By Robin Gomes
Pope Francis has pledged the support of the Holy See and the Catholic Church for the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in its “dedication to a more just world, at the service of our defenseless and needy brothers and sisters”. He urged special attention for the poor rural food producers, who are more likely to suffer from malnutrition and hunger.
The Pope made the remarks on Monday in a message to Michal Kurtyka, the Polish Minister of Climate and Environment, who is chairing FAO’s 42nd Conference at it headquarters in Rome, June 14-18. While reviewing the state of food and agriculture in the world, the virtual session has as its overall theme, “Agriculture Food Systems Transformation: From Strategy to Action”.
Creating inclusive and sustainable food systems
FAO coordinates international efforts to defeat hunger and improve nutrition and food security. The Pope said that this task assumes a special prominence during the Covid-19 pandemic, as “many of our brothers and sisters still do not have access to the food they need, either in quantity or quality”. Last year, he noted, the number of these people was the highest in the last five years. With conflicts, extreme weather events, economic crises, together with the current health crisis, the future could be worse. Hence, policies capable of tackling the structural causes of these growing vulnerabilities need to be adopted.
In this regard, a circular economy, which guarantees resources for all, including future generations, and promotes the use of renewable energies, will help create resilient, inclusive and sustainable food systems that will provide healthy and affordable diets for everyone. However, the fundamental factor in recovering from the crisis that is ravaging us is an economy tailored to mankind, not subject only to profit, but anchored in the common good, friendly to ethics and respectful of the environment.
Farming and rural communities
The reconstruction of post-pandemic economies should take into account the valuable role of family farming and rural communities. The Pope lamented that those who produce food are the ones who suffer from the lack or scarcity of food. “Three-quarters of the world's poor", he said, "live in rural areas and depend primarily on agriculture for their livelihoods”. However, due to lack of access to markets, land ownership, financial resources, infrastructure and technologies, they are most vulnerable to food insecurity.
Pope Francis expressed appreciation for the international community's effort to enable individual countries achieve food autonomy while preserving local ecosystems and biodiversity. He urged innovative ways to support and help small producers improve their capacities and resilience.
Fraternity vs virus of indifference
As the world prepares to re-launch after the pandemic, Pope Francis said it is fundamental to promote a culture of care against the individualistic and aggressive tendency to discard, which is very present in our societies. “While a few sow tensions, confrontations and falsehoods”, he said, “we, on the other hand, are invited to patiently and decisively build a culture of peace, which is directed towards initiatives that embrace all aspects of human life and help us to reject the virus of indifference”.
Pope Francis said mere outlining of programs is not enough. Tangible gestures are needed that have as their point of reference the common belonging to the human family and the fostering of fraternity. Gestures that facilitate the creation of a society that promotes education, dialogue and equity.
He urged that all welcome the current trial as an opportunity to prepare for a future for all without discarding anyone, warning, “without an all-embracing vision, there will be no future for anyone”.
The Conference is FAO’s supreme governing body whose main functions are to determine the policies of the Organization, approve the budget, and make recommendations to members and international organizations.