July 17, 2019 | By Caroline Andridge

Next Generation 2019 – Recognizing the Role of Inclusive Policy-making in Food and Water Rights

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is pleased to present the 2019 Next Generation Delegates blog series. This year’s Delegation was comprised of 20 outstanding students from universities across the United States and around the world studying agriculture, food, and related disciplines. We were thrilled to feature these emerging leaders at the Global Food Security Symposium 2019, and look forward to sharing the exciting work of this extraordinary group.


Farmers ushered us forward to see their river. It ran nearly dry; the deep areas left were full of factory sludge and waste. This was the village’s main water source, and the farmers had taken us here to give unassailable testimony about the challenges they faced. With unpredictable rains and lax pollution regulations, the sugarcane farmers I visited in India struggled with safe water sources for farming and domestic use.


This dilemma is not unique to India. Globally, roughly 2.4 billion people live in water-scarce regions. By 2050, over half of the world’s population could be at risk due to water stress. As food insecurity and hunger continue to rise, increased stress from unpredictable water supplies and changing climate patterns will only exacerbate the unjust hunger patterns worldwide.


The Chicago Council on Global Affairs recently convened a global food security symposium to interrogate the causes and impacts of food and water insecurity. Our failure to feed the world is not a failure of production. Rather, unjust policies and food system structures exacerbate the disparity between those who have enough to eat, and those who do not.


This disparity exists for several reasons. The first is the gap between policy and implementation. Even the most well-meaning policy threatens progress if it fails to consider cultural, economic, and agricultural context as well as farmer needs. Policy changes intended to support grievance mechanisms for smallholder farmers, for example, have no benefit if the farmers themselves are not made aware of them, or if they fail to address the underlying struggles farmers face.


The second comes from discordances between concurrent national policies. Food systems governing production and distribution are complex and impacted by policies often considered to be outside the purview of departments of agriculture. While a government may employ progressive policies that support farmer access to inputs or subsidies, for example, a separate trade policy the government employs may undermine the progress.


The United States is a common example of this. Though the country supports agricultural development in low-income countries through USAID platforms like Food for Peace and Feed the Future, its domestic agricultural support subsidies threaten the competitiveness of those farmers the USAID programs attempt to reach. Providing agricultural assistance with one hand while reducing the farmer’s ability to compete against American foodstuffs is counterproductive, and detrimental to food security overall.


The disunity between policies is not inevitable. Earlier this year, I had the good fortune of attending the Chicago Council’s food security symposium as a Next Generation Delegate. Lessons I learned from the symposium events and my fellow Delegates complemented my study of sustainable development and human dignity at the University of Notre Dame. From these perspectives, I see two critical steps to improving policy impact and cohesion.


Firstly, we must reframe food and water from commodities to human rights in and of themselves. Food and water are both essential to human dignity and flourishing. Amartya Sen’s capability approach emphasizes the importance of the freedom to achieve and the intrinsic value of opportunity. These freedoms are severely infringed when one suffers from undernourishment and must focus narrowly on meeting his or her basic needs.


In this vein, we must think of water and access to it holistically. Rather than simply considering water as an input for irrigation or WASH schemes, for example, we must instead acknowledge water rights. Betsy Otto (global director of WRI’s Water Program) demonstrated the nexus between water and human dignity beautifully in an example of the value families place on being able to provide a safe space for their members to wash.


Establishing a shared view of the true nature of food and water as human rights will help align policies. When every policy must consider the impacts it has on people’s access to food and water, regardless of nationality, policies may start to coalesce to prioritize just outcomes.


Secondly, policymakers must meaningfully include smallholder farmers in the decision-making process. This idea is not novel. We must move beyond the catch phrase of farmer inclusion, however, to have consultation in which their voices are not just heard, but acted upon. While the importance of hearing from farmers is known, structural and significant ways to ensure the farmers’ input actually influences the final policy decision are rare. Listening for the sake of listening alone is not enough.


Farmer inclusion helps address the gap between policy and implementation. Genuine engagement helps policymakers understand what farmers need, and farmers understand the existence, intent, and application of specific policy measures and protections (as well as how they can influence them if they fall short). According to Pearl Rana—an inaugural Obama Foundation Scholar at the University of Chicago and an innovative Botswanan farmer herself—involving farmers in policy frameworks and building trust between them is a cornerstone in successful agriculture.


We must stop making policy in silos. As the Council’s report chair A.G. Kawamura put it: “We have the capacity to feed the planet. Do we have the will?” The passion of my fellow Delegates makes me confident that we do.


The Global Food and Agriculture Program aims to inform the development of US policy on global agricultural development and food security by raising awareness and providing resources, information, and policy analysis to the US Administration, Congress, and interested experts and organizations.

The Global Food and Agriculture Program is housed within the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. The Council on Global Affairs convenes leading global voices and conducts independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.

Support for the Global Food and Agriculture Program is generously provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.


1,000 Days Blog, 1,000 Days

Africa Can End Poverty, World Bank

Agrilinks Blog

Bread Blog, Bread for the World

Can We Feed the World Blog, Agriculture for Impact

Concern Blogs, Concern Worldwide

Institute Insights, Bread for the World Institute

End Poverty in South Asia, World Bank

Global Development Blog, Center for Global Development

The Global Food Banking Network

Harvest 2050, Global Harvest Initiative

The Hunger and Undernutrition Blog, Humanitas Global Development

International Food Policy Research Institute News, IFPRI

International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center Blog, CIMMYT

ONE Blog, ONE Campaign

One Acre Fund Blog, One Acre Fund

Overseas Development Institute Blog, Overseas Development Institute

Oxfam America Blog, Oxfam America

Preventing Postharvest Loss, ADM Institute

Sense & Sustainability Blog, Sense & Sustainability

WFP USA Blog, World Food Program USA


| By Roger Thurow

Our New Gordian Knot

Fifty years ago Dr. Norman Borlaug recieved the Nobel Peace Prize for cutting the "Goridan knot" of population and food production. Now the planet faces another seemingly intractable problem: how to nourish the planet while preserving the planet. 

| By Janet Fierro

Guest Commentary - Rural Niger Women find Opportunity and Hope through Innovative Business Model

When researchers set out to find natural ways to manage a crop-destroying pest in sub-Saharan Africa cowpea fields they knew the results could have significant positive impact on smallholder farmers. What they may not have expected was the significance of the cottage industry it inspired and the entrepreneurial spirit of the rural women of Niger who led it.