Holy See to UN on Food Security

“The Debate on Malnutrition … Requires Real Action”

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NEW YORK, OCT. 26, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Here is the statement Archbishop Celestino Migliore, permanent observer of the Holy See at the United Nations, delivered Friday on agricultural development and food security before the 64th session of the U.N. General Assembly.

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Mr. Chairman,

My delegation would like to thank the Secretary-General for the extensive report prepared in view of this debate, which is particularly pertinent at a time when agricultural development and food security draw renewed attention from international institutions and Governments.

This year for the first time over 1 billion of the world’s population are undernourished. Although the world produces enough food for the global community, food demand continues to rise faster than the agricultural production.

At the same time, inequities and mismanagement of commodities and financial systems hamper the ability for all to live in a world free of hunger. As consumption patterns change in developing countries, agricultural land is used for non-agricultural purposes or remains removed from production, and agricultural products are increasingly destined to non-nutritional purposes. Clearly, the ability to feed the growing world population requires a renewed commitment to addressing agricultural policies.

Earth, that is — soil, is a fundamental basis of our richness, the element in which we can entrust the survival of humanity. This involves a number of considerations, decisions and firm commitments to be made in the context of climate change, in the sense in which the UN is working for a successful outcome of the upcoming Copenhagen Conference.

The World Bank and FAO have recently published a report under the telling title: “Awaking Africa’s Sleeping Giant.” The “giant” is the 400 million hectares of African savanna which runs through 25 countries, from Senegal to South Africa, and is endowed with an immense agricultural potential. At the moment only 10% of the savanna is being utilized, but a timely and correct policy based on medium to small-scale farming could deliver the amazing results experienced in other regions of the world where the same policy was adopted some twenty years ago.

To aid these efforts, land reform and revision of national systems of ownership must not be delayed. They should also be accompanied by agricultural policies and other measures such as training, information, credit, infrastructure and social services which enable farmers to be protagonists of agricultural transformation.

Statistics in the recent publication, “State of Food Insecurity in the World” (SOFI 2009), confirm that hunger has been on the rise for the past decade and it was not created but rather accentuated by the current financial crisis. Increases in hunger in all of the world’s major regions in times both of prosperity and economic crisis point to a deeper cause, namely, to a weak world governance of food security.

Indeed, one must admit that the real power of agriculture today seems to reside not anymore in the hands of farmers, but principally in the stages preceding and following production. Agricultural leadership is in the hands of those who control credit and the distribution of new technology, of those concerned with transport, distribution and sale of products.

The growing role of contract farming in agri-food systems offers a certain amount of security and stability to producers who are assured of selling their products. However, in order to respect the dignity of farmers, such contract farming must not deprive them of their creativity and initiative by transforming them into simply salaried workers.

In this regard, as the current financial crisis demonstrates, efforts must be undertaken to give greater importance to the role of labor and production over capital, financial transactions and speculation. Speculation continues to generate for farmers a destabilizing amount of uncertainty and unpredictability, inasmuch as it determines the fall in prices of one or another agricultural commodity, thus blocking production of these specific commodities and causing a long and sometimes tragic loss of employment for large numbers of farmers.

In addition, trade and market-distorting subsidies must be reassessed in light of the need to ensure that in developing countries farmers are able to participate in the national and global market and they are paid a wage commensurate with their labor.

We are facing a process of redefining the global cycle of production and marketing of agricultural products which commits us to a serious reflection on what its consequences are and what the new balanced solutions might be. It is at these levels that there is need to work on creating a new economy more attentive not only to profit, but above all, to human needs and relations.

Science and technology, while certainly necessary elements for the improvement of agriculture, are not sufficient to tackle the existing problems. These can only be addressed in the framework of solidarity and actions as well as increased attention to the dignity of farmers, who more than the beneficiaries of agricultural development and food security are its real protagonists.

Mr. Chairman, as is evident, the debate on malnutrition and starvation needs no longer abstract estimates and multiplication of words, but requires real action, from all concerned.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

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