Pope Benedict XVI decried the worsening plight of the world’s 1 billion hungry on Monday as a United Nations food summit rallied around a strategy of more help to farmers in poor nations but rebuffed a U.N. appeal to commit billions to the plan.
In a show of broad consensus, some 60 heads of state and dozens of ministers from other nations pledged to substantially increase aid to agriculture in developing nations to help them become more self-sufficient in food production.
The world’s wealthiest nations put forward the strategy at the Group of Eight summit this summer in L’Aquila, Italy.
Despite endorsing the strategy in the first hours of Monday’s meeting, the 192 participating countries did not commit to the $44 billion a year for agricultural aid that the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation says will be necessary in the coming decades.
Soon after the delegates approved the declaration, Pope Benedict took the floor to decry “opulence and waste” in a world where the “tragedy” of hunger has been steadily worsening. Pope Benedict’s speech marked the first time a pontiff attended such a gathering since Pope John Paul II took part in a 1996 food summit.
The pontiff, lending his moral authority as head of the world’s 1 billion Catholics, also called for access to international markets for products coming from the poorest countries, which he said are often relegated to the sidelines.
The pope urged delegates to keep the “fundamental rights of the individual” in mind when shaping new agricultural strategy. People are entitled to “sufficient, health and nutritious food” as well as water, he said.
Heads of state in attendance include Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. The U.S. delegation is headed by the acting administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development Alonzo Fulgham.
The U.N. agency, which is hosting the three-day summit at its Rome headquarters, had also hoped countries would adopt 2025 as a deadline to eradicate hunger. But the declaration instead focused on a pledge set nine years ago to halve the number of hungry people by 2015.
As the conference opened, the United Nations’ chief urged rich and powerful countries to tackle “unacceptable” global hunger.
“The world has more than enough food,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told delegates. “Yet, today, more than 1 billion people are hungry. This is unacceptable.”
So far, helping the world’s hungry has largely entailed wealthy nations sending food assistance rather than technology, irrigation help, fertiliser or high-yield seed that could assist local farmers, livestock herders and fishermen. Much of this food assistance is purchased from the wealthy nations’ own farmers.
But the Food and Agriculture Organisation says the best way to stop hunger is to help the needy help themselves, and the final declaration agreed to do that.
This approach “lies at the core of food security,” Mr. Ban said. “Our job is not just to feed the hungry, but to empower the hungry to feed themselves.”
The summit is being held at a time “when the international community recognises it has neglected agriculture for many years,” the organisation said on Sunday. “Sustained investment in agriculture — especially small-holder agriculture — is acknowledged as the key to food security.”
The gathering hopes to build momentum on a shift toward more aid to agriculture that was first laid out at the G8 summit in July, during which leaders of the developed nations pledged to spend $20 billion in the next three years to help farmers in poor countries.