17 February 2014
Slow Food and Family Orchards
Dear friend Carlo Petrini,
Your Excellency Giuliano Pisapia, Mayor of Milano
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is an honor to join you in today’s event.
As you know 2014 has been declared by the United Nations as the International Year of Family Farming, that FAO has the honor to coordinate.
In 2014, Africa also celebrates its African Year of Agriculture and Food Security.
Let us use these two observances to return to the family farmers the pride to be exactly that: family farmers, with all that this implies in food production, community development and food security.
And when I say family farmers, I include smallholders and medium scale farmers, peasants, indigenous peoples, traditional communities, forest farmers, fisher folk, pastoralists, collectors and many others.
The International Year and the African Year are two occasions that frame nicely tonight’s event on the “Ten Thousand Food Gardens in Africa” project.
This is a welcome initiative because of its potential for today and for tomorrow.
Those that have spoken today, all of us that are here, and many others around the world are part of the effort to change this.
We are part of the effort to guarantee the food security of every person. We are part of the effort to offer them different lenses through which they can look to the future. Lenses of hope, and not of fear.
What we choose to put on our plate and how we choose to produce the food that we eat are crucial elements for food security.
Half a century ago the world chose the path of increasing food production through the intensive use of chemical inputs and resources.
The Green Revolution was the right response to its time.
It avoided widespread famine in Asia, but could not end hunger in the world. It increased production, but degraded land and water, showing its own limits.
Generally speaking, the world also chose to deposit its food security mainly in the hands of international agricultural commodity markets. For years the decision tor trust an apparently endless supply of cheap food seemed to work just fine.
But decades of low food prices put millions of poor farmers out of business.
We got to the point in which we face today a puzzling paradox: over 70 percent of the food insecure population lives in rural areas of the developing world.
Most of them are small-scale farmers whose production is not enough even to guarantee their own subsistence.
For our present and our future, we need to strike a better balance between international markets and local communities, between the need to increase production and preserve and use our natural resources wisely.
We need the same innovative spirit that was present in the Green Revolution of the 1960’s, but that is adapted to our times. We need a doubly Green Revolution that values more sustainable, organic, practices to produce healthy food.
Are we ready to build an alternative? Do we have an alternative?
I say that we do. It has sustainability as its basic premise, social inclusion at its core, and family farmers and local communities as its leading actors.
For decades, poor farmers were seen as a problem.
But where and when governments have been able to give them the support they need, and have understood that family farmers are, in fact, part of the solution, we have seen promising results.
Over 60 countries have already met the Millennium Development Goal One hunger target of reducing by half the proportion of hungry people, or have reduced undernourishment level to under 5 percent. Around 20 of them are in Africa.
And African leaders have just set the target to end hunger in the region by 2025, as Latin American and Caribbean leaders had done in 2009.
These are bold political commitments, and important steps towards food–security.
Is it too ambitious?
I will let Nelson Mandela respond this question for us: “It always seems impossible until it's done.”
Ladies and gentlemen,
Simply put, strengthened family farming translates itself in a greater local availability of food where we need it the most. But not only that.
Family farmers run diversified activities that play a pivotal role towards environmental sustainability and the preservation of biodiversity.
Many of the thousands of plant species consumed traditionally are disappearing along with their genetic diversity. Recovering these crops and safeguarding local food habits are important contributions to more diversified, nutritious and balanced diets.
Family farming is an important path for inclusion for millions of poor rural families and communities, and is of special importance for women and for the youth.
Inclusion means understanding, respecting and supporting the role that rural women play in food security.
They head households; they are the main provider of families; and are often involved in every stage of the food chain.
Look at Africa, for instance. Most of its population is rural and this is expected to continue so until 2050. At the same time, 3 of every 4 Africans are 25 years old or younger.
And that is the potential that we are trying to tap into today with family and community orchards.
10 thousand food gardens will increase food production and its local availability, will diversify diets and improve the nutrition of African families.
Food gardens rely on family or communal labor, are made stronger by knowledge transmitted from mother to son, from father to daughter.
A well managed food garden respects local culture, recovers traditional crops, protects biodiversity, and can produce food all year round using relatively little natural resources.
Projects such as the one that is being presented today show that it is possible to achieve sustainable food and agricultural systems if we are all committed - farmers, researchers, schools, students, nutritionists, consumers and chefs. A varied bunch as we saw today, united behind the same purpose.
Ladies and gentlemen,
With the combination of food gardens and youth, we have the possibility to contribute to the improvement of food security through the local production of healthy food, contributing to the development of poor communities, and ensuring sustainable and socially inclusive economic growth.
This is important for Africa, Europe and the world. Around 20 percent of the total foreigners living in Europe come from the Southern and Eastern Mediterranean countries.
And illegal border crossings are an issue of growing concern in Europe and can end in tragedy as the sad episode of Lampedusa reminds us.
The number of illegal border crossings has doubled in recent years. In 2011, the European Union saw over 140 thousand illegal border crossings, 85 percent of which came through Mediterranean routes.
Most of these people are youth, forced into migration because of the lack of economic opportunities and conflict.
It is our common responsibility to help build alternatives, especially for the youth.
To allow that fishermen remain fishermen and do not become pirates.
To allow farmers to use their tools to harvest the land and not for war.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Food gardens produce far more than simply food.
They promote inclusion, teach sustainability, and offer a space around the youth of today can meet, learn, share and build social capital.
This is an exercise that strengthens communities and networks.
And can help transform the youth of today into tomorrow’s leaders, protagonists of local, national and international food security and sustainable development policy and decision-making.
Thank you very much for your attention.