Celebration of the Earth Day reflecting about Integral Ecology and food systems

With FAO and Future Food Institute, and aligned with Laudato si' and Ecology and Food priorities of the Vatican Covid-19 Commission

Today, 22nd of April, we celebrate Earth Day reflecting on Integral Ecology and the regenerative power of food systems, with FAO and the Future Food Institute. Inspired by Laudato si' and aligned with the  ecology and food priorities of the Vatican Covid-19 Commission, Prefect, Cardinal Peter K. A. Turkson, under-secretary Sister Alessandra Smerilli and Coordinator of the Ecology and Creation area and the "Ecology Taskforce" of Vatican Covid-19 Commission, Fr. Joshtrom Isaac Kureethadam participated  "Food for Earth" (#Food4Earth), in the largest lesson ever broadcasted on the regenerative power of food systems.

In his remarks, Cardinal Turkson asked, “Enough food is produced to feed everyone on the planet, so why do some people have access to healthy food and others do not?”.  He noted that “the dominant current food system is not ensuring food security for all and Covid-19 has revealed and strained this broken system even further. The current estimation is that the pandemic will almost double acute hunger worldwide and with  the poorest and most vulnerable people disproportionately impacted, hampering their ability to fully thrive and contribute to a new horizon is a matter of justice: eliminating hunger is a moral imperative and vital to promoting integral human development”.

Cardinal Turkson encouraged in his Video Message to “build a just and sustainable recovery post­ Covid-19 by deeply transform the global food system. This will be a huge contribution to ensure food security for all and to develop resilient agriculture that responds to the climate and biodiversity crisis”. He proposes to do it by:

1.- looking at the whole food system from farm to fork, from production to distribution consumption and waste management to ensure a holistic approach that takes into account the economic, environmental, social, and health dimensions of food. That includes a deep commitment to education towards food consumption. 

2.-putting at the center of the debate the needs of the most vulnerable communities in the world; the voices of small-scale farmers – who feed the greater part of the world's peoples and among them many women- should have a space to bring in their expertise, their knowledge and their bravery of striving every day for the right to food for all (LS, 129). 

3.-promoting and supporting sustainable models of food systems such as agroecology, to move away from a model that threatens present and future agricultural production and food security while meeting the long-term goal of 1,5°C and contributing to the full realization of the right to food. 

4.-ensuring adequate financial support and political will at the highest level to back this transformation of the food system, particularly today in the context of the recovery plans and the climate crisis we are living in. 

While Fr Josh wanted to reflect on the importance of food with a Laudato si’ perspective. He reminds us that “unfortunately, food security is a problem and we need to work to ensure food security for all”. Making a comparison to the Eucharist, he added, "when we eat together, we form a community, Laudato si' speaks of Earth as our "common home". And if we live in a common home, we are in a "common family" and we cannot permit that so many millions of our brothers and sisters who are members of our common family go to bed hungry. They do not have food security”. Quoting a very well-known Jesuit theologian, Samuel Ryan, “Without bread for all, can we celebrate the Eucharist?”, he repeated this question in a general way: "Without food security, without food for all, can we truly be a common family that lives together in our "common home"?”

Finally, the Under-Secretary, Sister Alessandra Smerilli participated in the panel titled "Food for Earth: challenges and solutions for a brighter future" which focused on experiences, best practices, challenges, and solutions accountable for one-third of the global GHG emissions every year, the equivalent of 18 Tonnes of carbon dioxide: the food supply chain. The diversity and the amount of the sub-systems involved in a single and basic actions, such as eating, implies that to tackle climate change is crucial to establish our relationship with food and the resources used to produce it as the foundation of the strategy against it.

She remarked that “our current food systems are driving climate change, biodiversity loss, water insecurity, soil and water pollution, and other environmental problems”. She explained how “all aspects of food security are potentially affected by climate change, including food access, utilization, and price stability. Alarming data was published just yesterday by the World Food Program: land degradation and loss of soil fertility affect 3.2 billion people and threaten food security for a growing part of the population. Once again, the poorest and most vulnerable are among those paying the highest price”.

As Coordinator of the Economic Taskforce of Vatican Covid-19 Commission, she explained how “the pandemic has especially exposed the plight of the poor and the great inequality that reigns in the world. This is the reason why the Pope established this Commission – in order to develop responses and policies towards a sustainable recovery post-Covid-19 for all, not just for few privileged ones. Hunger, as Pope Francis said, “is criminal; food is an inalienable right.”

She explains how the Vatican Covid-19 Commission suggests three broad shifts in the food system to protect our common home while fighting against hunger and malnutrition:

1)      Reinforce resilient food supply chains and distribution. Reinforcing the food supply chains, both locally and internationally; ensuring infrastructures to connect small farmers with local and national markets to strengthen local communities; cutting GHG emissions in all phases of the food system cycle (“from farm to fork”), to reduce food waste and the vulnerability to external shocks (as for examples the current COVID-19 pandemic or the financial crisis of 2007–2008). 

2)      Reduce the concentration of market power. One of the greatest issues in food distribution is the concentration of market power among a handful of operators. For instance, a few dominant industrial empires control approximately 60% of commercial transactions in the trade of seeds and chemical products. Likewise, nearly 70% of profits from global trade in agricultural products are concentrated in the hands of a few firms (Oxfam). This market power translates into insufficient wages for those who work in the food sector. 

3)      Transform our food systems toward more sustainable pathways: Promote a circular model of production and efficient use of resources; enhance local knowledge and practices to ensure better protection of biodiversity, in accordance with local food systems, and promote sustainable use of lands and oceans.

Finally, she reminded us that we need to respond to the “crisis of care” with a “culture of care” (Pope Francis’s words) and create a way to foster international solidarity with the goal of ensuring food security.

22 April 2021