The first month of Expo 2015 has just ended, with various ideas on the theme “Feeding the Planet: energy for life” already emerging. I will mention just a few.
During Caritas Day, with the 84 countries participating (mainly from Africa, Asia, South America, and the Middle East), opinions critical of a general increase in the world’s food production came out. Instead, it was suggested that small local communities in poor countries be put in a position for them to produce the food they need rather than buy it. As a matter of fact some poor countries have already tried this approach and, overcoming periods of emergency, they have become exporters of food commodities.
The Indian Amartya Sen, Nobel Prize winner in economics and professor of Economics and Philosophy at Harvard, expressed the opinion that the real problem to be considered is poverty from which hunger always derives. He therefore considered it limiting to talk about food shortages without analyzing the causes of hunger.
We expect many ideas to still come out of Expo 2015, also because it would be useful and right not to pursue just one solution, the same for everyone, if we are dealing with countries whose situations and conditions are different. We have time in the next five months to talk in clear, concrete, and constructive terms.
In the meantime, I think it appropriate to confirm whether our planet already produces enough food for everyone and if it would suffice just to distribute it more fairly, avoiding the existing waste. It is only right and fair though to call attention to the meaningful data reported in the table, which highlight how the world population has doubled and is expected to triple by 2050 (exceeding 9 billion). The total arable surface of our planet may manage to remain more or less the same, but that only means that each person will have less than a third of the cultivable area in comparison to today. Besides consideration must be given not only to the increasing population, but also to the continued rise in the food needs of single individuals. So, if world agriculture cannot expand into new arable land, unit production will necessarily increase, wherever possible, especially by rationally using the innovations science offers, as we have done previously in the past with “green revolutions”, in order to meet the growing needs and make the costs more affordable.
The global food security of which we clearly intend to speak must be shared and pursued on a global level but at the same time also by each individual nation. Each country should protect its valuable arable land to ensure its own contribution to overall agricultural food productivity and avoid becoming dependent on the global market, also so as to allow the latter to be able to more equitably distribute the food available to those with greater immediate need due to unforeseen famines and environmental disasters.
The responsibilities related to national food security fall on the respective governments. It will surely be a topic of discussion among the agriculture ministers when they meet at Expo on 4 and 5 June. In fact, with the FAO’s assistance, national and regional programs are already in place.
Unfortunately, even the more advanced countries may offer examples of short-sighted self-interest and de facto policies inconsistent with the Expo theme and the Milan Charter. If it is true, as it is, that our own country (within the European agrarian policy framework):
- has arable lands that continue to rapidly decrease;
- imports growing quantities of primary agricultural produce (at far lower prices than our production costs), to the extent that farmers are forced to abandon cultivation; and
- food industries are increasingly using imported commodities to boost exports, to the point of using the “Made in Italy” brand too freely so that it has become unrealistic.
In this situation, if the possibility of importing should fail for any reason, our country would only have its own agricultural food production available which is ever more further from self-sufficiency and perhaps enough to “feed” half the population.
The dangerous risks of a rupture in geopolitical balances might lead to pondering that it is not easy to build and maintain the desired peace in a world where communities and peoples are still starving, a cause of the insane conflicts and wars that actually spread and exacerbate hunger.