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Action Alert

Help End Hunger on World Food Day

Vegetable Vendor

By Tatiana Dwyer

"We know that a peaceful world cannot long exist, one-third rich and two-thirds hungry."
—Jimmy Carter

Every year on October 16, the global community of food justice advocates committed to ending hunger and poverty celebrate World Food Day. This is a special day that mobilizes efforts around the globe to raise awareness, educate, advocate and call for action to end global hunger.

World Food Day was established to mark the founding date of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in 1945. FAO, along with the World Food Program and the International Fund for Agricultural Development, are three United Nations agencies based in Rome specializing in food and agriculture. "Sustainable Food Systems for Food Security and Nutrition” is the theme for the 2013 World Food Day. The United Nations has also announced 2014 as the International Year of Family Farming. This provides an excellent opportunity to raise awareness and promote family farming and smallholder sustainable agriculture, which produce 70 percent of the food supply but have been neglected in terms of investment and as resources for decades.

The right to have access to food

Food and water are essential for life. Furthermore, every individual has the right to have access to nutritious and quality food, as stated in the 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Unfortunately, while we live in a resource-rich world, we still face the basic challenge of feeding the global population with adequate and nutritious food, especially the poorest of the poor. There is enough food produced in the world to feed all of humanity and yet, according to FAO’s “The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2013 Report”, about 842 million people, or around one in eight people, are estimated to suffer from chronic hunger; almost one billion people, or 15 percent of the world’s population, suffer from malnutrition, and 1 billion are overweight (500 million are obese). Malnutrition is an especially important concern for women, children and the elderly, and pregnant or nursing women require additional nutrients. If a mother does not receive adequate micronutrients, her child is at risk for malnutrition even before birth. Breastfeeding can reduce malnutrition rates for children, especially when combined with educational programs for mothers.

In today’s world, every 6 seconds a child dies of hunger-related causes. 1 of 4 children in developing countries is at risk. Yet food insecurity is not confined to the developing world alone. Here in the U.S., 14.5 percent of households struggle to put enough food on the table. That is 48 million Americans, including 15.9 million children.

Malnutrition manifests itself in several ways, and obesity is one form of it. In the United States, more than half of all adults are now overweight, as Americans increasingly eat cheap, processed, fatty and sugary foods, which have excess calories but are nutrition deficient. Fresh produce and foods with high nutrient qualities are expensive and not readily available in all communities. Obesity, like hunger, increases susceptibility to disease and disability, reduces worker productivity, and lowers life expectancy. Not only does obesity occur in developed countries, problems are also occurring in developing countries.

The rural poor

Seventy percent of the 1.4 billion people who are extremely poor live in rural areas. According to the June 2013 report Investing in Smallholder Agriculture for Food Security, by the High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition, they depend almost entirely on agriculture. Paradoxically, these people, who produce most of the world’s food, make up the majority of the world’s hungry. Many have no electricity and no safe drinking water. Public health, education and sanitation services often do not exist or are of low quality. Despite this lack of resources, the world’s most food-insecure and hungry people are producing much of the world’s food supply. They cultivate crops on small plots of land. They raise animals. They catch fish. They do what they can to provide food for their families or earn money at the local produce market. Many have no land of their own and work seasonal jobs. It is hard work and it is difficult to set anything aside in case of an emergency. Floods, droughts and other natural disasters as well as armed conflicts add to the threat of hunger.

According to FAO, women produce between 60-80 percent of the food in most developing countries, and are responsible for half the world’s food production. In Africa, women comprise 70 percent of the agricultural workforce, do 90 percent of the hoeing and weeding work, are responsible for 80 percent of food storage and transport from farm to village, and are 100 responsible for the processing of basic foodstuffs. Yet women own less than 2% of land worldwide, and from countries where information is available, only 10 percent of credit allowances are extended to women.

Food is also a peace and security issue. In 2007-2008, sharp increases in food prices caused food riots in many countries. Food insecurity was one of the main underlying factors of the Arab Spring of 2011, which toppled the heads of state of Tunisia and Egypt, once again showing how much  conflict and food insecurity are interrelated. If we are to work towards a more peaceful world, food security should be of paramount importance. "We know that a peaceful world cannot long exist, one-third rich and two-thirds hungry," said Jimmy Carter.

"...share your bread with the hungry..."

The Book of Isaiah challenges us to reaffirm human dignity through access to food by stating, “Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house…?” (Isaiah 58:6-8) Our vision of a peaceful world can only be realized when there is access to nutritious, quality food for all. Our task is to work towards a world where all persons have the ability to either produce or purchase their food from markets. Nations should be able to control food production and food stocks to stabilize prices regardless of the ups and downs of the global market. A world without hunger where justice reigns and poverty is conquered is the world we want to see.

United Methodist Women (UMW) has long been engaged in advocacy for global food security and nutrition. UMW works in coordination with all related U.N. agencies, ecumenical partners and constituencies. This positions us to carry the voices of all United Methodist Women to advocate for rights-based and just food security and nutrition policies, along with access to resources. UMW is an active member of the NGO Working Group on Food and Hunger at the United Nations in New York. The Working Group, which was formed in 2008 in response to the global food price crisis, educates the  public on critical global food security and hunger issues, organizes various advocacy events, and closely cooperates with member states’ delegations working on these issues. The Working Group also maintains close relations with members of the U.N. World Committee of Food Security (CFS) Civil Society Mechanism (CSM) in Rome, seeking to enhance work on food security within the U.N. system.

Ms.Tatiana Dwyer, Executive for Global Justice, United Methodist Women, recently participated in the CFS annual forum that took place in Rome on October 7-11, 2013. She has also participated in the CSM meeting that usually happens two days prior to the CFS Forum. CFS is the most inclusive international intergovernmental forum that reviews and follows up on global food security policies. The CSM is the largest international mechanism of civil society organizations seeking to influence agriculture, food security and nutrition policies and actions—nationally, regionally and globally. Ms.Dwyer was also the spokesperson for the NGO Working Group when the group recently hosted a briefing by the CFS chair H.E. Ambassador Yaya Olaniran of Nigeria in New York in May.

World Food Day is a special day to join efforts to educate, advocate and act for food justice. As United Methodist Women, please join us in our concerted, faith-based efforts to advocate and work toward a world that possesses just, equitable and broad-based food security and nutrition for all.

Here are a few ways that you can engage more directly:

  • Educate yourself on the causes of hunger, under-nutrition and obesity. For Food Justice information, refer to the UMW Global Justice & Peace website and the UMW Mission Studies on Poverty and Food & Faith.
  • Visit www.wfp.org/hunger for statistics from the World Food Programme on Hunger; visit www.fao.org/hunger/en for information and statistics on Hunger from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations; go to www.fao.org/cfs/en and www.csm4cfs.org for information about the Committee on World Food Security and Civil Society Mechanism.
  • Raise awareness about food justice policies and fight for what is just. Advocate for the Right to Food and encourage national and international policies that prioritize food over other uses for agriculture, such as ethanol and biofuels production.
  • Support small farmers and community agriculture by purchasing seasonal and locally produced food. Strengthen local food systems by buying at farmers markets and other local food outlets.
  • Join hundreds of thousands of people in the fight against obesity by cooking and eating healthy food.
  • Advocate for healthier food options, nutritional education and physical education in U.S. schools. Join a community garden, and bring your kids along and make it a family activity.
  • Finally, mark World Food Day by organizing a worship, an awareness-raising event or join an event against hunger. Let the world know that hunger in the world of plenty is unacceptable and that United Methodist Women will “engage in the struggle for bread and justice for all in the confidence that God goes before us and guides us.” Resolution 4051, “The United Methodist Church, Justice, and World Hunger,” The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church, 2008.
Last Updated: 03/26/2014

© 2014 United Methodist Women