José Graziano: The goal is to end hunger

Courtesy of FAO

Brazilian José Graziano da Silva, 66, has worked on food security, rural development and agriculture issues for over 30 years, most notably as the architect of Brazil’s Zero Hunger programme. Since January 2012 leads the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), replacing Jacques Diouf of Senegal, who completed his third term, for a total of 18 years. As Director General of FAO, he intends to contribute to the eradication of hunger and the improvement of nutrition levels in the world,

Previously, he headed the FAO Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean from 2006 to 2011. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Agronomy and a Master’s Degree in Rural Economics and Sociology from the University of São Paulo, and a PhD in Economic Sciences from the State University of Campinas (Unicamp). He also has post-Doctorate Degrees in Latin American Studies (University College of London) and Environmental Studies (University of California, Santa Cruz).

Known as an advocate of South-South cooperation, Graziano Dal Silva has authored 25 books on agriculture, rural issues and other topics. He was nominated for FAO director-general by former Brazilian Presidents President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff.


ATLANTICO — What is the current situation regarding hunger in the world?

The fight against hunger is a story of progress, but also one of unfinished business. Let me give you some statistics to put this into perspective. When you look at the latest edition of the United Nations’ hunger report you’ll see that the number of hungry people in the world has dropped to 795 million, or around one in nine people. That’s 216 million fewer than in 1990–92. So that’s real progress. The rate of undernutrition is down to 12.9 percent in developing regions — compare that to 23.3 percent only a quarter of a century ago. In fact, the majority (73 out of 129) of the countries that FAO monitors have achieved the Millennium Development Goal target of halving the prevalence of undernourishment by 2015 — and many others were very close to achieving it. Some countries were even more ambitious and cut not only the percentage of hungry people in half, but the actual number. All of this shows us that it is in our power to eliminate the scourge of hunger in our lifetime it we make it a collective priority. And because we can, we have to. Ending hunger and achieving food and nutrition security has become a universal objective in the UN’s new development agenda — the SDGs. And this time, we are not talking about halving the prevalence or absolute numbers of hungry people — we’re talking about really ending hunger by 2030. We can and we must be the Zero Hunger generation.


ATLANTICO — Why does hunger still affect about 800 million people in the world? Is it a lack of food or lack of political will?

Ending extreme poverty and hunger is a matter of political will. And it is viable and affordable if we implement appropriate and specific policies to deal with the different groups. As the experience in countries like Brazil and many others shows, the combination of investments in social protection and additional pro-poor development is the best way to quickly take people out of hunger and extreme poverty. When we talk about social protection measures, those can be anything from small conditional cash transfers to health insurance to school meal programs. And when these social protection schemes are combined with rural development policies and targeted nutrition initiatives, they support farmers and other poor rural households in overcoming financial constraints and better managing risks. In other words, they provide some form of income security and access to better nutrition, health care, education and decent employment to people living in challenging and often hazardous environments. And that has positive impacts on food production and farm-level investment in agriculture, as well. Investing in pro-poor development helps sustain growth of employment and incomes. So it’s not just the right thing to do, it’s a smart thing to do. And it’s affordable, too. A recent study by FAO and partners estimates that eliminating extreme poverty and hunger by 2030 will cost an additional $265 billion per year in investments. Now, that may sound like a lot, but that’s equivalent to only 0.31% of global GDP. Let me underline this: That’s less than one percent — less than half a percent, even. Up to now, there has been insufficient investment that specifically targets the food security and nutrition of the extreme poor. That needs to change. And with statics like these, it’s clear that it’s a matter of political will first and foremost. Because the majority of those who live in extreme poverty are rural people — the very areas where most of our food is produced — the battle to end hunger and poverty has to be fought in rural areas. That’s where the investment must go. So we need to show a strong political will while also investing in critical agents of change — and that includes smallholders, family farmers, rural women, fisher folk, indigenous communities and other vulnerable and marginalized people. It’s increasingly clear that without rapid progress on hunger and malnutrition, we simply won’t be able to achieve the full range of Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

Sia Kambou / FAO

ATLANTICO — Today what are the main priorities of FAO? And what are the most challenging?

We face many challenges today: ending poverty and hunger, and preparing ourselves to feed more people on this planet with less water and less land. FAO projects that we will need to increase food production by about 60 percent to feed a global population of 9 billion by 2050. At the same time, we have to manage our natural resources in a more sustainable manner, and respond to the imminent threat of climate change. That’s a tall order — for FAO and the countries we support. To work more effectively, FAO has identified five key priority — areas where we believe we are best placed to intervene and provide guidance. These priorities — or Strategic Objectives, as we call them internally — help us achieve our vision of a world free from hunger and malnutrition, where food and agriculture contribute to reducing poverty and improving the living standards of all, in an economically, socially and environmentally sustainable manner. So number one is helping to eliminate hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition. Number two is making agriculture, forestry and fisheries more productive and sustainable. Then, thirdly, we work to reduce rural poverty. But we also recognize that we need to help build more inclusive food systems, locally and globally, so that’s another one of our objectives. And, finally, we need to increase the resilience of farmers and make sure their livelihoods can weather threats and crises.

ATLANTICO — What efforts have been made by FAO to ensure that food security is on the global agenda?

Advocacy is a big part of FAO’s mandated to pursue the eradication of hunger and malnutrition. We do this at all levels: global, regional and national. One major achievement for us is the adoption of SDG 2 as a top priority of the new global development agenda — the universal commitment of all countries to end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture. But we also work regionally. FAO has contributed, for example, to the formulation of the food security plans adopted by the African Union, by CELAC — the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States — or the CPLP, the community of Lusophone countries. And then there is the landmark Paris Agreement on climate change that was signed last year — food security was recognized as a priority in the text of that agreement, and that’s a result of efforts by FAO and its partners. Today it’s clear that hunger and malnutrition can only be eradicated in a joint effort.

ATLANTICO — What is the participation of the private sector in the context of eradication of hunger? How FAO handles, for example, with the interests of large agricultural industrial conglomerates?

One of my priorities as FAO Director-General has been to strengthen partnerships with other development actors, including the private sector, to achieve better results in the fight against hunger and for sustainable development. The private sector is a key partner in the fight against hunger, especially in the age of the new 2030 development agenda. Achieving the SDGs will demand huge investments in rural areas, especially in developing countries. We need more infrastructure, technologies, transportation, and sustainable energy. The private sector can support these kind of investments in a responsible and sustainable way. But the private sector — global companies — should revise the food systems value chain to be more inclusive of smallholders and family farmers. We need to create and enable better market access for them. The private sector also plays a central role in agri-food systems. To respond to the growing global demand for food and to ensure more sustainable production, international food companies are increasingly investing in smallholder agriculture in developing and emerging economies. Regarding your question on interests, when we assess potential partnerships, we give special attention to assessing mutual benefits and to risks that could affect FAO’s reputation as an impartial forum and knowledge-based organization. We have very strict risk-management measures because we have to protect our neutrality. We want to ensure that no partnership has any kind of undue influence on the internal process of the organization. In other words, we have to make sure that no private sector company or group of companies has any influence on the outcome of the research or information we provide to countries. And, of course, we want to avoid entering into partnerships with companies that have issues with human rights abuses, child labour, questionable governance, or environmental malpractices.


ATLANTICO — As a enthusiast of South-South cooperation, do you think it is possible to reduce hunger without necessarily the involvement of the richest countries?

Our goal is not to reduce hunger, but to end hunger. If we want to achieve it, we need all stakeholders to work together, which of course includes the support of every country regardless of its income. High income countries absolutely need to be involved to reach our goals. South-South Cooperation is a very valuable tool of cooperation to achieving a world without hunger. It is very cost-effective, country-demand driven, and complementary to the traditional cooperation North-South schemes. Countries from the South can learn from each other and truly benefit from the cooperation among themselves. The FAO-China Programme is a good example of cooperation with other countries in the South such as Ethiopia or Uganda. Brazil has also been very active. Equatorial Guinea and Angola alongside a group of civil society organizations in the Republic of Congo funded the Africa Solidarity Trust Fund, which also supports, among other, an African for South-South Cooperation Facility for agriculture and food security. That said, support from the developed countries is always very much welcomed.

ATLANTICO — What is the way for the poorest population to have access to food?

As I’ve mentioned before, since 1990, hundreds of millions have been lifted out of poverty and chronic undernourishment. Improved economic conditions and income growth have contributed to poverty reduction and eased access to food for many, especially in fast growing economies in Asia. But, that overall income growth has not reached everybody. I already briefly mentioned how important social protection is. Over the past two decades, we have seen a substantial expansion of these targeted social protection programmes that have provided many poor and food insecure households with extra means to access food and better manage the risks they face. Brazil’s own Fome Zero and later the Bolsa Familia programmes have served as successful examples. Two types of interventions are particularly important to serve the most vulnerable. First, it is critical to design cost-effective safety nets that deliver the right targeted assistance to the poor households. Such assistance is important to poor families, because even temporary interruptions in intake of energy, protein, vitamins and minerals during the first 1,000 days of a child’s life can lead to permanent reductions in cognitive capacities and, hence, earnings potential. In some cases, this will be consumers whose disposable income is severely affected by higher food prices. In other cases, it will be poor smallholder farmers who need help to cope with high input prices that, in the absence of well-functioning credit markets, may prevent these farmers from boosting their production and providing much-needed supplies on domestic and global markets, as well as increasing their income. Second, investment in agriculture and rural development and improving resilience among farmers and rural households remain key to providing sustained access to food for all and reducing vulnerability to price volatility and natural disasters such as drought. Improved seeds and farm management techniques, as well as irrigation and fertilizer that sustainably increase productivity and reduce production risk must be delivered to farmers, especially smallholders, by both the private and the public sector. We must reduce food waste in developed countries through education and policies, and reduce food losses in developing countries by boosting investment in the entire value chain, especially post-harvest processing. More sustainable management of our natural resources, forests and fisheries are critical for the food security of many of the poorest members of society. I am optimistic that we can end hunger within our generation.

Courtesy of FAO

Across Africa, FAO’s work has supported country-led efforts to eradicate hunger and boosted regional, sub-regional and national efforts to build better policies on food security and nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture in the region. Angola, Ethiopia, Gabon, the Gambia, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, and Mozambique have all achieved the MDG target 1. In fact, Angola, Cameroon, and Gabon also met the more stringent World Food Summit goal of 1996 to halve the number of hungry people in their country. Among its many efforts in the region, FAO also supported the birth of the 2014 Malabo Declaration on Agriculture transformation and has been involved in the design of a total of 95 agriculture and food security investment projects, financed mainly by the World Bank and IFAD. Youth employment is a really important issue in Africa. That’s why we’ve significantly expanded our portfolio of youth employment projects that are part of South-South initiatives. That’s been possible primarily through the Africa Solidarity Trust Fund (ASTF) in Mali, the Niger, Ethiopia, and Malawi with funds by Equatorial Guinea and Angola. And let’s not forget gender equality and women’s empowerment — because that is very much an agricultural issue, too. An essential part of progress is building the capacity of governments to make agriculture accessible and inclusive for women. And that means building opportunities and removing obstacles to let them take part in agricultural growth. In this context, FAO has been training government officials on topics such as financial inclusion of women, who continue to struggle with limited access to financial services, including loans.

ATLANTICO — Many agricultural products are considered commodities and not just food. How does this affect the eradication of hunger?

Having alternative uses and being an internationally traded good brings both advantages and disadvantages. Let me start with the alternative uses. No doubt, when food is used for fuel, this can put upwards pressure on food prices, at home and internationally. The high price episode from 2007–2012 clearly showed that a combination of high food and fuel prices can take a huge toll on the most vulnerable consumers, price them out of both the food and the fuel market. We are keenly aware of these problems and have promoted safety nets to mitigate such problems. But regardless of these problems, we also know that food prices will not rise faster than fuel prices and they will not rise above their own energy equivalent. So there is an upwards limit on the fuel-food link. At the same time, there is also stabilization on the downside. When supplies are abundant and prices are low, extra demand from the fuel market siphons off surpluses from the food market, stabilizes prices and provides farmers with the necessary incentives to stay in production over the long-run. Taken together, the cap on the upside and the floor on the downside mean that using food for fuel can work as an automatic price stabilizer. Not a bad thing for food security.

ATLANTICO — Agriculture today faces several dilemmas, including the impact of climate change and land degradation. What is FAO’s approach in this context?

Climate change threatens to derail efforts to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, which the international community has committed to doing by 2030 under Sustainable Development Goal 2 and is disproportionately affecting the world’s poorest countries — particularly Small Island Developing States, landlocked countries, arid- and semi-arid areas — where people are most dependent on natural resources. These countries have contributed the least to causing climate change: the 50 Least Developed Countries are collectively responsible for less than 1 percent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. As underlined by the Papal Encyclical letter “Laudato Si”, those who are suffering most are not responsible for the problem. The world’s most vulnerable people — who are the first and hardest hit by climate change — are the same people who provide the bulk of the planet’s food: family farmers, pastoralists, fisher folks and community foresters. Climate change and variability, alongside ocean acidification and other drivers of change, reduce productivity and food production. Drought, floods, sea level rise, and hurricanes put not just people’s lives but their very livelihoods at risk, destroying crops, livestock and fish resources and ecosystems; agriculture, livestock and fishing infrastructure as well as productive assets such as irrigation systems and livestock shelters. For the world’s poorest, adaptation to climate change means ensuring food security. Our ability to eradicate hunger by 2030 depends on ensuring that agricultural- and food systems — and the communities at their core are healthy, productive, and sustainable, and therefore resilient in the face of climate change.