A desperate and largely unknown humanitarian crisis is deteriorating in the Lake Chad Basin region of West Africa, forcing millions of people to flee their homes and leaving millions more in need of humanitarian assistance. Oxfam is providing life-saving support but help is urgently needed to prevent the crisis turning into a catastrophe.
The ongoing world food crisis suggests that no one group - states, the market, or international intergovernmental institutions - has all the answers to hunger and malnutrition. Civil society actors are key to the process. Whether and how world leaders take civil society's views into account has ramifications for the outcome of this week's World Food Summit on Food Security and beyond.
World leaders gather in Rome on the 16th November for the World Food Summit on World Food Security (WFS). This Summit comes at a crucial time for world hunger. One in six people are malnourished, more than ever before. Leaders will discuss and debate the issues surrounding food security, including reform of global governance, climate change, agricultural investment and rural development.
But the ongoing food crisis suggests that no one group has all the answers to hunger and malnutrition. In their Declaration to the WFS, farmer's organisations and civil society organisations (CSOs) from Burkina Faso, including the Farmer's Confederation of Burkina Faso and the Permanent Secretariat of NGOs in Burkina Faso, write: "This summit must take into account the concerns of farmers' organisations and CSOs. If civil society's concerns had been taken into account during the [last] global food summit, the world would not have undergone the 2008 food crisis and there would have been no need to hold the second summit."
Civil society is crucial to the fight against hunger. For instance, in Brazil, civil society has been instrumental in the movement to realise the human right to adequate food and nutrition. Through a mix of pressure and cooperation exerted by civil society in the Brazilian National Council for Food and Nutrition Security, Congress has recently drafted the right to adequate food and nutrition into the country's constitution.
Numerous Southern CSOs are raising their concerns over the WFS (see, for example, a press release from South American CSOs. In West Africa, CSOs have been vocal about the WFS, and with good reason. Following last year's peak, prices remain high, and there are concerns about ongoing food insecurity in the region. Two West African countries where CSOs and farmer's organisations are raising their voices are Burkina Faso and Mali.
In Burkina Faso, CSOs and farmer's organisations have made various suggestions in their Declaration about how to end hunger. These include focussing on smallholder farmers, increasing agricultural investment and obtaining international recognition of food sovereignty. (The right of self-determination of agriculture, labour, fishing, food and land policies: see IPC Food Sovereignty.)
The Mali CSO Forum, which includes the Association of Professional Farmer's Organisations and the National Coordination of Farmer's Organisations, has also produced a declaration for the WFS. It makes many recommendations to address the underlying causes of hunger and poverty. These include the putting Millennium Development Goals into national law, reforming land tenure and ensuring government commitment for adequate adaptation funds for climate change.
This year's World Food Week reiterated that civil society is a key part of the solution to world hunger. Indeed, a Parallel Forum to the WFS - People's Food Sovereignty Now! - is currently convened, that incorporates the full range of constituencies affected by hunger and food insecurity. Here, priority is given to developing countries and those usually marginalised by intergovernmental discussions, including women, indigenous groups and rural youth. The forum aims to hear a range of views and reach a common ground on how to eradicate hunger and malnutrition, and will develop a joint Declaration the WFS.
If, and how, these 'parallel' voices are aligned with those from the WFS will be crucial to the future of the more than one billion hungry people in the world.