What will Canada’s New Government do to Reduce Hunger?

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

What will Canada’s New Government do to Reduce Hunger?

By Paul Hagerman, Foodgrains Bank Public Policy Director. Originally published in Embassy Red beans in Ethiopiamagazine

As the new year begins, it’s a good time to ask: What will our new government do to reduce hunger in the world?

Despite progress in recent years, one person in nine still doesn’t get enough to eat, and over 70 percent of them are small-scale farmers in developing countries.

The Liberal Party’s platform did not refer to global hunger directly, nor did it give much detail on their plans for other international development priorities. But there were signs the new government could take important steps in the right direction.

First, and perhaps most important, they want to improve Canada’s standing on the world stage. That could mean a much more active role in international development.
Second, they have committed to spend all the money allocated to development, rather than allowing up to ten percent of funds to lapse—as has happened in recent years.

Third, they promised to take action on climate change. Hunger is tied to climate change, as the worst impacts of changing rainfall patterns, higher temperatures and more severe storms will be felt by the most vulnerable people in the world – those who are already struggling to get enough to eat. Any action that slows climate change, helps poor people adapt to the changes, or compensates for losses they suffer, could be steps to reduce hunger.

In their platform, the Liberals make a clear break from Canada’s recent past on climate change efforts, promising to find solutions that are consistent with Canada’s international obligations. At the climate conference in Paris, the Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Catherine McKenna, Tweeted that “Our main goal is to make sure that all human beings can fulfill a healthy, safe sustainable life.”

The Canadian government demonstrated its commitment to this goal on by announcing $2.65 billion in climate finance over five years. It was especially encouraging to learn that the poorest and most vulnerable countries will be prioritized for funds.

Fourth, they have promised that aid will focus on poverty reduction. Knowing that hunger is inextricably linked with poverty, aid targeted to reduce poverty will also improve access to healthy and nutritious food.

As they re-focus the aid program, the new government should take guidance from the Sustainable Development Goals, the new set of 17 goals adopted by 193 countries, including Canada, at the United Nations General Assembly in September. These are global goals, meaning they are to be applied domestically, as well as in developing countries.
What would it mean for Canada to focus on Goal #2, which aims to “end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture”?

Domestically, it might mean a food policy that tackles rising obesity and diet-related diseases, addresses the specific food security problems faced by indigenous people, and that also strives to reduce food waste (which accounts for about 1/3 of all food produced).

Globally, it could mean a recommitment and funding boost for DFATD’s food security strategy. Canada introduced this strategy in 2009, with three paths (agriculture, food assistance, research) working together to improve availability and access to food for poor people (especially women small-scale farmers) in developing countries.

By any standard, the food security strategy has been effective. It has improved the lives of millions of small-scale farmers, through better nutrition, stronger roles for women, resilience to weather changes, links to markets and better service delivery by local governments. But despite this effectiveness, funding for the agriculture component of the strategy has dwindled in recent years.

The incoming government supports Canada’s focus on aid for maternal and child health (MNCH), and rightly so. This priority, started in 2010, has rallied other countries to follow Canada’s lead, increasing collective resources devoted to saving and improving the lives of mothers and infants. The Liberal platform has indicated an interest in expanding MNCH to cover gaps in its implementation. A focus on food and nutrition security would be a logical expansion, given the connections between food and health.

While the Liberals didn’t talk about explicitly about fighting hunger in the lead up to the election, their promises on foreign policy and environmental issues are relevant to this issue. What better way to improve Canada’s standing on the world stage than a strong aid program to tackle global hunger?

Paul Hagerman is director of public policy at the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, a partnership of 15 churches and church agencies working together to end hunger.