Frontiers of law in china

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2015 was a milestone for global efforts to reduce food insecurity. It was the target year set by the World Food Summit’s Rome Declaration to reduce the number of undernourished people around the world to half of the 1996 levels.1 It also marked the end date for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), whose first goal is to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger. In particular, target 1c of the MDGs aims to halve, the proportion of people who suffer from hunger between 1990 and 2015.2

The 2015 target set by the World Food Summit (WFS) has been missed “by a large margin”.3 The 1990-92 estimates put over one billion people across the world as undernourished. Reaching the 2015 target would have required reducing the number of undernourished people to 515 million in 2015. However, current projections put the number of undernourished people in 2014-16 as just under 795 million, which is over a quarter of a billion shy of the WFS’s target. In contrast, the MDG’s target of reducing hunger has been widely evaluated as a success. Estimates of the prevalence of undernourishment in 2014-2016 is “less than one percentage point4 away from that required level to reach the target by 2015.”5 The gains have been particularly impressive for the global South as a whole, where the percentage of undernourished people in the total population has decreased from 23.3 per cent in 1990-92 to 12.9 per cent in 2014-16. In addition, more than half the number of developing countries monitored (72 out of 129) have reached their domestic MDG hunger targets.6 The reason for the discrepancy in the level of success between the WFS and MDG targets is due to the fact that while the percentage of undernourished people in the world has almost decreased by half, the drop in actual numbers is far less encouraging as the total world population has grown by 1.9 billion people since 1990-92.7

The conflicting achievements of the WFS and MDG targets reflect the current paradox faced in the global fight against food insecurity. Enormous progress has been made to reduce the proportion of undernourished people by half, yet the challenge of eradicating malnutrition remains seemingly insurmountable. Furthermore, the decline in the global proportion of undernourished people has taken place at a far slower rate in recent years compared to the rapid progress achieved in the 1990s.8 Sustaining the pace of the impressive initial achievements in reducing hunger and malnutrition will require comprehensive and well-coordinated strategies not only to ensure food security but also to enhance human capabilities.

The global community is facing new and complex challenges as it looks towards devising new strategies to ensure food security post-2015. Growing population and increasing wealth has led to greater demand for food and feed grains. This, coupled with the globalisation of the food supply chain, has produced changes in people’s tastes and consumption patterns that have a dramatic impact on “where agricultural commodities were traded and what they [were] used for.”9 Ever expanding international trade in agricultural commodities is also influencing food security by impacting domestic food prices and production patterns. Recent years have also witnessed volatile commodity prices, higher food and energy prices, rising unemployment and global economic recessions that occurred in the late 1990s and 2000’s.10 Climate change, water scarcity and other environmental issues also pose direct challenges to food security.11 In particular, it is expected that agricultural productivity will be affected by both changing rainfall patterns and temperature variations. Flooding as a result of rising seawater levels in coastal areas will reduce the amount of land available for agriculture use, while the frequency of extreme climatic events, such as floods, hurricanes and droughts, all elevate threats to global food security.12 As a result, the factors influencing the current food security paradigm are becoming more complex and “transcending national and regional boundaries” meaning that multi-stakeholder and intergovernmental platforms are becoming increasingly important to achieve global consensus.13

Recognizing these complex challenges, which pose serious threats to global food security, this paper urges experts to explore comprehensive strategies to ensure sustainable food security in a globalized world. Traditionally, the issue food insecurity has been looked at through narrow disciplinary lens. For example, economists and development professionals have addressed food insecurity through the framework of poverty alleviation, while lawyers approach food insecurity as a question of basic human rights and legal entitlement of each individual to access food. In analysing the comparative experiences of tackling food security in China and India, we adopt an inter-disciplinary approach, which melds legal, economic and human perspectives to food security. We propose a human dignity based approach in tackling food insecurity, which combines the push for right to food approach with broader strategies for enhancing human capabilities with the aim of ensuring comprehensive human security.

I. Why Compare China and India?

China and India provide a good litmus test for assessing the success of global efforts to address the issue of food security. Impressive economic growth, accompanied by significant reductions in food insecurity in these two countries have played a critical role in the success in meeting the MDG’s hunger target. Yet, in spite of the impressive gains made in both countries, it is estimated that India and China continue have 191 million and 151 million undernourished people respectively, making them home to the world’s highest and second highest number of undernourished people.14 Due their huge populations,15 a vast share of the world’s undernourished live in China and India. The two countries together represent 42 per cent of the world’s undernourished people.

On the face of it, China and India have markedly different priorities when it comes to hunger and malnutrition. Although both countries have made considerable reductions in food insecurity over the past two decades, hunger and malnutrition are much more serious concerns for India compared to China. China reduced the prevalence of undernourished from 23.9 per cent in 1990-92 to 10.6 per cent in 2012-14, reaching its MDG hunger target well before the deadline. In 1990-92, India began with almost the same level of undernourishment as China at 23.8 per cent of the total population, however, by 2012-14 India’s prevalence of undernourishment still hovered at 15.2 per cent, meaning it most likely failed to meet its MDG hunger target at the end of 2015. In addition, India has a much lower calorie per capita availability of food than China as its population continues to exceed the growth rates of income and agricultural productivity.16

Yet, China and India share many overlapping challenges as both countries move towards a more expansive conception of food security. The impressive improvements made in food security have largely come as a result of a long period of high economic growth, which for the last two decades has persisted at a rate of 7 to 12 per cent in both countries. However, rapid economic growth has also been accompanied by sharp rises in inter-regional income disparities and a marked rise in income inequalities between urban and rural areas. In China, incomes have grown more rapidly in the Eastern coastal and central region, while income inequality has continued to grow between urban and rural areas.17 Data from 2007 shows that per capita GDP in the Eastern regions was more than double that of the Western inland regions. There is a substantial rural urban income differential, with urban areas enjoying three times the per capita GDP of rural areas.18 These economic disparities, most importantly have translated into unequal access to food. A recent study has shown that the Eastern regions and urban households have recorded much higher levels of food consumption19 while food insecurity still remains “common in poor rural areas.”20 Similarly in India, inequality has also risen since the 1990s and has largely favoured India’s Western and Southern states over the poorer Northern and Eastern states. The World Food Program’s Food Security Atlas of Rural India shows that extreme food insecurity is heavily concentrated in the East.21 Data has also shown the existence of significant differences in malnutrition between rural and urban areas. In 2005-6, the proportion of underweight children was 39 per cent in rural areas compared to 36 per cent in urban areas. Similarly, 41 per cent of children in rural areas were stunted, compared to 31 per cent in urban areas.22

Rapid economic growth has also led to “major changes in the levels and patterns of their food consumption and food buying behaviour” as people’s food demands in China and India undergo a dramatic transformation.23 Consumers are rapidly increasing their consumption of animal products – especially meat in China, and dairy in India where vegetarian diets are more widespread – along with vegetables and fruits, while demand for cereals are decreasing.24 Changing consumption patterns have a direct and significant influence on food production patterns and overall food security. Increased demands on more resource intensive foods, which have a major impact on global food price increases, disproportionately affect “poor consumers who are increasingly exposed to the price fluctuation of the international commodities market.”25 Increased consumption of animal products, which are more resource intensive, also adversely affect the agricultural resource base and diminishes its productive capabilities.26 The diversion of land and agricultural resources to the production of higher value food items that are mostly consumed by the urban rich, comes at the expense of millet and grain production which are critical for ensuring food security for the rural population. Increasing consumption of resource intensive foods further fuels the environmental challenges currently facing China and India. Both countries are witnessing increasing levels of soil erosion, land and water contamination due to over use of fertilizers and pesticides, salinization and desertification, leading to reduction in the availability of arable land. Water scarcity and contamination and unsustainable practices of exploitation of groundwater has negatively impacted grain production in both Northwest India and the North China Plain.27 Inequitable economic growth, along with unsustainable agricultural practices, have added additional layers of complexities for policy makers in China and India,, as they explore solutions for guaranteeing sustainable food security for their vast populations.

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