ROME, Italy, October 16, 2007 (ENS) - "If our planet produces enough food to feed its entire population, why do 854 million people still go to sleep on an empty stomach?" demanded Dr. Jacques Diouf today. Speaking at the World Food Day ceremony on this year's theme The Right to Food, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization director-general said, "A right is not a right if it cannot be claimed."
Although enough food is produced globally to satisfy all the hungry people, food supplies are under greater pressure today than ever before. Prices of staples such as wheat and milk are rising mainly due to climate change weather fluctuations that affect harvests, the switch to biofuels, and increasing demand from new and emerging markets.
Rosita Cayo Choque, 14, of Bolivia drew this picture for the 2007 annual World Food Programme Children's Art Competition. It shows street children running to get a free WFP lunch at their school. (Image courtesy WFP)
Despite the fact that the right to food was included in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations in 1948, commitment to enforce the right has been only very gradual. Diouf said that while "national commitments to implement the right to food would have been unthinkable only 10 years ago, such commitments are already bearing fruit. In Brazil, for example, the right is now firmly entrenched and hunger is in retreat."
In a message issued in honor of World Food Day, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, "The right to food is a human right. Yet, 854 million people in the world suffer from chronic hunger, and the figure has been increasing since the beginning of the new Millennium. In a world of plenty, this situation is unacceptable."
"We must make the voice of these 854 million people heard. We must work to uphold their fundamental human right. We must recognize the role of human rights in eradicating hunger and poverty, and the connection between development, human rights and security."
The Food and Agriculture Organization has been working with governments and nongovernmental organizations alike to promote a set of guidelines and a framework aimed at helping policymakers and others realize the right to food.
At the World Food Day ceremony held at FAO headquarters in Rome, Tanzanian President Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete said, "40,000 children die every day throughout the world due to malnutrition and related diseases. These are the people who are being denied the right to food. These are the people who are the subject of this year's World Food Day."
Anita Rosario and her family were rescued by canoe from their home in Mozambique from the rising waters of the Zambezi River. They are now in a camp, reliant on UN food aid.
The ultimate solution lies in improving agriculture, especially in Africa, said Kikwete.
German President Horst Köhler told the audience, "Hunger is not an inescapable destiny, but can be eliminated by wise policies."
Calling on governments of developing countries make food security a priority, he said, "All people have a right to healthy food, produced in a sustainable manner appropriate to their culture. Democratic participation by the people is the best guarantee that governments will genuinely understand people's basic needs and will take these into account."
He noted that people should have an adequate supply of food from their own fields and the surrounding region, which requires a type of agriculture based on "ownership" in developing countries and on functioning local structures and know-how.
In a message from the Vatican read during the ceremony, Pope Benedict XVI said that food is a universal right for humankind, without distinction or discrimination. He urged all members of society to ensure the right to food, the non-fulfillment of which is a violation of human dignity.
Paolo de Castro, Italy's minister for agricultural, food and forestry policies, underlined the importance of the right to food guidelines as the most effective means of moving governments as well as civil society towards achieving global food security.
"Demographics, climate change and commodity prices appear to be working against us right now, threatening to swirl up into a perfect storm of overwhelming need. But there is hope to end hunger, and science and education are on our side," said World Food Programme Executive Director Josette Sheeran of the United States, who also addressed the World Food Day ceremony.
Lennart Båge, head of the International Fund for Agricultural Development, a specialized agency of the United Nations, said, "Three quarters of the world's one billion extremely poor people live in rural areas, many already suffer from hunger and malnutrition, but new and growing challenges such as climate change are making them all the more vulnerable. This is why now, more than ever, the world has a pressing moral obligation to invest in agricultural development to combat hunger and restore dignity to the poor."
Women in Afghanistan line up for tuberculosis treatment and free food from the World Food Programme. (Photo courtesy WFP)
Eleven years after the 1996 World Food Summit, the number of undernourished people in the world remains unacceptably high, with 820 million in developing countries, 25 million in countries in transition and nine million in industrialized countries. As a result, promoting the right to food is not just a moral imperative or even an investment with huge economic returns, it is a basic human right, the Food and Agriculture Organization insists.
For the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements, IFOAM, the Right to Food also means that life cannot be patented. "Patents on life support the monopoly control of genetic resources by few, thereby extensively undermining peoples' right and access to food," the organization said in a statement today.
IFOAM believes that "the Earth's gene pool cannot be claimed as commercially negotiable genetic information or intellectual property by governments, commercial enterprises, other institutions or individuals."
IFOAM Executive Director Angela Caudle said, "Since food is directly connected to communities and cultures, the right to food is also connected to community and rural development. There needs to be space for development that is not created by donating chemical fertilizers, but rather supports the regeneration and improvement of indigenous and local knowledge."
World Food Day is commemorated annually in 150 countries.
Dr. Philip Nelson (Photo courtesy World Food Prize)
Highlights of this year's events include a worldwide candlelight vigil starting October 22 in the southwest Pacific and moving around the globe to draw attention to the problem of world hunger; musical events in Cairo, Rome, Bamako and other cities; sporting events such as the Run for Food race in Rome and Turin and professional soccer games dedicated to increasing awareness of World Food Day by Spain's professional soccer league.
On the occasion of World Food Day 2007, universities in Italy, Ireland and Iran are establishing institutes or launching university courses on the right to food.
In Des Moines, Iowa, the four day long World Food Prize Award Ceremony and Symposium opens today on the theme Biofuels and Biofood - Global Challenges.
Dr. Philip Nelson, Purdue university researcher, will receive the 2007 Prize worth $250,000. Announced in June, this year's prize honors Dr. Nelson for his innovative technologies which have revolutionized the food industry, particularly in the area of large-scale storage and transportation of fresh fruit and vegetables using bulk aseptic food processing. http://www.worldfoodprize.org/
For a list of World Food Day events, visit: http://www.worldfooddayusa.org/CMS/2950/17742.aspx
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