Media CenterCarolyn Woo’s CNS Column: Solutions To World Hunger Are Within Our Reach

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By Dr. Carolyn Y. Woo
January 2014

In the Chinese culture that I grew up, it is considered bad luck to have an empty rice container. So even today, my husband and I always replenish the vessel and have an extra bag of rice in store. This is both symbolic of a life of plenty and a practical measure to not go hungry.

Yet over 840 million people, one in eight in the world, go to the bed hungry every night. While hunger is generally associated with the developing countries, about 15% of families in the US are classified as “food insecure.” The UN rates malnutrition as the single biggest contributor to disease. Some 7 million children under the age of five die every year – one-third due to malnutrition. Iodine deficiency is the greatest cause of mental retardation and brain damage.

With a call to action by Pope Francis, Caritas Internationalís (the international association of 164 Caritas agencies of which Catholic Relief Services is a member), launched One Human Family, Food for All, a campaign to end hunger by 2025. The Catholic Church, like other multi-lateral organizations, believes that there is sufficient food for everyone and views hunger as a problem which we can end.

The causes of hunger are multi-dimensional. Poverty prohibits access to food, and hunger in turn traps people in deeper poverty by significantly reducing their ability to function, work, go to school, fight diseases. Smallholder farmers, representing 75% of those who go hungry, generally do not have capital to invest in equipment, tools, irrigation, seeds for new crops and training that would allow them to earn livable incomes from their labor. Calamities from droughts, floods, pests or climate change, put food out of reach for those who rely on the land to sustain them. Wars and violent conflicts displace farmers and herders from their land and starvation is sometimes used to eliminate the enemies. Volatile prices exacerbate the problem affecting both rural and urban poor. One third of food produced is never consumed. Much cannot get into the market because there are no roads, warehouses and post-harvest production facilities. There is also waste from our tables and refrigerators when food is tossed away.

A comprehensive discussion of approaches to end hunger is not possible in a short essay. The important point is that the solutions are indeed within our reach: through transformative means such as resistant varieties and diversification of crops that build resilience and prosperity; government investments in agriculture infrastructure; private investment that provides affordable capital and insurance to small farmers; protection of farmer land rights for both men and women; efficient food aid that increases flexibility and builds up local markets; programs that enhance resilience and incomes of small holder farmers; and provision of nutrition for the first 1000 days of life (from conception to two years of age).

Not only can we solve the problem, but we MUST. Food is a requirement for life and for human dignity. It is not optional and ultimately it comes from the bounty of God. We fight to end hunger in order “…to satisfy the demands of justice, fairness and respect for every human being.” (Pope Francis to Food and Agriculture Organization, June 2013).

Support your local food bank, do not waste food, stand up against policies that reduce food assistance to the poor whether in the US or overseas, and sign up for Catholics Confront Global Poverty.

From Fr. Ted Hesburgh, “Lord: give food to those who are hungry, and for those who have food, please give a hunger for justice.”

Dr. Woo is the president & CEO of Catholic Relief Services, the official overseas humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the United States. This article is part of her ongoing monthly column, Our Global Family, written for Catholic News Service.

Read Dr. Woo’s previous columns