Holy See Intervention at FAO Conference

«The hungry are not cold numbers at the mercy of statistics. They are not theoretic entities. They are real persons who suffer, who often cry out and weep without anyone hearing them»

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Here is a ZENIT translation of the address given Wednesday by Monsignor Fernando Chica Arellano, the Holy See’s permanent observer of the United Nations Organizations and Organisms for Food and Agriculture (FAO, IFAD, PAM), at the 39th Session of FAO’s Conference underway in Rome.

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Mister President:

1. I thank you for giving me the floor and am happy that you have been chosen to direct the works of this Conference, called to consider the results of the action carried out by FAO in the last two years, as well as to assess the proposals oriented to its future activity. To endeavor that the Organization be ever more agile in addressing the reality of agricultural development and the challenges that food presents to persons, countries and governments is an important and necessary task. In fact, it is not only a question of considering the results obtained up to now but, above all, to define the criteria to tackle the new needs that continue to grow.

In fact, the principal responsibility of FAO and its Member States continues to be that of assessing ahead of time the data of the production and of nutritional availability in the different areas. It is a work oriented to proposing technical and specialized assistance that is able to foster the development of the agricultural sector and cooperation. This will contribute to having governments, institutions and all interested parties not back down in their struggle against malnutrition and hunger, which in our days continue to cause ravages before which we cannot be silent, resigned or grow accustomed, as they are real tragedies.

2. On addressing this question, the Holy See’s Delegation obviously does not pretend to offer technical solutions, but rather guidelines that promote initiatives in accord with the present needs of men and women of our time, in particular the needs of those going through intricate and anguishing situations, unworthy of the human being and his fundamental rights.

If traditionally the needs of States that requested FAO’s intervention were related to the functioning of their systems of agricultural production, it is evident today that the new needs that define the situations connected with the agricultural sector require new ways. It is necessary to consider the needs caused by a precarious and unfavorable economic picture, by increasingly arduous and complex conditionings, by natural disasters, frequently the result of man’s pernicious intervention. The latter are often motivated exclusively by biased interests, which show a terrible indifference when it comes to addressing the causes of malnutrition duly and adequately – a worrying situation in any region of the planet, not excluding those that exhibit a high level of development.

It is urgent to give a central role to agriculture within the ambit of economic activity and this cannot be oriented to the mere elaboration of strategies and projects. In this context, the interpretation of the new Post-2015 Development Agenda must also look beyond, to an “enlarged” concept of “development,” which is not simply sustainable but which also responds to an effective distributive justice and not only legal. A concrete example affects the 72 countries that have reached, although in different degrees, the objective of reducing drastically the number of the hungry and the percentage of the malnourished: a different cooperation will have to be offered to the mentioned countries from that given to less developed countries and with a persistent food deficit. Likewise, there will have to be analogous action in regard to the struggle against hunger and malnutrition also existent in developed countries. In this case, the surmounting of this problem will depend on appropriate national political initiatives, which safeguard the financing of multi-lateral activity and contain generous and solidaristic measures to continue helping effectively those who come from outside in lamentable and inhuman conditions.

This idea of a distributive justice makes evident both the original function of FAO as well as the requirement of an agile and harmonious structure of the same, subsidiary in regard to the action that each of the States exercises individually in favor of the hungry. Today, to give leadership to this type of action entails strengthening the conviction that the struggle against hunger — with the multiple factors and objectives that animate it and on which strategies are elaborated — cannot be carried out by favoring only individual sectors or partial interests, but rather in an integral way, from a whole vision. And this can only be done by putting at the center the needs of the person, of all persons and of every person. When this has not been taken into account, the negative repercussions have been evident, especially in those areas more affected by poverty, underdevelopment, lack of work, malnutrition and environmental degradation.

The Delegation of the Holy See considers that agricultural and food development cannot be reduced to the mere professional management of programs. It must also introduce judicious management criteria, foster transparency and promote really adequate interventions to the needs and conditions of the beneficiaries. In the execution of programs and the ordered development of activities, the conviction and generosity of persons who do their work and make their professionalism available is not enough. Fundamental also is respect of the rules and norms at all levels — a respect that must be strengthened with the spirit of service, with enthusiasm, with sincere collaboration, always keeping present that every action is oriented to those who suffer hunger concretely. The hungry are not cold numbers at the mercy of statistics. They are not theoretic entities. They are real persons that suffer, who often cry out and weep without anyone hearing them. They are truncated lives that see their hope pale and their rights trampled.

3. We all know that to guarantee the right to food it is not sufficient to affirm it. It is necessary that basic foods really be accessible to persons, both in quality as well as quantity. Adequate production, however, is the result of an explicit will in terms of instruments, investments and financing. To achieve these objectives, which in different ways all States consider a priority, the role that FAO can play is subordinated to trust in its task and direction, and to the resources that it has at its disposition, not only in its program of ordinary work, but also in constant and ever greater “extra budgetary” financing.

The commitment of solidarity of the different members of the International Community must be oriented in a clear way to the rural world, on which cyclical crises weigh, determined by climate change and growing desertification, which gravely harm areas and populations considered up to now immune to these phenomenons. If we really want to eliminate hunger from the world, we cannot be moved by spurious ends or calculation linked to the political use of cooperation. Given the growing role assumed by the new techniques of agricultural work, the transfer alone of technology is not enough. It is urgent to support concretely and decisively traditional knowledge and wisdom, so important for small farmers, stockbreeders, fishermen and forest workers, often forgotten, but on whom a great part of agricultural production depends. In this context, I would like to refer especially to those indigenous populations that have an ancestral relation with the earth. These populations are characterized by their respect for the environment and for ways of production and consumption that do not damage and that we should take into account.

The most recent data shows that FAO knows and foresees the solutions to the different problems, but the race to achieve the most immediate objectives of large-scale production and the unequal distribution of the resources induce postponing the action. In this connection, the indications in view of the forthco
ming 14th World Forest Congress should be emphasized with the conviction that the decisions of this important meeting will be effective if they are considered as answers to concrete expectations. It is not a question of opposing the results of scientific and technological research with a negative attitude to innovative systems of conservation and production and, perhaps, quantitatively better, but rather of proposing an ordered balance between such systems and the adequate prevention of the risks that threaten the forest ecosystem and the people who depend on it. In this way it is possible to guarantee the very desired environmental and human sustainability.

In this regard, research oriented to reinforcing agricultural production, cattle raising, fishing or forest resources must also certainly be concerned with the growing demand for foods, but without forgetting the reasons of environmental safety, the safeguarding of terrains and the conservation of water resources. The sustainability of production, therefore, must begin from a formed ecological conscience, without which any type of development initiatives or programs will continue to be a dream for many and a reality for few.

4. Mister President, the Member States and the different inter-governmental institutions that work in the sector of development and cooperation have their eyes fixed on FAO and its activities — also civil society and its different and valuable forms of organization. To this reality must be directed the commitment that this Organization is called to assume, both in the present as well as in the immediate future, in the different regions of the world. This requires necessarily a supplementary effort: on addressing the problems of the rural world and the need of those who suffer hunger and malnutrition, consideration will also have to be given to the condition of the agricultural worker and his total earnings, but without forgetting that the farmer is not solely an economic subject. He is a person able to participate in the processes of decision and in the options linked to the production, conservation and distribution of the fruits of the earth. Therefore, more than sustainable development, it would be much more incisive and coherent to speak of sustainable human development, that is, of a development that puts at its center the person, his real capacities, his limitations, peculiarities and needs, both individual as well as familiarly. If the economic parameters do not take due account of all this, the harm is evident and irreparable, as greater progress can never be equivalent to less humanity. An ethical and humanly based vision of development calls us, instead, to share resources, strategies and financing, but above all it reminds us of the importance and urgency that the primacy of solidarity has as well as the determined will to put an end once and for all to the underdevelopment of the rural world. The Organization will then be able to continue to be that competent “center” of collection, study and divulgation of data on agriculture, techniques of production and regulation exactly as its Constitution exacts and as is justly expected of it at all levels.

The Delegation of the Holy See wishes to reaffirm here the availability of the Catholic Church, of her structures and forms of organization to contribute to this effort.

To conclude, I permit myself to remind the numerous Delegations present of the meeting that tomorrow, June 11, the Conference will have with His Holiness Pope Francis, thus continuing a long tradition initiated when FAO began to be present in Rome.

Thank you very much.

[Original text: Spanish] [Translation by ZENIT]
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