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English: The Fight against Hunger – How can Christians Take Action?

Rev. C. Füllkrug-Weitzel MA/ CEO of Brot für die Welt, Germany
Union Theological Seminary/ New York
Bonhoeffer Lectures „The End of Poverty: World Poverty and Christian Moral  Responsibility”, October 2007

„The Fight against Hunger – How can Christians Take Action?“


0. Introduction
II. Facts about and Faces of hunger
III. Dynamics causing or increasing hunger:
IV. Strategies
V. How can Churches and Christians take Action?

0. Introduction


Dear audience, dear Brothers and Sisters,
poverty is a result of many different negative factors and has many facets. To end poverty therefore needs a complex strategy on different levels. This is well reflected in the multiplicity of the MDGs. But it’s a battle which clearly can be won: in 99% experts know what to do about it. But it requires the political will, to listen to the poor and put them and their rights in the centre of all strategies, to allocate funds and streamline all sectors of politics nationally and internationally accordingly and to change unjust economic, social and political structures. And it needs the mobilisation and participation of the civil society including the churches and the willingness of the population in industrialised countries to change their patterns of consumption.
To explain these assumptions about the fight against poverty, I’ll choose the example of hunger – not simply because since this is the core competency of my organisation. Goal No.1 of the MDGs identies the fight against hunger with the fight against extreme poverty as equal. We tend to think of hunger mainly as consequence of poverty, while in reality, the causality often applies in reverse. Hunger and malnutrition cause enormous human and economic costs by adversely affecting the health, literacy and productivity of populations.
To start with the good news: Hunger is not an unavoidable fate, nor is it due to lack of natural resources or insufficient production. The question whether the MDG No.1 will be achieved cannot and should not be reduced to agricultural productivity – like another ‘green revolution’ or the introduction of GMO food on a massive scale. On a global scale, today’s existing food production is sufficient to provide today’s population with basic nutrition. That is widely recognized in international circles. (I  nonetheless do not ignore that this increasingly may become a problem with the dramatic increase of the world population in the next half century).
The immense scale of hunger in the world but especially its unequal distribution indicates that hunger has among others structural implications and includes questions of land rights and land use priorities and of international economic and political framework conditions
So how to address this?
Let’s start with a look into the faces of hunger and identifying them:

II. Facts about and Faces of hunger

a. Number of hungry ever increasing
According to the recent estimation of the FAO 854 millions people are chronically undernourished, of which the vast majority – more than 800 million – are living in the poor countries of the South.
10 years ago, in 1996 at the World Food Summit, the states declared that they wanted to reduce hunger to its half. But in these 10 years there was no global decline, the global number of people suffering from hunger increased by 14 Million -partly due to the growth of the world ‘s population -, although significant progress had been made in South and Southeast Asia, esp. in China and India. But the highest prevalence of hunger is found in Sub-Saharan Africa, where FAO estimates that 32 percent of the total population is undernourished.
Food insecurity is a worldwide phenomenon, but it cannot be addressed appropriately without a clear identification of the most affected and vulnerable social groups in any region, country and community and of their needs. Otherwise the fight against hunger might easily end as fight against the hungry.
b. Rural face of Hunger
It is internationally recognised – and we confirmed it by our own so called “hunger studies” in ten countries  carried out with our partners – that in most affected countries, the majority of the undernourished people, about four out of five, live in the rural areas. Hunger is a rural phenomenon. This is a touching fact: those living on agriculture are those suffering the most from hunger! Therefore rural development is and will therefore remain to be the key to fight hunger and poverty in the poor countries of the South.
c. Landless face of Hunger
22% of the people suffering from hunger are marginalized because they never had or have no more access to land. These landless people often live as farm workers on large scale farms from a salary far too little to feed their families. They are mainly or totally excluded from access to production means.
d. Smallholder face of hunger
50% of people suffering hunger in rural areas are smallholders who produce too little to be able to live from it. They make up 40 % of hungry people worldwide! The majority of those smallholders are extraordinary marginalized for different reasons and therefore extremely vulnerable with regard to external shocks such as natural disasters, HIV/Aids or price pressure caused by highly subsidised imports: Their holdings are too small (like in South Asia); and/or they live and work in very remote areas, where they suffer because of long distance to basic infrastructure. And/or they live in degraded coastal zones, and most are disadvantaged for their soils, which are of poor quality, degraded from erosion and less fertile, sometimes on steep hills. Often both capital and governmental or any support and advisory services for successful agricultural activities are lacking – they are just neglected by the government, the market, the society.
Their marginalization can as well stem from an insecure land title, missing access to micro credits and therefore seed and production means. This is especially the case when women are heading the families. This is a very clear indication, that access to basic infrastructure and resources esp. to sufficient land and secured rights to land are essential prerequisites to enable 40 % of the people starving worldwide to benefit from agricultural development! This is – by the way – widely recognized in international and UN organisations – even by the Global Donor platform on Rural Development.
e. Female Face of Hunger
Women headed household belong to the poorest of the poor. Although they often play a key role in the smallholder agriculture, where approximately up to 80 per cent of the work in the food production is done by women, they still often don’t have the access to productive resources. Even in households where – on average – the food supply is sufficient, severe forms of undernourishment are regularly found among the mothers, who have to content themselves with the leftovers of their husbands and sons.
After recognizing the faces of hunger we do understand that it is not enough and not appropriate to focus on global, national or even the food security of different social groups. And its not enough to secure simply the average availability of staple food for a household. Any national policy has to analyse carefully  who receives the food in the end in every household and their very specific needs.

III. Dynamics causing or increasing hunger:

This high percentage of landless people and people without secure land titles among the hungry – of special strong importance in India and Latin America – demonstrates how important unequal opportunities are for causing hunger and how important the access to resources, secured rights to land and the distribution of unused land within agrarian reform policies could be.
1. Lack of resources and land
We saw that hunger is often generated in regions which are marginalized and that the problem of marginalisation is often caused or aggravated by other problems linked to the lack of, or insecure access to productive resources.
International Organisations and the Global Donor Platform on Rural Development recognise unequal land distribution as “probably the major factor causing differences in the poverty reduction strategies among various countries”. They attribute China’s, India’s and Taiwan’s most successful increases in agricultural productivity in the 90ths, (which often are quoted as success of the green revolution) to the equal distribution of land. In fact this has been the result of comprehensive and redistributive land reforms in these countries!
The insecure tenure systems, i.e. lack of secure and transferable property rights and of legal protection of small farmers towards vested interests is endangering small farmers, nomadic and indigenous people. This goes especially true in this decade, since the pressure on land is increasing: Mining, international and governmental focus on and support of large production of cash-crops – meant as success recipe to increase productivity and end hunger – etc. very often lead to the loss of land of the marginalized and the increase of hunger in such communities.
Therefore one can record the fact that successful strategies to fight hunger are closely linked with the access of the marginalized rural poor to productive resources such as land. The increase of the productivity of small farmers and landless people is not an issue for the agro-chemical industry but an issue of just distribution of land, access to other productive resources and of opportunity to participate in rural development efforts of the government.
Marginalized rural groups who suffer mostly from hunger have been neglected by the past and recent agricultural policies. The former interest in the structural aspects of food security has disappeared as have according budget lines in development budgets of different European donor-countries been cancelled in the last ten years. The background study of the Hunger Task Force of the UNDP Millennium Project (from 2003) very clearly points to the connection between the total neglect of the special needs of the majority of the rural population and the pattern of the predominant global agricultural policies in the last decades, which – on national and international levels – focused and still is focusing on export promotion, on modern technology and on research for yield increase of the agricultural production. Since export production is mainly done on large scale land and modernization needs a lot of resources, the majority of undernourished peasants did not and can not benefit from this agro-export promotion. New technologies, specially designed crops relying on fertilizers and pesticides are not affordable for smallholders and in many cases lead to their indebtedness and finally loss of land. For these peasants the improvement of infrastructure and the extension of sustainable agriculture is much more essential to increase yields by using available resources.
Agricultural growth, esp. that based on the activities and dynamism of the agribusiness sector, does not at all result automatically in the reduction of hunger. Its gains are often highly concentrated in the hands of few actors gaining. The process leading to growth in that sector can even increase hunger due to imperfect competition on markets (i.e. financial and commodity markets) and the tendency to foster land concentration.
2. Wrong priorities of land use
Demands on land are ever increasing. Already today, a large part of the produced calories serve as animal feed or fuels. Their share is expected to grow, since the hunger of meat and the quest for fuels increase. The commodity markets are increasingly competing with the food markets with potentially dramatic consequences. The industrial nations want to emancipate themselves from the oil exporting countries which used to dictate the oil prices and therefore put their hope and on the production of bio-fuels. Huge agrarian grounds in the USA and in the EU are about to become and surely will be changed into areas for the production of ethanol. The prices of grain, corn and cane sugar are already on their rise because of the demand in the commodity sector– to the detriment of poor people and international food aid organisations such as FAO who have to feed the people in emergency situations and depend on low prices for food since the are chronically underfunded by the donor nations!
Within  the next two years, we will experience a worldwide  lack of food of an estimated ten million tons of cereals. Furthermore more and more agricultural land – again recently esp. in India and China – is converted to areas of housing, infrastructure and esp. into industrial areas. This means, that farmland for food production is constantly shrinking whilst the number of people to be fed is constantly increasing. In this light, feeding the world is not a productivity issue in the first place, but a question of land use policy priorities.
3. Trade
The advancement of the industrial export-farming in the last decades went along with the pressure for “structural adjustment”, as promoted by IMF and World Bank and the policies of the WTO to liberalize the agricultural trade. The mostly indebted countries were and still are under pressure to open their markets and abolish tariff barriers for agri-imports, abolish support measures for their national agricultural markets meant to fight hunger and promote sustainable rural development. That happened while EU and the USA continued to support surplus agricultural production by subsidising it and furthermore continue to subsidise the global trading of such surplus products at low dumping prices – not only far under the price of their cost production but also cheaper than local products of the small farmers in the South. The opening up of southern agricultural markets for food imports therefore had and has disastrous effects on the living and food conditions of many small farmers in poor countries and makes their situation more and more precarious. Just to mention that the local chicken markets in West Africa is about to totally collapse and thousands of local chicken farmers had already to give up due to massively subsidised chicken wing exports from western Europe. The same happens with tomatoes, milk, corn and alike all over Africa right now. As a consequence sub-Saharan countries who had been known as exporters of food are turning into netto-importers of agricultural products.
We are very much concerned that the increased globalised trading of agro-products mainly benefits some big industrial exporter and multinational trade companies, leaving behind – in the South and in the North – the family farmers, making them poorer and poorer.
To sum it up:
We saw that insecure tenure or lack of access to land and other productive means, as well as the hesitance towards substantial redistributive land reforms, all forms of marginalisation, esp. gender discrimination, lack of governmental and intergovernmental attention and allocation of funds to the rural areas and esp. to smallholders and other marginalized groups, other priorities for land use, unfair trade conditions in general are important structural root causes of hunger: lack of opportunities, marginalization and exclusion of a majority of poor people in rural areas and injustice! Other – more time-limited – factors may add to those or build on them increasing hunger in certain periods. The most important of those are HIV/Aids1, war and armed conflict2 – on request I can go deeper into that later but will now concentrate on just one more severe root cause of recent and potential hunger which has to do with injustice as well.
4. Climate Change aggravates Food Insecurity
Climate change started to and will increasingly more have huge impact on food security: Warmer temperatures as well as changes in rainfall patterns affect crops and crop production which esp. disastrous consequences for smallholders who depend on rain fed agriculture. It also influences the availability of water not just for consumption but as well for food production. Loss of land through sea level rise and other consequences like erosion caused by wind and water.
Adoption policy is necessary and up to a certain degree possible, but will be especially be difficult or may be even not affordable at all for particular marginalized groups due to their geographic situation (on step hills or in areas which are draught prone or often flooded).
And the global warming will lead to more extreme weather events such as floods, droughts, storms/ hurricanes and their damaging effect and the number of affected people are evermore disastrous. Floods destroy harvests, seeds, and the soil of the fields and the livelihoods, droughts decreases the water availability and either destroy crops or give little yields, hence often result in famines which will have a tremendous impact on food security – esp. of the poor.
Scientific studies project that further warming – above another 2 C –show rapidly rising hunger risk with 45-55 million extra people at severe hunger. Africa appears to be the biggest loser, with 29 countries projected to suffer production losses (Kenya and South Africa however projected to gain from it.)

IV. Strategies

1. Change of Policies
a. Focus on Agriculture
Any strategy that aims for food security on a permanent manner cannot only be built on a short term interventionist action in a relatively short period of time through transfers. Such a programme can help on a short run, but much more is needed.
A double strategy is needed: The importance of immediate action to extend the acquisition for all those suffering from acute food insecurity, and – at the same time – the creation of institutions, policies and programs that face the underlying and complex causes of vulnerability of certain groups of the population with respect to hunger, malnutrition and food insecurity and aim for the full participation and just opportunities of marginalized groups in rural areas. The second pillar needs to be built on empowerment, respecting the dignity and strengthening/implementing the rights of all – especially the most vulnerable groups.
Definitively much more emphasis on agriculture as the strategic sector for initiating development is necessary. But at the same time a different agricultural policy than the predominant one is necessary: a change to one that focuses on the concrete people suffering from hunger and gives special attention to the improvement and food security of small scale farming. This includes (besides secure titles for sufficient land) the improvement of the basic infrastructure in all rural areas indispensable for the productivity of agricultural activities and marketing of the smallholders. Focus on processing and value added is important to increase their agricultural production, marketing and off-farm income generating opportunities for the small scale agriculture. Without the special support and protection of the small scale agriculture hunger of 40% of the starving population worldwide might even increase.
b. Land Rights
But equitable access to land and secured rights to land are essential prerequisites to enable small scale farmers to benefit from agricultural development. Esp. the most marginalized people’s lands rights – like those of indigenous people – must not only be recognised (as by some constitutional reforms like in Brazil) but must be actively promoted and protected in administration systems. Women must be provided with the right to inherit and possess land and other property and general legislation must provide women with secure and equal access to, control over, and benefits from all other productive resources, including credit, water and appropriate technologies. Political and economic empowerment of the rural poor needs to be promoted in general, but women need special empowerment in claiming their rights and having full access to their entitlements and their full share of agricultural production.
c. Structural changes
But agricultural policies need as well structural changes: the promotion of redistributive land reforms, fair world trade conditions, the monitoring and control of negative effects of liberalisation and of the influence of agro-corporations to end hunger will be postponed in the far future.
2. Sustainable Agriculture
As smallholders cannot afford constant costs for seeds every new year, for all kind of chemicals and for technologies their capacities and knowledge of sustainable farming with local seeds, traditional farming methods should be developed – based on local knowledge, sources and environmental conditions. This is not only extremely important in order to make their production more resistant to draughts, floods and alike but as well important for the protection of the environment. But on top of it – different to the strong propaganda of agro-business – improved sustainable farming does as well raise the productivity level tremendously and would serve the food security of much more people.
A survey from the British university of Essex shows, that the hunger of the world could be overwhelmed with sustainable agriculture – without genetic engineering. The survey regarded nine millions of peasants, which included an area of almost 300.000 square kilometres. On average, the fields carried out 50 to 100 percent more yield after having adopted the improved environmentally sound methods. It cannot be denied that sustainable agriculture is a way out of hunger for the time being.
3. Right to Food
But how to get governments and the international community’s to commit themselves to end hunger? We saw numerous nice statements of the international community and of individual governments but nothing or the wrong things happened. One major step forward and important instrument in the future fight against food insecurity from our perspective is the recognition of the Right to Food and the existence of the “Voluntary guidelines for the progressive realization of the right to adequate food in the context of national food security” since 2004.
To end hunger is not an issue of charity! Nor is ending hunger to be left to god will of politicians or corporations: The Universal declaration of Human Rights in 1948 recognised The Right to food and since then a number of binding an non-binding legal instruments did the same. It is described as “the right of every man, woman and child alone and in community with others to have physical and economic access at all times to adequate food or means for its procurement in ways consistent with human dignity”. However practical guidance on its implementation was not available until Nov 2004 when, after two years of inter-governmental negotiations under the umbrella of FAO (the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations) the “Voluntary guidelines for the progressive realization of the right to adequate food in the context of national food security” were adopted unanimously by all 187 FAO members states – which marks a huge step forward. They were- by the way – made possible mainly by strong civil society lobbying – among them church organisations like ours.
The objective of the Guidelines is to provide very practical and concrete guidance to States in their progressive realization of the right to adequate food in the context of national food security. They describe the necessary general conditions and of requirements to be met by government policies at the national level not only with regard to agricultural policy, but also with regard to general legal, social and economic conditions to be created. Strategies need to be designed to the very specific conditions and needs of every region and community. Therefore the target groups indispensably need to be involved in planning and monitoring. Their empowerment and participation as well as strengthening civil society on the local and national level would be key.
The aim is to build an enabling environment for people to feed themselves in dignity and to establish appropriate safety nets for those who are unable to do so. The right to food is not the right to be fed. The Voluntary guidelines instead place emphasis on the right of individuals to an enabling environment which empowers them to provide for their own and their families needs, including food through own production or purchasing on the market. Special assistance by means of food or other social safety nets is foreseen only for those unable to provide for their minimum needs, such as victims of natural or men-made disasters, HIV/Aids affected families and marginalized people.
Governments are encouraged to invest a maximum of their available resources. But since the recommendation is to invest the money in a very concentrated and focused way into the most vulnerable sectors of the society, which need to be identified in any national implementation plan, the cost factor is really not the most important. Most recommended steps do not require money at all but would be very effective – like an improved legislation or to not undertake any measures which will lead to the violation of human rights and a streamlining of all development frameworks putting the entitlements of people more firmly at the centre of development.
That does not only go true for the national level but as well for the international level:
The Voluntary Guidelines highlight, that a successful fight against hunger as well needs an improved international trade regime and regulations, a respective orientation of all development policies and debt-relief-initiatives towards the right to food. Based on the right to food, extraterritorial state obligations should be fulfilled with implications on world trade agreements, Agro-TNC’s etc. and all external economic policies but as well domestic policies of the North like domestic agricultural politics, energy and environmental politics, politics of use of land etc. need to be coherent (which for example would not allow for subsidised surplus production for export or for food aid dumping).
The Voluntary Guidelines instead recognize the existence of legal entitlements of citizens and the legal obligation of the State as duty bearer of the former. Such approach enables people to hold their governments accountable for policies and programmes conducive to recognized goals. After years of talking about ‘good governance’ this rights approach provides the civil society with a key to monitor and hold the government accountable for what they have done or have not done to ensure that all people have sufficient food of adequate quality and safety to live in dignity. It asks from the socio-political system to enable the hungry and the poor to participate in the process of human development rather than being passive recipients of benevolent actions from the national government or international donors.
Even though the MGDs are a valuable reference, the Right to Food should become the basis for assessment.

V. How can Churches and Christians take Action?

1. Some Biblical Observations
As part of the division of labour between Prof. Bedfort-Strohm and myself it is not my task to undertake proper theological reflection here. But let me just share shortly some helpful biblical hints before we start talking about the responsibility of the church towards hunger:
a. The Bible takes notice of the poor more than 2000 times and tells us how constantly and systematically God listened to the cries of the weak and marginalized, took their needs serious and took care of them. This points to a basic and strategic choice God made in favour of the protection and liberation of the poor and oppressed and wants his people to make. Basic and strategic choice means: it is not an option among which could or could not be an option for us, but is God’s central option and has to be preferential for us too. God’s people, whom he liberated from slavery and misery as one of his major self explanations (Ex.20,2; Dt.5), are supposed to be known for assuring that no one in their midst would be enslaved, marginalized, impoverished, discriminated and hungry (Ex.23;Lev.25; Dt.24). If we want to meet and serve him, we have to serve those with whom Christ identifies himself: the foreigners, the naked, the hungry, the sick, the prisoners – the weak and powerless, with the victims of violence and the excluded (Mt.25).
Justice, liberation, protection, care, compassion for the suffering are at the core of our believe. The Bible is full of examples that to protect and care for the vulnerable is a core task for human beings. There is the full range of instruments mentioned in the Old as well as in the New Testament how do this: Through economic measures like debt relief, through legislation in favour of the weak and marginalized and political means to structure a just society, through congregational diaconia following or as part of Eucharist, mutual assistance as a church through church wide collections for the suffering (in Jerusalem), through individual charity like the good Samaritan, through liberation (Lk 4, 18 ff) – turning power relations upside down. (Lk 1,46 ff.).
b. Similar things could be said about Gods attitude and actions in favour of the hungry: God is the one God who saves people who call him in their despair (Ps 107,5) from starvation. He prevents the Egyptians from hunger (through Joseph, Gen.41), he provides his people on their way through the desert with basic nutrition Manna (Ex.16), feeds the prosecuted prophet Elia during the time of his internal displacement (1.Kö.17) and starving people in draught situations like the widow in Zarpat (1.Kö.17). Jesus feeds the desperate crowd following him to the lake Genezareth (Mt. 15; Mk.8). He takes the physical need of hunger extremely serious (more serious than the commandments – Mt 12) and would neither reject a plea of a hungry for real food in favour of spiritual food or pit the one against the other (Mt. 4,4: “Man shall not live by bread alone (!!), but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.”). He always refers to ending hunger as part of his mission: where God is present no one should starve and thereby loose his/her dignity.
c. There is an African saying: In dlala inamanyala! ‘Poverty i.e. lack of bread, makes respectable people do disgraceful things’. When tempted in the desert by the devil to turn a stone into bread (Mt.4) Jesus said a clear No: bread is not and can never be a substitute for dignity! Doing so Jesus taught his people never to instrumentalise and misuse the dependency of hungry people food but to clearly protect and prevent their dignity in responding to their need!
d. The way Jesus is addressing this need is not fighting hunger with concepts and resources from above the people. Instead he liberates concrete people from hunger and thereby from obstacles to their full participation in social life or obstacles to follow their own plans and goals. In many cases he helps the hungry to discover their own resources and to increase them by sharing. In general he puts every individual with his or her concrete needs in the centre of his liberating and supporting action and puts him or her on his/her own feet, empowers people to start walking their own way in dignity and develop their own abilities. He doesn’t let anyone down or doesn’t overwhelm anyone for the sake of the ‘greater cause’.
To sum it up, these few reflections point us to the following: The end of poverty and hunger clearly is part of the vision of the Kingdom of God. But ‘to end poverty’ is not Christ’s way of looking at it. He rather recognizes of the needs and fully restores the dignity of the poor and hungry and empowers them to life as an image of God. Jesus did not fight hunger and poverty but supported the marginalized to become full members of their communities and get their full share of all God given resources they are entitled to get, liberated them from the chains of unjust structures and discriminating practices and empowered them.
I have seen poverty reduction strategies which at the end of the day ended up in marginalizing the poor even more. I have seen food aid which made the hungry even more long term dependent from food aid. But any Christian response to poverty and hunger should put the determination as image of God, the concrete needs, the dignity, the rights and the potentials of the suffering and marginalized in the centre. Their empowerment and the real improvement of their living conditions should be seen as criteria to measure success of any strategy to end hunger or poverty – and not the rise of agricultural productivity or the GNP or any other ‘technical’ measure. Their empowerment and full participation as subjects and not objects of planning and implementing any strategy in the fight against hunger should be central.
2. Possibilities and Levels of Christian/ Churches’ Intervention
Given the assumption that successful strategies to end hunger need to address the concerns and needs of the landless and smallholders in rural areas and to empower them and taking into account these few theological observations, one can say that churches are not just mandated and able but in fact best equipped for a very meaningful contribution to end hunger:
a. Actors in rural development
The churches are present among the hungry in Asia, Africa, Central and Latin America and the North. With their local congregations in nearly every village (beside Asia) in even very remote areas the have the daily eye-witness of and know exactly the living conditions and needs of people suffering from hunger all over the world. Therefore they have a real monitoring capacity with regard to the evidence of hunger and the effectiveness of hunger strategies which no one else – no UN organisation, no government, no other NGO – does have. And they have the access to and trust of the people and could therefore become an important source of education, empowerment and centre of self organisation of the poor rural communities – if willing and themselves capacitated to do so! This I would see as primary task of churches in fighting poverty and hunger: to support their leaders (clergy and lay) on congregational level especially in those remote areas which are suffering from hunger to finally
care about the living conditions of the people whom they serve and document them,
regard support for and empowerment of the poor and marginalized population in rural areas (regardless of their denominational or religious origin) as a central part of their mission (and not just an adiaphoron),
increase the capacity of pastors and lay people in local congregations to get involved in rural development and to become a supportive focal point of the communities’ own efforts to improve their living conditions (with special attention to women) and to discover their own resources and start sharing them and to increase their productivity with local means and in a sustainable way,
create support structures for the development efforts of local congregations on a national level,
act as advocates towards their respective national government for the Right to Food, secure land titles and re-distributive land reforms where necessary,
raise funds for rural development among the affluent parts of their own societies.
Churches in the North should – in addition to and on top of that – support the capacity building efforts of churches or National Church Councils in the global South to serve rural development in the described way by all necessary financial means. This requires fundraising efforts of the northern churches among their congregations as we do it – and here individual charity becomes important. And it requires as well as lobby work of the northern churches towards their governance to for an increase of development budget line in national budgets.
The participation in networks across the border and/or with other civil society actors in order to exchange information, best practises, ideas and to strategise and lobby together in the area of rural development can be very helpful for these efforts. Let me give you an interesting example from our work where knowledge is passed on “from peasant to peasant”. This is a programme performed by PIDAASSA, (Programa de Intercambio, Diálogo y Asesoría en Agricultura Sostenible y Seguridad Alimentaria), a programme for exchange and dialogue on sustainable agriculture of 77 participating NGO’s and networks. Spreading all over Latin America (in 11 countries) more than 13.540 peasants trained as promoters give their experience (positive, but also negative) to other peasants for free. This can be experiences on the increase of soil fertility, of intercropping, of animal integration. If somebody is sceptical, he will be invited to visit the fields. Thereby, the advice structure is not anymore as hierarchical as before, when the experts gave advices to the peasants but meant to empower the peasants to do their own research and become experts on their own soil. The promoters are accompanied by skilled personnel.
b. Global collection of data and advocacy
The second reason why churches are best equipped to contribute to food security hunger worldwide is their organisational set up: The church is organised locally in each place, but at the same time every congregation is part of the worldwide body of Christ, is linked to the bigger ecumenical network. Churches therefore have the unique opportunity to monitor and document in each nation and in each continent as well as globally the concrete situation of the different groups of hungry people and to monitor and document how any economic or political policies and measures taken by their government, by the international donor community, by international organisations or by trans national companies would effect the situation of starving people. The fact that Christianity is a world community offers unique opportunities to accumulate local/national/regional data about the status of poverty and hunger, to systematize and analyse them and to report them to national and international political authorities and to advocate for adequate policies to implement the Right to Food. This requires the capacity and commitment of churches to get involved in documenting and advocacy work. Moreover it requires from the churches to overcome their parochial and denominational self-sufficiency-attitude and to actively create or support and cooperate with appropriate ecumenical structures for documentation and advocacy work on the national (NCCs), regional (REO’s etc.) and global (WCC, ACT Development, EAA etc.) level. The effectiveness of such efforts would of course be increased if the churches furthermore would be willing to see themselves as part of the broader civil societies and join hands with other civil society forces, esp. other religions in the effort to hold governments accountable to the Right to Food etc.
c. Public Voice of the Poor
The third opportunity to contribute to the fight against hunger churches have is their influence on societies and governments. Although this seems to be decreasing in many secularising countries in Europe the acceptance and influence of religious organisations worldwide is increasing and the UN gives a lot of space and opportunities for the churches’ advocacy work and many societies and governments in the West, in Africa and Latin America are still open and sensitive to the voice of the churches and often seek their advice. The joint efforts of churches (across the denominational and national borders) to report the findings about the real situation of the rural and urban poor and about the question whether governments take or don’t take serious their obligations (incl. extraterritorial state obligations) concerning the “Voluntary guidelines for the progressive realization of the right to adequate food in the context of national food security” or their international commitment – like the MDG’s – and implement them adequately.
Some churches and ecumenical organisations like ours are doing so by releasing f.e. so called ‘Alternative Hunger Reports’ or Shadow Reports with regard to poverty eradication etc.. This can become a powerful instrument f.e. in the screening process of certain UN organisations. We prepare for example a Shadow Report to the UN about the effectivity and results of our government’s strategies to end poverty domestically and internationally – different to the rhetoric of official governmental reports to the UN. Such alternative reports are meant to bring transparency into what governments really do and do not with their available funds and their strategies and to hold them accountable before the domestic and world public.
Churches as part of civil society together with other NGOs) should claim the coherence between polities and declarations. The UN, the donors countries, the developing countries should give priority to the reduction of poverty. Trade and agro-policies need to meet this aims. Public debate and pressure can show that people care and claim the fulfilments of the given commitments worldwide, that they are critical counterparts of the politics.
Churches have a unique opportunity to bring the voices of the poor – and in the case of hunger: the voices of landless and smallholders – to the responsible political institutions nationally and globally and to advocate their case when it comes to strategising on the national or global level around the improvement of the living conditions of the poor.
European Christian Development Organisations such as mine, who are doing advocacy work on the EU level together (under the name of APRODEV). are joining hands with the African churches and the All African Council of Churches (AACC) in advocating the concerns of the smallholders with regard to the new European-African Economic Partnership Agreements (EPA), which will effect the African rural poor tremendously: EPAs are new free-trade agreements being negotiated between the European Union and 75 former European colonies known as the African, Caribbean and Pacific group (ACP). Under the WTO regime the so far called Cotonou agreement, which gave special access to ACP-Countries to sell certain products on European markets has to be revisited. Negotiations started in 2002 and EPAs are due to come into effect at the end of 2007. For most ACP-countries, especially for the African States, the EU is most important trade partner. Churches in Africa and European Christian development organisations agree that the new contract is going to intensify the poverty instead of easing it. The poor in Africa, so the tenor, would pay the price for the EPAs, while the winner would be the Europeans. We are bringing the concerns of the African churches to the respective EU Commission, to European and national parliamentarians and governments and hope to have at least some positive impact on the political discussions for the sake of smallholder farmers in Africa.
At the very concrete case of dumping European subsidised chicken wings in West Africa we did the same showing the concrete effects of such dumping on the local farmers. This joint African-European lobbying of Christian organisations and churches had the effect, that the government of Ghana finally stood up for the protection of its farmers against the demands and pressure of international financial organisations and the WTO and after much bargaining with support of churches in Africa and Europe got the international permission to protect its national chicken market against imports – very much against the WTO free trade logic.
An other action, where Christians join hands to plead for a fair world trade regime has been taken up by the EAA (Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance), an international network of over 90 churches and Christian organizations. The members of the EAA are cooperating in advocacy on global trade justice and on HIV/AIDS. By working together, Alliance participants are better able to challenge the policies and practices of governments, international institutions, corporations and their own communities in order to bring about a more just, peaceful and sustainable world. When the churches – and their rich array of organizations, networks, educational institutions, and agencies – agree to focus their collective energies on specific issues, important changes in global structures and local communities can be achieved.
In July 2006 representatives of the EAA and the WCC handed a “Trade for People” petition over to the Director General of the WTO Pascal Lamy. After the meeting Lamy agreed that the WTO should have an agenda of rebalancing the trade system in favour to poor countries. Furthermore he was of the opinion that the linkages between trade and human rights only become explicitly of the WTO´ s work on the decision of WTO members. There had been an explicit desire of director Lamy for continued dialogue with church-related organisations.
“Bread for the World” collaborates with major farmer networks as for example “La Via Campesina”. This network is raising the voice of more than 80 organizations of small farmers, landless people and rural workers, worldwide. It lobbies for the improvement of their work and life conditions. Through the association it is easier for smaller NGOs to make themselves heard. La Via Campesina claims fairer trade conditions, social justice and the implementation of a sustainable, environment-friendly economical way. In February 2007, 500 delegates from about 80 countries met in Nyeleni, a Malian village, for bringing forward the political concept of food sovereignty, which speaks up against WTO food policy, saying that every country should have the possibility to protect its domestic market against low price imports. The supply of the local population and the food production for regional and national markets should have priority over export and world trade. In the agriculture, natural and cultural circumstances should be considered. The access to land, water and seeds would be the basic requirement for the peasant families to put into practice their human right to food. Although not a Christian motivated movement “Bread for the World” supported this form of advocating for the voiceless peasant farmers.
d. Christians change to ethical consume and support fair trade
Trade Justice is a complicated matter. But no one should close his eyes and mouths. “Bread for the World” started a campaign to raise awareness with church communities; youth groups and the general public in Germany for food security. The motto of the campaign “No one eats alone” (‘Niemand is(s)t für sich allein’) illustrates the connection and interaction between global food production and trade and the consequences thereof for the food situation in the global North and South. The campaign joins in political calls for more just rules in the global trade and to participate in the debate regarding our consumption and our life style.
Northern consumers wield power with the choice of the food they buy. We as consumers cannot only control the supply of calories and the percentage of proteins, but also the level of processing of food and its energy consumption. When we inform us we can choose products of different production methods and from different countries of origin. Multinational companies know about the power of the consumers and therefore are very sensitive to public criticism whereof their ecological and social evils are unfolded.
And individual Christians as consumers can support the Fair Trade movement by mainly consuming fair traded (and labelled) products.


FAO, Anti-Hunger Programme: Reducing hunger through sustainable agricultural and rural development and wider access to food (2.draft 2002)
Global Donor Platform for Rural Development (Ed.), On Common Ground: A Joint Donor Rural Concept (JDRC), November 2006
The Role of Agriculture and Rural Development in Poverty Reduction. A Position Paper of NGOs, 2007 (31)
Wenche Barth Eide and Uwe Kracht (Ed.), Food and Human Rights in Development, Vol 1,, 2005 and Vol.2, 2007
Forum Umwelt & Entwicklung, Magere Bilanz – Deutsch Hungerpolitik zehn Jahre nach dem Welternährungsgipfel, 2006
Freiwillige Leitlinien zum Recht auf Nahrung, entwicklung&ländlicher raum, Beiträge zur Internationalen Zusammenarbeit, 40.Jg. Heft 1/06
Millennium Project/UNDP (2003) Halving Global Hunger, Background Paper of the Task Force II on Hunger
Reducing Food Poverty with Sustainable Agriculture: A Summary of New Evidence ed. By Centre for Environment and Society, University of Essex, 2001