LAbour Party NZ

Food Security apparently optional for the Children of Aotearoa

Last night the government (National and ACT) voted down two bills that sought to provide food to children particularly in low decile schools. That is, children who live in the most economically deprived areas of the country. The bills essentially dealt with the issue of food security, or alternatively stated, food insecurity.[1]

Food security is considered as existing ‘when all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life’.[2] It involves four essential elements: availability, access, stability and utilisation.[3] According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation, availability is measured in terms of the quantity, quality and diversity of food available to consumers, while access is measured by both physical and economic access to food.[4] Access and availability are largely guaranteed through national level policy although there is no requirement for a country to ‘achieve food production self-sufficiency’.[5] Importantly, measuring the extent of food security at the national level (that is, that a country has sufficient levels of food to distribute to meet domestic demand) does not necessarily reflect the extent of security at the household or individual levels. A nation can be food secure at the national level while still food insecure at the individual level due to ‘unequal distribution of food within the country’ which may result from food prices and the issue of affordability.[6] Stability is measured through exposure to food security risk, as well as incidences of shocks such as price spikes, fluctuations in domestic food supply and political instability,[7] while utilisation measures the ‘variables that determine the ability to utilise food’ together with ‘outcomes of poor food utilisation’.[8]

Food insecurity has often been considered an issue of  inadequate food supply at the national level. But this is not the case in New Zealand, nor in most developed countries. Instead, it is often the lack of purchasing power on behalf of households.[9] In his entitlements theory, Amartya Sen emphasised similar issues of consumption, demand and access to food by vulnerable people.[10] Sen argued that a person will starve if their entitlement set is absent ‘any commodity bundle with enough food’.[11] Also, that starvation was imminent if there were a change in their factor endowment, such as, loss of land or labour power, or their exchange entitlement mapping, such as food price spikes or loss of employment.[12] He maintained that these changes would restrict a persons ability to acquire any commodity bundle with enough food.[13]

A problem that arises in respect of the Feed the Kids bill, is that critics imply the problem of food insecurity in New Zealand is not one of a chronic nature (as is often found in developing or least developed regions). Therefore, studies that suggest marginal improvements (and perhaps arguments such as Sen’s) which were largely responding to food insecurity in developing countries should not be used to defend policies that attempt to address transitory food insecurity in children in New Zealand through school lunch or breakfast programmes. The reason being that there is little evidence to show that outcomes will provide any significant benefit for the cost of such policies.  For instance, Dr Eric Crampton writes:[15]

[I]t’s hard to make a case for that we’d get any great benefit from the [school breakfast] programmes. Rather, we often find that they don’t even increase the odds that kids eat breakfast at all.

And:

To the extent that they improve outcomes in some studies, we really can’t tell:

whether the effect is from changing the timing of breakfast, in which case we should instead have a morning tea break;

whether the effect is any better than just giving those families an equivalent cash transfer.

However, the cash transfer option doesn’t ensure that children will become food secure. By that I mean it doesn’t ensure that there will be food available or that they will have access to food.  I appreciate that a cash transfer gives the parent more freedom to choose the kinds of food that the child has available to them. However, a cash transfer may also incentivise food producers to increase the price of their foods to exact a benefit for themselves through the increased purchasing power made available at the household level. This could in effect neutralise any benefit that might have otherwise accrued to food insecure households due to affordability issues. Arguably, this problem could be overcome by adjusting for any inflationary effects. But that pattern is hardly desirable and contributes to the cost of government administration. Additionally, a cash transfer may not increase what the parent spends on food at all. Parents who find themselves without work, paying rent and utilities, school costs, and servicing other debts incurred while employed or those parents that simply don’t have enough money to cover the basic bills each month may not be able to increase their food spend, it may mean they’re able to cover costs that they had been unable to cover – car licensing, dentist, school costs, sports fees etc.

However, there are also issues for advocates of the Feed the Kids bill, such as, who supplies the food to the school? Can a government get value for money if entering into a supply agreement with a corporate (who would likely create terms more favourable to itself), or is contracting with a charity necessarily the best option since they may for example, source food products from corporations? There just seems to be a contradiction in fighting capitalism from the left – who are the main advocates of this bill, to partnering with corporations either directly or indirectly.

In principle, I support the Feed the Kids bill. But like many others have suggested, it needs some work. That would have been the benefit of getting it to the Select Committee where the public could make submissions and where robust research was carried out to attempt to construct an effective policy.

An area where I’d like to see research directed, is where food is targeted at the source. That is, where the government invest in local food production. It might be that there is room to incentivise food producers to produce surpluses that are supplied to their local schools. Sure, this is an un-worked idea but we shouldn’t just limit our imagination to cash transfers or supply by food corporations. There is a human right to food and in my mind that means it is a resource first. If the government can improve local food production by investing more in the sector to deal with issues of household and individual food insecurity then perhaps we can tackle a number of issues (such as employment, health, education) while also ensuring children are not subjected to food insecurity whether it be chronic or transitory.

The right to adequate food is recognised and protected in both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).[16] The UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food defines this right as:[17]

…the right to have regular, permanent and unrestricted access, either directly or by means of financial purchases, to quantitatively and qualitatively adequate and sufficient food corresponding to the cultural traditions of the people to which the consumer belongs, and which ensure a physical and mental, individual and collective, fulfilling and dignified life free of fear…

The government also has obligations to meet food security goals as set out in the Millennium Development Declaration[18] and the Rome Declaration on World Food Security. [19] I haven’t even touched on issues of undernourishment, nutrition, food sovereignty, the role of agribusiness, deforestation, land grabs, climate issues, infrastructure issues, armed conflict, GMO’s. The topic of food security is vast, and is a priority at the international level. Pity the New Zealand government see it as optional. Perhaps, the next development in the feed the kids campaign, then might be to focus on the wider issue of food security at the household and individual level and find ways to address it that aren’t merely palliative, but involve addressing the network of challenges that cause food insecurity.

 

[1]  Some of the content of this post comprises parts of a dissertation I wrote for my LLM.

[2]  Rome Declaration on World Food Security.

[3]  FAO State of Food Insecurity in the World (2014), at 13.

[4]  Ibid

[5]  Christopher Stevens, Romilly Greenhill, Jane Kennan and Stephen Devereux “The WTO Agreement on Agriculture and Food Security” (paper prepared for the Commonwealth Secretariat, Economic Series No. 42, London, 2000), at 3.

[6]  At 2-3.

[7]  Ibid.

[8]  Ibid.

[9]  World Bank Poverty and Hunger (1986)

[10]  FAO “Chapter 2. Food security: concepts and measurement” in Trade Reforms and Food Security: Conceptualising the Linkages (FAO, Rome, 2003), at 28.

[11]  Amartya Sen Food, Economics and Entitlements (World Institute for Developmental Economics Research, United Nations University, 1986) at 8-9. For Sen, an entitlement is ‘the set of different alternative commodity bundles that the person can acquire through the use of the various legal channels of acquirement open to someone in [their] position’.

[12]  Ibid.

[13]  Ibid.

[14]  Stevens et al, at 5.

[15]   Eric Crampton “Breakfast” Offsetting Behaviour (15 May 2013)

[16]  Universal Declaration of Human Rights GA Res 217 A, III (1948); International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights GA Res2200A XXI 993 UNTS 3 (1966).

[17]  “The Human Right to Food” UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

[18] Millennium Development Declaration

[19]  Rome Declaration on World Food Security

Te Tai Tokerau: Davis appeals to whānau, hapū and iwi

Kelvin & Hone

In breaking news last night, Kelvin Davis was painted as a traitorous, negative, self-serving individual. Some of the responses from InternetMANA supporters (including some of which were Labour supporters) was nothing short of vile, and not worth repeating here. But Davis took to Facebook to explain the allegations against him:

I was on 3 News tonight because my campaign team had a look at a proposed website designed to take down Kim Dotcom and stop him from buying the seat of Te Tai Tokerau with his $3million dollars.

We explored this concept, debated it, then along with the Labour Party hierarchy decided it wasn’t in line with our Vote Positive messages and ditched it.

[emphasis added]

Firstly, it doesn’t appear he was actually blocked. It appears there was mutual agreement to ‘ditch the idea’ following discussion that the ‘proposed’ website was not in line with Labour’s messaging.

Secondly, Davis also elaborated on his discomfort with Kim Dotcom and his Internet Party coat tailing in on the Tai Tokerau seat. An irritating aspect of the commentary that followed, came from Pākehā commentators/pundits and journalists/reporters impressing their Pākeha centric views on Māori electorates.

It is probably worthwhile remembering then that Davis isn’t just running as a member of the Labour Party – he is running as a representative of Māori in Te Tai Tokerau. This dual role is often overlooked when Pākehā set the parameters of political debate for Māori.

Davis has every right to express his view and the view of many of our people in his electorate. Noting here, that I do not dispute that Hone Harawira and MANA also enjoy huge support from our people in that electorate and elsewhere.

However, if Davis is hearing from whānau, hapū and iwi that they are not comfortable, or are opposed to the InternetMANA alliance exercising political power over their electorate, then it would not be tika (right) for him to support it nor for him to encourage his constituents to do likewise. It’s also teka (false/untrue) to imply that Māori who oppose the InternetMANA alliance are negative, traitorous self-serving individuals. Again, this is most often led by a Pākehā dominated dialogue.

Brief note on party politics and MMP

Thinking about oppositional versus collaborative representation

Election promises are heating up but the messages are muddier than ever. With the Conservative leader suing the Green leader because name-calling. The Greens complaining to Labour because mollyhawk name-calling.  ACT sniggering at everyone for their lack of vision but offering none. And National throwing Labour in the snake pit about secret trusts and donations only to trip and fall in the pit straight after. Hypocrisy is rife.

But what messages have been clear?

Despite being one of the party’s with the least public and political support, the Mana Party positively conveyed the strongest and clearest message Feed the Kids and in the process etched the concept deep into the public consciousness. The message seems to resonate widely including with unlikely supporters of the right wing variety, even though it is highly unlikely to draw any election votes from such persons.

And the National Party has managed to ingrain the message that the economy is in great shape, and on track to improve and strengthen thanks to the expertise and persistence of its front bench corporate clergy and a National led government.

This is the message a large proportion of the public are buying and redistributing back into their enclosed middle to upper class circuits. Notwithstanding, that house prices are overinflated, interest rates are on the rise, power prices are increasing, children and vulnerable persons are still living in poverty and education and human rights standards on the downward curve and so on.

But other than those I struggle to see any other really strong on topic messages sustained in public discourse. While I was thinking about the poor messaging I  drifted into a petrifying hypothetical Parliament where National and Labour were in a coalition government. And I think its relevant, but will draw the connection further on.

So thinking out loud: why do Labour and National never talk about creating a coalition government?

Ideology conflicts? Nope. The hacks might make a distinction. They have to. But the underlying themes in policy – really aren’t that different. At least not as different as say National (centre right, moderately liberal, statist) and ACT (far right, libertarian, anti-state) or Labour (centre left, moderately liberal, statist), and Greens (eco-left, eco-liberal, eco-statists). Those parties we might typically think as traditional allies have less in common, than the two pillars we tend to think of as opposition who share many commonalities.

I’m not at all seriously suggesting that these two parties form a coalition government. I mean it’s laughable to even conceive of one of the two surrendering its political power to its supposed foe. But its important to recognise that the system supports and maintains this duopoly on Parliament. The MMP system did not remove the FPP duopoly, it reinforced it (at least in some capacity). MMP was intended to increase representation and its unclear if the net effect was even remotely significant. The oppositional nature of MMP is contrary to the idea of collaborative democratic representation.  Its arguably natural, and perhaps necessary for smaller parties to gravitate toward larger ones. But this always entails mass compromise on principle and policy and therefore relinquishing constituency voting power to the majority. Its no wonder most people just vote on the two pillars.

In terms of stronger messaging, I think its worthwhile considering the capacity of parties – particularly the minor ones, to work across the spectrum on shared views. There are likely grounds where ACT and Mana have a common view (even if its very small), or Greens and United Future etc and I think these small areas of agreement are important to help inform voters and promote a collaborative MMP system over the oppositional structure we have, which could encourage collaborative societies.

Further comment: 

I appreciate that parties across the spectrum enter into Memorandums of Understanding, for example,  the Greens and National with the home insulation initiative. But I am mostly referring to minor parties working together more, and in a more public way since these parties are set up in response to the lack of representation of their members and potential constituents to the major parties.  The total votes for all minor parties is not insignificant.