ROME, ITALY — Better food systems are required in order to defeat hunger and malnutrition around the globe was the key message coming from the observance of World Food Day at the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) headquarters.
World Food Day, commemorated in 150 countries, is also the anniversary of FAO's founding in 1945.
This year's observance takes place under the shadow of new hunger figures that show a total of 842 million people are chronically undernourished.
In a message for World Food Day, read by Archbishop Luigi Travaglino at the ceremony, Pope Francis said "It is a scandal that there is still hunger in the world."
The Pope blamed individualism for creating an "attitude of indifference" as if hunger and malnutrition was an unavoidable fact. "It can never be considered normal," he said.
On the World Food Day theme of food systems, he said he saw the need to change and renew food systems to bring in the value of solidarity with the poor. "We need to educate ourselves in solidarity ... not only different forms of assistance," he said.
He called for the elimination of loss and waste of food products, which he said affects one third of global food production.
"We cannot improve nutrition without food security and we cannot achieve food security if we don't have the right food systems," FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva told the ceremony, attended by government ministers, diplomats, heads of UN agencies and other dignitaries.
He said that although food systems produce enough food for everyone, over half of the world's population is affected by either over- or under-consumption.
"The economic costs of hunger are striking. They can amount to as much as 5 percent of global income through lost productivity and direct health care costs," he said. "The flip side is the huge economic benefits that could results from ending hunger and malnutrition."
Graziano da Silva pointed out that 62 out of 128 countries that FAO monitors, have reached the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) hunger target.
"These 62 countries that have achieved the hunger targets show us that it is possible to win the war against hunger," he said.
He urged people to take on a new and broader understanding of the hunger problem.
"World Food Day ... is an opportunity to adopt critical tools and solutions that will move us towards a well-nourished, hunger-free world [and] to view hunger and malnutrition as the tragic outcome of unhealthy food systems, food systems in which we all play a part," he concluded.
In her keynote speech, Peru's First Lady Nadine Heredia called for a broad strategy against hunger that included health, education and gender.
"We need a consistent state policy with economic growth, social spending and public investment in basic services," she said. "Growth has to benefit everyone: rural areas and cities, girls and boys. At the same time, we need to provide food to the hungry, and to work on long-term actions to enable people to provide for themselves."
"In Peru, we have social inclusion policies for the most vulnerable families," she said, adding that her country had met the MDG hunger target and reduced malnutrition in children under five.
Heredia, who is also FAO Special Ambassador for the International Year of Quinoa 2013, called the grain indigenous to the Andes a "super food" that is contributing to the fight against hunger.
"We know that smallholders can contribute to sustainable food systems if they have well-functioning infrastructure, supportive policies and institutions. We have seen it in Brazil, China, Malaysia, and Vietnam. On this World Food Day, let us renew our commitment to a world without hunger," Kanayo Nwanze, president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development, told the ceremony.
"Let us work to support governments that are making the right policies, governments that are building effective institutions and governments that are investing in infrastructure" he said.
Ertharin Cousin, executive director of the World Food Program, told the ceremony that "Action to strengthen and reform food systems must fully recognize the critical role of women.
"Many food systems throughout the world, in both rural and urban areas, structurally impede or ignore the participation of women. This cannot continue, because if we leave women out, we will not achieve our objectives. It is the just and right thing to do," she said.
Nunzia De Girolamo, Italian Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry Policy, told the ceremony that food was a right to which no one should be deprived.
She also spoke out against food waste, calling for a radical cultural change.
"Reducing food waste is not in fact only a strategy for times of crisis but a way of life we should adopt if we want a sustainable future for our planet," she said.
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