Home > About FAO > Meetings > Conference > 39th Session > Address by the Holy Father, Pope Francis


Clementine Hall
Thursday 11 June 2015

Mr. President,
Mr. Director-General,
Distinguished Permanent Representatives,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Good morning!  

1. It is a pleasure to receive you here, as you participate in the 39th Session of the FAO Conference, thereby continuing a long-standing tradition. Cordial greetings to you, Mr. President, Le Mamea Ropati, to the representatives of the different nations and organizations present here, and to the Director-General, José Graziano da Silva.

I still have vivid memories of participating in the Second International Conference on Nutrition  (on 20 November 2014), which called on States to find solutions and resources. I hope that decision has not stayed merely on paper or in the intentions that steered the negotiations, but that responsibility prevails in responding practically to the hungry and those who look to agricultural development for a response to their situation.

Given the misery of many of our brothers and sisters, I sometimes think that the issue of hunger and agricultural development today has become just one of the many problems at this time of crisis. Yet the number of people who have difficulties  accessing regular and healthy meals is growing all around us. But, instead of taking action, we prefer to delegate, and to delegate at all levels. We think that someone else will do something about it, perhaps another country, or some government, or an international organization. Our tendency to “go missing” in the face of difficult issues is human; yet we do not miss a meeting, or a conference, or the drafting of a document. On the contrary, we must respond to the imperative of ensuring access to basic food as a right of all people. Rights do not admit exclusions.

It is not enough to provide status reports on nutrition around the world, although the figures need to be kept up-to-date because they reveal the harsh reality. Certainly, we can console ourselves in the knowledge that those 1.2 billion hungry people in 1992 are now fewer, even though the world’s population is growing. Nonetheless, it is of little use to know the numbers or even project a series of practical commitments and recommendations for implementing policies and investments, if we neglect the obligation to “Eradicate hunger and prevent all forms of malnutrition worldwide” (FAO-WHO, Rome Declaration on Nutrition, November 2014, 15a).

2. The statistics on waste are very worrying: one third of all food produced goes to waste. It is disconcerting to know that a large quantity of agricultural products are used for other purposes, which may be good ones but do not respond to the immediate needs of a hungry person. Let us ask then “What can we do?” or better still, “What am I already doing?”

Reducing waste is essential, as is reflecting on the non-food use of agricultural products, which are used in large quantities for animal feed or to produce biofuels. Certainly, we must guarantee increasingly healthy environmental conditions, but can we continue to do this by excluding someone? We need to raise awareness in all countries on the type of nutrition adopted, and this varies according to latitude. In the southern half of the world, attention needs to be placed on the quantity of food that is sufficient to sustain a growing population; in the North, on the other hand, the key point is the quality of nutrition and food products. But, in both quality and quantity, the insecurity caused by climate, increasing demand and uncertain prices weighs heavily.

Let us try, therefore, to commit more decisively to changing lifestyles, and maybe we will need fewer resources. Sobriety is not in opposition to development; indeed it has now clearly become a condition for it. For FAO, this also means persevering with decentralization, to be present in the midst of the rural world and to understand the needs of the people that the Organization is called upon to serve.

Let us also ask: to what extent does the market, with its rules, affect hunger in the world? The studies that you yourselves carry out show that, since 2008, the price of food has varied in trend: doubling, then stabilizing, but always at higher levels than in the preceding period. Such volatile prices prevent the poorest from planning ahead or being able to count on a minimum level of  nutrition. There are many causes. We are rightly concerned about climate change; but we cannot close our eyes to financial speculation: an example being provided by the prices of wheat, rice, maize and soya, which fluctuate on the commodity exchanges, sometimes linked to income funds, such that the higher their price, the more the fund earns. Here let us also seek another path, convincing ourselves that the products of the Earth have a value that can be considered “sacred”, because they are the fruit of the daily work of people, families and farming communities. A type of work that is often dominated by uncertainties, worries about weather conditions, and anxieties about the possible loss of the harvest.

In FAO’s objectives, agricultural development includes farming the land, fishing, livestock breeding and forestry. This development needs to be at the centre of economic activity, clearly distinguishing the different needs of crop farmers, livestock breeders, fishermen and those who work in the forests. The primacy of agricultural development: this is the second objective. For FAO’s objectives, this means supporting an effective resilience, specifically strengthening the capacity of populations to cope with crises, whether caused by nature or by mankind’s activities, and paying attention to the different needs. In that way it will be possible to pursue a decent standard of living.

There are other critical points in this commitment. Firstly, it is hard to accept a generic resignation or disinterest, and even the absence of so many players, including States. Sometimes one has the sensation that hunger is an unpopular topic, an insoluble problem for which solutions cannot be found within a single legislative or presidential mandate; so the issue does not command consensuses. The reasons that lead restricting the contribution of ideas, technology, expertise, and financing stem from an unwillingness to assume binding commitments, because we hide behind the issue of the world economic crisis and the idea that there is hunger in all countries: “If there are hungry people in my land, how can I consider providing funds to international cooperation?” But that attitude forgets that, if poverty in one country is a social problem to which solutions can be found, in other contexts it is a structural problem for which social policies alone do not suffice. This attitude could change if we put solidarity back at the heart of international relations, moving it from vocabulary to policy options: the politics of the other. If all Member States work for one another, consensus for action by FAO will not be long in arriving; and FAO’s original role will be rediscovered — that “fiat panis” that appears on its logo.

I also think of education for a correct food diet. In my daily encounters with bishops from all over the world, and with political personalities, economic leaders and academics, I increasingly see that today nutritional education is extremely varied. We know that in the West the problem is one of high levels of consumption and waste. In the South, however, ensuring food supply means promoting local production, which in many countries with “chronic hunger” is substituted by remittances from abroad and perhaps initially through aid. But emergency assistance is not enough and sometimes it falls into the wrong hands. This creates a reliance on large-scale producers and, if the country lacks the necessary economic means, the population ends up not feeding itself, and hunger spreads.

Climate change also makes us think of the forced displacement of populations and so many humanitarian tragedies caused by lack of resources, based on water, which is already the cause of conflicts that can be expected to increase. It is not enough to proclaim a right to water, without making efforts to achieve sustainable consumption of this resource and prevent it from being squandered. Water continues to be a symbol that the rites of many religions and cultures use to indicate belonging, purification, and interior conversion. Based on this symbolic value, FAO can help revise behavioural models to ensure, both now and in the future, that everyone can access the water that is essential to their needs, and for agricultural activities. This brings to mind the passage of Scripture that advises us not to forsake the “fountain of living waters, to hew out cisterns for ourselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water” (Jr 2.13): a warning that technical solutions are useless if they forget the centrality of the human person, which is the measure of all right.

Apart from water, land use also remains a serious problem. The hoarding of arable land by transnational firms and States is increasingly worrisome, since it not only deprives farmers of an essential asset, but also directly affects the sovereignty of nations. There are now many regions in which the food produced goes to foreign countries, and the local population is doubly impoverished because they have neither food nor land. And what about the women who in many zones cannot own the land they work, with an inequality of rights that impedes the serenity of family life, because they run the risk of losing their land from one moment to the next? Yet we know that most of the world’s food is produced by family farms. So it is important for FAO to strengthen partnership and projects that promote family enterprises and encourage States to regulate land use and ownership fairly. This could help eliminate the inequalities that are now at the centre of international attention.

4. Food security has to be achieved even though people are different owing to their geographic location, economic conditions or food cultures. Let us work to harmonize the differences and pool efforts, so that we will longer read that food security for the North means eliminating fat and encouraging movement; while for the South, it consists in obtaining at least one meal a day.

If we want to change lifestyles, we must start from our daily life, aware that our small gestures can ensure the sustainability and future of the human family. And let us continue the fight against hunger without ulterior motives. FAO projections show that by 2050, with 9 billion people on the planet, production must increase and even double. Instead of being impressed by the data, let us today change our relationship with natural resources, the use of land; let us change consumption patterns, without falling into the slavery of consumerism; let us eliminate waste, for that way we will conquer hunger.

The Church, with its institutions and initiatives, walks with you, aware that the planet’s resources are limited and that their sustainable use is absolutely crucial for agricultural and food development. For that reason it is committed to promoting the attitude change that is necessary for the well-being of future generations. May the Almighty bless your work.