Food security refers to the situation when "food" is available to all persons and they have the means to have access to it and that it is nutritionally adequate in terms of quantity, quality and variety and all that is acceptable within a given culture.

Governments of the world in General Comment 12 on the Right to Adequate Food (1999) at the International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) affirmed: "The right to adequate food is indivisibly linked to inherent dignity of the human person and is indispensable for the fulfilment of other human rights... The right to adequate food is realised when every man, woman and child, alone or in community with others, has physical and economic access at all times to adequate food or means for its procurement.

"We consider it intolerable that more than 800 million people throughout the world, and particularly in developing countries, do not have enough food to meet their nutritional needs." - World Food Summit Plan of Action; Rome; 1996.

Recently, in Ghana, a Member of Parliament was ridiculed in the media and by the media when he tried to retract what he was alleged to have said that in his constituency there were some children, who did not know what Coca-Cola or Fanta was. Perhaps if the media had probed further they would have been surprised to know that some families could not afford three square meals a day let alone reserve something for Coca-Cola or Fanta, which might be deemed a luxury. They would then have understood what the Parliamentarian was trying to put across.

The theme for this year's World Food Day is not on poverty. The theme is "The Right to Food - Make it Happen". But poverty and hunger are so inextricably linked - food inadequacy, insufficiency and malnutrition stem from poverty.

The jinx of poverty and hunger should be smashed. The way to do it is to produce food in abundance by marshalling economic, geographic and cultural theories and practices. The promises Government make before they come to power should be fulfilled with the same zeal they pursue the hungry electorate to attend their rallies.
The right to food should make the human rights activists; priests; chiefs; opinion leaders and everyone to critically examine the issues of hunger like Shakespeare's Julius Caesar and Gandhi and above all to put ourselves in the forefront to fight hunger.

What ethical or moral rights do the priest, the politician and the rich have to eat sumptuously and forget about what happens to their immediate poor neighbour - the hungry? It will be presumptuous to suggest that the rich should scoop what is on his or her plate onto the empty one of the poor.

The poor must be empowered to access the right quantity and quality food for sustenance. The slogan should be:”None should go to bed on an empty stomach” and if he or she wakes up the next day he or she should not be yawning and wondering where the next meal would come from.

Thus there is the need to adopt strategies, methods and tactics that would make the people to produce abundantly to eat and eat well.

That is the only way to make the celebration of the World Food Day relevant to the underprivileged; the poor and the marginalised. It is only then that decision-makers would be addressing this year's World Food Day's theme: "The Right to Food."



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