Vatican calls for urgent action on climate change and hunger

Last week in Rome, several high-ranking Vatican officials joined a dialogue with UN-Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) officials and looked ahead to the upcoming Paris COP21 conference on climate change (Nov. 30 to Dec. 11).

In a word, they were calling on the global community to put food security and agriculture at the center of the debates on climate change.

Hunger eradication and sustainable development will not be achieved if we do not take urgent action on climate change, said FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva.

The Vatican officials, led by Cardinal Peter Turkson, highlighted the recent encyclical by Pope Francis, Laudato Si: Care for Our Common Home, as an urgent moral crisis to address both the social and environmental problems of our times. The encyclical views the crises of hunger and poverty and the environment as one single crisis and claims the solution requires strong cooperative action to protect the “common home” of humans and nature.

Cardinal Peter Turkson, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, noted that for all religions, promising food for all is not just a policy choice. “Eradicating hunger is a moral imperative,” he said at the dialogue. The cardinal emphasized that for most people, agriculture and food have become de-linked. In effect, this risks the possibility “that humans inherit a garden … (but) bequeath a desert.”

[Read a presentation by Cardinal Turkson earlier this year on Laudato Si and the Vocation of Agriculture.]

FAO Director-General Da Silva also noted that the world’s 50 poorest countries are expected to be among the most affected by climate change. “These countries have not created the problem. In fact, they are responsible for less than one percent of global greenhouse gas emissions,” he said.

The Vocation of the Agricultural Leader

The upcoming climate talks in Paris – and this urgent call for action on climate and hunger – gives additional significance to our Faith, Food & the Environment initiative. While the international talks take place during early December, we expect to release our forthcoming document, The Vocation of the Agricultural Leader.

[Visit the Outcomes section to see what challenges Agricultural Leaders face – and what moral principles we believe will guide them to a sustainable future for all.]

While our initiative and upcoming document speaks to agricultural leaders and policymakers in the United States as much as anyone, we take care to recognize and give special attention to the vast number of small and peasant farmers around the world.

According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 80 percent of the world’s food is produced by these small family farmers. And approximately 72 percent of farms worldwide are less than a couple acres, while just 6 percent are larger than 12 acres, according to the FAO.

Family farming includes fisheries, forestry, and livestock production in addition to crop production. “Family farmers feed our communities and take care of our earth—they are crucial allies in the fight against hunger and rural poverty,” says FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva.

To examine the challenges faced by these small family farmers, FAO has launched the new Family Farming Knowledge Platform (FFKP) to support better policies for family farmers and provide data for governments and organizations.

Smallholder farmers are seen by the FAO as crucial to achieving sustainable use of natural resources, providing food security and balanced diets to local communities, and breaking cycles of rural poverty. These farmers face immense obstacles such as limited access to land, credit, and technology; poor basic services and infrastructure; and imminent climate threats.

However, policies often fail to recognize the contributions of smallholder family farmers and are not geared to supporting them. FAO recommends better policies focus on access to credit and finance, improvement of trade and markets, and sustainable use of natural resources. Farmer-led research and extension—amplified by farmers’ traditional knowledge—will also be vital to the cultivation of a new generation of family farmers.