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FAO/ Hunger is not everything

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has a new director, José Graziano da Silva, who will now have to confront many problems, including the rise in food prices.

Da Silva, new director of the FAO   (photo ANSA) Da Silva, new director of the FAO (photo ANSA)

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has a new director: after 18 years of Jacques Diouf’s leadership, Brazilian José Graziano da Silva will take over responsibility. He was elected by a tight margin over Spanish candidate Miguel Ángel Moratinos Cuyaubé during the FAO’s 37th Biennial Conference on June 26, 2011.

His election occurs in a moment of radical changes, and so we send our best wishes to José Graziano da Silva that he can meet the tremendous challenges of the moment. The first of these challenges is the rise in food prices, which is setting off waves of impact especially in developing countries where up to tripled prices weigh heavily on family budgets of which at least 75% is dedicated to costs for food. We cannot forget the riots caused by the soaring costs of bread in 2008, which were paralleled by threats of riot as recent as 2010 in Northern Africa and by many other examples throughout history.

The explosion of food costs is like a two-sided coin. The first side shows the features of the financial crises linked with the paper economy that, despite everything, is left unchecked. This side is ominous because determined by unpredictable, fickle and uncontrollable factors. These determine volatile prices which promise high returns, but often fail to deliver and cause fatal collapses.

The other side of the coin features hope: never before did even small producers, for example from Kenya, have as good a chance to turn a profit on their work. Still, this would remain illusory if there were not interventions to build networks and to provide necessary resources, quality seeds and technical assistance. Small, disconnected producers with unpredictable and low-quality production could not take advantage of such an opportunity.

Without attention to the small farmers, opportunities would be open only to the largest producers with more advanced technology and financing. Enabling smaller producers is a daunting—but possible—task, and is the only real alternative to desperate urban and international migration. An alternative is needed not so much because of the social imbalances generated by the trend of migration, but because this trend causes the violent impoverishment or elimination of the culture led by the “rural family,” precisely the protagonist Pope Benedict XVI considers as the keeper of invaluable wisdom.