Pope Francis meets participants in the conference on Wednesday Pope Francis meets participants in the conference on Wednesday  (Vatican Media)

Vatican conference seeks 'solutions to food security caused by conflict'

The Pontifical Academy of Sciences hosts an international conference on the food and humanitarian crises, with participants voicing their appreciation for Pope Francis' support for people affected by various ongoing conflicts and political instability.

By Deborah Castellano Lubov and Stefanie Stalholfen

The two-day Conference “Food and Humanitarian Crises: Science and Policies for their Prevention and Mitigation” sponsored by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, concluded on Wednesday in the Vatican's Casina Pio IV, the Academy's headquarters located in the Vatican Gardens.

Pope Francis received the participants before his Wednesday General Audience, and called for increased global efforts to guarantee access to food, especially during times of war and the war in Ukraine.

The workshop, which took place in cooperation with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and other partners, built on earlier food-related conferences held by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences (PAS).

Recently, the PAS held conferences on Science and Innovations for a Sustainable Food System - Preparing for the UN Food Systems Summit, on 21-22 April 2021, and Reduction of Food Loss and Waste, on 11-12 November 2019.

Moreover, the Academy has held climate-related conferences and biodiversity-related conferences, as well as conferences addressing innovations in bio-sciences. These various events have included attention to food systems and food security. Their findings form important backdrops to the concept of this week's Vatican workshop.

Reactions from participants

Speaking to Vatican News' Stefanie Stalholfen, Catherine Bertini, the Managing Director of the Food Initiative of The Rockefeller Foundation, and former Executive Director of the World Food Programme in Rome, for a decade, praised the Pope's attention to the issue and stressed the need to work together. 

"There's no one in the world that speaks with more moral authority than Pope Francis," she said. "And the fact that he is interested in humanitarian relief mechanisms and improvements, that he's interested in food security, that he's interested in the role of women and children, and the importance of reaching those people for the betterment of the world, makes all the difference."

So, she added, "if his scientific advisers are putting together recommendations that he then could take forward and give advice to the world about what we should all be doing, this is very important to the entire process, and it will make a difference in the lives of millions of people."

Roots of Crises

Hailemariam Boshe, the former Prime Minister of Ethiopia and Chair of Hailemariam & Roman Foundation in Addis Ababa, said, "This is a landmark conference." 

Together, he highlighted, we can make great progress "by advocating the issue of food and humanitarian crisis, which is a global crisis at this time."

“Political instability, violent conflict and lack of good governance are standing tall at this time as a cause of this crisis. And we demanded the global leaders to come up to have a solution for this problem, because most of the African countries, be it in the east, west, north and south, are suffering from this, and we need our leaders to address this issue by silencing weapons.”

Devastation in Sudan

Mohamed Hassan, President of the Sudanese National Academy of Sciences (SNAS) in Khartoum, Sudan, and also a member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, recalled his participation in several PAS conferences dedicated to these themes.

"This is an extremely important event. To my knowledge, it is the first time the Pontifical Academy of Sciences organizes a meeting on crisis food crises and refugee crises," he said. "In addition, the variety and diversity of the audience has been quite magnificent, with very rich presentations, important not only for participants, but the entire world."

Mr. Hassan noted that the issues "are extremely critical because when we talk about crises, we normally talk about climate change, biodiversity loss, but not that often do we speak about crises resulting from warfare, internal conflicts, armed groups like what is happening in my own country, Sudan, now, which can be quite devastating."

Mohamed Hag Ali Hag el Hassan
Mohamed Hag Ali Hag el Hassan

Mr. Hassan reflected that there are various ways the issues can be confronted.

"In this particular event, because this is an Academy of Sciences," he said, "we tried our best to highlight the importance of science, technology and innovation and they were very good presentations given in that area."

"At the same time," he added, "there are issues that that require political action and political will, like the struggle in my own country, Sudan."

He expressed great delight to be with the Pope, as well as appreciation for the Pope's words regarding the crises, ways and means of reducing them, including his strong words on wars in general, and how disastrous they are for the lives of many people and the resources of nations.

Focus on solutions

Joachim von Braun, President of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, reflected on the conference addressing the humanitarian and food crisis, which welcomed participants who "not only study, but address, these crises in African countries like Congo, Sudan, in the Arab world, in Syria and Yemen and in Afghanistan."

"The focus is on solutions," he noted, adding that the goal is "not just to exchange ideas, but to identify solutions where and what to invest, how to strengthen the humanitarian aid system."

He said that was also the focus of the audience the Academy had on Wednesday with the Pope.

"Pope Francis at length underlined the key role of having a new way to address the problem of refugees in crises, to address the issues of women who and indigenous people who are marginalized," said Mr. Von Braun. "And he emphasized the importance of peace building because without peace, the crisis will not be resolved."

Joachim von Braun
Joachim von Braun

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10 May 2023, 14:08