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Pope Francis at FAO 39 summit

PHOTO.VA - OSSERVATORE ROMANO

Pope’s Address to FAO

“Instead of acting, we prefer to delegate, and to delegate at all levels”

Pope Francis today received in audience participants from the 39th Session of the FAO’s Conference. Here is a ZENIT translation of the Pope’s address.

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Mister President, Gentlemen Ministers, Mister Director General,

Distinguished Permanent Representatives, Ladies and Gentlemen, good morning!

1. I am happy to receive you while you participate in the 39th Conference of FAO, thus continuing a long tradition. I give a cordial greeting to you, Mister President, La Mamea Ropati, to the representatives of the different Nations and Organizations that are present, and to the Director General, Professor Jose Graziano da Silva.

I still have vivid the memory of the participation in the 2nd International Conference on Nutrition (November 20, 2014), which summoned the States to find solutions and resources. I hope that that decision does not remain on paper or in the intentions of those who led the negotiations, but that responsibility will prevail decisively to respond concretely to the hungry and to all those that await from agricultural development an answer to their situation.

In face of the misery of many of our brothers and sisters, sometimes I think that the subject of hunger and of agricultural development has become today one of the many problems in this time of crisis. And yet, we see the number of people with difficulties to access regular and healthy food growing everywhere. However, instead of acting, we prefer to delegate, and to delegate at all levels. And we think that someone will take care of it, perhaps another country, or a government, or an international organization. Our tendency to “desert” in face of difficult questions is human, although later we do not miss a meeting, a conference, the writing of a document. On the contrary, we must respond to the imperative that access to necessary food is a right for all. Rights do not allow exclusions.

It is not enough to single out the point of the situation of nutrition in the world, although it is necessary to update the data, because it shows us the harsh reality. We certainly can be consoled, knowing that those hungry people in 1992 have been reduced, even when the world population is growing. Nevertheless it is not of much use to take into account the number or even to project a series of concrete commitments and of recommendations that policies and investments must implement, if we neglect the obligation to “eradicate hunger and prevent all forms of malnutrition in the whole world” (FAO-OMS, Rome’s Declaration on Nutrition, November 2014, 15a).

2. The statistics on residuals are very worrying: included in this register is one third of the foods produced. And it is worrisome to know that a good quantity of agricultural products is used for other ends, perhaps good ends, but which are not the immediate need of one who is hungry. Let us ask ourselves then: What can we do? Even more so: What am I doing?

It is essential to reduce the residuals, as well as to reflect on the non-food use of agricultural products, which are used in great quantities for animal feeding or to produce bio-combustibles. Certainly ever healthier environmental conditions must be guaranteed, however, can we continue to do so excluding someone? All countries must be sensitized on the type of nutrition adopted, and this varies according to the latitudes. Attention must be given in the South of the world to a sufficient quantity of foods to guarantee a growing population. In the North, the central point is the quality of nutrition and of foods. However, weighing on both the quality and the quantity of food is the situation of insecurity determined by the climate, by the increase in demand and the uncertainty of prices.

Therefore, let us attempt to assume with greater determination the commitment to modify lifestyles, and perhaps we will need fewer resources. Sobriety is not opposed to development, what is more, clearly seen now is that it has become a condition for the same. For FAO, this also means to continue decentralization, to be in the midst of the rural world and understand the needs of the people that the Organization is called to serve.

Let us ask ourselves in addition:  How much does the market with its rules affect hunger in the world? We learn of the studies you have carried out that since 2008 the price of foods has changed its tendency: duplicated, then stabilized, but always with high values in regard to the preceding period. Such volatile prices impede the poorest to make plans or to count on minimal nutrition. The causes are many. We are justly worried about climate change, but we cannot forget financial speculation: an example are the prices of wheat, rice, corn, soya, which oscillate in the stock markets, sometimes linked to income funds and, therefore, the greater the price the more earnings for the fund. Here too, we must try to follow another way, convincing ourselves that the products of the earth have a value that we can say is “sacred,” given that they are the fruit of the daily work of persons, families, communities of farmers – a work that is often dominated by uncertainties, worries over climatic conditions, anxieties over the possible destruction of the harvest.

In FAO’s objective, agricultural development includes work of the earth, fishing, cattle raising, forests. It is necessary that this development is at the center of the economic activity, distinguishing well the different needs of farmers, cattle raisers, fishermen and those who work in forests. The second objective is the primacy of agricultural development. For FAO’s objectives this means to support an effective resilience, reinforcing in a specific way the capacity of populations to address the crises – natural or caused by human action – and paying attention to the different needs. Thus it will be possible to pursue a worthy level of life.

3. There are other critical points in this commitment. In the first place, it seems difficult to accept a generic resignation, the indifference and even the absence of many, including States. Sometimes one has the sensation that hunger is an unpopular topic, an insoluble problem, which does not find solutions within a legislative or presidential mandate and, therefore, does not guarantee consensus. The reasons that lead to limiting the contribution of ideas, technology, expertise and financing lie in the lack of will to assume binding commitments, as we shield ourselves behind the question of the global economic crisis and the idea that there is hunger in all countries: “If there are hungry people in my territory, how can I think of allocating funds for international cooperation?” However, forgotten in this way is that in a country poverty is a social problem to which solutions can be given; in other contexts, it is a structural problem and social policies to address it are not enough. This attitude can change if we put back solidarity in the heart of international relations, transposing it from the vocabulary to the policy options: the policy of the other. If all the Member States work for the other, consensus for FAO”s action would not delay in coming and, what is more, its original function would be rediscovered, that “fiat panis” that figures in its emblem.

I am also thinking of the education of persons for a correct alimentary diet. In my daily meetings with Bishops from so many parts of the world, with political personalities, economic directors, academics, I perceive increasingly that today nutritional education also has different variables. We know that in the West the problem is high consumption and residuals. In the South, however, to ensure food, it is necessary to foment the local production that, in many countries with “chronic hunger,” is substituted by remittances from outside and perhaps initially through aid. However, emergency aid is not enough and does not always reach the appropriate hands. Created thus is dependence on large producers and, if the country lacks the necessary economic means, then the population ends by not being fed and hunger grows.

Climate change makes us think also of the forced displacement of populations and the many humanitarian tragedies because of lack of resources, beginning with water, which is already the object of conflicts, which will foreseeably increase. It is not enough to affirm that there is a right to water without making an effort to obtain a sustainable consumption of this good and eliminate any waste. Water continues to be a symbol of the rites that many religions and cultures use to indicate membership, purification and interior conversion. Beginning from this symbolic value, FAO can contribute to revise the models of behavior to ensure, now and in the future, that all can have access to water indispensable for their needs and for agricultural activities. There comes to mind that passage of the Scripture that invites not to forsake “the fountain of living waters, to hew out cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water” (Jeremiah 2:13): a warning to say that technical solutions are useless if they forget the centrality of the human person, who is the measure of every right.

In addition to water, the use of terrains continues to be a serious problem. Increasingly worrying is the monopolizing of lands of cultivation by trans-national enterprises and States, which not only deprives farmers of an essential good, but which directly affects the sovereignty of countries. There are already many regions in which the foods produced go to foreign countries and the local population is doubly impoverished, because it does not have food or land. And what to say of the women that in many areas cannot possess the land they work, with an inequality of rights that impedes the serenity of family life, because the danger is run of losing the field from one moment to the other? However, we know that the world production of foods is in the main the work of family properties. Therefore, it is important that FAO reinforce the association and the projects in favor of family enterprises and that it stimulate States to regulate equitably the use and property of the land. This can contribute to eliminate the inequalities, now at the center of international attention.

4. Food security will be achieved even if peoples are different by geographic localization, economic conditions or food cultures. Let us work to harmonize the differences and unite efforts and thus, we will no longer read that food security for the North means to eliminate fats and foster the movement that, for the South, consists in obtaining at least one meal a day.

We must begin from our daily life if we want to change lifestyles, conscious that our little gestures can ensure sustainability and the future of the human family. And then let us continue the struggle against hunger without second intentions. FAO’s projections state that for the year 2050, with people in the planet, production must increase and even double. Instead of letting oneself be impressed by the data, let us modify our relation with the natural resources, the use of the soil, let us modify our consumption, without falling into the slavery of consumerism; let us eliminate waste and thus we will overcome hunger.

The Church walks with you with her institutions and initiatives, conscious that the resources of the planet are limited and that their sustainable use is absolutely urgent for agricultural and food development. Therefore, she commits herself to foster this change of attitude necessary for the good of future generations. May the Almighty bless your work.

[Original text: Spanish] [Translation by ZENIT]

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