Raj Patel: the right to food in the era of climate change

Raj Patel: the right to food in the era of climate change

October 17, 2018

Raj Patel: the right to food in the era of climate change

Raj Patel, who has collaborated with BCFN on the book Eating Planet, works every day to find more sustainable food systems for people and the environment, including through gender equality.  


Professor at the University of Texas at Austin, writer and activist in the battle against the current production and economic system and supporter of a truly sustainable developmentRaj Patel was among the guests at the International Forum on Food and Nutrition, organized by the BCFN Foundation in New York on 28 September 2018. During his intervention, “The right to food in a climate changing world”, Raj Patel touched on issues close to his heart and very much in line with the program of the New York event, in which sustainable nutrition was the leitmotif in a careful analysis of the challenges faced by the modern world, as the United Nations Agenda, with its 17 Sustainable Development Goals, reminds us.  

What's the opposite of  hunger? Power

On the stage of the International Forum on Food and Nutrition in New York, Patel started by saying: “Today we have the data that proves the serious nutrition crisis that affects many regions of the world and we also know that climate change will make this situation worst”, before asking the public a crucial question on the right to food: “If we know so much about the problem, why are we not able to find long-term solutions?” According to Patel, the answer is, at least partially, in the fact that the current food production system does not just produce food, it forms and defines us as people. In this food system, not all men are equal, and women even less so, since – with huge degrees of difference across countries – they do not have the power necessary to change things. “To the question if in a situation of employment crisis men have more right to work than women, 2% of Swedish people said yes; the percentage reached 99.6% in Egypt, a poor country where men's work is paid better and therefore, somehow, it's more valuable”,

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 said Patel, who added that change is possible even in such extreme contexts and that the right to food can become a reality.

A good example comes from Malawi, where a group of farmers has started experimenting sustainable agriculture, using no chemicals and adopting techniques that increase crop resiliency in order to face climate change. This, however, required getting women involved in the work in a society in which domestic violence from men used to be the norm. “The solution? Changing society completely and aiming for a system based on gender equality, in which men are involved in domestic and family activities and women regain the power and role they deserve. An ambitious but feasible project”, said Patel, that proves that the right to food depends on women's involvement in sustainable agriculture.

Change comes from people

The current production system is crumbling, especially due to its intrinsic nature, which is far from the sustainable development model. Even if there are conscientious private investors who are sensitive to climate change and pollution, this does not change the fact that the five greatest producers of meat and dairy products in the world create more gas emissions than oil companies such as Exxon and Shell. This is why the changes to meet the Sustainable Development Goals must start from the ground upwards and involve everyone, at all levels of society. 

Forbidding certain food adverts that target children and imposing taxes on products particularly harmful to health and the environment can be useful measures, but it's essential to change the perspective and give more power to those who currently don't have it, for example women and the young generations”, said Patel, who during his career has been part of many international organizations, such as the World Bank, the World Trade Organization and the United Nations. How do we change the scenario? “Ending famine is not just a question of growing more crops, it's about cultivating democracy” said the activist, who is convinced that knowledgeable consumption is important, but on its own it cannot change the system and guarantee the right to food. “It's essential that we all ask ourselves what we really care about and find there our motivation to change”. He also mentioned another essential approach: the so-called intersectionality, intended as the simultaneous attention to different aspects that need changing in the current system. “Many social transformation movements are working in this direction, the only one that can bring change and lead to a sustainable production and social system” said Patel, who mentioned movements such as “La Via Campesina” that focuses on the rural world, but also on women's rights, food and work.


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