President delivers a keynote message at a session on, ‘Mobilising Generation Zero Hunger’

Sat 26th Sep, 2015 | 14:00
location: UN Headquarters, New York

Address at the Mobilising Generation Zero Hunger Event

United Nations, New York, 26th September 2015

Good afternoon to you all.

I am delighted to see today that the Zero Hunger challenge has brought together here today the key UN agencies working on food security and hunger. This collaboration and unity of purpose is key to our success as a global community, and Ireland is proud to co-host this event as an expression of the great importance which we attach to the issues of combating hunger, scaling up nutrition and achieving food security.

Drawing on our own historical experience of famine, the Irish Government has placed the fight to end hunger and under-nutrition at the centre of our foreign policy.  One fifth of Ireland’s development cooperation budget is directed to hunger reduction and scaling up nutrition.

We do this not simply because we remember our own past, but because we feel that none of us should ignore the tragedy that is famine for a people. We believe that it is simply unacceptable that eight hundred million people are hungry in a world of plenty.  This is one of the greatest failures of contemporary life and it indicts our global policies and actions. 

We believe that the source of hunger is not a lack of food, it is in endemic poverty that is sourced in injustice, sustained and deepened by inequality – an inequality that we can have the capacity to address if we build the political will required for a new departure in our global interdependence.

The powerful idea we gather around today is that hunger can be eliminated in our lifetimes.  Indeed, the achievements of China in particular under the MDG process provide great hope for what can be achieved in this regard.

It is appropriate too that today’s event should focus on youth and particularly on the role of young people in areas such as farming and food production and the recognition that their commitment and consciousness is central to this great challenge.  Under-nutrition causes almost half of all child deaths in the world today; on the other hand good nutrition can unlock healthy lives enabling productive workforces to emerge and, above all, maximise the potential of our youth and release their personal and social flourishing as citizens.

Africa’s population is expected to double reaching two billion people by 2050.  With growing numbers to feed, and an unequal position in global trade, and a financialised global economy, depleted natural resources, a concerted global effort will be needed to eliminate hunger, and particularly in Africa. I believe that retaining young people on the land and empowering them to give a lead in the necessary processes of change in food production is key to achieving our goals.

Last November, I travelled to Ethiopia and Malawi, where Ireland has well established development aid programmes. In both countries I witnessed the success that could be achieved through “Enhancing Community Resilience Programmes”, where comprehensive interventions include crop diversification, village savings and loan clubs, community seed banks, livestock “pass on” schemes, energy efficient stoves, and micro irrigation combined to support prosperous village communities.

In all areas, the economies of these village communities are built around family farming, and the importance of family farming was recognised last year by the UN when it declared 2014 as the International Year of Family Farming.

Family farms use the skills of all family members to assist in the development of their farm enterprise, but young farmers can play a leading role in the changes and innovation in land use that will be essential to meet the needs of sustainable agriculture, as they often hold the necessary reservoir of the skills, gained through education and training, and innovation.

Young women play a particularly important role in rural communities and research has shown that when women can access land, are included in farm decisions and farm business, innovation and diversification often follow. Women are also the key actors in good nutrition and in raising the next generation of farmers and rural entrepreneurs.

Partnership between farming and education and research is another essential component to the Zero Hunger Challenge – both in terms of improving productivity and increasing the nutrition of the food that is produced.

At the level of policy too, our young farmers and researchers, informed and empowered with knowledge about the combined challenges of nutrition and sustainability, will lead the critical work of raising global ambition on issues such as climate change. They must be empowered to participate in the decision-making processes and the global public discourse on these issues.

In conclusion, I am delighted that Ireland has been able to play a leading role in today’s event and that we have recently been in a position to support the work of the World Food Programme, through a doubling of core funds to the Programme which is a recognition of their role and performance to date, and also as recognition of the growing demands on the Programme in many parts of the world.

Ireland is committed to playing its part. We must also draw on the ample energy and resolve in the room today.  You are committed, and your Governments are now committed explicitly through the Sustainable Development Goals which have been agreed here this week.

Let us harness our hopes and, more, our energies, to establish it as a moral imperative of our generation and times that we at last achieve the goal of eliminating hunger in our world by 2030.