Big news came on Friday, when the USDA announced that Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan would lead the United States delegation to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations Ministerial Conference in Rome, Italy, taking place this week from November 18-23. She will chair the conference, the first time a woman has done so. In the press release, Merrigan had this to say:
President Obama has committed the United States to a whole-of-government approach to tackle the problem of global food security and the United States will work with more than 130 countries as we move forward with this important effort.
Today, in the days before the ministerial conference, the FAO World Summit on Food Security begins. The summit has already been criticized for its draft declaration [pdf], which doesn't commit to previously discussed plans of ending hunger by 2025 or the $44 billion in annual aid needed to meet this aim.
Back in July, President Obama spoke at the Group of 8 meeting about building the agricultural economies of countries where hunger is prevalent, as opposed to solely providing food aid. I reported on the G8 meeting here, questioning what such an initiative could look like according to an administration obsessed with shiny new technologies. Then I gave my suggestions for alleviating hunger through supporting smallholders:
If we really want to help the hungry, we should invest in tools, arable land for communities, and education about sustainable farming in Africa. We should teach seed-saving and intercropping, so that diets will be diverse and healthy. Most of all, we should avoid a one-size-fits-all approach to hunger, as there are no easy answers. Empowering locals to work within their own climate, governance and culture will ensure that real strides are made in alleviating hunger.
Apt for this discussion, I am currently reading Small is Beautiful, by economist E. F. Schumacher. He dedicates one forth of the book to economic development, on which he writes:
Development does not start with goods; it starts with people and their education, organization, and discipline. Without these three, all resources remain latent, untapped, potential... Here, then, lies the central problem of development. If the primary causes of poverty are deficiencies in these three respects, then the alleviation of poverty depends primarily on the removal of these deficiencies. Here lies the reason why development cannot be and act of creation, why it cannot be ordered, bought, comprehensively planned: why it requires a process of evolution.
He continues, explaining why silver bullet thinking should be abandoned in favor of local solutions:
If new economic activities are introduced which depend on special education, special organization, and special discipline, such as are in no way inherent in the recipient society, the activity will not promote healthy development but will be more likely to hinder it. It will remain a foreign body that cannot be integrated and will further exacerbate the problems of the dual economy.
The FAO is well aware of our current agriculture system's inability to feed hungry mouths, because it was a co-sponsor of the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD). The IAASTD revealed the results of four years of research on the current state of agriculture in April 2008, which declared that the status quo of modern chemical- and resource-dependent agriculture practices will not feed the world as it grows hungrier.
Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Burlesconi will be the only leader of a G8 country present at the summit. If world leaders are serious about ending world hunger, which has reached an all-time high of 1 billion people this year, they must move beyond rhetoric and take action on the findings of the IAASTD report.