The 45th session of the Committee on Food Security (CFS) was held from 15 to 19 October 2018 at FAO's Rome headquarters. The CFS is a broad international platform dedicated to the fight against hunger and malnutrition. It is attended by FAO member states, as well as representatives of civil society and the private sector. Sometimes representatives of local authorities or academic bodies also take part.
On Monday 15 October, the International Rural Women's Day, and the following day the World Food Day were the culmination of this intense week of meetings. This year, the World Food Day had the theme "Our actions are our future. A world of Zero Hunger for 2030 is possible", and that morning the heartfelt Message of the Holy Father was read.
In the plenary assembly discussions, procedural issues related to the work of the CFS were addressed, but participants were also able to express their views on the emblematic themes of FAO (based on the recent reports commissioned by the CFS and especially on the recent publication State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2018).
First of all, there is the need to improve both responsible production and responsible consumption, in order to promote healthier and more sustainable food, and therefore better diets for the planet and for humanity. In fact, the fight against hunger is not only a question of quantity, but also of eating styles. A healthy diet is very important, especially in the early stages of life. Moreover, it should not be forgotten that obesity, by now, is spreading rapidly even in developing countries (and many speakers have focused on the high socio-economic cost of obesity). The problem of the prevalence of cheap, easy-to-prepare and easy-to-serve industrial food, which is powerfully advertised but unhealthy and lacks the nutritional qualities of fresh food, was highlighted. It is therefore important to encourage and facilitate the consumption of fresh food, if possible produced locally. However, fresh food is often more expensive; its production and marketing by small rural communities in developing countries are hampered by often inadequate storage conditions that cause huge losses after harvesting; and it appears that - at least in some countries - large agri-food companies struggle to support the adoption of laws, taxes and standards to protect the healthiness of food. Education and schools are also at the centre of the discussions: making meals enjoyable in schools so that children are less tempted by snacks; inculcating from an early age attention to healthy and sustainable nutrition for the environment.
A strong political will is essential to achieve the United Nations Goal for Sustainable Development on hunger, i.e. to eradicate hunger in a fair, inclusive, sustainable and nutritious way. The rapporteurs explained that this will is translated into specific, coherent policies and the related financial priorities, into the creation of mechanisms and agencies for coordination between the various administrations, including civil society, producers, the health sector and the many other players involved. It also translates and takes concrete form in the fight against corruption and in the sharing of experience and knowledge at various levels, in the light of the principle of subsidiarity.
Many have presented ongoing efforts in their countries to encourage and enhance the contribution of women, young people and poorer or indigenous communities in decision-making processes, in the economy, and in the way new technologies are developed and applied. The numerous links between food, water, energy and soil were also appropriately highlighted.
Unfortunately, malnutrition is increasing globally and, once again, the number of hungry people is increasing in absolute numbers (as stated by the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2018 - this upward trend has been confirmed for some years, after an encouraging period of reduction). This seems to reflect the apparent inability or lack of willingness on the part of the Community of Nations and/or individual states to address the structural causes of the persistence of hunger, those of the cycles of underdevelopment that afflict so many rural areas, and to end the armed conflicts that disrupt food production and drive people into chaotic migration. Then, the fact that malnutrition is increasing rapidly (obesity and low quality food) even in the poorest countries reflects the emergence and extension of an inadequate model of production and consumption. Is it to be feared that there will be a stalemate in the fight against hunger? It is difficult to answer.
However, we should take note of the controversies that characterize some of the works of the CFS: different positions regarding definitions (as in the case of the so-called "agroecology", or even in the case of the same "right to food"), the role of investments, the role of technology and the agro-food industry, the control of companies active in the agro-industrial sector. These differences - which may be more or less drastic and have various origins - are detrimental to the necessary collective action. Moreover, the food situation in the coming years could be further aggravated by the undeniable deterioration of ecological and safety conditions in many parts of the world, and by sophisticated forms of land grabbing for highly profitable purposes rather than to contribute to food security. It is no coincidence that the Message of Pope Francis reiterates: "Some may say that we still have twelve years ahead of us to implement this plan. And, however, the poor cannot wait. Their calamitous situation does not allow it. Therefore it is necessary to act in an urgent, coordinated and systematic way. (...) There is a real lack of political will. It is necessary to really want to put an end to hunger, and this, in the final analysis and first of all, will not come about without the ethical conviction, common to all peoples and to the different religious visions, which places at the center of any initiative the integral good of the person and which consists in doing to the other what we would like to be done to ourselves. It is an action based on solidarity between all nations and measures that are an expression of the feelings of the people.
In conclusion, we can hope and work to ensure that food - because of its cultural, social, family and ecological value, because of its links with the choices of consumers and producers, with the world of work, with health - can be one of the factors of inspiration and motivation for a renewed effort to rethink economic models, to achieve the goal of Zero Hunger, and more generally for the pursuit of the common good of the entire human family by governments and organizations that gravitate around FAO.
- Messages of the Popes addressed on the occasion of World Food Day (from St John Paul II and World Food Day on 16 October 1981 onward).
- Pontifical Council Cor Unum, Hunger in the World. A challenge for all: development in solidarity, 1996.