'Finish line' not in sight: Struggle intensifies for sustainable development of all

The governments of over 190 countries promised to deliver on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030 at the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in September 2015. But progress to keep these promises, has been, at best, patchy. Several community leaders from Asia Pacific region who were actively participating in 2017 Asia Pacific Civil Society Forum on Sustainable Development (CSO Forum of APFSD) in Bangkok, Thailand, feel that business as usual cannot continue if we are truly committed to translate SDGs into development justice for all.

Food insecurity casts dark shadows over millions

For instance, by 2030 governments have committed (as part of SDG-2) to: end hunger, end all forms of malnutrition, double the agricultural productivity and incomes of small-scale food producers, ensure sustainable food production systems and implement resilient agricultural practices and by 2020, maintain the genetic diversity of seeds, cultivated plants and farmed and domesticated animals and their related wild species.

Food security is a fundamental human right

Ajay Jha, CECOEDECON, India (left),
Wali Haider, Roots for Equity, Pakistan (centre)
Joan Carling of Tebtebba Foundation, Philippines (right)
Ajay Jha from Centre for Community Economics and Development Consultants Society (CECOEDECON), India, provided a brief reality check on SDG-2: SDGs do not address food security as a fundamental human right, does not talk about zero tolerance to hunger deaths, does not address extremely contentious issue of land grabbing which is intrinsically connected to hunger, and leads to situations where three-fourth of our agriculture land gets used by meat production.

India loses USD 12 billion in GDP due to 'hidden hunger'

"India’s performance in the recently released Global Hunger Index (GHI) report is tragic. The country which is one of the largest producers of cereals, vegetables and fruits in the world, ranks 97 among 118 countries and is home to over 184 million undernourished people. India also pays a very heavy price for vitamin and mineral deficiencies, often called 'hidden hunger', as it loses USD 12 billion in gross domestic product across the world each year as per the World Bank estimates" reads a news earlier this month.

India is home to highest number of stunted children globally

Ajay Jha shared that stunting is a serious manifestation of chronic malnutrition. Sadly, India has the highest number of children suffering from stunted growth in the world.

India is a food surplus country but 20% food grains and 40% food gets wasted due to avoidable factors like supply chain issues or poor storage, asserts Ajay Jha.

A large part of land acquired under special economic zones (SEZs) is not utilized even after ten years. More than 2000 farmers are leaving agriculture every day and more than 70% farmers have contemplated leaving agriculture due to failure to make both ends meet. The claim to increase diversity of food crops also does not hold much waters as only a very few varieties or species dominate agriculture markets.

Not TNCs, but small-scale farmers feed the world!

Joan Carling of Tebtebba Foundation Philippines (International Indigenous Peoples Center of Policy, Research and Education) raised the important issue of how industrialization is fueling land grabbing and depriving poor and marginalized communities from land rights.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) showed evidence that credit goes to the small-scale farmers for feeding the world (and not Transnational Corporations (TNCs) in agriculture sector).

Astronomical military budgets vs tiny development budgets

Marjorie Pamintuan, General Secretary, Asia Pacific Research Network (APRN), raised another important link between militarization and increasing land grabbing. Experiences from affected communities in Asia Pacific nations show how paramilitary and military forces are sent to 'prepare the ground' for land grabbing, thereby increasing vulnerability of marginalized communities for gross human rights violations. On one hand, governments have promised to establish peaceful communities as part of SDGs and on another hand the build-up of fire-arms and weapons within countries and fueling arms race between nations is jeopardizing peace, human development and harmony.

How can anyone rationalize disproportionately huge and ever-increasing military budgets though development budgets often get slashed? Military budgets must be drastically reduced and resources rechannelised for translating SDG promises into development justice for all.

People over profit or profit over people?

Ranja Sengupta, TWN (right)
Trade negotiations are legally binding instruments but promises like SDGs are not. No wonder corporations are often able to arm-twist nations, especially low- and middle-income nations, in pushing development on back burner but not let SDGs have any adverse impact on trade. Ranja Sengupta of Third World Network (TWN) raised this issue powerfully and said that participatory and transparent trade negotiation processes must be secured urgently to check any further slowdown in progressing towards SDGs.

SDGs could lead towards sustainable development

Wali Haider, Roots for Equity
Governments' commitment towards delivering on SDGs could be an important milestone in progressing towards broader development justice for all. Industry interference in development policy is neither new nor rare. Wali Haider from Roots of Equity in Pakistan raised alarm over rising corporate power and related human rights abuses. It is important to ensure that the SDG implementation as well as other mechanisms such as the UN Business and Human Rights Treaty process remains firewalled from undue corporate influence.

Bobby Ramakant, CNS (Citizen News Service)
27 March 2017