Nobel Laureates Join Forces for Food Security and Stability
ROME, May 11 2016 (IPS) – “Where food security can be a force for stability, we have to look to food and agriculture as pathways to peace and security. This is a great challenge, but one that we can meet together as we embark on achieving the 2030 Development Agenda.” These were the words of FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva as he discussed the interplays between food security and peace in New York last March.
Food security and a healthy agricultural sector have important roles in the efforts to prevent conflict and maintain peace. With this challenge in mind, on 11 May, the FAO formally established a new partnership with five Nobel Peace Laureates known for their work to fight poverty, hunger, and violence worldwide. The FAO – Nobel Peace Laureates for Food Security and Peace Alliance links FAO in partnership with Muhammad Yunus, Oscar Arias Sánchez, Tawakkol Karman, Betty Williams and Kofi Annan.
Muhammad Yunus was the first Laureate to speak, calling hunger an issue he and his fellow Laureates consider “dear to our hearts.” Yunus asserted that the distribution of free food is not a sustainable solution to eradicating hunger. Instead, he advocated for the microcredit model he first instituted over forty years ago in Bangladesh. Yunus said that the distribution of small loans to poor individuals promotes financial independence and thus the ability to obtain food.
By combining the objective of charity organizations and the engine of a business, Yunus has created a model of social business that he believes can improve the lives of rural populations currently excluded from the mainstream economy. He hopes to inspire young people to become entrepreneurs in agriculture and looks to challenge the idea that young people must flock to cities to find jobs. The initiative to encourage what Yunus called “entrepreneurs in agriculture” enforces his belief that “we are not job seekers; we are job creators.”
Yunus concluded his address with enthusiasm that the Alliance will bring the world closer to “three zeros”: zero hunger, malnutrition, and poverty; zero unemployment; and zero net carbon emission. His message set a tone of acknowledging the challenges of the present while pushing for a more hopeful future that would be echoed by his fellow Laureates.
Following Yunus’s message, Oscar Arias began his address by focusing on balance between various forms of violence and peace. Describing a Dante-esque scene, Arias forecasted the war between humans and nature. “The earth is complaining, and it is calling for peace” he proclaimed.
In addition to preventing catastrophic damage to the environment, Arias highlighted the necessity of ending violence in order to combat food insecurity and suffering. He discussed how “armed forces are the greatest polluters of the planet.” In times without war, however, he noted that “the absence of war does not automatically mean the consolidation of peace; we cannot say people are living in peace in a post-conflict situation until we can eradicate the many forms of violence on earth.” In addition to armed conflict, Arias explained that a lack of access to medical attention and food are both forms of violence.
Arias called for a renewed effort to protect the environment, seek conflict resolution, and consolidate peace using the reach and resources of the FAO. He appealed to the international community to put into practice the fundamental values of the 2030 agenda, reiterating that there can be no sustainable development without peace and no peace without sustainable development. Within all of us, Arias said, we harbor the potential of life, the power of reason, the strength of dialogue and the capacity to reason, correct our mistakes and make compromises. Arias urged the audience to utilize this potential to promote peace and food security.
Tawakkol Karman built upon Arias’s call to pursue the sustainable development goals, exclaiming that “we need to work hard and work with our hearts to achieve the SDGs.” She emphasized the need to promote a positive, fair globalization where all of mankind can share the benefits, warning that we now face negative effects of globalization that are disproportionately shouldered by the poor. She declared that the fight against hunger and poverty means taking the first steps towards sustainable development and towards a more equitable world. This progress is only possible, Karman argued, through shared bonds of fraternity and a moral commitment to eradicate poverty and promote peace.
Karman considered conflict to be the source of hunger, poverty, famine, and misery. She stated, “Building peace is part and parcel of eradicating hunger and achieving food security, but if we are to achieve this goal in any country, we need to keep one goal in front of us: to guarantee that everyone can have freedom, and by freedom I do not only mean freedom from want; I also mean political freedom.” Transitional justice, Karman explained, can bring peace to an area and a community overcoming a conflict and facilitating progress towards peace. Karman insisted that by 2030, “we need to have lifted the burdens of poverty and hunger,” an accomplishment only possible through the commitment, collaboration, and mobilization of all people and all governments.
Betty Williams began her address by recognizing that there remains work to be done towards eradicating hunger and fostering peace, but she was quick to assert that great work has already been done, as she acknowledged the accomplishments of her peers in the Alliance and expressed her appreciation to call them friends. Williams described her experience during the height of violence between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland in the early 1970s. At first, she said, she wanted to keep her door closed out of fear for her family’s safety. After she witnessed the death of three children on a Belfast street, however, her horror and anger compelled her to action. She described the peace efforts in Northern Ireland as a movement begun by “ordinary extraordinary people.”
In her role as a Nobel Peace Laureate, Williams traveled to areas such as Africa, Afghanistan, Nicaragua, Argentina, and Chile. She explained how she had never truly seen or known hunger until she witnessed some of the world’s poorest communities, some of which she saw in developed nations like the United States. The devastation made her physically sick at times, but she decided to take action, for, as she declared, “Tears without action are wasted sentiment.” After hearing about the possibility of nuclear disposal on the lands of Basilicata, Williams went to the southern Italian region and defended the land alongside the people of Basilicata. She has created a foundation in Basilicata that builds, ecologically sound, inexpensive homes for refugees.
At the heart of her humanitarian work, however, will always be the protection of children, like the children in Belfast that drove her to take action over four decades ago. She concluded her remarks with a reading of the Universal Declaration of the Rights of the Child, which espouses principles Williams said she will fight for “until the day I die.”
Kofi Annan gave his remarks to the conference through a video message, first stating, “A stable and peaceful environment is the foundation for lasting food security and livelihoods.” He discussed the inextricable connections between food security, peace, and sustainable development. His remarks reflected a feeling of hope for a more peaceful future without hunger, as he said, “I know we can eradicate hunger within a generation provided we can mobilize political leadership and political will.”
In the general discussion that followed the addresses, Yunus spoke of the need for a banking system and coordinating legislation that serves the poor. The current model of non-governmental organizations providing microcredit is not sustainable, Yunus said, because it is restrained by the often limited funding of NGOs. He discussed the need for self-sustaining financial systems geared towards lifting individuals and communities out of poverty.
Though the goals before the FAO – Nobel Peace Laureates for Food Security and Peace Alliance may appear lofty, Yunus was hopeful, calling himself a “compulsive optimist.” His message to young people was that “you have the power to change the entire world by yourself.”
Williams reflected Yunus’s optimism, saying we must all be optimistic as we join in the fight for sustainable development. She suggested to Yunus that they open a bank geared towards the poor in Basilicata. If this first meeting is any indicator of the ultimate success of the task force, the future certainly looks promising.