World Food Day: Building a movement to end hunger

Global ceremony at Milan Expo calls for social protection, fairer food systems

16 October 2015, Rome - Leading figures in the global fight against hunger gathered at the Milan Expo to celebrate World Food Day, marking the 70th anniversary of the foundation of FAO with appeals to speed up efforts to eradicate hunger and improve the way food is produced and consumed.

FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva thanked the world's farmers, fishers, forest workers and other food and agriculture workers for their contribution to the "amazing achievement" of increasing sustenance from all even as the world population tripled since 1945.

With around 800 million people still suffering from undernutrition, two big challenges lie ahead, he told assembled dignitaries, including the President of Italy, the President of Slovenia Borut Pahor, and Queen Letizia of Spain, who is FAO's special ambassador for nutrition.

"First, we must quickly translate increases in food availability into better nutrition for all. Second, we must accelerate the shift of food production and consumption towards truly sustainable systems," Graziano said.

"Good nutrition is one of the best sources of economic growth and it contributes to peace and stability," he added.

Referring to this year's World Food Day theme ‘Social protection and agriculture - breaking the cycle of rural poverty', he noted that "production and economic growth alone do not solve the problem, if the hungry remain excluded. India, Brazil and Ethiopia and other countries show us that increasing the power of the very poor to buy food offers an affordable key to hunger eradication."

"Industrialized countries did the same to end widespread hunger after World War II," he noted. "The food stamps programme in the U.S. is one of the best examples."

Social protection allows the hungry to "become empowered to escape hunger through their own efforts, thus lead dignified and productive lives," he added.  

"Hunger is more than a lack of food - it is a terrible injustice," UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in his address. "We are here to build a global movement to end hunger. We have to forge new partnerships and create better ways of working."

The UN Secretary-General emphasized the scale of food waste and loss, estimated as around a third of all the food produced globally. "People everywhere know that waste is a disgrace," he said.

Papal praise for FAO's focus on social protection

Pope Francis said in a message that hunger is due to both "iniquitous distribution of the fruits of the earth" and inadequate agricultural development, which he noted made FAO's mandate more urgent than ever.

Francis warned that lofty ideals would not suffice as iniquitous distribution generates violence in one form or another. "Perhaps the real question is whether it is still even possible to conceive of a society in which resources are held by the few while the less favored are obliged to collect only crumbs," he said.

Basic income supports can boost the resilience of the most vulnerable people and allow them to make better use of their meager resources, which in turn can allow everyone to understand the "proper meaning of the sustainable use of natural resources," he said.

Joint action and personal commitments

"Food and water are the universal language of human beings," said President Sergio Mattarella of Italy, FAO's home since 1951, said in his opening speech at World Food Day.

"Feeding the planet is inseparable from the word ‘peace'," the president said. "Only joint action can assure food security and the sustainable use of natural resources. Unilateral action does not lead to success."

Other speakers at the event included Italy's foreign and agriculture ministers, International Fund for Agricultural Development President Kanayo F. Nwanze, World Food Programme Executive Director Ertharin Cousin and the mayor of Milan Giuliano Pisapia.

Success in achieving the world's new sustainable development goals- and becoming the Zero Hunger Generation - ultimately depends on all people and not just governments, Graziano da Silva said in offering praise for both the Charter of Milan and the EXPO fair's food-centered theme. Individuals can celebrate World Food Day by making "personal commitments, for instance to eat healthily, cut food waste and help others," he added.

Photo: ©Ufficio per la Stampa e la Comunicazione della Presidenza della Repubblica/Paolo Giandotti
UN, national, local and church leaders pose for a group portrait at the World Food Day ceremony in Milan.