Need, greed and the global food crisis

By Jean Blaylock
6 Jun 2008

"The Lord's Prayer highlights that having enough to eat is, and has always been, central to the Christian idea of a world shaped by justice and mercy," observes Sushant Agrawal, Director of the Church's Auxiliary for Social Action (CASA) in India. "If God's will was done, no one would go hungry."

At present 854 million people - one person in every eight - are hungry, and the current crisis caused by rapid increase in food prices may add another 100 million people to that count.

While the UN food summit takes place in Rome (2-18 June 2008), churches around the world have been sharing about their advocacy work on the underlying causes of the current desperate situation. The World Council of Churches (WCC), Action of Churches Together International, ACT Development and the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance (EAA) asked their members and participants what campaigning and advocacy actions they were taking around the food crisis, along with any humanitarian or long-term development assistance.

"The WCC views the primary cause of the current crisis as inappropriate human actions which have induced climate change and skyrocketing food prices," declared the WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia. "Human actions that are driven by greed have created poverty, hunger and climate change. Humanity must be challenged to overcome its greed."

In the survey of church engagement in advocacy, Leena Hokkanen from DIACONIA in Peru highlighted the extent of the problem: "In the zones where our institution works chronic infant malnutrition runs at 56%."

"The current crisis exposes the vulnerability of many poor people to price fluctuations and the limited ways in which they, and often their governments, are able to mitigate the effects of the crisis," observed Oliver Pearce from UK-based Christian Aid. "We are calling for more space and tools to be available for communities and governments to deal with the effects of changing prices, in order to support vulnerable urban and rural communities."

Churches are acting locally and thinking globally. Eliana Rolemberg, Director of CESE, a Brazilian organization, described work they are doing to advocate for food sovereignty of rural traditional populations, especially indigenous groups. Their efforts also address food security issues arising from increasing land use for biofuels in Brazil and from social and environmental impact of specific large development projects. Balancing this, she declared, "We think it is crucial to interlink responses for international advocacy, as these local issues are part of a global context."

Churches around the world have developed many factsheets and other resources that help to explain how and why the food crisis has come about and suggest ways in which we can try and bring about just and sustainable solutions to hunger. (Some of these are available at www.e-alliance.ch/trade_foodcrisis.jsp.)

For the churches, these concerns are long-standing. Peter Prove of the Lutheran World Federation said, "Churches and church-related organizations around the world have been working on these issues for years. The food crisis is not a short term problem that has come from nowhere."

"We are looking at how the food crisis is rooted in financial, trade, and agricultural policies at the national and international levels" explained James E. Hug, President of the US-based Center of Concern.

"Church groups around the world are and have been responding to the food crisis in a comprehensive way" said Rev. Elenora Giddings Ivory, Director of the WCC's Commission of the Churches on International Affairs. "Their work in helping with the immediate emergency need and running long term development programmes to improve food security is complemented by challenging unjust systems and structures that contribute to hunger."

The WCC, ACT International, ACT Development and the EAA plan to continue facilitating information sharing between church groups on the issue and will take part in a civil society conference at the end of the year entitled "Confronting the global food challenge".

Nearly 500 years ago, Martin Luther explained "When you ask for your ‘daily bread', you ask for everything that is necessary in order to have and enjoy daily bread and on the contrary, [protection] against everything that interferes with enjoying it". Churches continue to take action to change systems that hinder people from having the food they need to survive.

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(c) Jean Blaylock, Global Trade Campaign Officer at the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance.

With acknowledgments to the World Council of Churches, ACT International, ACT Development and the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance.

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