Tag Archives: United Nations

International Year of Pulses — It’s about beans, not beats!

Oats, peas, beans and barley grow – still, for 2016 it’s all about peas and beans……

In 2016, the International Year of Pulses (http://www.fao.org/pulses-2016/en/) the humble dried bean and pea are contrasted with oats and barley, touted as key elements in the challenge to address global poverty. Use of the term “pulses” presents a linguistic shift for some (like me) to redefine the word to cover all varieties of dried beans including “kidney beans, lima beans, butter beans, broad beans, chickpeas, cow peas, black-eyed peas and pigeon peas.” More important, we will learn to appreciate a the role of pulses in regional and national dishes with which we have become familiar – “from falafel to dahl to chili and baked beans.”

The 68th United Nations General Assembly declared 2016 the International Year of Pulses. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is facilitating implementation of the Year in collaboration with national governments, NGO’s and others – it is worth noting that among the facilitators there is no mention of food-related corporations or of the media.

The intent of the UN initiative is to shed light on pulses as a ubiquitous and low-cost food that offers promise in the fight to feed a world ravaged by hunger, malnutrition, food insecurity, and the pervasive challenges of food distribution and access. Much of the UN focus is understandably on third world countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia. Thus it remains to this nation – and perhaps this state – to adopt a concerted effort to respect, learn, develop and deploy strategies that harness the power of pulses to combat the crisis of global hunger — and of hunger in our midst.

The FAO offers a definition of terms aimed at mere mortals:

Pulses are annual leguminous crops yielding between one and 12 grains or seeds of variable size, shape and colour within a pod, used for both food and feed.  The term “pulses” is limited to crops harvested solely for dry grain, thereby excluding crops harvested green for food, which are classified as vegetable crops, as well as those crops used mainly for oil extraction and leguminous crops that are used exclusively for sowing purposes (based on the definition of “pulses and derived products” of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations).

Pulse crops such as lentils, beans, peas and chickpeas are a critical part of the general food basket.  Pulses are a vital source of plant-based proteins and amino acids for people around the globe and should be eaten as part of a healthy diet to address obesity, as well as to prevent and help manage chronic diseases such as diabetes, coronary conditions and cancer; they are also an important source of plant-based protein for animals.

In addition, and of particular interest to gardeners and environmentalists, pulses have special nitrogen-fixing properties that can contribute to increasing soil fertility and have a positive impact on the environment.

Speaking about the nutritional value of pulses, the FAO chief said that dried beans and peas (broadly defined) have double the proteins found in wheat and triple the amount found in rice. They are also rich in micronutrients, amino acids and b-vitamins. Because they can yield two to three times higher prices than cereals and their processing provides additional economic opportunities, pulses offer a viable food source with the capacity to lift farmers, especially women farmers, out of rural poverty.

Bottom line, the focus on the simple food source confers overdue recognition and respect on pulses as the indispensable, under-valued nutritional basics that have sustained generations from the beginning of time.

According to optimistic – or, one might hope, prescient – planners at the UN, “the Year will create a unique opportunity to encourage connections throughout the food chain that would better utilize pulse-based proteins, further global production of pulses, better utilize crop rotations and address the challenges in the trade of pulses.”

Though it remains to be seen how that will play out, in particular because of the unfamiliar use of the term, it’s an intriguing learning opportunity for all of us.

In a state replete with agricultural research institutions, an ag-based economy, a plethora of FFA’s, ardent environmentalists, committed gardeners, scholars probing the history of agriculture, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, combined with a commitment to global and local hunger, we should be able to mount an aggressive Year of Pulses initiative, a chance to wrap our heads around a challenge in our midst and in our world

International Women’s Day 2013 Focuses on Violence Against Women

While each deserves to tell its own unique story, the several efforts to honor the lives and work of women during the month of March can be difficult to untangle.  On Friday, March 8, 2013, groups around the globe will celebrate International Women’s Day.  The theme for IWD 2013 is “A promise is a promise: Time for action to end violence against women.”  As Minnesota legislators, along with countless legislative bodies throughout the nation and the world grapple with the issue, it a good time to revisit the history of IWD itself.

The stories of early IWD’s are a bit mixed.  The first national day in the U.S., February 28, 1909, flowed from the declaration of the Socialist Party in America.  The next year, in August 1910, an International Women’s Conference was organized to precede the general meeting of the Socialist Second International in Copenhagen.  As a result of that gathering Luise Zietz proposed establishment of an annual International Woman’s Day; the proposal was seconded by Clara Zetkin and approved unanimously by the conference of over 100 women from 17 countries.  Though the celebration was approved, no fixed date was selected.

In 1911, following the Copenhagen decision, International Women’s Day was observed for the first time in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland.  More than one million women participated. High on the agenda were women’s right to vote, to hold public office, to vocational training and for protection of women’s employment rights.

The next year, the Bolshevik Alexandra Kollontai persuaded Lenin to declare this an official holiday.  During this era IWD became associated with efforts to protest World War I.  As part of the peace movement Russian women observed their first IWD on the last Sunday in February 1916.

Even during 1917, as the war continued, Russian women chose to strike for “Bread and Peace” on the last Sunday in February – which was, in fact, March 8 on the Gregorian calendar.  Within days, the Czar abdicated and the provisional government granted Russian women the right to vote.

From the beginning the official adoption of IWD by the Soviets in 1917 the day was primarily celebrated in the Soviet Bloc and Socialist nations.  The Chinese signed on in 1922 and the Spanish Communists joined in 1936.  Today IWD remains an official holiday in Afghanistan, Angola, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, China (for women only), Cuba, Georgia, Guinea-Bissau, Eritrea, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Macedonia (for women only), Madagascar (for women only), Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, Nepal (for women only, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Zamia.

IWD emerged on the public agenda in the West when the charter of the United Nations, agreed upon in 1945, included the first international affirmation of the principle of equality between women and men.  Four decades later, during 1975, International Women’s Year, the UN gave official approval for observance and sponsorship of International Women’s Day.

Born as a protest again women’s suppression in the workplace.  IWD has taken on a wide array of themes and causes.  Last year, for example, the theme of IWD was Empower Women – End hunger and poverty.   The topic will continue on the agenda this year when the executive heads of the World Food Programme, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.S, the International Fund for Agricultural Development and the International Development Law Organization meet in Rome on March 8 to observe IWD 2013.

There are countless online resources for learning more about International Women’s Day, its history and the global reach of the campaign to promote the theme and programs.  There are materials for children and teachers, reading lists, special coins, stamps, posters and many more resources.  There are also human resources, especially women who have participated in the process of establish women’s rights around the globe.  Some of them will be in New York on March 8 where the Commission on the Status of Women will be holding their 57th Session March 4-15 at UN headquarters.  The priority of this year’s discussion will be on the 2013 theme, focused on the elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls.

Though IWD is just one special day within Women’s History Month, it is a day to learn about or reflect on International Women’s Day, a global effort now nearing its centenary

The Challenge to Frame the Right to Food as a Human Right

Writing last fall in The Nation Anna Lappe makes a powerful point about why it is hard for Americans to think of the right to food as a human right.  Lappe avers that “it’s extremely difficult to get the concept of the right to food across in the United States because of your constitutional tradition that sees human rights as ‘negative’ rights – rights against government – not ‘positive’ rights that can be used to oblige government to take action to secure people’s livelihoods.”

Lappe, founding principal of the Small Planet Institute and head of the Real Food Media Project, suggests that “so embedded is this in your constitutional culture that the concept that social and economic rights are real rights is generally not accepted.  While human rights to health, education, social security or food are guaranteed to a certain extent through legislation, they are still seen as suspect…. The protective role of government is denounced as paternalistic and even as paving the way for totalitarianism.”

One of the early calls for this nation to re-think the right to food was publication of Diet for a Small Planet, a bestselling book written in 1971 by Frances Moore Lappe, mother of Anna.  A decade later, the concept of food as a human right was underscored when Nobel-Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen published Poverty and Famines in which he challenged the idea that the root cause of hunger is not a crisis of productivity but a crisis of power.  Anna Lappe echoes Amartya Sen when she writes, “hunger’s root cause is clearly not a scarcity of food but a scarcity of democracy.”

Various agencies of the United Nations have taken a lead in re-framing the right to food as a human right. The right to food is variously defined, of course.  In general, the right refers to an essential element without which human beings cannot survive.  Much is written about the responsibility of the individual to fend for him/herself and the obligation of the state when the individual is not capable of obtaining food because of special circumstances such as imprisonment or military service.

“Food security” is the term currently used to describe the basics:  Food must be available, i.e. in sufficient quantity for the entire population; food must be accessible, i.e. each person must be able to procure nourishment either through his own production or through the capacity to buy food; access to food must be stable and continuous; and food must be healthy, i.e. consumable and clean.

Addressing the issue of hunger as a violation of human rights Louise Arbour, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that “while it is imperative to respond immediately to emergencies and commensurate humanitarian support and aid in order to address conditions of hunger, a human rights focus will focus will contribute to making solutions more durable and more equitable in the medium and long run.”

Similarly, Olivier De Schutter, Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, has said that the food crisis is a man-made disaster with identifiable causes that obliges all States [nations] “to act without delay to bring relief to the victims.”  De Schutter has said that agricultural politics, the international trade regime, climate change and food aid may appear in some as purely social, economic, or humanitarian issues, but none of them can be addressed effectively without taking the right to be free from hunger into account.

Anna Lappe’s comments may explain in part the disinclination of the United States to sign the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights which has now been signed by over 160 state parties.  Signees to the covenant agree to take steps to the maximum of their available resources to achieve progressively the full realization of the right to adequate food, both nationally and internationally.  In the nations that have agreed to the concept of food as a basic human right that right is specified either in law or in the constitution.

It seems an anomaly that the U.S. has not ratified the Covenant for economic and social rights.  Anna Lappe stresses that “the concept of economic and social rights is not un-American.”  She quotes FDR’s 1944 State of the Union address in which he suggested the need for a “Second Bill of Rights” covering basic social rights as an indispensable complement to the civil liberties listed in the Bill of Rights.

Clearly, reframing an issue as complex and pervasive as the right to food takes mental agility on the part of individuals, communities and society. One opportunity for group think will take place on Thursday, March 14, when Anna Lappe will speak at Noon at the Westminster Town Hall Forum.  Her talk, “Building Real Food Communities”, is co-sponsored by Minnesota FoodShare as part of this community’s celebration of March 2013 as Minnesota FoodShare Month.