WFP’s Nobel Peace Prize Win: a Lesson in Economics and Food Security
JEC TORONTO — Just as every October, committees gathered in Norway and Sweden to select the Nobel Prize laureates for different prizes in economics, science, literature, peace-work, and economics. While there were a few changes to the process this year due to the coronavirus pandemic from hosting digital events to postponing award ceremonies for 2021, the biggest surprise might have been the winner of the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize: the United Nations’ World Food Programme (WFP).
About the Nobel Prize
The Nobel Prize, awarded every year since 1901, is considered to be one of the most prestigious awards in the world for intellectual achievement. A great amount of research goes into the selection process, adding to the prestige of the awards and the prizewinners. The institutions involved in the prize-awarding invite over 6,000 individuals (scholars, members of the institutions, diverse university and learned academy members and officials) to nominate candidates they believe to be deserving of the prizes. The entire process is very thorough and takes about a year from the previous autumn to the October of the prize year.
The other 2020 winners included the physiology or medicine prize, which Drs. Harvey J. Alter, Charles M. Rice, and Michael Houghton won based on their their work in discovering the hepatitis C virus. In the physics category, Reinhard Genzel, Andrea Ghez, and Roger Penrose received the prize for their various discoveries improving understanding of the universe. For chemistry, Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer A. Doudna were awarded for their work for the development of a method of genome editing. Louise Glück won the prize in literature for her poetry, and Paul R. Milgrom and Robert B. Wilson won the prize in economic science for their work improving auction theory.
WFP’s historic win
Every year up until now, the Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to an individual or an organization for their work specifically in peacekeeping or peacemaking. The WFP is a food aid organization — not a peacekeeping or peace-making organization.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee that is charge of selecting the Nobel Peace Prize each year elaborated on the win assuring the rest of the world it was no mistake. They justified their selection by stating that the WFP was awarded the Peace Prize “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” (2020).
The WFP is able to meet the requirement of peacemaking through their use of food to de-escalate conflict. Similarly to how the United Nations Emergency Forces (UNEF) might step into mediate a conflict by negotiating with the different parties to come to a resolution through communication rather than arms, the WFP is able to get to all sides of a conflict to cease fire — for food.
Food security and economics
Food insecurity is overlooked as an aspect of conflict and economic issue all over the world. WFP spokesperson Julie Marshall extends this idea, explaining that “conflict forces millions of people to abandon their crops, their homes, their jobs”. Even with considerable progress in many areas of global development, there have been trends of severe conflict or tragedy — and severe hunger.
According to the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), over 50% of all undernourished people live in countries undergoing some form of conflict. IFPRI defines a clear cyclical relationship between conflict and food insecurity: “food scarcity leads to market disruptions, which lead to further decreases in food availability, and greater disruption” (2020). Food is a vital part of any economy: from farmers to sellers to those purchasing it. These seemingly mundane transaction keep the economy stable and healthy.
The UN 2018 Global Report on Food Crises revealed similar ideas. Roughly 80% of the UN’s humanitarian funding needs are because of conflict. The report was able to uncover how conflict and insecurity can be caused by hunger. However, the report does not stop there: it also revealed that conflict itself can also cause more instability. Through disruptions in food production and community displacements, conflict and food insecurity chase one other in a vicious cycle.
Conflicts and crises have forced millions of people all over the world away from their homes and communities. As a result, many of those displaced become refugees without proper support, in turn creating more instability. Many of the causes of food insecurity stem from struggling or corrupt governments, price fluctuations and/or disruptions in the market, as well as natural disasters or climate change crises.
When conflict-affected areas are overwhelmed with violence and become inaccessible, it becomes extremely difficult for the essential services and supplies to be delivered to those in need. Disease and infection — and eventually malnutrition — spread rapidly when people suffer from hunger and collapses in health care and sanitation infrastructures. Humanitarian and aid organizations struggle immensely to put a stop to conflict and hunger in this vicious cycle of instability.
This exact cycle can be seen in Yemen and Sudan crises in 2017. Prolonged conflict caused a breakdown in the necessary services, and those in both countries underwent incredibly severe cholera outbreaks.
While many might believe conflict can be solved or at least de-escalated through peacekeeping efforts, for long-term economic stability investments must be made in both agriculture and climate resilience efforts. Such economic investments are overlooked but critical components to preventing the very crises and conflicts that spiral out of control across borders.
More on the WFP’s work in food security
The WFP, first created in 1961, now operates in 83 nation states. The organization shared that its dedicated staff members “put their lives on the line every day to bring food and assistance to more than 100 million hungry children, women and men across the world” (WFP, 2020).
Delivering over 15 billion rations a year at an average cost of $0.61 a piece, the WFP staff spends the majority of their time in war zones. Two-thirds of the organization’s work is conflict-ridden areas, and about 97 million people across 88 nations were able to benefit from their efforts in 2019 alone. The WFP has been present and working through some of most devastating disasters in the last 50 years, such as the Rwandan genocide.
While the organization might be known for just their emergency relief work, they also work with nations to strengthen local economies and help build the foundation for long term economic stability in conflict-affected areas. Among its other efforts include: resilience building (helping to strengthen the capacities of the affected people), food assistance— both in-kind and voucher or cashed based — , and South-South cooperation (equipping nations with the resources and knowledge needed to fight hunger long-term).
Among their key focus areas are smallholder market support. The WFP supports smallholder farmers whose communities are affected by hunger, building sustainable food systems that better include smallholder farmers along the economic value chain in a region. Their efforts towards this include introducing these farmers to formal markets, equipping them with the skills, infrastructure and knowledge to help their businesses become more resilient against risks and market disruptions.
Another focus area includes sustainable ecosystems and livelihoods. The WFP created an asset creation programme to allocate cash-based or food transfers to vulnerable communities as they work to restore or even build assets and improve their resilience and food security in the long-term.
The future of the WFP
Upon their win, the WFP highlighted that their work is far from done. Stating that roughly 690 million people already go to sleep hungry, but the coronavirus pandemic has posed a severe threat to global food security. In April alone the WFP announced that it estimated the pandemic could potentially be putting an increase of 130 million close to starvation.
The organization funded exclusively through voluntary donations, broke records by raising $8 billion in the last year alone. However, the organization has concerns about reduced involvement in international programs across the world. With close to a billion people starving or on the brink of starvation, the Norwegian Nobel Committee put a call to action forward while announcing the WFP’s win.
The chair of the committee Berit Reiss-Andersen urged the world not to forget the WFP: “This is also a call to the international community not to underfund the World Food Programme. This is an obligation, in our mind, of all states of the world to ensure that people are not starving” (2020).
For several decades world hunger was actually declining, but since 2016 it has been rising again. On October 13th, the WFP announced it was in need of $6.8 billion over the 6 months ahead to prevent famine. With such a great need for multilateral cooperation and solidarity from the international community during a time of decline in multilateral participation, one can only hope that the WFP is able to receive all the support it needs to address one of the greatest challenges in the modern world.