Note: A complete summary of today’s Economic and Social Council meeting will be available after its conclusion.
The first panel of the day was titled “review of SDGs implementation: SDG 1”, and was moderated by Caroline Sanchez-Parama, World Bank, with Stefan Schweinfest, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, providing a statistical overview. Panellists included Martin Ravallion, Edmond D. Villani Professor of Economics, Georgetown University; Yang Zhi, Mayor of Jingzhou, China; Yaw Ansu, Chief Economist, African Center for Economic Transformation, Ghana; and Janet Gornick, Professor, Political Science and Director, Stone Center on Socioeconomic Inequality, City University of New York. The lead discussants were Deborah Greenfield, Deputy Director-General for Policy, International Labour Organization (ILO) and Wellington Chibebe, Deputy General Secretary, International Trade Union Confederation.
Mr. SCHWEINFEST said that, despite progress, 750 million people still lived in extreme poverty. He noted, however, that nearly 1 billion people had escaped poverty since 1999. About half of the world’s poor lived in sub-Saharan Africa and among the working poor, young people were most likely to live in extreme poverty across all regions of the world. Social protection coverage varied and did not reach many vulnerable populations, he said, noting that less than half of the world’s population was covered by at least one social protection scheme. Only 30 per cent of children, 41 per cent of women giving birth and 68 per cent of people above retirement age were covered by some form of social protection.
Ms. SANCHEZ-PARAMA noted that, although there had been progress over the last 10 to 15 years in eradicating poverty, almost 800 million people continued to live in depravation, which was unacceptable in a world that had the means to end extreme poverty. The extreme poor were concentrated in particular households and regions of the world, many of which were located in rural areas and worked in agriculture. More than half of the extreme poor were children and most had little to no education. Further, the majority of extremely poor people lived in places that were prone to natural disasters or in fragile or conflict-affected States. She expressed concern that the risks of climate change could result in an additional 100 million people living in poverty by 2030.
Mr. RAVALLION said that there had been good overall progress against absolute poverty, but there were continuing challenges in reducing relative poverty and making sure that “no one is left behind”. Poorer countries had relied less on direct interventions against poverty, as economic growth had done the bulk of the work, which was a dynamic that may need to change. Poverty measurements focused exclusively on absolute poverty, which was not consistent with social thought and the aims of social policies. There needed to be lower and upper bounds on global poverty measures that took into account the country in which people lived. In other words, richer countries should have higher poverty lines and vice versa when measuring poverty in developing countries. There had been progress in the number of people who were absolutely poor, although less progress in the number of people who were relatively poor.
Mr. YANG highlighted that, by the end of 2016, the impoverished population in Jingzhou under the absolute poverty level had dropped from about 409,000 to 156,000 people. He stressed that, to end poverty, it was necessary to boost confidence and establish a mechanism of joint cooperation among all sectors of society. An important characteristic of poverty alleviation in China was the wide mobilization of all sectors. Further, ending poverty required greater efforts to improve infrastructure. In that context, infrastructure investment had been increased in China with an aim of enhancing the availability of safe drinking water and improving the power grid. Increasing income was a fundamental building block of reducing poverty. Development was the key to solving all social problems and the most effective solution to ending poverty, which was ultimately, the Government’s responsibility.
Mr. ANSU pointed out that agriculture contributed about 30 per cent of Africa’s gross domestic product (GDP), although that varied across countries. It was clear that improving agricultural productivity would have a strong impact on poverty reduction, while also helping to improve food security. Further, agriculture provided a major contribution to exports and foreign exchange that financed imports of other economic sectors. Close to 60 per cent of the world’s uncultivated, arable land was in Africa, while the continent’s year-round sunshine and youthful population provided opportunities. However, access to land and the lack of security of tenure was a challenge, as was low productivity and the lack of profitability in farming, which meant that that youth often were not attracted to work in agriculture. It would be important to improve the production of key staples and product diversification, while also leveraging agriculture to drive industrialization.
Ms. GORNICK noted that poverty rates varied considerably among affluent countries and among countries of similar levels of economic development. For example, the United States had a much higher level of poverty than the United Kingdom, despite similar levels of economic development. Effective monitoring of the Sustainable Development Goals required comparable data over time and across space. It also called for disaggregation, which required microdata. Income was one measure of well-being. Microdata with multiple dimensions and outcomes were needed, especially in middle- and low-income countries. Supranational and national investments in high-quality microdata were crucial. Equally important were efforts aimed at making comparable microdata widely available for research and analysis. Complementing high-quality microdata with national and subnational macrodata on corresponding policies and institutions was needed for effective policy analysis.
Ms. GREENFIELD said that focusing on relative poverty meant that poverty was recognized as a global phenomenon. By examining the situation of some middle‑income countries, it was evident that poverty was directly related to inequality, which was, in turn, related to stagnant wages. Decent work was critical to poverty reduction and universal social protections were a driver for reducing both poverty and inequality. It was not only about growth, but, really, it was about fair growth. Global supply chains could be engines of growth, but did not necessarily equate to good jobs. In some parts of the world, the informal economy represented about 80 per cent of all work. In those places, social protections were of key importance. Another area that needed to be better understood concerned the movement of people, as they moved from rural areas to more developed cities. Policies that addressed the care economy would be critical to enabling women to join the labour market and to move into jobs with decent working conditions. Unpaid care work was a huge barrier to moving women out of poverty.
Mr. CHIBEBE recalled that it was commonly understood that job creation was critical to ending poverty, although the reality was that poverty must be addressed through the creation of quality jobs compounded with social protections, better working conditions and democratic decision-making processes. Trade unions believed that ending poverty required access to decent livelihoods, whereby workers were adequately compensated. Minimum wages should be living wages and established through rule-setting processes with the direct involvement of social partners, including workers and employer organizations. Workers should have the right to organize, join trade unions and negotiate wages and compensation. Quality public services formed the cornerstone of efforts to end poverty. Austerity measures must be thoroughly discussed, because if they were left to Governments alone, they would cripple efforts to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
In the ensuing discussion, the representative of Indonesia noted that his country had undertaken serious efforts to address the needs of the most vulnerable by expanding financial inclusion and the availability of universal health coverage, among other efforts. The representative of Maldives emphasized that the combination of the effects of climate change, natural disasters and isolated locations kept many small island developing States such as hers unable to move forward with poverty eradication. In that context, she stressed that such States remained a special case when it came to sustainable development. The representative of Kenya noted that her country was implementing a national social safety net programme to improve the well-being of people in the country, particularly those who could not meet their basic needs.
Mr. ANSU noted that one challenge that remained was how to intensify agricultural production, such as through the use of fertilizers, without damaging the environment. Mr. RAVALLION recalled that developing countries were reducing poverty at a much faster rate than developed countries had a century ago. Mr. YANG noted the targeted solutions that had been put in place in his city to alleviate poverty, which were tailored to the varying conditions, both on the individual and household levels. Ms. GORNICK said her work had shown that there were many statistical offices lacking data capacity, both in terms of fielding surveys and in preparing the data for use by Government policymakers.
The representatives of Azerbaijan, Switzerland and China also delivered statements.
Also participating was a representative of the Food and Agriculture Organization.
A speaker from the children and youth major group also spoke.
Moderated by Gerda Verburg, Coordinator, Scaling-Up Nutrition Movement, the second panel, titled “review of implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 2 (end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture)”, included panellists Esther Penunia, Secretary General, Asian Farmers’ Association for Sustainable Rural Development, and Elizabeth Mpofu, General Coordinator, La Via Campesina, Zimbabwe.
Eugenio Diaz-Bonilla, Head of the Latin American and Caribbean Programme, International Food Policy Research Institute; Meena Bilgi, Women Organizing for Change in Agriculture and Natural Resources Management; and Patrick Caron, Chair, High Level Panel of Experts, United Nations Committee on World Food Security, were lead discussants.
Ms. PENUNIA said Asia produced as much as 70 per cent of its own food, yet it was home to the world’s poorest and hungriest people. “We are hungry because we are poor,” she said. Eradicating hunger, poverty and malnutrition required a holistic approach to development that was socially just, environmentally sound and economically viable. Policies and programmes were needed that promoted secured land rights, easier access to financing, strengthened farmers’ position in value chains, and investment in roads, electricity, health care and education, among other things. Affirmative action would promote gender equality in agriculture, she said, emphasizing also a need for better macrotrade policies. She went on to say that transforming agriculture would require that family farmers be viewed not as victims and beneficiaries, but as agents and partners for sustainable development.
Ms. MPOFU said privatization, reduced social spending, trade liberalization and growth-driven development were being promoted as the magic wand to eradicate poverty everywhere. However, for her organization, those policies had created poverty in the first place. Such alternatives as food sovereignty, agroecology and popular and integral agrarian reforms were being ignored. Solutions must come from the very people the Sustainable Development Goals were supported to help, she said, describing poverty as the direct outcome of extreme wealth accumulation by a few people. Now was the time for real structural transformation, to end business as usual, and to reverse inequality and unfair power relations.
Mr. DIAZ-BONILLA, emphasizing the need to separate countries in conflict situations from those that were not, said that helping the poor and hungry meant going directly to the poor and hungry. Social safety nets would help, he said, noting that they cost less than 0.1 per cent of global GDP. Other issues included the political economy of the food system, food labelling, women’s empowerment and consumers who were not doing all they could to lead healthy lives.
Ms. BILGI, noting a decline in public investment in agriculture, said transformative change in food and agriculture was necessary. That meant moving beyond increasing production without negative social and environmental impacts. Small-scale producers, who made up the vast majority of food producers worldwide, must be empowered, she said, adding that emphasis must be placed on promoting the equitable sharing of opportunities for women farmers. In India, she said hunger was approached mainly as a rural phenomenon and a question of food scarcity. The emerging challenge of rapid urbanization — and a growing disconnect between food and nutrition — needed to be identified.
Mr. CARON suggested that the entire 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development be addressed by looking at food systems as a lever. A revolution was needed, not just incremental change, of the same magnitude of the green revolution. Agriculture would be a game changer if transformation was considered within the wider perspective of food systems. He went on to call for a “rainbow revolution” that entailed local innovations for improving resource efficiency, strengthening resilience and security social responsibility, alongside international frameworks such as the Paris Agreement on climate change and national policies to ensure the right to food.
In the ensuing discussion, delegations discussed their countries’ and organization’s efforts towards implementing Goal 2.
The representative of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), speaking also on behalf of the World Food Programme (WFP) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), said that, for the first time in many years, there was evidence that gains made in ending hunger were at risk due to conflict, climate change, and a lack of appropriate policies and investment. Some 20 million people lived at risk of famine, while millions more faced food security, just two years after the Goals were agreed. Sustainable agriculture, resilience and productive food systems were needed, as well as a transformation of the rural economy that put smallholder farmers at the centre.
The representative of Finland said gender equality was absolutely crucial, given that women comprised 43 per cent of the agricultural work force in developing countries. She cited a study that concluded that empowering women farmers could prompt a 20 to 30 per cent increase in farm yields while improving the security of their families and reducing by 100 million the overall number of people living in hunger.
The representative of the World Bank Group drew attention to the work of the Global Agriculture and Food Security Programme, which had delivered $1.5 billion since it was created by the Group of 20, known as the G20, in 2009. At the country level, bringing technical and financial stakeholders together produced much better results. She added that it was very important for reforms to be recipient-led, rather than coming out of an office in Washington, D.C. She went on to quote a farmer she had met in Manila who said: “No farmer, no food, no future.”
The representative of Indonesia said his country had made promising progress in providing better nutrition for its people, but much more needed to be done. Emphasizing the strong link between food security, poverty and health, as well as education, he said an integrated policy approach could ensure that food accessibility and availability were addressed effectively. Intensifying agricultural research and development might be an answer, he said.
The representative of Sudan, speaking as a member of the Committee on World Food Security, said ending hunger and achieving food security would require, among other things, raising smallholders’ incomes and securing their access to markets. Sustainable food systems with strong accountable institutions and responsible investments were also required, she said, emphasizing as well the need to prioritize women’s empowerment.
The representative of the United States said recent events had reinforced how vulnerable the world remained to food insecurity. A global response was needed, she said, describing the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo as an overlooked humanitarian crisis. Emphasizing the importance of preventative action, she said bridging the gap between humanitarian action and development was vital. She went on to note that discussions were under way on better indicators for measuring progress on Goal 2.
The representative of Chile underscored the value of cooperation with other countries to promote successful ways to tackle malnutrition. She added that childhood obesity — which was related to poverty and inequality — had not been overcome, and explained her country’s implementation of food labelling regulations. Reducing malnutrition would require incorporating economic aspects.
The representative of the European Union said sustainability was prominently reflected in the Common Agricultural Policy, in line with the 2030 Agenda. European Union rules stipulated that farmers could only get European Union support if they accepted a basic layer of environmental regulations. The Common Agricultural Policy was currently being modernized and simplified, with input from a just-completed public consultation. Turning to external action, he said the European Union and its member States would continue to extend support to those facing acute food crises.
Also speaking were representatives of South Africa, Argentina, Finland, Benin, France and China.
Representatives of the food and agriculture cluster of the non-governmental organization major group and the stakeholder group for persons with disabilities also took the floor.