The inaugural international coordinator for the Freedom From Hunger Campaign (FFHC), Charles H. Weitz, told me that he thought the Freedom From Hunger Campaign had been a failure. Mr. Weitz shared this view with me in 2005, almost 50 years since the launch of the campaign in 1960 and 25 years after the campaign was formally shut down. I maintain that the adoption of the MDGs and Global Goals is proof that he was wrong.
The campaign was originally conceived with a five-year mandate but was renewed repeatedly until the early 1980s. It was largely an information/education initiative designed to raise awareness about the problem of hunger and malnutrition, and stimulate action. It successfully mobilized governments, UN and governmental agencies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), private industry, groups and organizations of all kinds, and millions of individuals in common cause to fight hunger and poverty. Immediate results included an exponential proliferation of development NGOs and the development of sophisticated, long-term foreign aid and agricultural development programs by state and non-state actors.
FAO Director General Binay Ranjan Sen perceived the urgency and scale of global development problems and created FFHC to initiate coherent, broad-based action. He further understood that persuading the majority of FAO member countries to agree on a singular approach to development would be difficult, so his proposal for the campaign included a limited duration (five years) and relatively limited engagement by FAO. Meanwhile, Sen used FFHC as a tool to transform FAO from a technical agency into a development organization, and he guessed (correctly) that FFHC would be renewed in order to achieve its mandate. The original plan for the campaign included a world food congress that would gather to reflect on information and formulate a plan of action. The congress, held in Washington, D.C. in 1963, was unique in that it was a forum for discussion that included heads of state, UN and government officials as well as private individuals — all of whom attended in their personal capacities and not as representatives of governments or organizations. To support the congress, FAO undertook what became known as the Basic Studies — these established the first scientific data on specific areas of health, social and economic status, demographics and other aspects of the human condition — which became the basis for the Third World Food Survey. It was in conducting the Basic Studies, composing the Food Survey and engaging more broadly with governments, other UN agencies, private industry and non-governmental organizations that FAO was necessarily transformed into the organization we see today. A result of the Basic Studies, the Third World Food Survey and the First World Food Congress was the Indicative World Plan for Agricultural Development that identified targets for development and a road map to achieve them.
The Freedom From Hunger Campaign was a part of a movement toward humanitarian internationalism that began to emerge after the cataclysm of the Second World War, and Sen successfully built on this movement and offered and organizational framework that was global in scale and applicable at a national and local level. After FFHC and the First and Second World Food Congresses (1963 and 1970, respectively) it was generally understood that FAO and other UN agencies depended on NGOs, private industry other actors to implement programs, and action must include broad public support and engagement. In the 1970s, the UN began a series of food conferences, and though these included observers from NGOs and the private sector, they depended on state actors and consensus within the UN framework. Similarly, popular efforts such as those undertaken by religious, philanthropic and private humanitarian organizations, and more recently celebrity lead initiatives such as Live8 and, more recently, numerous social media campaigns engage the public directly. These however, often lack effective coordination with governmental and intergovernmental actors. The UN and related agencies, including the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the World Bank and International Monetary Fund held conferences and produced reports on subjects related to food security, human rights and agricultural development, but since FFHC there had been a lack of a broad-based approach that mobilized all aspects of global society. This approach has been repeatedly called for as it is generally recognized that only a truly global, comprehensive effort can ensure equitable and sustainable development for all.
Mr. Weitz suggested to me that FFHC was failure because the problem of hunger and malnutrition had not been solved in the first development decades. Similarly, there has been criticism of the recently expired MDGs because, like FFHC, these had not succeeded in ending hunger or eradicating poverty. Now the Global Goals propose that these and other problems can be solved by 2030. There are already critics of the SDGs and serious skepticism of the likelihood of their success; in my view, this is good and necessary. Unfettered optimism is important, but it must be translated into thoughtful, effective action, and criticisms must he heard and carefully considered. Many ideas, projects and initiatives to fight hunger and poverty fail, sometimes spectacularly — examples are easy to find — but this often leads to better understanding and better practices.
In 1960 no one knew how many people there were in the world, never mind how many of them were hungry. FFHC changed that. By 1963, under the auspices of the campaign, the Basic Studies and the Third World Food Survey comprised the first comprehensive account of the social and economic condition of the world. It was also at this point that it was generally recognized that population growth was imminent and would be exponential. Information since then has become increasingly accurate and detailed, as has the response to socio-economic malaise and food insecurity. Today, modern media and new technologies are cheap, ubiquitous and able to bring information and understanding of the condition of peoples and societies to ordinary individuals in all parts of the world. The MDGs and the Global Goals, like FFHC, depend heavily on the spread of information to create a common point of reference and to emphasize both the problems and possible solutions in order to stimulate action.
The Freedom From Hunger Campaign, as Mr. Weitz lamented, did not end hunger and poverty. However, when pressed on the subject, he acknowledged that the campaign was important because of its legacy as much as its existence. He was disappointed that FFHC was allowed to end; its repeated renewal into the 1980s signalled its success and the continued need for the kind of effort it represented. However, despite its continued contributions, the campaign secretariat at FAO became increasingly isolated from the office of the Director General and more independent in character; early in his mandate FAO Director General Edouard Saouma undertook specific action to have FFHC dismantled and the records buried in an obscure archival facility in Rome.
The campaign was instrumental in stimulating and shaping the modern international development movement, but its impact is difficult to quantify. Not so with the MDGs. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon convened a high-level panel of eminent persons to report on the development agenda post-2015. The result was the report “A New Global Partnership: Eradicate Poverty And Transform Economies Through Sustainable Development” (see http://www.post2015hlp.org/). The report noted that
"The Panel came together with a sense of optimism and a deep respect for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The 13 years since the millennium have seen the fastest reduction in poverty in human history: there are half a billion fewer people living below an international poverty line of $1.25 a day. Child death rates have fallen by more than 30%, with about three million children’s lives saved each year compared to 2000. Deaths from malaria have fallen by one quarter. This unprecedented progress has been driven by a combination of economic growth, better policies, and the global commitment to the MDGs, which set out an inspirational rallying cry for the whole world."
The Global Goals for Sustainable Development are designed to carry the effort forward for the next 15 years, and whether or not the goals are met in whole or in part, it is very likely a new regime will replace them post-2030. The connective tissue between FFHC, MDGs and the Global Goals is strong; each was designed to engender broad, global support and action, and each had a limited mandate. Moreover, these global efforts are iterative. The Freedom From Hunger Campaign began with a very clear purpose (to generate information and stimulate action where there was none) and as global efforts progressed the problems and their solutions were better understood. The Millennium Development Goals were designed to address very specific problems and their solutions. As the high level panel observed, the MDGs were generally successful, but there were many oversights, shortcomings and limitations. The new set of global goals continue in the same direction, but also act to correct shortfalls while engaging with a wider scope of problems.
The population of the world doubled between 1950 and 1980 (from about 2.5 billion to 4.5 billion) and will double again by 2030. Inequality, conflict and environmental challenges continue to frustrate development efforts, and though the Global Goals offer significant hope for solutions, I think efforts must and will continue beyond 2030. What initiatives such as FFHC, the MDGs and the Global Goals offer is a means for all of humanity to perceive with increasing clarity the scope and urgency of global development problems and to stimulate a collective approach to solving them.