Monsignor Giampietro Dal Toso
Pontifical Council Cor Unum
Speech for the
2nd Global Conference on Agriculture, Food Security
and Climate Change: Hunger for Action
Hanoi, Vietnam - 7th September 2012
Ladies and Gentlemen:
Thank you for the invitation to participate in this second global conference on agriculture, food security and climate change. The Holy See, through the participation in this meeting, wants to express its interest and active participation in addressing the major problem that the international community must attend to: ensuring that this generation and future ones have access to food in a balanced environment. In fact, hunger and, more generally, food insecurity is still a burden on too many people. Unfortunately, the global crisis is likely to divert our attention from that very basic right to food and instead still wants to ensure the well-being of only a few. Our Pontifical Council Cor Unum, which follows the activities of many Catholic organizations working in the humanitarian field, continues to monitor these critical situations, like in some countries of the Sahel, where natural and human causes still provoke today hunger, insecurity and suffering. In addition to economic reasons, there remain structural issues which need to be resolved: fluctuation of prices, speculation and the paradoxical reduction of income for small farmers in the agribusiness sector; structural and market weakness of countries that are already poor and the presence of lasting conflicts that aggravate the situation of poverty and hunger.
There is no lack of effort to address these issues. The conference in which we are gathered is a further sign that the international community wants to bring together efforts to allow access to those assets that ensure survival. Significantly, the theme for this conference encompasses the relationship that exists between human labor in farming, food production and environmental protection. The purpose of achieving a climate-smart agriculture indicates the importance of pursuing a broad approach aimed at integral human development, thus finding ways to prevent situations of food emergencies, taking into account both the human and the environmental factors. These two elements affect each other and the humanitarian emergency is not infrequently the result of environmental degradation, often due to disregard or the uncontrolled exploitation of natural resources by man. On the positive side, we have to say that the environment is entrusted to the custody of man, who is responsible, both for the good of the present generation and that of generations to come. Creation is offered to man by God as a place to live and develop, in which to measure his ability to obtain food and adjust it to his needs. But this relationship is modeled by responsibility: man is not the master, but the steward of the environment in which he lives.
These short remarks lead us into the central issue of any development, which is the human factor. The principle of the centrality of the human person is at the heart of the Church’s social doctrine (Caritas in Veritate n. 47). The centrality of the human person entails of course that all our efforts must have as their object the good of the person. The action of the international community should aim to promote every man, especially the weakest and most fragile. But the person cannot only be the object of a development plan; rather he is the subject of his own development. This applies also to the humanitarian field and the study of issues related to hunger. Starting from the centrality of the person, who is the subject of his own development, it seems important to move towards the solutions of the problem involving the direct responsibility of the person. These solutions should not aim at the creation of structures, but rather at fostering conditions that allow the person to develop himself and his environment. Obviously, this approach should not hinder a political commitment to stem those structural phenomena that cause hunger, allowing for example the poorest countries to achieve a fair profit from their agricultural production and promoting local entrepreneurship, since the poor is also a resource.
In fact, for a lasting solution, it is necessary to consider the possibility for man to provide for his own needs with the work of his hands. Even from a perspective of values, those plans that enable the individual, family and small communities to take responsibility for their nutrition should be fostered. In his speech at the FAO on July 1, 2011, Benedict XVI asked to “rediscover the value of the rural family business”. This is also expressed in a document of our Pontifical Council of 1996: “World Hunger. A Challenge For All: Development in Solidarity”.
This path calls into question an accurate view of human work and the family. In the first place concerning work. The Judeo-Christian heritage has redeemed work from a vision that considered it as an unworthy activity and has made work an important pillar enabling man to express himself and live in dignity. Stating the value of human work acquires today a distinctive significance faced with two different temptations: one is to consider work as a constraint that prevents man from living fully; the other is to consider work as a simple merchandise, which reduces the same subject who works to an object. Against these two cultural settings, born from hedonism and unbridled capitalism, it is important to affirm the dignity of work, including agricultural labor, as a means through which man, by working on the environment and transforming it, provides for his own needs and develops himself. Therefore, man must be given the opportunity to work the land, and well beyond a simple dynamic of work-money exchange in order to be able to fully give of himself.
A further aspect of this personalistic approach is the promotion of the family, because everyone is born, grows and relates with that fundamental community that is the family. This means that family life cannot be seen as opposed to the economic needs and the development of a society. This consideration also applies to food, where some people tend to identify the increase of population with the rise in hunger and poverty. However, it is necessary to reiterate that every life, before being a problem, is a resource for the human community and that family poverty is not resolved by eliminating family in itself, but by allowing its members to contribute through their work with what is necessary for the survival and welfare of the family itself. An approach to the issue of farming that seeks to support the family and its stability may allow the society itself to gain greater stability as a result, thus stemming phenomena such as migration and urbanization (cfr. Caritas in Veritate n. 44). Encouraging small producers with agricultural policies consistent with an approach to aiming at integral human development, and therefore fostering some basic services like education and health, is a choice that not only promotes food sovereignty, but also environmental protection and social stability. Solidarity between generations and among nations, subsidiarity to build from the base a healthy economic system are principles that can inspire a renewed action to free humanity from hunger.
The Church does not limit herself to providing an ethical perspective, because the problem man faces is not just an issue of his behavior. She wants to convey a vision of the human person, encompassing also his spiritual dimension. Therefore, it cannot fail to mention that if it is true that every development starts from the person, it is also true that from him arise also those forms of disparity that make such an impact on the global economy, hunger and the situation of need of so many people. In fact, the planet continues to have the means to ensure access to food for everyone. However, greed, deceit and the quest for power that reside in the heart of man make him insensitive to the other. Therefore, the Church knows that together with her active collaboration with the international community, her greatest contribution to solving the problem of hunger is the appeal to consciences to change, so that by recognizing the primacy of God, they may also recognize the dignity of every man, created in His image and likeness (cfr "World Hunger" n. 64). The Church offers to every person of good will this unique spiritual mission to seek that co-existence, in which all people can live in accordance with that dignity.
I thank you for your attention.