Lessons for the Zero Hunger Generation

By Enrique Yeves, FAO’s Director of Corporate Communications

The number of hungry people in the world has been reduced to a bit below 800 million, or roughly one of every nine people alive, according to the most recent data from FAO’s annual State of Food Insecurity in the World. That’s an unacceptable number and our goal must be the total and definitive eradication of hunger.

At FAO we know that eradicating hunger is not only possible but that it is a moral imperative, one that is now a binding commitment that the international community pledged to solve with the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.

Attendees of the "Zero Hunger: It's Possible" course at Complutense University in Madrid. Photo courtesy UNFAO.

Attendees of the “Zero Hunger: It’s Possible” course at Complutense University in Madrid. Photo courtesy UNFAO.

It’s a collective task that requires us to engage all parts of society, including the academic sector. That is why in June 2016 we organized, together with Madrid’s Complutense University, the “Zero Hunger: It’s Possible” course. The choice of title was easy, as there is no other valid affirmation.

For one week a group of youth, working under the guidance of international experts, explored the questions raised by this enormous challenge, which is one of the most laudable objectives to which humanity can aspire. We began with the basics – definition: FAO defines a person as hungry when she or he is not able to take in sufficient food energy to maintain a healthy and active life.

As we progressed, everyone showed great interest in a variety of themes, ranging from whether poverty is the fundamental cause of hunger and what sustainable food production is to issues such as biodiversity, access to food, nutrition, climate change, the availability of water, soil health and quality, and the problem of food loss and waste.

For me personally, it was very satisfying to see the commitment of a generation that I often say is destined to be called the Zero Hunger Generation, the one that finally puts an end to this unacceptable situation, which fundamentally hinders the development of our planet.

The human right to adequate food is an inalienable one for all citizens, and the conditions to exercise it must be guaranteed by the state – this is the vision underlying the social contract that must drive inclusive and sustainable development policies.

As FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva, drawing on his experience in his home country, Brazil, emphasized, one of the most effective ways to achieve this goal is relatively simple: We need more policies that deliver social protection to help the neediest exit the state of poverty, and more pro-poor investments in technology and production.

“We traveled 90,000 kilometres in 10 months,” Graziano da Silva told those in attendance while explaining one of the most successful programmes to fight hunger. “But to achieve the Zero Hunger challenge, governments must recognize the problem of hunger as a priority, create institutional frameworks to fight it and carry out specific programs to actually do so.”

Underscoring the importance of this global political commitment, the course also hosted Guadalupe Valdés, exponent of the Parliamentary Front against Hunger in Latin America and the Caribbean, to speak of the advances made in that region.

Queen Letizia of Spain attends the course 'Zero Hunger: it is possible' at Euroforum Palacio de los Infantes in San Lorenzo de El Escorial, Madrid, Spain. The Queen is a Special Ambassador for Nutrition for the FAO.

Queen Letizia of Spain attends the course ‘Zero Hunger: it is possible’ at Euroforum Palacio de los Infantes in San Lorenzo de El Escorial, Madrid, Spain. The Queen is a Special Ambassador for Nutrition for the FAO. Photo: Gabriel Ferrero.

The chief of FAO’s right-to-food team also pointed out – in the presence of Queen Letizia of Spain, FAO’s Special Ambassador for Nutrition – that hunger and malnutrition are at root political problems. Technical solutions will not suffice if we want to rid ourselves of the inequalities that keep an important part of the world population in a state of food insecurity and malnutrition.

Everybody has a role in this multi-faceted challenge, and so the course also invited Juan Luis Cebrián, executive chairman of Grupo Prisa and El País – a daily newspaper with which FAO recently signed an agreement aimed at improving awareness of hunger, agriculture and food systems – to speak on the role the media can play in driving change.

Martin Caparrós, author of the book Hunger, also spoke, emphasizing that food insecurity “is not a problem of poverty, but of wealth” and the inequitable way in which the latter is distributed.

Cities also have a special role in the fight to eradicate hunger and improve nutrition. They are the social units closest to actual communities and can catalyse civic participation, said Joan Ribó, mayor of Valencia, a Spanish city with a particularly deep tradition of urban and suburban agriculture.

Pursuing FAO’s strategy of engaging and highlighting the role of civil society, the summer course also included a round table with some of the country’s most experienced Non-Governmental Organizations – Prosalus, Manos Unidas, and Cáritas Española – all of which agree on the need to make the fight against hunger a priority issue.

Judging by the enthusiasm and interest generated by the various lectures and conferences, I’m quite confident that we can rely on those who attended the course to play leading roles in the path to zero hunger – which is possible.