How can local action reduce global risk? Food security remains a challenge in many parts of the world. Food shortages affect hundreds of millions, impacting the welfare of populations, and creating a potential source of risk, for both developing and developed nations. In response, the city of Belo Horizonte implemented a policy framework for food security that improves local resilience and stability while reducing climate change emissions. This model is now scaling up to other cities in the Global South.
According to UN estimation, over 800 million people in the world are undernourished. Hunger kills more people each year than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. Faced with the interconnected challenges of climate change and rapid population growth, secure access to food remains a daily struggle for millions of people around the world.
Malnutrition is a direct factor in global catastrophic risk. Food shortages not only lead to increased mortality and morbidity. They can also weaken the health of populations and make them more vulnerable to pandemics. In addition, local food shortages can impact population flows and increase political instability, leading to increased risk of political violence.
More importantly, food shortages are systemically connected with climate change. The negative effects of global warming affect the most vulnerable population groups, including small-scale farmers in the Global South, disrupting local environmental conditions and affecting local food availability. In turn, when handled carelessly, this may lead to temporary local agricultural practices that harm local environmental conditions further, as well as carbon-intensive food imports. Thus, food security, agriculture, climate change, public health and political stability are intrinsically intertwined, and food shortages will undoubtedly affect our future.
Cities, states and regions across the globe have already begun to implement innovative policy solutions that not only seek to meet current human sustenance needs, but also secure those of future generations.
Despite the vast nature of these challenges, exemplary policy solutions already exist. Cities, states and regions across the globe have already begun to implement innovative policy solutions that seek not only to meet current human sustenance needs but also secure those of future generations through our transition to a sustainable planet. In the face of inevitable and mounting challenges lies the opportunity to transform our food and agricultural systems to mitigate climate change, become more climate-resilient, use natural resources sustainably and contribute to poverty reduction.
In 2009, the first Future Policy Award honoured one of the most fundamental human rights – the right to food. The inspiring winner was the comprehensive policy framework for food and nutrition security developed and implemented by the Brazilian city of Belo Horizonte.
The system is based on the legal right to food for all citizens. The law applies to every stage of the food chain, including research and development of farming technology – with increasing focus on organic and urban farming – support for farmers’ markets, waste reduction efforts, decentralised distribution, feeding and health education programmes, and operation of popular restaurants. A special Secretariat for Food and Nutrition Security (SMASAN) coordinates the different programmes and manages partnerships with relevant departments such as health, education, parks and spaces, waste management, etc, as part of a holistic approach. A strong emphasis is placed on healthy nutrition and the inclusion of family farmers into a localised and sustainable food system.
A central result of the policy framework is the near elimination of hunger in Belo Horizonte. There have been significant decreases in child mortality, reduction in childhood and adult malnutrition, increase in local and organic food production and consumption, more stable income for farmers, and greater access and availability of food for all.
In addition, the policy has had multiple positive side effects such as increased resilience to the effects of climate change and a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from food transportation – as well as lower exposure to variation in food prices internationally – as there is now a closer interaction between small rural producers and urban consumers.
Due to its effectiveness, this policy has strongly influenced Brazil’s na-tional ‘Zero-Hunger’ strategy and has been recognised by UNESCO and the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation as a model for cities in the Global South.
A feasibility study conducted by the German Federal Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ) concluded that the model was highly transferable. Urban areas in Africa, particularly Windhoek in Namibia, are now in the process of implementing programmes modelled on the Belo Horizonte model through a knowledge transfer facilitated by the World Future Council. The policy model of Belo Horizonte has potential to be scaled up further across the Global South, reducing local and global exposure to systemic risk.
The Future Policy Award celebrates policies that create better living conditions for current and future generations. The aim of the award is to raise global awareness for these exemplary policies and speed up policy action towards just, sustainable and peaceful societies. The Future Policy Award is the first award that celebrates policies rather than people on an international level.
Each year, the World Future Council identifies one topic on which policy progress is particularly urgent. Past awards were held in partnership with the UN Convention on Biodiversity, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN, the UN Forum on Forests, the UN Office of Disarmament Affairs, UN Women, UNICEF and the Inter-Parliamentary Union.
Alexandra Wandel is Director and Vice-Chair of the Management Board of the World Future Council. The World Future Council works in close collaboration with civil society, governments, businesses and international organisations to research future-just legislation and advise and support decision-makers in their concrete implementation.