Hunger a critical issue: Higgins

Tue, Jan 15, 2013, 00:00

Chronic hunger is “one of the most serious challenges facing the global community”, President Michael D Higgins has said.

In his opening address today at Feeding the World in 2050, a two-day policy symposium forming part of Ireland’s EU presidency, the President told delegates chronic hunger now affects one in seven people each day -  a total of about 925 million.

He said the “dire poverty” that caused such hunger was the “greatest moral and ethical challenge” the global community faced.

Describing as “predatory” countries and corporations which were “taking over agricultural land in developing countries to secure their own food security or boost corporate speculative profits”, he said they did so at the expense of the developing world.

Mr Higgins said such “land-grabs and drive for profits” were contributing to “evictions, poverty and conflict”.

Addressing officials of government departments in the EU, NGOs and academic delegates, the President said climate change posed an additional challenge. It must be recognised, he said, that rising oil prices would drive the use of land and crops towards bio-fuel production, with serious implications for global food production.

He cautioned against the effects of finance and market speculation on food security. In 2011, he added, it was estimated 61 per cent of the wheat futures market was held by speculators compared to only 12 per cent in the mid-1990s, prior to deregulation.

Organised by the UCD Institute of Food and Health and co-sponsored by the Department of Agriculture and Food and the Food Safety Authority, the event was also addressed by Concern chief executive Dr Tom Arnold.

Dr Arnold said that, “probably for the first time ever”, nutrition was becoming a political priority and was supported by “considered policy”.

He said while progress was being made, an opportunity existed in the form of private sector partnerships with government and civil society to reduce child mortality and stunting caused by chronic malnutrition.

He said there was a need for more donors “including private sector and philanthropists" to provide support, while commitment from developing countries was required too.

Former president Mary Robinson chaired discussions on strategies to reduce the food security risks of production, trade, finance and speculation, and on the contribution of global agriculture to greenhouse gas emissions.

UCD Professor of International Development Studies, Paul Walsh, said while consumers “think we have a choice about what we have to eat”, we are actually “disempowered”, with others such as lobby groups and retailers controlling products and prices.

The conference continues tomorrow.

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