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FAO Director General’s Message For World Food Day 2015 and Commemorating FAO’s 70th Anniversary

Oct 16, 2015, 10:09 AM

On the Theme: Social Protection and Agriculture -Breaking the bonds of rural poverty.

This year, FAO is commemorating its 70th Anniversary – 70 years of action and operations. Also, October 16th is the 36th year of observance of the World Food Day. Social protection and agriculture-breaking the bonds for rural poverty has been chosen as this year’s World Food Day theme.

Social protection includes a blend of policies, strategies, programmes and interventions that aim at protecting poor and food-insecure people, to lift them out of poverty and hunger.

As a global community, we have made real progress in fighting global hunger and poverty in recent decades.

A majority of the countries monitored by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization – 72 out of 129 – have achieved the Millennium Development Goal target of halving the prevalence of undernourishment in their populations by 2015.

Meanwhile, the share of people in developing regions who live in extreme poverty has reduced significantly, – from 43 percent in 1990 to 17 percent this year.

Notwithstanding the efforts, progress has been uneven. Globally, some 800 million people continue to suffer from chronic hunger and almost one billion remain trapped in extreme poverty.

Although agriculture plays a key role in eradicating both poverty and hunger, in these circumstances, it offers little on its own.

Despite major strides, hunger and poverty have stayed with us – even in times of plenty.

Economic growth, especially growth in agriculture, has been essential to driving down rates of hunger and poverty. But it is not enough, because all too often, it is not inclusive.

Many nations in the developing world have established social protection measures – offering people regular financial or in-kind support, or access to self-help programs – on the understanding that they are necessary, front-line actions for tackling poverty and hunger.

Study after study show that social protection programmes successfully reduce hunger and poverty. In 2013 alone, such measures lifted around 150 million people out of extreme poverty.

Most of the world’s poor and hungry belong to rural families who depend on agriculture for their daily meals and their livelihoods. These family farmers and rural labourers, understandably, are focused on survival in the here-and-now. They adopt low-risk, low-return approaches to generate income.

They under-invest in the education and health of their children. They are often forced to adopt negative coping strategies such as selling off meagre assets, putting their children to work, or reducing food intake to cut down on expenses.

For these families, poverty and hunger become intergenerational and seemingly inescapable.

Over the last 20 years, social protection programmes have expanded rapidly in developing countries, reaching out to 2.1 billion people; through social assistance, social insurance and labour market interventions.

Nevertheless, today only 36 percent of the world’s population receives some form of social protection. The majority of households that do not benefit from social protection programmes live in rural areas of developing countries. They are subsistence producers, family farmers or landless agricultural workers who still rely on their own resources and networks to manage their livelihoods and deal with risks.

Today, we know that even relatively small cash transfers to poor households, when regular and predictable, can serve as insurance against those risks that tend to deter them from pursuing higher-return activities or lead them to adopt negative risk coping strategies.

Social protection allows poor and vulnerable households to have a longer time horizon, offering them hope and the ability to plan for the future.

Far from creating dependency, evidence shows that social protection increases both on-farm and non-farm activities, strengthening livelihoods and lifting incomes.

Social protection also fosters more investment in the education and health of children, and reduces child labour. Social protection, in the form of cash, increases the purchasing power of the poor, who demand goods and services produced largely in the local economy, thereby leading to local economic growth.

Social protection programmes also provide a way for communities to make important infrastructure and asset gains – for example irrigation systems built through cash-for-work activities. With most of the world’s poor and hungry still living in the countryside and still dependent on agriculture, twinning social protection with agricultural development programs makes compelling sense.

This is why FAO chose social protection and agriculture as the theme for the World Food Day this year.

Knowing what to do and actually doing it are two different things. To break the age-old bonds of rural poverty once and for all, the world needs to act with more urgency – and more decisively.

In recognition of widespread poverty and multidimensional vulnerability in The Gambia, as well as gaps in the provision of social protection, The Gambia’s first National Social Protection Policy (NSPP), 2015-2025, has been developed and will come into effect this year.

The policy was developed through participatory national and regional consultations with key ministries, sub-national governments, community leaders, development partners, civil society, the private sector, and local communities.

It defines a comprehensive and cross-cutting social protection reform agenda, which proposes a set of priority actions to guide the gradual establishment of a coherent social protection system in The Gambia.

The NSPP is expected to play a vital role in accelerating and sustaining pro-poor and inclusive economic growth, poverty reduction, human capital development, social cohesion and the attainment of basic human rights for The Gambian people.

It will also create an opportunity for a modernised and expanded social protection system, which will provide more reliable and effective protection from multifaceted shocks and stresses, and will build people’s resilience to adversity and hardship.

This long-term social protection policy will by 2025, build an inclusive, integrated and comprehensive social protection system.

It will effectively provide protective, preventive, promotive and transformative measures to safeguard the lives and livelihoods of all poor and vulnerable groups in The Gambia. It will also contribute to broader human development, greater economic productivity and inclusive growth.  

FAO has supported governments and partners in addressing the main challenges for incorporating social protection into national strategies and actions to fight hunger.

This support also promotes greater policy coherence and synergies between social protection, food and nutrition security, agricultural development, natural resources management and rural poverty reduction.

In The Gambia, FAO through the FASDEP project and other initiatives will support in part the operationalization of the National Social Protection Policy, in close collaboration with other UN agencies.

Political commitment, adequate funding, partnerships, and complementary actions in health and education will be key elements in transforming this vision into reality.

Policy and planning frameworks for rural development, poverty reduction, food security and nutrition need to promote the joint role of agriculture and social protection in fighting poverty and hunger, together with a broader set of interventions, notably in health and education.

Pulling together, using the knowledge and tools at our disposal, we can eliminate chronic hunger entirely by 2030.

Now that would be cause for celebration, indeed.