On 16 October, 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 album of the highlight of World Food Day at Expo Milano 2015.
What is social protection?
Any policy or program designed to reduce poverty and vulnerability by promoting efficient labour markets, diminishing people's exposure to risks, and enhancing their capacity to manage economic and social risks, such as unemployment, exclusion, sickness, disability and old age. Today about 75% of the 795 million undernourished people in the world live in rural areas. Effective social protection programmes in such areas, where agriculture plays a vital role, include cash transfers, vouchers, insurances and in-kind contributions.
Why is social protection key to ending hunger and poverty?
Providing people with nutritious food is not enough. Without social protection, poor communities are at constant risk of hunger and poverty, especially when faced with a crisis or shock of any nature. By incorporating social protection programmes into national development strategies and policies, governments can provide greater income stability and ability to manage risk, thus contributing to reducing poverty and food insecurity in the longer-term. In fact social protection is high on the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development and considered an important means to achieving the Goal of ending poverty within the next 15 years. It is also at the heart of the Zero Hunger Challenge promoted by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
For more information, visit World Food Day official page
World Food Day Ceremony
Programme of the celebrations taking place at the Auditorium of Expo 2015
UN-Expo Map for World Food Day 2015
This map shows the route to the ceremony's venue and the UN Itinerary.
FAO Brochure – Social Protection: Breaking the cycle of rural poverty
Learn more about social protection and agriculture by downloading this leaflet.