World Food Programme: Functions, Mandate, and Significance for India

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Context: The World Food Programme (WFP) has won the 2020 Nobel peace prize for its efforts to combat hunger and to improve conditions for peace in conflict areas. 
The award was also a call to the international community to fund the UN agency adequately and to ensure people were not starving.

For Prelims: Current events of national and international importance. 
For Mains: GS III- Food Security

Why the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded?
  • The Nobel Peace Prize is one of the five Nobel Prizes established by the will of Swedish industrialist and inventor manufacturer Alfred Nobel, along with the prizes in Chemistry, Physics, Physiology or Medicine, and Literature.
  • it has been awarded annually (with some exceptions) to those who have “done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses”.
  • This year the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the World Food Programme for feeding millions of people from Yemen to North Korea, with the coronavirus pandemic seen pushing millions more into hunger.
  • The UN’s World Food Programme, delivers food assistance in emergencies, from wars to civil conflicts, natural disasters, and famines.
  • This is the 12th time the Peace Prize has gone to the UN, one of its agencies or personalities- more than any other laureate.
  • Established in 1961.
  • World Vision:
    • In which every man, woman, and child has access at all times to the food needed for an active and healthy life; zero hunger in the world.
  • Headquarters:
    •  Rome, Italy. 
  • Governance:
    •  It is governed by an Executive Board, which consists of 36 member states. It is headed by an Executive Director, who is appointed jointly by the UN Secretary-General and the Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. The Executive Director is appointed for fixed five-year terms.
  • About:
    • It is World's largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger worldwide.
    • It reaches more than 80 million people with food assistance in 75 countries each year.
    • 11,500 people work for the organization, most of them in remote areas, directly serving the hungry poor.
    • WFP is 100% voluntarily funded.
    • The main goal of WFP is to 'Zero Hunger-pledges to end hunger, achieve food security, improve nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture'.
    • WFP is a driving force in efforts to prevent the use of hunger as a weapon of war and conflict.
    • WFP runs a logistics service that has dispatched medical cargoes to over 120 countries throughout the pandemic to help governments and health partners fighting COVID-19.
    • It also has provided passenger services to ferry humanitarian and health workers where commercial flights were unavailable.

Focus Areas of WFP are:

  • Food and Nutrition Security.
  • Strengthening food-based safety nets.
  • Policy reform to enhance food and nutrition security.
  • Fortification of food.
  • Food security mapping and analysis.
  • Addressing nutrition concerns during the first 1000 days of life.
  • Addressing the nutritional needs of adolescent girls, pregnant and lactating women, and older persons.

World Hunger Challenges
  • One in nine people worldwide still does not have enough to eat.
  • According to an estimate, there will be 265 million starving people within a year.
How WFP was formed?
  • Created as an experiment to provide food aid through the UN system, WFP is to be reassessed within three years. As crises multiply, the experiment proves its worth.
  • Its mission is emergency aid, but also rehabilitation. The first development program is launched in 1963 for Nubians in Sudan.
  • That same year, WFP’s first school meals projectin Togo – is approved. The principle of food aid as a central plank of emergency and development aid gains ground. In 1965, WFP is enshrined as a fully-fledged UN program: it is to last for “as long as multilateral food aid is found feasible and desirable”.
  • Subsequent decades consolidate WFP’s role. Crises spill over the years, revealing hunger’s deadly prevalence, marking the conscience of humanity. But catastrophe spurs resourcefulness. The logistics of food aid are revolutionized.
  • During the long famines which affect the western Sahel in the 1970s, WFP uses everything in its power – from car to camel, from the road to river – to assist those in need. 
  • At the turn of the 1990s, regained freedom for many nations co-exists with hardship and fragmentation. Impoverishment forms a unifying backdrop to natural disasters, wars, and the break-up of states. In WFP’s portfolio, the balance of development programs versus emergency interventions shifts back and forth. The Rwandan genocide unfolds as Yugoslavia disintegrates. Again, WFP is there.
  • In Kosovo in 1999, it establishes a network of mobile bakeries. As the decade closes, a global consensus takes hold that hunger cannot be fought in a void; that its underlying causes must be tackled.
  • With the Kyoto Protocol, the world acknowledges the impact of a changing climate: a new conceptual umbrella takes shape for WFP’s longer-term aid projects.
  • Perspectives deepen. Partnerships multiply. Non-governmental organizations consolidate their role in humanitarian and development assistance. WFP espouses this dynamic, increasingly forging alliances in an all-around effort to beat hunger.
  • The year 2000 brings the Millennium Development Goals, the first global blueprint for a world free from poverty, hunger, and related ills.
  • Under pressure to deliver measurable achievement, energies coalesce further. Many countries see governance standards improve, even as others grapple with conflict and insecurity. Extreme poverty recedes.
  • The decade is not without its big humanitarian crises (the Asian tsunami of 2004 and the Haiti earthquake of 2010 both demand massive intervention), but WFP finds the space to pursue innovation. Amid intense renewal, both conceptual and technological, the agency’s mission evolves. Food aid gives way to food assistance, a more holistic, longer-lens approach to communities’ and societies’ nutritional needs. 
  • New, integrated monitoring systems allow WFP to assess food security landscapes with unprecedented accuracy.
  • When emergencies strike, WFP handles frontline telecommunications and provides logistical support to all UN agencies and NGOs. Digital platforms are developed that greatly improve operational efficiency and – as seen in the Nepali earthquake of 2015 – offer those in need the ability to receive food within hours. The year before, the Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa had successfully tested the humanitarian community’s ability to act as one – in no small part, thanks to a Logistics Cluster managed by WFP. The “workable scheme to provide food aid” had grown into the world’s leading humanitarian organization.
  • In October 2020, the Norwegian Nobel Committee decided to award the Nobel Peace Prize to WFP “for its efforts to combat hunger, for its contribution to bettering conditions for peace in conflict-affected areas and for acting as a driving force in efforts to prevent the use of hunger as a weapon of war and conflict.”
  • The challenges remain stark: almost 700 million people are still hungry. And if the adoption of the 2030 Development Agenda is a cause for optimism, the persistence of conflict, in Syria and elsewhere, is one for somber reflection.
What is WFP's role in India?
  • India is the second-most populous country in the world, it has enjoyed steady economic growth and has achieved self-sufficiency in grain production in recent years. Despite this, high levels of poverty, food insecurity, and malnutrition persist. 
  • Around 21.25% of the population lives on less than US$1.90 a day, and levels of inequality and social exclusion are very high.
  • India is home to a quarter of all undernourished people worldwide, making the country a key focus for tackling hunger on a global scale. 
  • In the last two decades, per capita income more than tripled, yet the minimum dietary intake fell.
  • The gap between rich and poor increased during this period of high economic growth.
  • It focuses on reforms in the Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS) and provides policy inputs, advocacy, and technical assistance for improving access to food.
  • In India, WFP has been working closely with the government, carrying out reforms in the Public Distribution System, besides piloting innovative solutions such as the recent 'Annapurti', automatic grain dispensers-ATMs for rice-that are aimed at checking malpractices in the distribution system.

“Annapurti” allows beneficiaries to withdraw their foodgrain quota accurately and at a time of their choice through automatic grain dispensing machines.

ATMs for Rice:

  • It is a 24/7 automatic dispensing machine providing free rice for people out of work following an ongoing spread of the Novel Coronavirus.
  • A machine that dispenses rice for the needy.
  • The project has been financed by businessmen and generous donors to serve the street vendors or daily wage workers, who are struggling for their livelihood in the times of Coronavirus.
  • These people are especially benefitting from this 24×7 rice ATM. The machine dispenses free rice, which is enough for the daily consumption of a family of four.
  • It is also working on the fortification of food distributed under the mid-day meal program.
  • WFP has been collaborating with the Department of Food and Public Distribution in areas relating to supply chain and rice fortification and is promoting awareness among beneficiaries on best practices in the food sector.
  • During the pandemic, WFP India worked with the central and state governments and has also prepared a guidance note for the reopening of schools. For example, it signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Uttar Pradesh, State Rural Livelihood Mission (SRLM) to provide technical assistance for setting up supplementary nutrition production units.
Role of World Food Program (WPF) in Public Distribution Reforms (PDS) of India
  • Food and Nutritional security is the key to achieve overall socio-economic development and ensuring a productive workforce for a country.
    • Food security ensures that all people, at all times have access to sufficient and safe food.
  • The Public Distribution System (PDS) is one of the largest safety-net programs in India. The coronavirus pandemic has seriously challenged more than our health.
  • Food security and the livelihoods of millions of people have been compromised, and many more millions are likely to be hungry because of the pandemic’s impact on economies.
  • The UN World Food Programme has estimated that COVID-19 will increase the number of people facing acute food insecurity. 
  • The government, along with the World Food Program initially announced of Rs 1.74 lakh crore in funds and measures to provide extra rations through its targeted public distribution system (TPDS) for the first three months, doubling the quantity and free distribution of 5 kg of rice or wheat and 1 kg of pulses and additional provisions of cash, have been very helpful to poor and vulnerable families.
    • This food package has been extended for two more months (till November), with an additional economic stimulus.
  • They have been providing additional food items and cash support to households. These responses align well with India’s Food Security Act and commitments to enhancing food and nutrition security for the population.
  • The TPDS was created in 1997 by modifying the previously universal Public Distribution System (PDS) to improve the targeting of subsidies to people that need them the most.
  • Beneficiaries were identified as being Below Poverty Line (BPL) or Above Poverty Line (APL), with each group entitled to the same food grains but at differing quantity and sale price. In 2000, additional classification of Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) out of BPL families was included to provide dedicated food grain allotments at highly subsidized prices to the poorest of the poor.
  • The TPDS currently serves 6.52 crore (65.2 million) BPL families including 2.5 crores (25 million) AAY families, as well as 11.5 crores (115 million) APL families1; these numbers will change post the implementation of the National Food Security Act, 2013 (NFSA (2013))
  • Also, the Centre runs three major food-based safety-net programs that help millions of households access food, cash, and other support.
    • Mid Day Meals
    • Integrated child development services
    • Support for daily wage earners, migrants, and other workers
Why does the world need WFP?
  • Acute food insecurity is any manifestation of food insecurity at a specific point in time of severity that threatens lives, livelihoods or both, regardless of the causes, context or duration.
  • The coronavirus pandemic will see more than a quarter of a billion people suffering acute hunger by the end of the year, according to new figures from the World Food Programme (WFP).
    • The latest numbers indicate the lives and livelihoods of 265 million people in low and middle-income countries will be under severe threat unless swift action is taken to tackle the pandemic, up from a current 135 million.
    • That is nearly double the number in the newly published Global Report on Food Crises 2020, which estimates that 135 million people in 55 countries currently face acute hunger as a result chiefly of conflict, the effects of climate change, and economic crises. 
  • People living in conflict zones and those forced from their homes and into refugee camps, with countries of concern including northeastern Nigeria, South Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. They did not need COVID-19. Even without it, their lives were hanging by a thread. They literally depend on WFP for their lives.
  • WFP is taking various steps to reduce the impact of COVID-19 on reaching and supporting the world’s most vulnerable people.
  • This includes expanding its real-time, remote food-security monitoring in several countries, to assess how supply chains are functioning and monitor households’ access to health care. Information is available to the wider humanitarian community, while the public can access information via WFP’s Hunger Map LIVE and Hunger Analytics Hub. 
  • WFP is assessing where cash transfers can be distributed electronically in areas where food is readily available, and already works with governments on an ongoing basis to strengthen social protection systems which are likely to feature cash as a default response during the pandemic.
  • Other measures include pre-positioning food closest to those most in need- while supply chains are still working- providing double rations to reduce the number of distributions, providing take-home rations to replace school meals, and launching health-education campaigns.
  • WFP has established international and regional staging areas, built out of its global network of Humanitarian Response Depots.
  • It is clear that a global agency like WFP is needed that can aid in-
    1. Swift and unimpeded humanitarian access to vulnerable communities.
    2. To set up a network of logistics hubs to keep worldwide humanitarian supply chains moving.
    3. Strengthening food security systems.
  • WFP is placed well, because of its on-the-ground presence, to help vulnerable people around the world with nutrition-based activities, with school meals-type activities, with cash, so that people can buy their food and generate economic growth in local communities and access food when there are shortages. 

Hence the role of the World Food Programme in providing food security to vulnerable populations around the world becomes important, especially in a post-Covid era. Also, displacements due to climate change will increase the number of climate refugees in the coming decades and food security would be a greater concern. 

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