The Politics of Poverty

Ideas and analysis from Oxfam America's policy experts

When the US Congress lags, hope for food security found in Peru

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Peru’s legislature is poised to pass a national food security bill.

Stephanie Burgos is a senior policy advisor at Oxfam America.

I’m glad 2013 is over – the year of all-time records for the most unproductive and most unpopular US Congress ever. I have high hopes for positive change in 2014, declared the International Year of Family Farming, though my sights are admittedly set beyond US borders. Much still needs to be done around the world to ensure that every woman, man and child has enough nutritious food to eat every day. Highlighting the importance of investing in smallholder farming to eradicating poverty and hunger in 2014 is central to achieving that goal.

There’s a lot in 2014 that can help get us closer to that goal that (thankfully) does not rely on the US Congress. The international community, led by the Rome-based Committee on World Food Security, will negotiate this year a new set of principles intended to promote responsible investments in agriculture and food systems that support the progressive realization of the right to adequate food. And this year will be critical in making progress toward global agreement on the United Nation’s post-2015 development agenda and a global deal to address climate change, both of which will have direct impacts on agriculture and food security, particularly of the most vulnerable.

Lourdes Huanca, president of FEMUCARINAP, an Oxfam ally organization, led a march of indigenous women through the streets of Lima, Peru, on World Food Day, October 16, 2013. Huanca's group called for increased recognition of the role of women farmers as well as greater investment in rural food security throughout Peru. Photo: Percy Ramírez/Oxfam America
Lourdes Huanca, president of FEMUCARINAP, an Oxfam ally organization, led a march of indigenous women through the streets of Lima, Peru, on World Food Day, October 16, 2013. Huanca’s group called for increased recognition of the role of women farmers as well as greater investment in rural food security throughout Peru. “The president says Peru is growing but we have more than 13 million people at risk of food insecurity. Why do we still have poverty where we have large mining companies? It’s the same in the north and in the south, and in the jungle… We want governments to understand that we have power, strength, and wisdom, and the knowledge of our ancestors, who gave us these seeds,” says Huanca. Photo: Percy Ramírez/Oxfam America

Getting global agreements is critical, but of course without committed leadership at the national level, these deals will never materialize into real action. 2013 was a momentous year for progress in guaranteeing the right to food in poor countries with a new law in India enshrining the right to food and 2014 could be the year for Peru. Its legislature is poised to pass a national food security bill that will guarantee the right to food of all its citizens and create a single entity responsible for ensuring effective implementation of a national food security strategy. Enactment of this bill, which will enable broad civil society engagement in the food security strategy, would be a significant step for a country where over 13 million people, nearly half the population, are food insecure.

It may seem surprising that so many people in a country like Peru, whose cuisine is of world-wide renown, suffer from hunger. As Chef Alejandra Schrader discovered during her recent trip to Peru with Oxfam—where she visited Peru’s famous culinary festival, Mistura, as well as a community soup kitchen—small-scale producers are an important part of Peru’s food system. Yet many of Peru’s food insecure population are small-scale farmers, who produce 60 percent of the food consumed domestically.

Peru’s proposed food security law, which has been under discussion for nearly two years, will take action to address this problem. The bill is the result of a consensus among different political parties, and last year was passed unanimously by two Congressional committees. It was brought to the plenary just before the holidays, but the debate over last-minute amendments delayed its final passage until after the New Year. When Peru’s Congress reconvenes today (January 6th), it is hoped the final bill can be swiftly approved.

A broad alliance of Peruvian civil society organizations, farmers and consumer groups have been actively promoting the food security bill and lobbying their Members of Congress for its passage. With on-line petition drives and social media networks, and support from Oxfam’s GROW campaign in Peru, they have continued to build strong support for the legislation.

Here’s hoping they can claim success early in 2014 to inspire similar actions around the world such as in El Salvador, where strong grassroots pressure was unable to overcome political infighting to secure passage last year of a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to food and a new food security law. Peruvians can help make this year one of important victories to overcome hunger and food insecurity globally—whether or not anything changes in US Congress.

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