chapter  4
14 Pages

The MDG Hunger Target and the Competing Frameworks of Food Security

WithSakiko Fukuda-Parr & Amy Orr

In a recent paper on the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) for maternal mortality, Yamin and Falb (2012) highlight the powerful effects of MDGs in drawing attention to neglected objectives but also their potential to distort development priorities and redefine norms. While the goal cast a spotlight on maternal mortality as a priority, it also cast a shadow on the broader agenda for sexual and reproductive rights. Moreover, the selection of indicators favored a particular conception of sexual and reproductive health, undermining human rights principles. These effects were not the policy objectives of the MDGs. They are unintended consequences of goal setting. In another article, one of the authors of this paper draws on recent social science literature on quantitative indicators in governance1 to develop a conceptual framework for tracing the intended and unintended effects of the MDG targets on policy priorities and development thinking (Fukuda-Parr 2014). In brief, indicators can have two types of effects: “governance effect,” or shifts in policy and programs; and “knowledge effect,” or redefining concepts and norms (Davis et al. 2012). While goals are set as proxies for complex social priorities —such as ending hunger or reproductive health-the indicators take a life of their own and used as planning targets, rather than proxies. Moreover, indicators come to be used as shorthand for defining the

Vol. 15, Nos. 2-3, 147-160,

broader concept and come to redefine complex concepts (Porter 1994). These effects of indicators can be perverse, when proxy indicators come to drive policy priorities and conceptual thinking as quantification inherently involves simplification, reification and abstraction of phenomena that are complex, intangible and locally specific. The purpose of this paper is to explore these “governance” (policy) and “knowledge” (norms and

concepts) effects of the MDG hunger goal (Goal 1: to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger) and its target (Target 1C) “to halve the proportion of people suffering from hunger between 1990 and 2015,” and the two selected indicators to measure progress: the prevalence of underweight children less than five years of age, and the proportion of the population below minimum level of dietary energy consumption. We evaluate these effects from the perspective of human rights and human development. We find that the goal did little to draw attention to hunger as a global priority. On the other hand, we argue that the goal had an important role in shaping a new narrative of hunger and framing policy responses that are more narrowly focused on short-term gains that characterize the recent international initiatives, displacing attention to the systemic causes of long-term food insecurity and the need for a broad based, multi-sectoral strategy. Research for this paper included interviews with individuals from stakeholder organizations, many of

whom have played leading roles in international policy debates on food and hunger strategies since 2000.2

Diverse Conceptions of Hunger and Food Security

One of the most striking aspects of international debates about hunger and food security is the fragmentation into competing visions of how the problem is conceptualized and strategies to address it. For most of the early twentieth century, hunger was conceptualized as a problem of supply shortages at the national and global levels. As hunger persisted even when global production increased, this view was challenged by many food security and policy experts (Hoddinott 1999; Longhurst 1986; Maxwell 2001; Maxwell and Frankenberger 1992; Sen 1982), and hunger came to be understood increasingly as a problem of distribution rather than production, and of access rather than supply, with a focus on human well-being rather than national security. Since the 1980s a human-centered concept of food security has gained influence, reflected in the consensus international definition adopted in the 1996 World Food Summit (WFS) Declaration that states: “Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life” (FAO 1996a). The work of Amartya Sen (1982) and international human rights norms provide an intellectual and

ethical foundation for the human-centered approach. Sen showed that famines occur not because of supply shortages but because of households’ lack of access to food, and identified three means of access-or entitlement: wage exchange, social transfers, and own production. Food insecurity results from individuals losing one or more of these entitlements to food. International human rights law defines the right to food as economic and physical access, and emphasizes the importance of cultural appropriateness, nutritional adequacy, and stability of access (UN CESCR 1999). As the Special Rapporteur on the right to food points out, the right to food “is not a right to a minimum ration of calories… or a right to be fed. It is about being guaranteed the right to feed oneself…” (De Schutter 2012). Another important conception of food security that dominates civil society positions is “food sover-

eignty.” Articulated by Via Campesina, a network of “peasant movements,” the essential component of food security is the autonomy of communities to determine their own food systems.3 Food sovereignty advocates promote agro-ecological technologies and the peasant livelihoods as a matter of social justice in the context of global food systems and the spread of corporate power that is encroaching on their livelihoods and nature (Pimbert 2010). These conceptions of food security drive distinct policy strategies. The supply perspective prioritizes

innovation playing a central role. The food