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Interview with Ms. Eva Clayton, Special Advisor to the Director General of FAO on the World Food Summit Follow-up      

The International Alliance Against Hunger is a force that recognizes the good work that has been done up to now. This good work however, can be further energized by an initiative like the Alliance aimed at enhancing political will and commitment. Eva Clayton.

Ms. Eva Clayton, a Congresswoman of the United States from 1993 to 2003, has been recently appointed Special Advisor to the Director General of FAO on the World Food Summit Follow-up. In this interview Ms. Clayton, who is also entrusted with the promotion and monitoring of the International Alliance Against Hunger (IAAH) at both global and national levels, gives an insight on the potential of the alliance and its next steps.

Since the 1996 World Food Summit mechanisms and projects have been launched to achieve the goals of the Summit. However, how does the idea of the creation of an International Alliance Against Hunger (IAAH) emerge and how is it different from other initiatives?

During World Food Day, 16 October 2001, His Excellency, Johannes Rau, President of the Federal Republic of Germany delivered a statement shedding light on the concept of the IAAH. He stressed the importance of building a global alliance to strengthen political will in the fight against hunger and poverty. This concept was widely supported at the FAO Conference in November 2001 and in the 2002 round of FAO Regional Conferences. Therefore, there has been growing support for the concept and many people proposed to have the Alliance as an outcome of the World Food Summit: five years later.

The IAAH is the first effort that explicitly seeks to create a political force. It differs from other initiatives because it proposes a much broader participation of citizens, not just NGOs, government or the UN, but the international bodies, and civil society in its comprehensiveness. The IAAH is a force that builds its strength globally by first concentrating at the country level. The Alliance recognizes strength coming from the individual countries themselves rather than bringing countries together and creating an international alliance. Those of us in the UN system, along with various governments and other international bodies, want to be a supporting force. In a real sense, civil society can agitate governments to create the partnership when governments may be a bit reluctant. Why? - because NGOs will work independently, as well as with institutions, individuals, the private sector and the UN agencies creating a force for change.

The Alliance is not replacing anything; it is presupposed that it is building on activities that already exists. In Nations where there are no coordinated activities against hunger; efforts will be made to start Alliances Against Hunger. The more effective we are; means the more inclusive of groups of organizations, institutions, and the private sector. Where there are active groups we want to build on them and create new alliances where they don't exist. The International Alliance Against Hunger is a force that recognizes the good work that has been done up to now. This good work however, can be further energized by an initiative like the Alliance aimed at enhancing political will and commitment against hunger. Doing good work is positive, i.e. feeding the hungry, but more is required if we are to meet the goal of reducing by one half the number of hungry people by 2015. We must be the motivating force to encourage more people to take direct action. When people are not motivated, they don't act. We are not in need of more research and production to end hunger, we are in need of more direct action.

How can the International Alliance relate with civil society and NGO forces that are emerging in trying to produce political commitment in summits such as G-8?

In time the International Alliance will certainly be engaged with the G-8, not now, and certainly with some of the same partners who are very active now, such as NGOs in France, in England, in North America and in other countries. I see them creating a force that cannot be ignored or denied. Another similarity between this force was seen during the Jubilee Year in 2000, when international forces united throughout the world to condone the external debt of developing countries. Many governments and UN agencies like the IMF and the World Bank showed much resistance but it was the NGOs and the religious communities who created the force on the outside which gave political strength and the will to the few who were fighting for these matters from the inside governments. Members of the United States Congress can tell you that if it hadn't been for that force being created on the outside we wouldn't have succeeded with the required legislation.

From your experience as an ex-congresswoman, is it important to receive these external signs?

It is essential when there is resistance. I served on the Agriculture Committee of the House of Representatives of the United States and had the opportunity to participate in the writing of the last farm bill. There was an amendment to the farm bill that would allow immigrants, who had lived in the United States for a period of time, to be reinstated with the right to food stamps. With the Welfare Reform the eligibility for immigrants to have food stamps, medical coverage and welfare was eliminated. Even President Bush supported the reinstating of legal immigrants during reauthorization of Food Stamps Program. However, when we proposed it to the Agriculture Committee, it lost. When this legislation went to the floor, it barely won. It was the NGOs, Civil Society, Churches and various groups who support immigrants, who saw the validity of the proposal and called their individual representatives. Word got out to the community and the citizens began to call to support this reform. Therefore, it is essential to have connections with the civil society and notably groups which represent the interests of poor people. Big corporations hire lobbies to do the same thing NGOs do.

FAO's Anti-Hunger Programme underlines that enough is already known about how to overcome hunger, in this sense what are the main practical goals and the guiding principles of the IAAH?

The aim of an alliance against hunger is mainly to facilitate initiatives at local and national levels by which the poor and hungry can achieve food security on a sustainable basis. By doing so, the IAAH seeks to:
  • Strengthen national and global commitment and action to end hunger;
  • Provide a forum for dialogue on the most effective measures to be taken to reduce hunger;
  • Amplify and add value to the contributions and capacities of alliances members; and,
  • Promote the emergence of mutually supportive action involving governments and stakeholders, in the fight against hunger.
These aims were discussed by FAO and with Rome-based food agencies, as well as the International NGO/CSO Planning Committee.

Through what activities can the IAAH achieve these goals?

The IAAH can mobilize political will through advocacy and leadership: by raising awareness of the need to focus on the poor and hungry through, for example, a visible presence at major events, targeted lobbying, use of the media. It also can act as a forum for exchange of information and experiences. In this sense the IAAH can work closely with one of the existing international mechanisms like the UN System Network which focuses on practical country-level activities undertaken by national Thematic Groups in collaboration with ministries, UN agencies, NGOs/CSOs and academic institutions.

The IAAH supports the "twin-track" approach to fight hunger: investment in agriculture and rural development, and enhancing direct access to food by those who need it the most. The investment in agriculture includes the piloting of promising approaches at national level: by working with national alliances. The Alliance also can promote capacity building by fostering training and support for policy and program development and implementation.

Monitoring is fundamental in the fight against poverty, assisting in the establishment of national "hunger observation centers", monitoring of progress and best practices and promoting accountability are just several ways that this important aspect can be carried out. All these activities however, can be implemented through policy reforms that the Alliance would widely support.

During the 29th Session of the Committee on World Food Security held in May 2003, the IAAH was presented for the first time upon a FAO governing body. What was the reaction of Member States?

There was broad support among the Members. Although I was expecting a bit more enthusiasm, there was affirmation by the Representatives in recognizing the importance of the Alliance. Some concerns were also raised. This means that we have to find a way to describe to governments that the IAAH is not just another program. There was a tendency of saying, yes now we need this, yes we embrace it, yes we are committed to the goals of the Summit, but what will it cost? Who is going to be responsible for the Alliance? Some of these are operational questions and we need to begin addressing them. We have to make it clear enough so there is no conflict with other initiatives. Mostly we need to illustrate the linkage and coherence between the WFS Plan of Action, various programs and the Alliance. We have to share our enthusiasm and our vision with them. We also have to listen to their ideas. I don't assume that because of lack of enthusiasm they don't want to reduce hunger. Why would 180 Member States commit themselves and not want to put their commitment into action? No country rejected our proposal; they asked to be shown the method. Our next step is to bring people together and to make alliance at the national level an effective trial to meet WFS: plan of action objectives.

How is the IAAH going to participate in the activities of Non-governmental and Civil Society Organizations?

The NGOs will be directly involved with us in the alliance. Several international and national NGOs including IPCs, England, France, Italy and other developed countries i.e. the United States are launching an independent campaign nationally and globally to end hunger. They will participate in each of the countries that they represent. For instance Bread for the World in the United States, along with other NGOs now have formed an Alliance Against Hunger including various food programs, faith-based communities, private sectors, and individuals. What is lacking in their mix so far, is the government. The NGOs will be intricate participants in creating the national alliance in each of those areas. They are welcome to be involved with us in the alliance in a variety of ways. The launch of the NGO's independent campaign is being widely supported by FAO with the pledge of the Director-General to help financially. However, FAO will not be the only UN organization that will be engaged in the activities of the Alliance. We well serve as a facilitator but this is a collaborative effort. A few days ago, WFP announced to its board that they are fully supporting the IAAH. We are beginning to build our partnership and we want to be sure that we do that as collaboratively as we can. A regional Alliance Against Hunger has also been proposed.

What are the planned activities for the upcoming World Food Day on 16 October?

We would like to have several countries through out the world announcing simultaneously they are starting Alliances. It would be fantastic to have 30 or more countries launching it all at the same time. Currently, a major advertising agency is helping us to develop a publicity campaign. The slogan will focus on the fact that "We can stop hunger". We are planning on working with those countries that have responded positively to the Director General's letter regarding the launch of national alliances. The president of Brazil Luis Ignacio Da Silva, who launched in this country the "Hunger Zero" program with the wide support of FAO, has been invited to attend the events to be organized at FAO headquarters on 16 October 2003.