Food for All—Just a Dream?
BY AWAKE! CORRESPONDENT IN ITALY
“EVERY man, woman and child has the right to be free from hunger and malnutrition” proclaimed the World Food Conference sponsored by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) back in 1974. A call was then made to eradicate hunger from the world “within a decade.”
However, when representatives of 173 nations met at FAO headquarters in Rome late last year for a five-day World Food Summit, their purpose was to ask: “What went wrong?” Not only has there been a failure to provide food for all but now, more than two decades later, the situation is worse.
The major issues of food, population, and poverty are urgent. As recognized by a document released at that summit, unless these problems are resolved, “social stability of many countries and regions may well be seriously affected, perhaps even compromising world peace.” One observer was more explicit: “We will see the destruction of civilization and national cultures.”
According to FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf, “more than 800 million people today do not have adequate access to food; among them are 200 million children.” It is estimated that by the year 2025, today’s world population of 5.8 billion will have risen to 8.3 billion, with most of the increase coming in developing countries. Diouf laments: “The sheer number of men, women and children deprived of their inalienable right to life and dignity is unacceptably high. The cries of the hungry are matched by the silent anguish of degraded soil, denuded forests and increasingly depleted fishing grounds.”
What remedy is proposed? Diouf says that the solution lies in “courageous action,” providing “food security” for food-deficit countries as well as the skills, investment, and technology that will enable them to feed themselves.
“Food Security”—Why So Elusive?
According to a document issued by the summit, “food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.”
How food security can be jeopardized was illustrated by the Zaire refugee crisis. While a million Rwandan refugees were starving, UN agencies had stocks of food available to feed them. But the transportation and distribution arrangements required political clearances and the cooperation of local authorities—or local warlords if they controlled the refugee camps. The emergency in Zaire shows once again how difficult it is for the international community to feed the hungry, even when food is available. One observer noted: “A host of organizations and entities have to be consulted and wooed before anything can happen.”
As pointed out by a U.S. Department of Agriculture document, food security may be seriously undermined by any number of root causes. Apart from natural disasters, these include war and civil strife, inappropriate national policies, inadequate research and technology, environmental degradation, poverty, population growth, gender inequality, and poor health.
There have been some accomplishments. Since the 1970’s, the average dietary energy supply, an indicator of food consumption, has risen from 2,140 to 2,520 calories per person per day in developing nations. But according to FAO, in view of a population growth of several billion by the year 2030, “simply to maintain present levels of food availability will require rapid and sustainable production gains to increase supplies by more than 75 percent without destroying the natural resources on which we all depend.” The task of providing food for starving populations is thus a grim one.
‘We Need Action, Not More Summits’
Numerous criticisms were leveled at the proceedings of the World Food Summit and the commitments it made. One Latin-American representative condemned the “modesty” of a pledge to reduce the number of undernourished people to only half the present level as “shameful.” Fifteen nations expressed differences in interpretation of proposals approved by the summit. Even to arrive at the drafting of a modest declaration and plan of action, said the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, “two years of confrontations and negotiations were necessary. Every word, every comma was weighed so as not to make the opened wounds . . . begin bleeding again.”
Many who helped prepare the summit documents were unhappy with the results. “We are extremely skeptical as to whether the fine proposals announced will be realized,” said one. A bone of contention was whether access to food ought to be defined an “internationally recognized right,” since a “right” can be defended in courts of law. A Canadian explained: “The rich States feared that they would be forced into giving aid. This is why they insisted that the text of the declaration be watered down.”
Because of the interminable talking at UN-sponsored summits, one European government minister said: “Having resolved so much at the Cairo conference [on population and development, held in 1994], we have found ourselves at each succeeding conference going back over the same ground.” She recommended: “Implementing action plans for the benefit of our fellow human beings must be at the top of all our agendas, not more Summits.”
Observers also pointed out that even attendance at the summit represented a heavy expenditure for some nations that can ill-afford it. One small African nation sent 14 delegates plus 2 ministers, all of whom stayed in Rome for more than two weeks. The Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera reported that the wife of one African president, in whose country the average annual income does not exceed $3,300 per person, had been on a $23,000 spending spree in Rome’s most fashionable downtown shopping district.
Is there reason to believe that the Plan of Action adopted at the summit will succeed? A journalist answers: “All we can hope for now is that governments will take it seriously and take steps to see that its recommendations will be carried out. Will they? . . . History offers little reason for optimism.” The same commentator pointed out the disappointing fact that despite agreeing at the 1992 Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit to raise contributions for development assistance to 0.7 percent of gross domestic product, “only a handful of countries have met that nonbinding target.”
Who Will Feed the Hungry?
History has amply demonstrated that despite all mankind’s good intentions, “to earthling man his way does not belong. It does not belong to man who is walking even to direct his step.” (Jeremiah 10:23) So it is unlikely that on their own humans will ever provide food for all. Greed, mismanagement, and egotism have led mankind to the precipice. FAO Director-General Diouf commented: “What is required in the final analysis is the transformation of hearts, minds and wills.”
That is something only God’s Kingdom can do. Centuries ago, in fact, Jehovah prophesied with regard to his people: “I will put my law within them, and in their heart I shall write it. And I will become their God, and they themselves will become my people.”—Jeremiah 31:33.
When Jehovah God prepared mankind’s original garden home, he provided man with “all vegetation bearing seed which is on the surface of the whole earth and every tree on which there is the fruit of a tree bearing seed” as food. (Genesis 1:29) That provision was abundant, nutritious, and accessible. It was what all mankind needed to satisfy their food needs.
God’s purpose has not changed. (Isaiah 55:10, 11) Long ago he gave assurance that he alone will satisfy mankind’s every need through his Kingdom by Christ, providing food for all, eradicating poverty, controlling natural disasters, and eliminating conflicts. (Psalm 46:8, 9; Isaiah 11:9; compare Mark 4:37-41; 6:37-44.) At that time “the earth itself will certainly give its produce; God, our God, will bless us.” “There will come to be plenty of grain on the earth; on the top of the mountains there will be an overflow.”—Psalm 67:6; 72:16.
[Picture Credit Line on page 12]
Dorothea Lange, FSA Collection, Library of Congress