Summit too hard to swallow?

Nov 18th, 2009 | By | Category: Food for Thought

By SHALWAH EVANS
November 18, 2009

As a reporter my job is to take complicated issues and frame them so that they make sense to the average person—or so I thought. But by the end of this World Summit on Food Security, I too am confused about this behemoth of an issue. I’ve collected all the papers. I’ve read the documents. I’ve listened to the statements made by delegates from various countries. And I still wonder: has anything come from this summit, funded by the Saudis for $2.5 million.

I am unsure how to appease the reader when it comes to the huge multi-faceted issue at the end of a summit that essentially has not reached a solution.

Jacques Diouf, director-general of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, said that he “believes that we have agreed on important things.” And although he concedes that a summit cannot solve the problems, but only actions of the leaders who have made promises can do that, he said that some progress has been made.

I think about this as I reflect on this experience. During a short break between the conclusion of the summit and Diouf’s press conference I went to lunch across the street with some colleagues. We settled at an outside table of a nice restaurant with mid-range prices; about seven euros for a margherita pizza. After a miscommunication about a plate of tortellini ensued my colleagues and I left only paying for what we thought was fair, leaving a cold plate of tortellini on the table—almost completely untouched. I ordered tortellini with cream sauce, as described and pictured on the menu not expecting it to have small pieces of ham sprinkled on top. I don’t eat ham for religious reasons, and asked that the food be taken back.

I couldn’t even begin to figure out the value of that plate of tortellini in the larger scheme of food and agriculture, but I know I felt guilty as I replayed in my head the words of African visitors attending the summit. Most of them were from NGOs in developing countries, hoping for the chance to be heard by UN leaders regarding the lack of access to food in their countries. Here I was leaving food on a table, because of a religious restriction nonetheless, but interviewing people who have seen famine and drought in their homes.

Particularly I thought about Aichatori Sami from Niger. I met her at the Food Sovereignty Forum’s events on the first day of the summit. In a park across the street from the FAO building, surrounded by police officers, she gathered with other NGO leaders to discuss what absolutely needs to be done to end hunger. She spoke softly, with no malice in her voice.

“I am with the regional Peasants Platform from Niger and we are part of La Via Campesina, which is an umbrella organization,” she said. “We are very proud to come to this forum. We have great hope that our governments may be able to insist, and to press upon FAO so that they can really implement the concept of food sovereignty—which to me means being able to be fed, to eat as much as you need to. And when I say eat I mean good quality food.

“As I see it, during the last years, efforts for food security are still too weak. There has been a decline in the percentage of food aid to developing countries. I think that our governments should stand up and pressure the people at UNICEF, FAO and other institutions so that they really do the things discussed here this week.”

At the press conference most reporters touched on similar subjects. This summit failed, these talks led to nothing. The sentiment was skepticism. After previous meetings like this, nothing has happened. So people like Sami, and reporters, are understandably wary of believing that anything will change this time. If effective fights against hunger failed to materialize from previous events like this why should we believe. As of right now the summit has just ended. And whether or not promises will be kept is to be seen. And it is the hope of people like Aichatori Sami that this summit won’t be added to the list of examples of failed talks. And as human being with a heart, and a reporter who sees the passion of both sides—the intent of the UN leaders and doubt of the hungry people—it’s my hope as well.

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