An elderly person searches for food among used food packages in Milan An elderly person searches for food among used food packages in Milan 

Food for All: Vatican webinar explores ways to reduce global hunger

The Vatican holds its third webinar ahead of the UN Food Systems Summit, and calls for world leaders to recognize and address the negative effects which conflict has on food insecurity.

By Devin Watkins

“How many mothers and fathers go to sleep at night worrying that they will not have enough food to feed their families the next day: food for all.”

The Holy See’s final webinar, in a series of three, kicked off with those words of Pope Francis, recalled in a video launching the event held on Monday.

The “Food for Life, Food Justice, Food for All” webinar series was held ahead of the 2021 UN Food Systems Summit, which takes place in the Autumn.

Organized by the Secretariat of State, the series saw several Vatican offices join forces, including the Permanent Mission to FAO, IFAD, and WFP, the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, and the Vatican Covid-19 Commission.

Rising food insecurity

“Hunger is not new in the world. We have all heard about it or experienced it firsthand,” said Cardinal Peter Turkson, in his opening remarks.

The Prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development lamented statistics which show that hunger has increased in recent years.

He said over 60 million people became food insecure in 2019, a trend which was sure to deepen due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Some experts say 130 million more people were undernourished in 2020, compared to the previous year.

Looking to the future, Cardinal Turkson said one projection indicates around 840 million people will face hunger by 2030, despite the UN’s Development Goal to eliminate hunger by then.

Food insecurity, said the Cardinal, entails not only a lack of food, but rather indicates a network of economic, political, and production factors which intertwine to prohibit hungry people from accessing the abundance of food available in the world.

He said solutions to the food crisis must address the multitude of factors which lead to food insecurity, and create a global food system which is robust and sustainable.

“Indeed, the peace of the world depends on how we deal with hunger in the world,” said Cardinal Turkson.

Conflict and hunger

The Director of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Qu Dongyu, then joined the webinar via video link.

He recalled the many crises which contribute to food insecurity, and especially highlighted the role of conflict in causing hunger.

“One of the greatest challenges of our time,” he said, “is to help countries in conflict work toward peace and therefore food security.”

In areas around the Sahel in Africa, he added, relationships between pastoralists and farmers have degenerated in recent years, leading to continuous conflicts which hamper food production and the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of several nations.

These conflicts, and many others, urged Dr. Qu, must be addressed in order to break the cycle of violence and hunger.

Economic forces

The webinar then turned to economic and financial aspects which affect food production and distribution.

Stefano Zamagni, the president of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, focused his remarks on the global food supply chain.

Professor Zamagni spoke about a long-running trend in agribusiness throughout the world, saying too many farms and agribusinesses have grown “too-big-too-fail” at the expense of smaller farmers. He added that the global food supply chain would be more secure if there were more small farms and fewer massive ones.

Prof. Zamagni went on to lament financial deregulation, which he said has led to speculation in commodity markets and a consequent “weak-link” in the food supply chain, since prices have grown more volatile.

He added that cities will also have an important role to play in creating a circular food system, which could contribute to reducing demand and freeing up resources for others.

Hunger in Africa

A perspective on food insecurity from the African continent was offered by Fr. Fabio Mussi, the director of Caritas Yagoua, in Cameroon.

Fr. Fabio said continued attacks by Boko Haram have left many people hungry and food insecure. Over 5 million people were added to those ranks in the past year alone, he said.

Caritas Yagoua, which serves the Cameroonian Diocese, therefore decided to focus their efforts on malnourished children, offering them food and vitamin supplements.

The Church’s local humanitarian organization also discovered a local tree—Moringa oleifera, or the “Drumstick tree”—which can be harvested to create a type of flour rich in essential nutrients.

Caritas Yagoua has launched a project to feed thousands of people in the region with this newfound, nutritious food.

However, Fr. Fabio noted, widespread promotion at a political level is required for the discovery to truly assist in feeding the millions of Cameroonians who daily face hunger.

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31 May 2021, 16:27