The United Nations’ agricultural agency has joined forces with a group of Nobel laureates to tackle the problems of hunger and violence through a new alliance launched in Rome today.
“Freeing the world from hunger and want is a fundamental contribution to lasting peace,” said José Graziano da Silva, Director-General of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), at the launch event of the FAO-Nobel Peace Laureates Alliance, adding that in conflict situations, “agriculture and food security give new life to affected homes and communities – they bring people together and drive recovery.”
The group of Nobel laureates – including Oscar Arias Sánchez, Tawakkol Karman, Betty Williams and Muhammad Yunus – is respectively acclaimed for efforts to stop civil war, promote women’s rights, provide microcredit to the poor, and halt interreligious violence. The group will advise FAO on ways to strengthen the link between peace and food security in the agency’s ongoing work to promote sustainable development and resilience across the world.
FAO highlighted that rural areas and their populations continue to be the most affected in conflicts, as attacks on farming communities undermine rural livelihoods and displace people from their homes. That means assisting farmers is critical to prevent widespread displacement and set the foundations for rebuilding, Mr. Graziano da Silva stressed.
Muhammad Yunus, founder of Grameen Bank, placed support for rural entrepreneurship at the heart of solutions to hunger and instability as he highlighted the need to redesign existing institutions to avoid the failings of the past.
“We know business as a way to make money. But there can be another kind of business – a business to solve problems,” he said, stressing the need for building self-reliance and the benefits of using business as an engine for solving social problems.
“Rural people can be as good an entrepreneur as anybody else – we need financial institutions to support them,” Mr. Yunus said, adding that this is necessary so that youth see a future in rural areas and become drivers for employment and economic development, rather than migrating to cities as job seekers.
“Poverty and fear do not require a passport to travel,” said Oscar Arias Sánchez, former President of Costa Rica, drawing attention to how hunger and want for opportunity have caused the largest migration crisis the world has seen in decades.
“There is the violence that strikes with weapons and that which slowly creeps up,” he said, as he outlined the many ways war affects farming communities and the environment. “Lack of resilience and food security in many countries is nothing if not pure violence.”
Reminding the audience that the first poem ever written was one of war, Mr. Arias Sánchez stressed that the international community faces a choice today.
“Nobody has yet written the last poem – we still have ink in our quill,” he said. “We have to decide whether we will depict a scene of a desert in which death has been crowned queen – or we can decide to write water, bread, air and tree sap – we have to decide if we will write a last war poem or a poem of our peace and food security,” he said.
Along those lines, women’s rights activist Tawakkol Karman called the failure to eradicate hunger humankind’s greatest shame.
She noted that while the process of globalization currently transforming the planet has allowed some individuals and corporations to amass vast fortunes, millions of people go hungry each day.
“This equation needs to change,” she said. “What we need is a positive fair globalization where all people share the benefits.”
Doing so will require moral commitment and honest political will, she noted.
“When you see a problem like hunger, there is no point in crying about it – the question is, what are you going to do about it?” asked Irish peace activist Betty Williams. “Tears without action are wasted sentiment.”
“If we can make this work, it’s a big step for humanity,” she added, referring to the new alliance.
In a video message, former UN Secretary General and Nobel Laureate Kofi Annan underlined the ways that hunger and competition for agricultural resources can exacerbate social tension, as he called for a more holistic way of thinking about food security and peace.