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Sir John Boyd Orr (23 Sep 1880 – 25 Jun 1971)
Action for a Comprehensive World Food Polic

Since the hungry billion in the world community believe that we can all eat if we set our common house in order,
they believe also that it is unjust that some men die because it is too much trouble to arrange for them to live.
Stringfellow Barr Citizens of the World (1954)

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (2015-2030) aims by 2030 to "Double the agricultural productivity and incomes of small-scale food producers, in particular women, indigenous peoples, family farmers, pastoralists and fishers, including through secure and equal access to land, other productive resources and inputs, knowledge, financial services, markets , and non-farm resources."

John Boyd Orr, whose birth anniversary we mark on 23 September, was a medical doctor and biologist from Scotland concerned with the impact of poverty and malnutrition on health. He worked on food issues with the League of Nations and during the Second World War was deeply involved in food issues in Britain, especially focused on the needs of children and youth. From his experience with the League of Nations he saw the need for as large a group as possible to think of themselves as Citizens of the World. He wrote "Our civilization is now in the transition stage between the age of warring empires and a new age of world unity and peace...When the fabric of society is so rigid that it cannot change quickly enough, adjustments are achieved by social unrest and revolutions."

Lord John Boyd Orr was the first Director General of the Food and Agriculture Organization and Josué de Castro, served as the Independent Chairman of the FAO Council. Both were active in the world citizenship movement and were leaders in calling attention to world hunger and the need for strong governmental action to provide food security. In 1946, Boyd Orr presented a proposal for a World Food Board which would be endowed with sufficient authority and funds to stabilize the world market in food and deal with food emergencies. He pointed out that several countries were already doing this for the domestic market but that the world market was subject to violent fluctuations. The plan for a world food board was rejected following the lead of the US delegate who said "Governments are unlikely to place large funds needed for financing such a plan in the hands of an international agency over whose operations and price policy they would have little direct control." When the proposal was turned down by governments, Boyd Orr resigned from the FAO to devote himself to the world citizens' movement and to work against the start of the East-West arms race that was literally "taking food from the mouths of the poor." (1) He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1949 for his work on the role of food security as a crucial aspect of peace. In 1948 he had written the book Food: The Foundation of World Unity.

A central theme which citizens of the world have long stressed is that there needs to be a world food policy and that a world food policy is more than the sum of national food security programs. Food security has too often been treated as a collection of national food security initiatives. While the adoption of a national strategy to ensure food and nutrition security for all is essential, a focus on the formulation of national plans is clearly inadequate. There is a need for a world plan of action with focused attention to the role which the United Nations system must play if hunger is to be sharply reduced.

The FAO did encourage governments to develop national food security policies, but the lack of policies at the world level has led to the increasing control of agricultural processes by a small number of private firms driven by the desire to make money. Thus today, three firms —Monsanto, DuPont, and Syngenta — control about half of the commercial seed market worldwide. Power over soil, seeds and food sales is ever more tightly held.

There needs to be detailed analysis of the role of speculation in the rise of commodity prices. There has been a merger of the former Chicago Mercantile Exchange and the Chicago Board of Trade to become the CME Group Market which deals in some 25 agricultural commodities. Banks and hedge funds, having lost money in the real estate mortgage packages of 2008 are now looking for ways to get money back. For the moment, there is no international regulation of this speculation. There needs to be an analysis of these financial flows and their impact on the price of grains. The word needs a market shaped by shared human values structured to ensure fairness and co-responsibility.

There is likewise a need for a serious analysis of the growing practice of buying or renting potential farm land, especially in Africa and South America, by foreign countries, especially China and the Arab Gulf states. While putting new land under cultivation is not a bad policy in itself, we need to look at the impact of this policy on local farmers as well as on world food prices.

There is a need to keep in mind local issues of food production, distribution, and food security. Attention needs to be given to cultural factors, the division of labour between women and men in agriculture and rural development, in marketing local food products, to the role of small farmers, to the role of landless agricultural labour and to land-holding patterns.

Fortunately, there is a growing awareness that an integrated, holistic approach is needed. World Citizens stress that solutions to poverty, hunger and climate change crisis requirean agriculture that promotes producers' livelihoods, knowledge, resiliency, health and equitable gender relations, while enriching the natural environment and helping balance the carbon cycle. . Such an integrated approach is a fundamental aspect of the world citizen philosophy.

René Wadlow


For an analysis of Boyd Orr's proposal see Ross Tabot The Four World Food Agencies in Rome (Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1990, 188pp.) and the memoirs of a later FAO Director General B.R. Sen Towards a Newer World (Dublin: Tycooly Publishing, 1982, 342pp.)


Lord Boyd Orr: A World Citizen's Focus on Food

by Rene Wadlow

There can be no peace in the world so long as a large proportion of the population lack the necessities of life and believe that a change of the politicl and economic system will make them available. World peace must be based on world plenty. Lord Boyd Orr

John Boyd Orr (23 September 1880 - 25 June 1971) was a specialist on food policy, an ardent Scots regionalist, and a devoted world citizen. He was knighted in 1935 for his outstanding work on nutrition and was made a Life Peer as Baron Boyd Orr at the time, 1950, when he became a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.

After the First World War in which he had served as a medical doctor, he had helped to found and then direct the Rowett Institute, one of the world's leading centers for the study of nutrition. He had begun his work on animal nutrition but then shifted to the problems of human nutrition and food supply.

Boyd Orr came to realize that nutrition is a question of public policies and is indicative of a whole social climate, especially the differences among social classes. His study of the hungry during the 1930s, depression-era Britain Food, Health and Income was to raise the issue of hunger as a public policy challenge.

During the Second World War, Boyd Orr became increasingly preoccupied by the food problem at the world level. Thus he was a natural choice to become the first Director General of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) located in Rome. From the start, he proposed world structures that would be adequate to meet the critical food problems that faced not only the war-devastated countries of Europe but that existed at a chronic level in most of the rest of the world.

Boyd Orr's plans for a World Food Board that would give the FAO sufficient executive powers to meet the emergency of the world food crisis were adopted in principle by the government experts at the first FAO Conference in 1946 in Copenhagen. The World Food Board would have had the power to buy, hold, and sell stocks of agricultural commodities. It would have helped the stabilization of agricultural prices by working out price ranges and in keeping famine reserves.

However, once the proposal of a World Food Board went beyond the view of the agricultural experts who had been largely represented at the first FAO Conference and fell on the desks of the political hands, the world government aspects of the ideas were noted. The United States and the United Kingdom frankly rejected the idea, the USSR ignored them. (1) Faced with the impossibility of creating the structure he felt was absolutely necessary, he resigned from the FAO and took up leadership in the World Citizen movements and to work against the start of the East-West arms race that was literally "taking food from the mouths of the poor."

From his long experience with governments and their slowness, Boyd Orr remained confident in the possibilities of the pressures of citizens of the world. He wrote " While governments are loth to change their ideas, the people of the world have changed. They have begun to realize that a spurious nationalism supported by a contorted national history which tries to make it appear that each nation is a nation of supermen is nonsense...The hope of the world lies with those private international organizations which must create a strong and well-informed world-wide public opinion which will force governments to agree to a comprehensive world food policy."

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