Former Director-General  José Graziano da Silva
An opinion article by FAO-Director General José Graziano da Silva

The only possible answer to hunger
Originally published 27 May 2013 by Jakarta Post

In 2000, member countries of the United Nations pledged to create “a more peaceful, prosperous and just world” and “to free our fellow men, women and children from the abject and dehumanizing conditions of extreme poverty”. The Millennium Development Goals set clear goals and were instrumental in uniting efforts and boosting development in many countries.

It is no coincidence that the first of these goals aims to halve the proportion of people going hungry and living in extreme poverty in the world by 2015. Defeating hunger and extreme poverty is essential for achieving the other goals.

The good news is that progress has been made, and Indonesia is one of the 35 countries that have already achieved this Millennium Development Goal. The country is also close to reach the even more ambitious target of halving the total number of undernourished people, set at the World Food Summit hosted by FAO in 1996.

However, we must not forget that even while having reached the goal of halving the number of hungry people, the other half will continue to suffer. What should we tell them?

Even today, some 870 million people suffer from hunger, 563 million of them in Asia. Our goal must be to ensure food security for all in line with the Zero Hunger Challenge launched by the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon during the Rio+20 Conference.

The possibility of eradicating hunger and extreme poverty is not a utopian ideal. It can be done, if there is political commitment and appropriate resources.

To achieve this goal we need a holistic approach, linking social and productive policies and programs, and responding to the causes of hunger today. Unlike when FAO was founded in 1945, food insecurity today is not a matter of production — there is enough food in the world — but access: in most cases, people simply do not have incomes to buy the food they need or the resources to produce it.

Paradoxically, 70 percent of people suffering from hunger and extreme poverty live in rural areas, and many of them are subsistence farmers. If we can get these farmers to increase their productivity, we can get them to feed not only their families, but also their villages and local communities. 

And when we manage to link family farming with social protection programs such as school feeding or conditional cash transfers, we could have even more positive results by improving the diet of children and energizing local economies.

The fight against hunger must move forward on local and global levels. An accepted fact is the need to improve food security governance and to increase the integration and coordination of actions by taking advantage of synergies.

We have less than a thousand days until the deadline for achieving the Millennium Development Goals. It’s time for a final push that will bring us closer to an even more ambitious and necessary target: ending hunger.

This decision should be made by the whole of society, while ensuring food security is a duty of the State. The right to food is a fundamental human right, and not an act of giving handouts.

More and more countries are seeing the fight against hunger from the perspective of human rights, which will ease the way. This became clear from the consultation process organized by the governments of Colombia and Spain — with the support of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) — to help define the Sustainable Development Goals that will come into force in 2015.

We are the first generation that can end world hunger. Let us show that we also want to do so.

José Graziano da Silva is Director-General of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.