Participants at the opening of the 41st Session of the FAO Conference on the challenges and opportunities of reaching Zero Hunger have a damning radical message from an international advocate for children’s and women’s rights, Graça Machel.This was Machel’s message: Considering the challenges of migration, the scourge of hunger and malnutrition, and the lack of investment in rural development, there is an immediate need to “change the way we do business”, scale up hunger-ending initiatives, and “disrupt the agricultural sector as a whole”.
Delivering the McDougall Memorial Lecture on food security, Machel condemned “the shameful failure of global governance to address issues of food security, forced migration and equitable economic development” as well as the failure of governance at country level to allocate sufficient resources to address the root causes of poverty.
“Lastly, there is a failure of individual conscience. A heartless complacency with the status quo has given birth to a bankruptcy of human solidarity,” Machel said, stressing that it is everyone’s business to do more.
“We simply cannot afford not to urgently take bold action to end poverty and hunger and create more prosperous and vibrant rural communities”, she stressed.
She called for a “game changer in agriculture” going beyond incremental changes and small-scale innovative initiatives to reach Zero Hunger and address the negative impacts of climate change.
She pointed out that only 10 years remain to reach the Sustainable Development Goals, urging to not “fail our children and our grandchildren” on our promise to leave no one behind.
She stressed the need for massively scaling up successful approaches and implementing best practices – such as drip irrigation and solar-powered desalinization systems, blue economy, nutrient-rich crop diversification, vertical farming – so that “advances in technology benefit millions and not just a few hundred of thousands”.
She urged for the role of girls, women and youth in agriculture to be adequately recognized and bolstered.
“Because women are such central players in the food chain and key to agricultural output globally, it is imperative that institutions focus on innovative ways to advance women’s contributions in this sector,” she said.
In particular, agriculture must also be modernized and made more appealing for youth, she stressed, as it is expected to remain the main pool of employment opportunities for sub-Saharan Africa youth in the foreseeable future.
This can be done by capitalising on new technologies and creating new industries and career paths within agriculture. Machel highlighted two African initiatives that are leveraging on technology and the talents of young people.
In her lecture, Graça Machel emphasized the direct link between hunger and migration.
“Adequate nutrition is a critical element of national development and as the FAO, I encourage you to adequately focus and prioritize promoting nutrient rich food production and food security”, Machel urged.
Referring to migration, she stressed “the benefits and opportunities that come with the cross pollination of peoples and cultures”.
“Migration is an integral part of the global economy and fosters growth and development through the exchanges of cultures and knowledge, as well as financial gains in the form of remittances and skills acquisitions”, she added.
Pointing to the need to “be much bolder and more disruptive in both our planning and action to address issues of rural poverty and rural flight”, Machel noted that investment “is far below the amount required to match the magnitude of these problems”.
She also highlighted Food and Agriculture Organisation’s (FAO) unique position to contribute to the development of rural areas through the touch point of agriculture, and lauded the UN agency for “giving considerable attention this year to the intersection between migration, agriculture and rural development”.
In 2018, FAO awarded Graça Machel with the honorary membership of the FAO Nobel Peace Laureates Alliance for Food Security and Peace, in recognition of her late husband Nelson Mandela’s tireless struggle for freedom and peace.
Frank Lidgett McDougall, an Australian citizen, was one of the founders of FAO. Every two years, before the FAO Conference, the McDougall Lecture is delivered by a prominent personality working in the field of agriculture and hunger alleviation.