Progress toward the elimination of hunger continues to be slow, said Archbishop Bernardito Auza, Apostolic Nuncio, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, during the Seventy-third Session of the United Nations General Assembly, Second Committee Agenda Item 26: Agriculture development, food security, and nutrition in
New York, on October 12, 2018.
The Bishop’s Full Statement:
The Secretary General’s report on agriculture development, food security, and nutrition once again gives an alarming assessment regarding slow progress toward the achievement of the critical sustainable development goal of “Zero Hunger” by 2030. Indeed, with just 12 years left to reach this target and considering the number of chronically undernourished people worldwide having increased from 777 million in 2015 to 815 million in 2016, my Delegation shares the main conclusion of this report that, based on current trends, hunger will not be eradicated by 2030. As the 2017 report, The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the world notes, this recent increase after a prolonged decline “could signal a reversal of trends.” The call to urgent action is therefore loud and clear.
The lack of tangible progress over the past two decades highlights the practical difficulties of reducing world hunger to below 800 million, as well as the continuing vulnerability of large sections of the world’s population to natural disasters and climate change. Many of the undernourished are women and young children, living in rural areas as smallholder family farmers, especially in Africa, where food insecurity affects more than one-quarter of the entire population.
In the past year alone, the number of people facing a food insecurity crisis rose sharply from 108 million in 48 countries to 124 million in 51 countries; four of these countries and a further 30 million people suffer from severe hunger, which is often exacerbated by armed conflict. Despite a massive humanitarian response to these crises, the number of people affected by food insecurity has actually risen, demonstrating that while humanitarian assistance is critical to avert famine, it is not sufficient by itself to address the root causes of hunger and starvation.
What measures are needed, then, to help reduce food insecurity in these countries? Additional investment in agriculture, as well as improved opportunities for agricultural trade, are two important instruments highlighted in the Secretary General’s report, which can help reduce the vulnerability of the poorest developing countries to ongoing food insecurity. Additional investment in agriculture is also critical to improving productivity. For those developing countries unable to attract private investment, governments must step in to increase the productive capacity of the country. Since agriculture continues to be a vital sector in terms of its contribution to the Gross Domestic Product, to exports, and particularly to employment in many of the poorest developing countries, improving the conditions of trade is a rapid and effective way to transfer income to some of the poorest farmers.
The problem of hunger and malnutrition, however, is much more than a question of production: to a large degree, it flows from inequitable distribution. While current levels of production are more than sufficient to feed the world population, food is not where it should be. Plentiful products do not reach the people who need them. Farmers run into serious difficulties regarding the transport, sale, and preservation of the fruits of their labor. Unfair trade and exploitative market conditions discourage farmers from producing more or bringing their produce to the market.
Another key cause of food insecurity and malnutrition is violent conflict. According to the aforementioned 2017 report The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, the food security situation has worsened most notably in situations of conflict or conflict combined with or exacerbated by droughts, floods, and other climate-related phenomena. Armed conflict is not only a key driver of situations of severe food crisis and a contributing factor to the recent recurrence of famine in certain areas, but it is also a primary factor with regard to all forms of underdevelopment, forced and massive displacements of populations, and grave violations of human rights.
Another major cause of hunger is what Pope Francis calls a “culture of waste.” This is deeply connected with other grave issues profoundly affecting hunger and malnutrition, namely, food waste and overconsumption. Pope Francis says that “consumerism has induced us to be accustomed to excess and to the daily waste of food, whose value, which goes far beyond mere financial parameters, we are no longer able to judge correctly.” He notes that “for some, it would be enough to reduce the number of mouths to feed and in this way solve the problem; but it is a false solution if we consider the levels of food waste and models of consumption that squander many resources. Reducing is easy; sharing instead demands conversion, and this is demanding.”
Food security can be achieved only in respect of the inviolable dignity of the human person and calls on all people and institutions on every level to exercise the principle of humanity. This term, common in international and diplomatic language, is an expression of the “golden rule” to love one’s neighbor. Pope Francis expresses the hope “that diplomacy and multilateral Institutions nurture and organize this capacity to love because it is the royal road that guarantees not only food security, but human security in a global sense” as well.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
1. Cf. A/73/293, 65.
2. Food and Agricultural Organization et al, The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, 2017.
4. Pope Francis, General Audience, 5 June 2013.
5. Pope Francis, Address to the FAO on World Food Day, 16 October 2017, n. 3.
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