Food Summit 2009: It MUST Happen

Felipe Moreira)
Starving Child (Photo credit: Felipe Moreira)

As we prepare for Thanksgiving,  that largest of American feast days, our own “Let Us Feast” event, the United Nations calls for a world food summit in the first half of 2009.  For those concerned with feeding the hungry and providing safe, nutritious food for the world, this summons reminds us that not all pantries are full. We need to talk about more than how to cook exotic food, organic food, and delicacies.

Jacques Diouf
Jacques Diouf

Jacques Diouf, head of the Food and Agricultural Organization informed President Barack Obama of the need for a summit, saying “I have just put the idea (of holding a food summit) to U.S. President-elect Barack Obama in my message of congratulations.”

A four-page report recaps a controversial June 2008 three-day meeting attended by 80 countries. Few Western countries sent representatives.

A brief comment spells out the overriding concern:

We are convinced that the international community needs to take urgent and coordinated action to combat the negative impacts of soaring food prices on the world’s most vulnerable countries and populations.

The last major food summit occurred in 1996, and the goals set there sit pertain to the conditions currently creating massive hunger:

We reaffirm the conclusions of the World Food Summit in 1996 … of achieving food security for all through an ongoing effort to eradicate hunger in all countries, with an immediate view to reducing by half the number of undernourished people by no later than 2015…

Hunger Takes Many Faces (Used with permission.)
Hunger Takes Many Faces (Used with permission.)

2015 is only six years from now …

Agriculture still must be front and center in the fight against hunger; the United States Agency for International Development, for example, shifted its focus from agriculture and farming systems projects to democratization and business-generation projects, and it’s time to make changes:

All relevant organizations and cooperating countries should be prepared to assist countries, on their request, to put in place the revised policies and measures to help farmers, particularly small-scale producers, increase production and integrate with local, regional, and international markets. South-south cooperation must be encouraged.

And refreshingly the report addresses the impact of global warming on agriculture and the world food supply:

It is essential to address the fundamental question of how to increase the resilience of present food production systems to challenges posed by climate change…

We support the establishment of agriculture systems and the sustainable forest management practices that positively contribute to the mitigation of climate change and ecological balance.

The report also mentions the importance of biofuels.

Although food prices have fallen 14 percent since July, Diouf explained that represents a decrease in demand and prices right now remain 51 percent higher than two years ago.

C. Bertelsen)
Malnourished Child in Honduras (Photo credit: C. Bertelsen)

As always, the people most vulnerable to effects of hunger are children and women.

Food insecurity is a serious international security problem, as well as a health, social, and moral issue. For more, see FAO’s publication The State of Food and Agriculture 2008.

We know a lot about starvation, thanks in part to Ancel Keys his experiment on young male volunteers during World War II —  see Todd Tucker’s The Great Starvation Experiment: Ancel Keys and the Men Who Starved for Science and Ancel Keys’s The Biology of Human Starvation (1950); a myriad of other books on hunger exist.

What we think we don’t know is this: how to once and for all rid the world of this scourge …

[For more on the world food crisis, take a look at James Surowiecki’s piece in The New Yorker’s 2008 food issue, “The Perils of Efficiency.”]

© 2008 C. Bertelsen