With nearly one billion people still suffering from food shortages around the globe, the world must take a united stand against hunger, the United Nations said today, marking World Food Day.
The number of the world’s hungry has dipped slightly from its record high last year, but “we are continually reminded that the world’s food systems are not working in ways that ensure food security for the most vulnerable members of our societies,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in his message on the Day.
The Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of halving the proportion of hungry people in the world is a pillar for achieving all eight of the globally-agreed targets with a 2015 deadline, Mr. Ban stressed.
“When people are hungry, they cannot break the crippling chains of poverty, and are vulnerable to infectious diseases,” he said. “When children are hungry, they cannot grow, learn and develop.”
This year alone, the Secretary-General pointed out, millions have been pushed into hunger by the earthquake in Haiti, the drought in the Sahel and floods in Pakistan, while the twin food and financial crises continue to affect the world’s most vulnerable.
He highlighted the need for global cooperation – bringing together governments, intergovernmental organizations, regional and sub-regional bodies, business and civil society groups – to combat hunger.
“Increasingly, their approach is comprehensive,” Mr. Ban said, covering all aspects of food security, ranging from small farms to feeding schoolchildren.
He urged everyone to press ahead with this approach to build on progress made in reducing the number of hungry people in the world. “Let us unite against hunger and ensure food and nutrition security for all.”
The Day is commemorated every year on 16 October, marking the date of the founding of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in 1945.
The agency’s 1billionhungry.org campaign, which aims to encourage governments to make eliminating hunger their top priority, has surpassed 1 million signatures.
A celebration was held to commemorate the Day in Rome today, with the FAO appointing four new Goodwill Ambassadors – Italian actor Raoul Bova, Canadian singer Céline Dion, Filipino singer Lea Salonga and United States actress Susan Sarandon – to raise awareness of the global fight against hunger.
By taking on the role, they commit themselves to addressing the universal humanitarian goals underpinning the agency’s mission to build a food-secure world.
Also taking part in the ceremony were the heads of the FAO, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), as well as Pope Benedict XVI and Rwandan President Paul Kagame.
“In order to eliminate hunger and malnutrition, obstacles of self-interest must be overcome so as to make room for a fruitful gratuitousness, manifested in international cooperation as an expression of genuine fraternity,” the Pope said at the event.
He called on everyone – ranging from individuals to civil society to States – to prioritise what he called “one of the most urgent goals for the human family: freedom from hunger,” stressing that “in order to ensure that enough food is available, but also that everyone has daily access to it.”
FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf called for agriculture’s share of official development assistance to increase and for governments of low-income, food-deficient countries to increase farming’s share in national budgets.
“There is a need for greater coherence and coordination in policy choices for greater assurance of unimpeded access to global supplies and improved confidence and transparency in market functioning,” Mr. Diouf noted.
Also addressing the ceremony was WFP Executive Josette Sheeran, who said that “now is the time for us to turn our dreams of a world free of hunger into reality,” invoking Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi.
“Now it is time for all of us to dream big and mobilize an unstoppable movement of humanity to act against the hunger that continues to condemn hundreds of millions of children to unfulfilled lives simply because they have not had access to nutritious food.”
Kanayo F. Nwanze, President of IFAD, urged world leaders to boost investments in agriculture to enhance farm productivity.
It is estimated that half of the world’s poor are smallholder agriculturalists, with more than 2 billion men and women in Africa, Asia and Latin America depending on smallholder farms.
“Smallholder farmers can feed the world, but they cannot do it alone,” he told reporters on the sidelines of today’s event. “Greater long-term investment in agriculture is needed, creating conditions to bring rural people out of subsistence and into the marketplace.”
Mr. Nwanze underlined the crucial role of agriculture in fighting poverty.
“Agriculture is the key to food security and a fundamental engine of economic growth and wealth generation,” he noted.
The UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food today said there is little to rejoice about on World Food Day, calling for a shift to low-carbon agriculture to ensure there is enough food for all, especially in the face of climate change.
There are nearly one billion hungry people in the world, “but the worst may still be ahead, since current agricultural developments are also threatening the ability for our children’s children to feed themselves,” Olivier De Schutter cautioned.
Current farming methods focus on the provision of chemical fertilizers and a greater mechanization of production. “Such efforts are far distant from the professed commitment to fight climate change and to support small-scale, family agriculture,” he said.
The current approach, Mr. De Schutter stressed, is a “recipe for disaster,” calling for reliance on agro-forestry, better water harvesting techniques and other low-carbon methods to ensure that farming plays a large role in mitigating climate change’s effects instead of exacerbating them.