“On a scale of 1 to 10, the Pope’s interest in eradicating hunger is at 11,” the director general of the FAO says.
José Graziano da Silva of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization told ZENIT this on Wednesday, at the end of a conference held at the Foreign Press Association in Italy.
Graziano da Silva took office Jan. 1, 2012. He was received by Benedict XVI on June 14 of last year and met with Pope Francis a few weeks ago, after the inaugural Mass of the pontificate.
Graziano said that Francis “has confirmed that he is going to receive all the delegations of the FAO Conference this June. We have a close alliance to put the topic of hunger and undernourishment at the highest level.”
“This is not only an economic topic but also one of a moral nature,” the UN official explained. “The combination we have today, of producing too much and at the same time wasting, is not on. We throw away or waste too much food, almost one third of the world production. This is putting an almost unsustainable pressure on the environment. We cannot follow this sort of model.”
The American-born Brazilian continued: “Look, what is left over in a European restaurant today, those leftovers in today’s Europe, in crisis, would enable 200 million more people to be fed — just to give a number.”
“To reconvert production and consumption is also part of the work of the Catholic Church, and we have agreed that we must give priority to the topic of poverty and hunger,” he added.
FAO’s present strategy reflects “the increase of the production of foods at the local level. Today more than is necessary is produced to feed the whole world population and, despite this, we continue to have 870 million people who suffer hunger.”
It “is a problem of distribution and access. We don’t produce what we need in North Africa, for instance, but we have immense surpluses in South America and North America,” he explained. “The cost of transport is what makes food very expensive for local populations. If we can improve the productivity and output of that agriculture, we will reduce hunger, improve production and the environment and the use of water, that is, [we will have] sustainable development.”
The agreement of collaboration signed this week between FAO and Slow Food, consists in carrying out a series of joint actions to improve the means of subsistence of small land proprietors and farmers in rural areas. In addition to different initiatives, emphasis will be put on local foods and little-used cereals, promoting at the same time the access of small producers to the markets.
Slow Food is a non-profit organization with more than 100 members worldwide. Within the strategy, said its president, Carlo Petrini, there is also appreciation of the local culture — not to impose it on others, but to have it respected. There are in Africa today 1,000 kitchen gardens and it is hoped to extend them to 10,000 by 2016. “A significant answer is that of youths who return to the land, who add value and are proud of their products. If they do the kitchen gardens with local products, there must be in addition a gastronomy that values them,” he said.
He also pointed out countries like Peru, which runs soup kitchens in schools with the mothers of the children and who, in agreement with the cooks, try to choose products of the local agriculture.
Graziano pointed out that in Brazil the idea has also taken root that a country that exports food cannot have people who are hungry. And it is being pushed through two channels: extensive agriculture, and limited agriculture for depressed areas.
While Latin America is taking important steps toward the eradication of hunger, in Europe there are situations of regress, due to the crisis, in particular in some countries in difficulty.