Good news made rare headlines in the international press last week. Over the last decade, the number of hungry people in the world has declined by more than 100 million, according to the latest report on the state of world food insecurity.
Yes, we have made progress. But it bears repeating that more than 800 million people still suffer from hunger. Yet, we have the tools to put this right in a generation. Delivering a world without hunger – the zero hunger challenge – is the task the UN secretary general has set the world. It is one that Ireland is proud to sign up to today.
I was deeply honoured to be asked to co-host this high-level summit during the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Ireland is recognised as a global leader in the battle against hunger. It is at the heart of our aid programme, Irish Aid, and of our foreign policy.
We devote 20 per cent of Irish Aid funding to actions to end hunger. We focus on the insidious problem of malnutrition, which causes the deaths of 8,000 children every day. Undernutrition saps the potential of children, communities and entire nations. It is for this reason that the Taoiseach last year committed Ireland to doubling our development funding for nutrition by 2020. It is for this reason that, today, I will reaffirm that promise at the UN.
Together with the United States, Ireland is leading the 1,000 Days movement, which works to ensure that mothers and babies receive proper nutrition during the vital period from pregnancy to a child’s second birthday.
And we have been to the fore in building the Scaling Up Nutrition movement, which is galvanising international action to reduce maternal and child undernutrition.
Ireland has recognised that climate change represents one of the main obstacles to eradicating hunger, and we are investing in research on what works for poor, smallholder farmers who bear the brunt of the challenge. Many of them are women whose simple priority is the survival of their children. They tell us we need to innovate in conservation agriculture. And Irish Aid is responding in Zambia, in Malawi, in Mozambique and in Ethiopia.
In Malawi, we have fostered partnerships to promote crops like groundnuts and beans, which improve diets and provide income for poor farmers. Critically, they improve soil fertility and help reduce erosion. We worked with women, helping them to enrich their soils and improve their families’ diet. We helped them earn money and send their children to school. And in one generation we believe they can achieve zero hunger in their communities, zero malnutrition and sustainable farming.
The secretary general challenged us three years ago to end hunger – and this is a dream that can be achieved, through policy change and practical action.
The zero hunger challenge has five targets:
1. Ensuring no child under the age of two years old is stunted. This means ensuring every child gets enough nutritious food in the 1,000 days between the start of pregnancy and a child’s second birthday.
2. Enabling all people to access the food they need at all times, including through decent and productive employment, social protection, targeted safety nets and food assistance.
3. Ensuring sustainable food systems through standards of sustainability for all farmers, agribusinesses, co-operatives, governments, unions and civil society.
4. Reducing rural poverty through encouraging decent work, and increasing smallholders’ income, empowering women, small farmers, fishers, pastoralists and others.
5. Minimising food losses during storage and transport, and eliminating waste of food by retailers and consumers. Progress is only possible in partnership.
I am heartened to see the Irish private sector contributing significant resources alongside Irish Aid to agriculture, which improves nutrition – for instance in Zambia, in a project managed by the Irish NGO Concern Worldwide.
I am determined to build these links between Irish business, Irish civil society and Irish Aid, working with women farmers and farmer groups.
The Great Famine of the 19th century scarred our nation and lives on in our collective conscience. We have a deep sense of the injustice of hunger in a world of plenty.
We offer our expertise, our experience and our resources to the fight to end hunger and undernutrition. It is with a sense of purpose and determination, therefore, that I look forward to signing the zero hunger declaration in New York today.
The Delivering Zero Hunger – Demonstrating Impact side event is co-hosted by Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Charlie Flanagan; the prime minister of the Netherlands, Mark Rutte, and secretary of social development of Mexico, Rosario Robles Berlanga, as well as the director general of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations , José Graziano da Silva; president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development , Dr Kanayo F Nwanze; and executive director of the World Food Programme, Ertharin Cousin.