According to the United Nations' World Food Program, some 795 million people, about one in nine people on earth, do not have enough food to lead a healthy active life. The vast majority live in third world countries, where about 13.5 percent of the population is undernourished.
Earlier this year, three UN agencies dealing with the issue of food security, acknowledged the progress made by Latin American countries in recent years. In the region, the percentage of the population that was undernourished diminished from 13.9 percent in 1990-1992 to less than 5 percent in 2014-2016, which means that the numbe of people starving dropped from 58 million to less than 27 million.
One of the countries where this progress has been most remarkable is Nicaragua, where back in 1990-1992, over half of the population, 54.4 percent was undernourished. Twenty years later, by 2012-2014, the percentage of undernourished Nicaraguans had diminished to 16.8 percent - a reduction of 69.1 percent, one of the highest in the world.
A report from October, 2005 quotes UN Food and Agriculture Organization's representative Loy Van Crowder warning about the seriousness of the food security situation in the country. According to FAO's estimates, about 27 percent of the people were undernourished, and about the same proportion of children aged 6 to 9 showed growth problems because of this - a figure that placed Nicaragua just above Haiti and at the same level as other poor third world countries such as Mongolia, Sudan, Kenya and Cambodia.
Back then, Van Crowder explained that, "one of Nicaragua's main problems was that it doesn't have access to food production in spite of it being of good quality, many people live in a cycle of self-subsistence, they consume what they produce, and some months they don't produce enough". This was shortly before the Sandinista Front returned to government in January 2007 after 17 years of neoliberal policies. Since then things have steadily improved.
A few years after Van Crowder's 2005 comments, FAO's figures for undernourishment in Nicaragua for the period 2006-2008 had gone down to 22 percent. "The only country that comes close to achieving the goals of the World Food Summit as well as the First Millennium Development Goal with respect to a reduction of the relative and absolute number of undernourished people [in Central America] is Nicaragua," the organization stated.
In June 2008, the Sandinista Government presented to various sectors of society a first draft of its National Plan for Human Development with two main goals: To lift Nicaragua out of poverty and to do so through a more just, alternative path and a more democratic power structure. The plan revolved around sustainable development, the restitution of people's basic rights and the fight to reduce poverty. Under constant review since 2008, the plan has become more concrete and more far-reaching. Its latest version, covering the period 2012-2016, provides the current overall framework for the country's development agenda.
In May 2009, FAO's representative in Managua, Gero Vaagt, noted that "the Nicaraguan Government prioritizes the issue of food and nutritional security, which can be seen in the initiatives implemented at the national level among small farmers, poor rural families and the most vulnerable sectors of society in order to improve the food and nutritional situation of the Nicaraguan families."
Vaagt also highlighted Nicaragua's and President Daniel Ortega's interest to promote food and nutrition issues during the country's pro tempore presidency in the Central American Integration System in 2009. Key concepts internationally promoted by FAO were adopted in Nicaragua's Law 693 on Food Security and Sovereignty passed by the National Assembly that same year.
The law establishes that it is the responsibility of the State to implement public policies that facilitate timely and sufficient access to safe, nutritious foods by the country's population. It also links policies to fight poverty and unemployment, as well as guaranteeing the country's people access to land, water and financial credit, to policies aimed at improving agricultural production as well as policies aimed at promoting healthy nutritional habits among the population.
The law treats aspects such as gender equality, sustainable development based on peasant production and environmental policies and respect for cultural food diversity and identity as intimately related to the fight against hunger and appoints a Special Attorney on Food and Nutritional Security and Sovereignty.
Law 693 also establishes a National System for Food and Nutritional Security (SINASSAN) in order to enforce the right to food “as a fundamental human right that includes the right not to experience hunger and to be protected against it, to an adequate nutrition and to food and nutritional sovereignty”. SINASSAN operates at all levels, from the national level down to the municipalities and is subjected to the authority of the National Commission for Food and Nutritional Security which in turn depends on the Presidency of the Republic.
An expression of the philosophy is the FAO-backed Nicaraguan initiative Special Program of Food Security (PESA) – a program highlighted among 62 other programs supported by the organization worldwide because it not only includes the country's productive sectors but also expands the program taking into account issues such as health and education.
Both the National Plan for Human Development and the Law on Food Security and Sovereignty are powerful instruments making possible policies that aim to ensure Nicaraguan's right to food. Among these policies one can mention the following:
Support for small-scale food production and women's empowerment such as the Zero Hunger Program;
Guaranteeing secure property titles to rural families to protect their rights to land, especially favoring women;
Cooperative and State-sponsored banks such as CARUNA and PRODUZCAMOS offering fair credit to rural families;
Purchases of food by the State in order to counter speculative hoarding in the economy;
De-privatization of public services, especially the education system where children are guaranteed a meal every day;
Social policies like Love for the Very Smallest supporting families at risk of exclusion;
Dispersion of food production all over the country in order to reduce vulnerability of food production to drought and floods.
Promotion of the various regions' traditional culinary cultures.
Guaranteeing a nationwide disaster prevention system and, when necessary, relief to populations affected by natural catastrophes.
Policies such as these must be regarded in a context of broad economic growth, the fight against unemployment, strengthening of the public sector, infrastructure investment, in sum, of reconstructing much of what neoliberal policies (and the imperialist-backed terrorist war of the 1980's) had destroyed. All this has been possible thanks to the invaluable help of cooperation and trade via ALBA and PETROCARIBE, mechanisms which give the country the necessary room to maneuver in order to negotiate the turbulent waters of the volatile Capitalist World Market. In sum, broad anti-neoliberal policies are a key ingredient in order to achieve food security and sovereignty.
In July, 2014, Mr. Kanayo F. Nwanze, director of the UN International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFDA) visited Matagalpa and the Atlantic Coast to get a first-hand view of the successful experiences of local communities in the fight against hunger. “For us, as an organization, Nicaragua is an example of how a country can move from low to medium-size incomes, which can be seen by the goals it has achieved, and we at IFDA will replicate this experience in other Latin American countries,” he said.
Almost a year later, three UN agencies: FAO, IFDA and the World Food Program (WFP) reached the conclusion that Nicaragua, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Guyana, Peru, Venezuela, Uruguay, Bolivia, Panama and Surinam had accomplished the Millennium Goal of reducing hunger by half. Most of those countries had followed anti-neoliberal policies similar to those of Nicaragua in recent years.
“We have learned from Latin America that social protection helps a lot,” said FAO director José Graziano da Silva at the presentation of the joint report of the UN organs on the matter. In March this year, FAO and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), joined in the common goal of eliminating hunger by 2025.
It remains the case that 15 percent of Nicaraguans still go to bed hungry each night, but each year that number declines. In comparison with the population going hungry ten years ago, the improvement for the country and its people under their Sandinista government has been really momentous. The main lesson from Nicaragua's experience is the importance of a sovereign food policy along with its strategic alliances as a member of the Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas (ALBA).
The region has come a long way since the 2008 “Food for Life” Summit held in Managua in May 2008. Addressing the crisis of food security in the region back then, Ralph Gonsalves, Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines said,"I feel no confidence that countries, apart from ourselves and those seated around this table, can deal with this problem completely seriously. I don't see the Americans helping us, nor do I see the Europeans helping us.”
Seven years on, despite climate change and the continuing global economic recession, people in Nicaragua, thanks to ALBA and Petrocaribe, are finally in sight of eliminating hunger completely.