Struggle Against Hunger
The Baha'i International Community has a deep interest in and a commitment to the struggle against hunger and the provision of adequate food for every member of the human race. We have therefore increasingly participated in the sessions and follow with appreciation the efforts of the World Food Council to develop, sustain and coordinate the policies and action required to carry out constructive international measures regarding food production and distribution. The goal set last year by WFC for the international community to renew its commitment to eradicate hunger and malnutrition throughout the world during the next one-and-a-half decades is most welcome, and its realization would represent the fulfillment of a cherished human dream. In the spirit of cooperation, we would like to make some comments highlighting what we perceive as the most important factors in the achievement of a hunger-free planet.
Although there has been an encouraging decrease in the rate of hunger-related deaths over the past decades, the number of undernourished people in the world has never been as high as present. Studies have shown that hunger remains a basic issue in a majority of the world's countries with approximately half of the world population.1 Fifteen million hunger-related deaths yearly in children under 5 illustrates the appalling magnitude of the problem. Since the total food supplies of the planet are adequate to satisfy the nutritional needs of everyone the human calamity of hunger underlines the necessity of reorienting the economies of food production and distribution in the interest of human welfare. The universal conquest of hunger and the establishment of food security for all the world thus demands that we move toward international human and economic solidarity. Not to do so would be a major handicap in the current struggle against hunger.
Conspicuous advances have, however, been made during the last decades in the kind of "spirit of world solidarity" envisaged in the Baha'i Writings as "spontaneously arising out of the welter of a disorganized society," and as a process "which must increasingly engage the attention of the responsible custodians of the destinies of peoples and nations." (From the Baha'i Writings) This international solidarity can perhaps be most clearly seen in the various human rights instruments adopted by the governments of the world in the context of the United Nations, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Article 1l of the Covenant includes the recognition of "the fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger," and requires, inter alia, that the State Parties "recognize the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food," and that they "will take appropriate steps to ensure the realization of this right." It can thus be concluded that the right to adequate food as a human right has become firmly embedded in international law, an achievement clearly reflecting an important evolution of man's consciousness during a relatively short period of time.
The growing awareness of the oneness of mankind, and its concomitant commitment to solidarity in action, must be further promoted until it becomes a commonly and firmly held value on the part of humanity as a whole. This is crucially important for the execution of global responsibility and a successful management of world affairs, including a coherent attack on the food problem. The latter further requires a comprehensive development vision, a vision which must include not only factors concerned with economic growth, but also basic values such as justice, equity, equality of men and women, cooperation and respect for nature. What is urgently needed, therefore, is development education in the most profound meaning of the term, focusing on human as well as social and economic development. This would include an educational orientation to help man rise above and integrate the often fragmented pieces of modern understanding and knowledge, and assist him to direct himself toward the creation of an authentic social well-being in which the needs of both body and spirit are satisfied. The Baha'i understanding of development is that each human being, and therefore human society as a whole, has limitless potential for development and an inner spiritual need to realize that latent capacity for the purpose of serving humanity. In the Baha'i view there is no "greater blessing conceivable for a man, than that he should become the cause of education, the development, the prosperity and honor of his fellow creatures." (From the Baha'i Writings) This understanding can give human beings the incentive "to arise and energetically devote themselves to the service of the masses, forgetting their own worldly advantage and working only to serve the general good." (From the Baha'i Writings)
The two major dimensions of the food problem, those of production and distribution, should be seen in the light of the above-mentioned principles regarding the global perspective, and a holistic approach to development. The inadequate level of food production in certain parts of the world, particularly in peasant agriculture in developing countries, should most fundamentally be countered by according higher social prestige to the agricultural sector and paying more attention to the needs and desires of peasant farmers. It should be noted that agriculture is in a sense the backbone and foundation of the economy and that this must be fully taken into account both in designing overall public policies and in implementing them. The Baha'i view is that in order to achieve equity and obtain for every member of society "the utmost welfare and well-being .... we must begin with the farmers; there we will lay a foundation for a system and order because the peasant class and the agricultural class exceed other classes in the importance of their service."
Such an overall policy, providing social, economic and infrastructural support for agriculture, would include an emphasis on stimulating and facilitating self-realization, popular participation and cooperation at the local level. To have its desired impact this process should result in local people taking initiatives and making organizational efforts to increase their capacity to plan and implement activities, for the self-reliance, self-sufficiency and increased welfare of all. The role of rural women, so often neglected, is of particular importance in this context. Women normally occupy a key role in both the production and distribution of food and must be given due support and training in order to ensure adequate food quantity and quality, as well as the equitable sharing of food within the family.
The issue of food distribution should, in our view, be seen in the context of the need to reduce the extremes of wealth and poverty at national and international levels. The aim would be to initially secure food entitlements and other basic needs for all, and ultimately universal welfare and comfort. This would necessitate the organization of the material resources of the world for the benefit of all, free trade to stimulate economic development and a system of reserves of essential commodities to safeguard against shortages. In the crucial area of food storage and distribution there should be a strong emphasis on communal arrangements for food security in the form of food granaries for self-sufficiency at the local level. The distributive rearrangements aimed at would in general terms result in a change whereby financial resources correspond with biological needs, as compared to the current situation in which a considerable proportion of the world's population lacks the purchasing power to obtain the food it requires.
It is widely acknowledged that mankind is currently experiencing a process of universal transformation, unprecedented both as regards its worldwide scale and its explosive pace. Never before has mankind had such a need for a renewal of thought, for a new philosophy of action to cope with the omnipresent social frictions that could ultimately destroy us as human beings. The eradication of hunger is increasingly recognized as both a moral imperative and a most important factor in creating social stability in an interdependent world. Only a global strategy of development, capable of mobilizing our spiritual and intellectual capacities, as well as all the elements of production, in the interest of the entire human race, can eliminate underdevelopment and hunger from the world.
The World Food Council has been given a mandate and is well positioned to play an increasingly important role in outlining and promoting an effective global food strategy. Such a strategy could beneficially include an increase in information and education concerning the food issue and, parallel with a growing awareness of the unacceptable biological slavery that the scourge of hunger constitutes, the designing of policies and distributive arrangements capable of meeting the challenge. A global information and education campaign could be carried out by UN agencies in collaboration with member governments and non-governmental organizations. This could foster a broader understanding of this most challenging issue and result in sufficient commitment to lay the foundation for the realization of the laudable goal of eradicating hunger and malnutrition by the end of the century as envisaged by the World Food Council. The Baha'i International Community, with its century-old experience in fostering global solidarity and promoting the universal acceptance of the human rights of every member of humanity, stands ready to contribute to this process.
1. The Decline in Hunger-Related Deaths, The Hunger Project Papers, No. 2, May 1984, by Roy L. Prosterman.