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The Other World Food Day Prize

Food
The Other World Food Day Prize

Norman Borlaug, often referred to as the father of the Green Revolution, called for a World Food Prize to be established just after he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970. His intention was to lift up, more frequently than the venerable Nobel committee could, those who have devoted their careers to alleviating global hunger and therefore contributing to a more peaceful world.

Indeed, hunger is often cited as one of the root causes of conflict and war. Calling attention to hunger—and its constant companion poverty—as inextricably linked to peace does certainly warrant a prize that continually puts these issues in the spotlight. The tragedy of the World Food Prize is that since 1987, when the prize was first awarded, the laureates—with a very few exceptions—have been primarily scientists that have advanced food as a commodity and not as a basic human right. This week the World Food Prize is once again being awarded to a plant scientist, Dr. Rajaya Sajaram, for his development of numerous prodigious wheat varieties that have been spread around the world to the benefit of “small and large-scale farmers."

Yet, privileging food as a commodity to be bought and sold on the exchange floors of Chicago and New York has led to considerable damage to the natural environment and to our health. Not to mention that world hunger has reached the staggeringly high estimate of nearly one billion people, with more spikes than declines in the past few decades, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.

Production agriculture is the source of at least 14 percent of green­house gas emissions, depends on unsustainable fossil fuels and is the consumer of 70 percent of the world's an­nual freshwater supply. Climate change is in part a direct result of this profit-driven recipe for efficiency and scale in agricultural production. And, like the sorcerer's apprentice, no longer able to control what he has summoned by his spells, climate change is making our Earth inhospitable to food production through an increasing prevalence of drought followed by monsoons. And what is the response historically to a dwindling access to natural resources among rural communities in particular? Hunger and conflict.

How does a prize meant to honor those who fight hunger and bring about peace reward the very science, technology and methods that are degrading our planet, our health and our ability for generations to come to feed ourselves?

Enter the Food Sovereignty Prize as a foil to the message perpetuated by the World Food Prize that industrial agriculture is necessary to feed the world. In 2009, a group of non-governmental and community-based organizations, spurred on by the world food crisis that hit headlines around the globe, banded together to form what is now called the U.S. Food Sovereignty Alliance and established an alternative prize to recognize the quiet champions producing food in a way that puts people and their basic needs and rights to be nourished first.

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The Food Sovereignty Prize has for six years running been awarded to peasants and small farmers who, despite the billions of dollars pouring in to support big agri-business and food and farm policies that prop up food as a commodity and result in land grabs by multi-national companies, are growing food for their families, communities and local markets. These leaders are organizing their communities to reclaim their right to determine how their food is grown, and who benefits from it.

Why should peasants and small farmers be heralded as formidable foes against hunger? The majority of the food that people around the world eat—70 percent—is produced by peasants and small farmers on medium to small tracts of land and is consumed within 100 miles of where it was grown. The narrative put out by the World Food Prize that an industrial agribusiness model, requiring billions of dollars of investment in scientific research, is necessary to feed the world is false.

Not only are peasants and small farmers currently growing the majority of consumable food in the world, but food production worldwide already provides 1.5 times enough food to feed everyone on the planet. That's enough to feed 10 billion people, the population peak we expect by 2050. It's clearly not a question of production keeping up with population as the World Food Prize narrative suggests.

For the first time since activists, farmers and organizers came together to establish the Food Sovereignty Prize, it is being awarded in a public ceremony in Des Moines, Iowa the same week and city where the World Food Prize laureate is traditionally honored. The Food Sovereignty Prize ceremony will take place at the Iowa Historical Building at 7 p.m. on Oct. 15 and will be live streamed.

This year's prize goes to two awardees—the Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC) of Palestine, and Community to Community Development/De Comunidad a Comunidad (C2C) of Bellingham, WA. Both organizations, founded and led by farmers, are being honored for their work to advance the rights and food sovereignty of communities without legal protections to the right to food and the right to land. Both organizations exemplify that people, not profits, should be at the center of the discourse on ending hunger and healing the environment.

UAWC has been engaged in humanitarian and justice work for decades in an effort to empower stateless Palestinian farmers, both men and women, who face geo-political challenges to accessing land and water in order to produce food for their families and communities. The UAWC has organized and supports 21 committees in the Gaza Strip and 26 in the West Bank. Together these committees of peasants work to protect farmers' rights to land, organize women's collectives and cooperatives that create opportunities for sustainable livelihoods, ensure access to water for food production through cisterns and grey water reuse, and to promote seed sovereignty through the development of the strongest seed bank in the region.

Community to Community Development/De Comunidad a Comunidad, a founding member of the U.S. Food Sovereignty Alliance, is led by and works with farmworker communities, including youth, in Washington State. C2C organizes farm worker cooperatives, primarily around producing value-added goods, but also works to access land for community gardens. They are a member of the Domestic Fair Trade Association. Notably, over the past year, C2C has worked with a group of farmworkers who organized themselves at Sakuma Berry Farms because they were not being paid, the housing provided to them was poor, and discipline measures were harsh. In addition, the workers (some of whom had worked at Sakuma for many years), were going to be replaced by guest workers coming on H2A visas. This is the first major farmworker struggle related to the guest worker program impacting farm workers here and is raising important issues. The farmworker union, Familias Unidas por la Justicia, has won numerous legal battles with C2C but their struggle continues.

By lifting up these organizations among the countless others around the world fighting for the right to a dignified life, the Food Sovereignty Prize is redirecting the public discourse around ending hunger from one that focuses on industrial-scale food production to one that focuses on social justice.

This year's 2014 Borlaug Dialogue international symposium, held each year in conjunction with the World Food Prize ceremony, is putting the following question front and center: The Greatest Challenge in Human History: Can We Sustainably Feed the 9 Billion People on our Planet by the Year 2050?"

We already know the answer to that. Yes, we can. With food sovereignty framing the policies and practices that map out the pathway to a just society rooted in self-determination and democratic principles, community-led responses to climate change, equitable distribution and access to land and water for fishing and farming, and—finally—science and technology in service to building resilient communities and led by the experiential knowledge of peasants, we will repair the planet and create the capacity for healthy food production and consumption for generations and generations to come. Peace begins, not when the hungry are fed, but when the people have achieved food sovereignty.

Tristan Quinn-Thibodeau contributed to the reporting and writing of this article.

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In early October, Britain's Prince William teamed up with conservationist David Attenborough to launch the Earthshot Prize, a new award for environmentalist innovation. The Earthshot brands itself the "most prestigious global environment prize in history."

The world-famous wildlife broadcaster and his royal sidekick appear to have played an active role in the prize's inception, and media coverage has focused largely on them as the faces of the campaign.

But the pair are only the frontmen of a much larger movement which has been in development for several years. In addition to a panel of experts who will decide on the winners, the prize's formation took advice from the World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace and the Jack Ma Foundation.

With more and more global attention on the climate crisis, celebrity endorsement of environmental causes has become more common. But why do environmental causes recruit famous faces for their campaigns? And what difference can it make?

'Count Me In'

"We need celebrities to reach those people who we cannot reach ourselves," says Sarah Marchildon from the United Nations Climate Change secretariat (UNFCCC) in Bonn, Germany.

Marchildon is a proponent of the use of celebrities to raise awareness of environmental causes. In addition to promoting a selection of climate ambassadors who represent the UN on sustainability issues, Marchildon's team has produced videos with well-known narrators from the entertainment world: among them, Morgan Freeman and Mark Ruffalo.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," Marchildon explains.

"Sometimes they reach out to us themselves, as David Attenborough did recently. And then they can promote the videos on their own social channels which reach more people than we do — for example, if they have 20 million followers and we have 750,000."

Environmental groups focused on their own domestic markets are also taking this approach. One Germany-based organization that uses celebrities in campaigns is the German Zero NGO. Set up in 2019, it advocates for a climate-neutral Germany by 2035.

German Zero produced a video in March 2020 introducing the campaign with "66 celebrities" that supported the campaign, among them Deutschland 83 actor Jonas Nay and former professional footballer Andre Schürrle. They solicit support as well as financial contributions from viewers.

"Count me in," they say, pointing toward the camera. "You too?"

"We are incredibly grateful for the VIPs in our videos," says German Zero spokeswoman Eva-Maria McCormack.

Assessing Success Is Complex

But quantifying the effectiveness of celebrity endorsement of campaigns is not a straightforward process.

"In order to measure effectiveness, first of all you need to define what is meant by success," says Alegria Olmedo, a researcher at the Zoology Department at the University of Oxford.

Olmedo is the author of a study looking at a range of campaigns concerning pangolin consumption, fronted by local and Western celebrities, in Vietnam and China. But she says her biggest stumbling block was knowing how to measure a campaign's success.

"You need a clear theory of change," explains Olmedo. "Have the celebrities actually helped in achieving the campaign's goals? And how do you quantify these goals? Maybe it is increased donations or higher engagement with a cause."

A popular campaign in China in recent years saw famous chefs Zhao Danian and Shu Yi pledge to abstain from cooking endangered wildlife. While the pledge achieved widespread recognition, both Olmedo and Marchildon say it's difficult to know whether it made any difference to people's actions.

"In life we see a thousand messages every day, and it is very hard to pinpoint whether one campaign has actually made a difference in people's behavior," she explains.

Awareness Is Not Enough

Many campaigns that feature celebrities focus on raising awareness rather than on concrete action — which, for researcher Olmedo, raises a further problem in identifying effectiveness.

"Reach should never be a success outcome," she says. "Many campaigns say they reached a certain number of people on social media. But there has been a lot of research that shows that simply giving people information does not mean they are actually going to remember it or act upon it."

But anecdotal evidence from campaigns may suggest reach can make an active difference.

"Our VIP video is by far the most watched on our social media channels," McCormack from German Zero says. "People respond to it very directly. A lot of volunteers of all ages heard about us through that video."

However, some marketing studies have shown that celebrity endorsement of a cause or product can distract from the issue itself, as people only remember the person, not the content of what they were saying.

Choosing the Right Celebrity

Celebrity choice is also very important. Campaigns that use famous faces are often aiming to appeal to members of the public who do not necessarily follow green issues.

For certain campaigns with clear target audiences, choosing a climate scientist or well-known environmentalist rather than a celebrity could be more appealing — Attenborough is a classic example. For others, images and videos involving cute animals may be more likely to get a message heard than attaching a famous face.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," says Marchildon from the UN. "You need figures with credibility."

McCormack cites the example of Katharine Hayhoe, an environmental scientist who is also an evangelical Christian. In the southern United States, Hayhoe has become a celebrity in her own right, appealing to an audience that might not normally be interested in the messages of climate scientists.

But as soon as you get a celebrity involved, campaigns also put themselves at risk of the whims of that celebrity. Prince William and younger members of the royal family have come under fire in recent years for alleged hypocrisy for their backing of environmental campaigns while simultaneously using private jets to fly around the world.

But Does It Really Work?

While environmental campaigns hope that endorsement from well-known figures can boost a campaign, there is little research to back this up.

"The biggest finding [from my study] was that we were unable to produce any evidence that shows that celebrity endorsement of environmental causes makes any difference," says Olmedo.

This will come as a blow to many campaigns that have invested time and effort into relationships with celebrity ambassadors. But for many, the personal message that many celebrities offer in videos like that produced by German Zero and campaigns like the Earthshot Prize are what counts.

The research may not prove this conclusively — but if the public believes a person they respect deeply personally cares about an important issue, they are perhaps more likely to care too.

"I personally believe in the power this can have," says Marchildon. "And if having a celebrity involved can get a single 16-year-old future leader thinking about environmentalist issues — that is enough."

Reposted with permission from DW.

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