Our present, their future
While world elites get richer, hunger is on the increase, Samia Nkrumah writes from Rome
World Food Day on 16 October was marked by a series of events at the headquarters of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in Rome involving civil society organisations, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and celebrities.
On the day commemorating the anniversary of the founding of the FAO 58 years ago, Jacques Diouf, its director- general, made an appeal for "an international alliance against hunger" in order to turn verbal commitments to alleviate the suffering of the world's over 840 million undernourished "into practical programmes that address the underlying causes of hunger".
By now it is widely acknowledged that the absence of political will is responsible for the failure to effectively combat hunger and poverty. At the 1996 World Food Summit, and its follow-up in 2002 in Rome, world leaders adopted a commitment to reducing hunger by half by 2015. But the statistics are disappointing. For example, in its 2001 Rural Poverty Report, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) said that aid for agricultural and rural development, mostly from the North to the South, decreased between 1987 and 1998. While there is no shortage of food production in the world, millions continue to suffer hunger and malnutrition.
Under the banner of the International Alliance Against Hunger, "everyone must be part of the solution," Diouf said. In other words, multinational institutions, governments, the private sector, NGOs and civil society organisations, as well as students, all have a role to play. By engaging NGOs to popularise the fight against world hunger, UN agencies have recognised the importance of these organisations in influencing public opinion to reverse the trend in aid and the quality of assistance.
At the World Food Day ceremony, Diouf introduced five new FAO goodwill ambassadors -- Algerian Rai singer Khaled, Malian singer Oumou Sangare, Mexican musical group Mana, Israeli singer Noa and Miss Universe 2002 Justine Pasek of Panama. These celebrities join 15 existing FAO ambassadors in a programme started in 1999 to support the organisation in its mission to eradicate hunger. In the course of their activities, the FAO ambassadors encourage the public -- through messages, interviews and fund- raising events -- to become informed about and involved in fighting poverty. In their statement in support of the International Alliance Against Hunger campaign, the ambassadors promised to use their "talents and unique opportunities to help increase awareness and raise funds for the fight against hunger". Most of the ambassadors come from countries in the South, including Lebanese singer Magda Al-Roumi, Senegalese singer Youssou N'Dour and South African singer Miriam Makeba. The official ceremony ended with performances by both Khaled and Noa, drawing ecstatic applause from the audience, amongst whom were President Jorge Luis Batlle Ibanez of Uruguay, Italian Minister of Agriculture Giovanni Alemanno, President of the Italian Chamber of Deputies Pier Ferdinando Casini and permanent Vatican Observer at the FAO Monsignor Renato Volante.
Noa, a leftist and pro-peace activist, told Al-Ahram Weekly that working outside Israel -- in Europe particularly -- has brought her in contact with Arab and Palestinian artists. Apart from performing with Algerian singer Khaled on more than one occasion, here in Italy she has performed with Nabil Salameh, a Palestinian refugee living in Lebanon. She described their initial meeting as very negative, but the relationship gradually developed into a friendship. Salameh dedicated a song to her son, "something that I wouldn't have believed was possible a few years ago," says Noa. She has also met and collaborated with Amira Awad, a very popular Palestinian singer, whom she has performed with on many different occasions.
Later in the day, representatives from non-governmental and civil society organisations took part in a forum organised by the FAO to discuss different strategies to improve food production and accessibility. The recurring themes included calls for a more humane globalisation and fairer trade, as well as greater participation of farmers in strategies to combat hunger and poverty. One particular initiative which was enthusiastically received -- introduced by the International Focal Point, an Italian NGO -- called for farmers and producers' representatives to be invited to future FAO events as they are directly involved in the business of producing food and rural products. FAO officials promised to act upon this suggestion.
Speaking for the Network of Peasant Farmers' and Agricultural Producers' Organisations of West Africa (ROPPA), Saliou Sarr noted that access to food, rather than a shortage of food, is the real problem in Africa. Elaborating on the question of whether Africa can feed itself, Sarr noted that food is inaccessible because of a dearth of infrastructure, machinery and fertilisers. "There are insufficient roads and railways, which makes it difficult to move food to areas that need it. This is coupled with a shortage of tractors and fertilisers, which affects production," he explained.
Sarr told the Weekly that Africa needs more strong, vocal, democratic grass-roots farmers' organisations. Speaking about his organisation's attempt to play a role in the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), Sarr acknowledged that while ROPPA agrees with the principles of NEPAD regarding mobilisation of African resources, he regrets that the "visions and strategies of NEPAD have not been sufficiently discussed" with the farmers and producers' associations. The participation of these main players -- who have the agricultural know-how and experience -- in NEPAD discussions will go a long way to improve development projects, he said.
The Italian-based International Campaign Secretariat (ICS) announced the launch of a "More and Better" campaign to support FAO's mission. ICS representative Laura Amore explained that the campaign will work on two tracks. In the North, it will focus on urging OECD governments and international agencies to increase development assistance, and in the South they will push for local organisations to have a say in what is "good" aid and to improve its quality. "Life-saving assistance in emergencies, resulting from severe drought for example, is crucial, but the problems will re-surface without efficient assistance to rural development," a representative of the Campaign Against Famine in Ethiopia explained.
"Your present is our future," said Leone Magliocchetti- Lombi making his appeal to policy-makers and multinational agencies on behalf of the International Association of Agricultural Students (IAAS). IAAS struck a poignant note with the event's predominantly 20-something crowd.