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‘Achieving Food Security From Below’ President Michael D. Higgins On Receipt of FAO Agricola Medal

Áras an Uachtaráin, 7 June 2024

Director General Qu Dongyu,



Distinguished Guests,

A cháirde,

Gabhaim mo bhuíochas ó chroí le Qu Dongyu, Ard-Stiúrthóir na hEagraíochta Bia agus Talmhaíochta, as an Bonn Agricola a bhronnadh orm, is mór an onóir dom glacadh leis.

[May I begin by thanking warmly Qu Dongyu, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organisation, for the invitation to receive the Agricola Medal, an award that I am deeply honoured to accept.]

May I further thank the Director-General for the opportunity afforded to me last October, when I was invited to present two papers at the World Food Forum, which took place at the FAO’s Headquarters in Rome.

It is important that the role played by the FAO over the last 79 years since its foundation in October 1945 is recognised. The oldest specialised agency of the United Nations, the Food and Agriculture Organisation was founded with the objective of eliminating hunger and improving nutrition and standards of living. It is surely cler to all of us that this objective remains as urgently demanding of action now as it did in that immediate post-war period.

One of my earliest engagements with the work of the FAO was as a young sociologist, using one of its handbooks for adult education from University College Galway. In its early years, FAO published a series of ‘Agricultural Development Papers’, which were made available to assist practitioners across the world. Paper number 52 in this series, first published in 1955 and first used by me in 1969, was a book called ‘Fact-Finding with Rural People’.

The usefulness of that book has stayed in my mind for over 50 years, providing as it did a handbook for the introduction to and carrying out of social research. The aim was to empower the populations which the organisation was founded to assist. This is an approach which, I suggest, has much to offer at the present time if we are to provide agency to those on the ground working to build a meaningful food security and is one of the best possible ways of ensuring that the investments which are to be made deliver real inclusive benefits for the populations which they claim to be assisting.

At the time of the publication of ‘Fact-Finding with Rural People’, one of the greatest challenges facing the FAO was that of responding to the food crisis in Asia.

The ‘Green Revolution’ which followed owed much to the work of a fellow recipient of the Agricola Medal, Dr Norman Borlaug, who was posthumously awarded the medal in 2010, one year after his death.

As Professor Glenn Denning has pointed out in his book 'Universal Food Security: How to End Hunger While Protecting the Planet' (2022), Borlaug placed a strong emphasis on training local researchers and hands-on fieldwork. Books such as ‘Fact-Finding with Rural People’ were used to involve people in the strategies which enabled the Asian food crisis to be overcome. While the region still faces significant challenges, such as stunting for example in parts of South Asia, the benefits of the approach are clear.

Throughout the world, however, the work that is required to achieve UN Sustainable Development Goal 2 – End hunger, achieve food security and improve nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture – remains significant.

There are some sobering facts which must be confronted, facts which illustrate the dysfunctionality of our current food systems: how, according to the United Nations, half of the world’s over 8 billion population are defined as malnourished, 2.4 billion people are experiencing moderate or severe food insecurity, 2.5 billion people consume low-quality diets or too much food, 3.1 billion people cannot afford a healthy diet – yet 1.6 billion tonnes of primary food production are wasted each year in what are described as ‘developed’ countries where obesity levels continue to spiral.

New data from the ‘2024 Global Report on Food Crises’ (GRFC) tells us that 2024 is the fifth consecutive year of growing numbers facing high levels of acute food insecurity. It reports that 281.6 million people, or 21.5% of the analysed population faced high levels of acute food insecurity in 59 food-crisis countries or territories in 2023.

Acute malnutrition in food crises continues to deteriorate, with over 36 million children under 5 years of age in 32 food-crisis countries affected, 10 million of whom were severely malnourished in need of urgent treatment. The report also identified some 9.3 million pregnant and breastfeeding women with acute malnutrition in 22 food-crisis countries.

Overall, more than 700,000 people in five countries/territories were projected to face IPC/CH phase 5 – Catastrophe level – in 2023. This was the highest number in Global Report on Food Crises reporting and almost double the level of 2022, with particularly stark figures in Gaza and Sudan, which were classified as food insecurity hotspots where conflict has driven a rapid increase in acute food security and malnutrition.

Indeed, conflict is now the main driver of food insecurity, affecting 135 million people across 20 territories. Economic shocks were the second driver of food insecurity, affecting 75 million people, while climate change-related weather extremes accounted for food insecurity among a further 72 million people.

Conflict and anticipation of conflict deflects interest and funding from the tasks of hunger alleviation or prevention.

In their report, ‘Trends in World Military Expenditure, 2023’, published in April, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute highlighted that world military expenditure increased for the ninth consecutive year in 2023, to a figure of $2,443 billion. This represents an annual increase of 6.8 percent, the steepest year-on-year increase since 2009 and the highest level the Institute has ever recorded. What a great failure this ratcheting up of armaments expenditure constitutes, especially at a time of existential crises, at a time when people are dying of preventable hunger.

The war in Sudan risks triggering the world’s largest hunger crisis. An immediate ceasefire is needed to prevent a complete collapse in Sudan and further regional destabilisation as millions flee into neighbouring countries. As conflict rages, 18 million people face acute hunger. Of these, nearly 5 million are in emergency levels of hunger. This is the highest number ever recorded during the harvest season.

The food crisis in Gaza is exceptional, too, for its source of crisis is entirely man-made: conflict between Israel and Hamas, including Israel’s siege of Gaza, restricted humanitarian access across the Gaza Strip, and attacks by extremists on aid convoys when people are suffering from starvation.

Gaza’s entire population, about 2.2 million people, is classified at a level of IPC-3 (‘Crisis’), IPC-4 (‘Emergency’), or IPC-5 (‘Catastrophe/ Famine’). The Center for Strategic and International Studies has noted that this represents,

“the highest share of people facing high levels of acute food insecurity […] ever classified for any given area or country.”

Despite the rhetorical commitments of so many states to responding to climate change, cohesion, and sustainability, the appalling reality is that those great human commitments, singular achievements of humanity, struggle for space in a social media where previous norms of attention to context, and responsibility for comment, no longer apply in so many instances. 

Yet hunger and famine are preventable. Of all the challenges that we face in our contemporary world, surely responding to global hunger and the vindication of the right to food security is one that is of paramount importance, a project under which we can all unite and work together to achieve.

In being inextricably linked to many of the planet’s crises, including climate change, biodiversity loss and conflict, the alleviation of global food insecurity would have multiple co-benefits. Hunger is at the heart of the involuntary mass migration which we now see, an involuntary migration which leads to contested space. It is therefore incumbent on the international community and our multilateral system to work to resolve this crisis.

While food security is a human right embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of 1966, there remain contesting approaches on how it is defined.

Arguing for the use of the term universal food security over the more commonly used global food security, Professor Glenn Denning has defined universal food security as “a world where every person enjoys a healthy diet derived from sustainable food systems”, establishing an aspiration to reach every person on Earth.

I could go further, and suggest that food security must be seen as an essential part of universal basic services and as a key contribution to the delivery of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and Agenda 2030.

For my purposes today, I have decided to concentrate on Africa – the continent of the young. Africa accounts for 20 percent of the young people of the world, a continent of over 1.4 billion people, constituting almost 17 percent of the world’s human population. A continent where those young populations must be empowered to build their own sustainable future. This requires new models of relationship built from below.

Along with Sally O’Neill of Trócaire, I was in Somalia during the ruinous famine in 1992 and witnessed horrific, preventable scenes of famine and severe malnutrition. Over nine days, we travelled to Mandera, Bellahowa, Garissa, Mogadishu and Baidoa. Upon my return, I spoke in our national parliament, the Dáil, of how on the last day I spent in Somalia a mass grave was being created. I detailed how I saw a bus collecting bodies like bundles of sticks and putting them into graves at 20 a time; the week before it was at 100 a time to one hole. Unable to identify the locations of the dead, through these mass graves the loved ones of those who died were further robbed of their capacity to grieve in line with the traditions of Somalian culture.

Writing in Hot Press magazine over the following weeks, I stated:

“Something could be learned from all this … could we not take from Somalia an impulse to build food security in Africa, and to prohibit the international sale of armaments?”

Sadly, I too often find myself asking the same question today.

The Horn of Africa has endured devastating hunger three times in the three decades since that famine of 1992. On each occasion, the world said “never again” when details of the famine were reported to the United Nations. Yet, each time, famine has returned.

Rather than repeating these words each decade, the global community does have the capacity to anticipate and prevent regional and global famines, thus giving meaning and legitimacy to the words “never again”.

In responding to such crises, there has been to date an enormous reluctance, in too many quarters, to allowing people to get beyond an immediate humanitarian response to the vital work of creating sustainable structures for the future.

Professor Glenn Denning, in his book to which I have already referred, has provided an instructive example from his experience in Malawi. Following the failure of the country’s maize crop during the 2004-05 rainy season, the United Nations launched a ‘flash appeal’.

In close coordination with the Malawian government led by President Bingu wa Mutharika, a recipient of the Agricola Medal in 2009, the appeal had a two-track approach. The first track, with a proposed allocation of $50m, was targeted at addressing immediate humanitarian needs. At the same time, a second track, with a proposed allocation of $36m, was designed to allow the Malawi government to take the necessary actions to minimise the likelihood of another food-shortage driven humanitarian crisis arising the following year.

While $49m of the proposed $50m was provided by international donors for the first track, only $7.8m – less than a quarter of what was requested and only 14% of the total raised – was provided for the second track which would have helped prevent future famines. Undeterred, President Mutharika embarked on a nationwide Farm Input Subsidy Program which has demonstrated remarkable results over the years since and greatly contributed to food security in Malawi.

Yet, despite these successes, Denning has shown that international donors continued to decline to assist the programme. He quotes President Mutharika’s remarks at the World Economic Forum on Africa in Cape Town in June 2008, where the President said:

“The president was supposed to do a ritual every year, going down on your knees and saying ‘Please help us, give us food’. Until 2004, when I said ‘Enough is enough. I am not going on my knees to beg for food.  Let us grow the food ourselves.’ And indeed we have.”

On this issue, and on many others covered in his book, ‘Universal Food Security: How to End Hunger While Protecting the Planet’ published by Colombia University Press in 2022, I believe that Glenn Denning has made a seminal contribution. It is my firm view, one that follows a number of returns to it, that it is simply one of the best books in the field of food security and I have described it as a book which covers all of the ground, from the basics of soils to what is needed in the field in human terms if we are to achieve food security.

In making this contribution, Denning has drawn on his extensive experience as a former member of a High Level Technical Group for the Secretary General of the United Nations, and particularly from his leadership in a number of countries in Africa and in responding to Kofi Annan’s proposals for a uniquely African Green Revolution.

I have been pleased to discuss these matters here at Áras an Uachtaráin with Professor Denning, to whom I spoke by telephone yesterday, and we plan to discuss them further over the coming period. I might further note that he has sent his apologies that he cannot be present here with us today, as he is currently in Timor-Leste working to advance food security in that small country that has been so crippled by the effects of climate change, conflict and colonialism.

The one gap, and it is a significant one, that is there between Professor Denning and I, and it is one which we have discussed and which I believe is very resolvable, is in relation to the role of the market in responding to what are multiple crises. I give precedence to food security from below, to meeting need before surplus for export.

Enhancing and ensuring regular food supply is a prerequisite for universal food security, but increasing production through intensive industrialized methods, or expansion of area cultivated, as is suggested in so many of the Dakar compacts, is not, may I suggest, the answer. Indeed, as Glenn Denning has also noted, expansion of arable land is likely to result in even further loss of forests and biodiversity.

Sustainable intensification has been advocated by many, including Denning. As a model of increasing output, it proposes to involve more scientific use of water, new seeds to bring in higher yields under situations of abiotic and biotic stress, irrigation of previously unproductive land, or changes in post-harvest methods to increase the utilised output per unit of land.

However, such a science-focused industrial agriculture, privileging as it does so often the cash crop, overlooks the need to allow a space for the employment of local wisdom in food security models, and to provide for small farmer agency, diversity of crops, and the privileging of a priority for meeting diverse local needs with essential nutritious human food systems.

I believe it is clear, based on the descriptive statistics that I have outlined, that our food production system is broken. May I therefore suggest that what is then needed is not an intensification within existing economic models, built for a different context and the benefit of others, but rather new food production and distribution models built by and for the populations using them. This is an approach which necessarily moves from sufficiency to surplus to export.  The ‘Ireland FAO Framework Agreement’ of February 2021 and the ‘FAO and Ireland Partnership Report 2014-2020 - Partnering for a peaceful, equal and sustainable world’ acknowledge these principles.

Such models must deal with local realities, and benefit from evidence ‘from below’. May I suggest that one initiative which may be of valuable assistance in this task, and which builds on the work of the FAO over the decades, would be what I would describe as ‘the great giving back’.  By which I mean that tools of investigation and analysis used in a previous century for colonizing purposes are now being put into new hands to be used in an emancipatory way including the achievement of food security.

By this, I am suggesting that there would be a great benefit in a reversal of the bad anthropology of the colonising period and its legacies, with the tools of anthropology now being used in the current context by Africans themselves to examine the real experiences on the ground of the impact of initiatives which are advanced or introduced in the name of assisting them, doing such would help to empower them with the information necessary to build their own future and critique proposals from the State and non-State institutions. Science and technology skills transfer surely also fits well with the project of contributing to the undoing of and compensating for loss and damage.

Mirroring the approach of ‘Fact-Finding with Rural People’ of all those years ago, such an approach could, by beginning on the ground and by using the traditional tools of anthropology and social investigation redefine the concept of development, this time not as a tool of the coloniser, but as a shared and understood strategy for African purposes. Such a model – emerging from a new, empirical and peer-reviewed anthropology guided by the new scholars, including from Africa and the Global South – offers a transparency and a security that a complete dependency on the market indicators of the international food value chain can never offer.

The FAO is uniquely placed, and given its history, to revise and amend the elements of concern in the Dakar compacts.

It is a challenging project for consideration in interdisciplinary work and will show how the critical integration of ideas from scholars such as Polanyi, Gramsci and Scott might inform debates on a fair model of globalisation.

I believe that ‘globalisation from below’ can pattern and strengthen responses to the interacting crises of our time, including global hunger, and can strengthen transitions to democracy.

What we are now seeing emerge from what is often termed the ‘Global South’ is a range of movements that are, while not perhaps using the term, advocating ‘globalisation from below’, a project that can undo some of the damage that an unaccountable, uncriticised ‘globalisation from above’ has delivered on institutions and on people’s lives.

We have already seen such scholarship begin to emerge from African scholars, assisted by empirical scholarly work by those such as Padraig Carmody, in collaboration with among others, African scholars, providing a tool of evaluation and initiation which has the potential to extend and deepen democracy.

Such a project as ‘globalisation from below’ can foster a participatory economy, challenge the rise of unaccountable policies and development initiatives controlled by elites which have been such a major source of the corrosive disenfranchisement and falling cohesion that is so manifest, North and South, one that has resulted in what Jürgen Habermas described as far back as 1975 in the European Union as a “legitimation crisis”.

‘Globalisation from below’ can also draw on (post-) dependency sociology, perhaps such as that expounded by African scholars such as Carlos Lopes. That work demonstrates how a better symmetry between ethics, economy and ecology can be achieved, how a renewal of life on our planet can be realised through transformational change and ethically grounded development policy.

I believe too, that one cannot talk about food security without talking about the neglected issue of African debt, and the making of adequate provision for the transfer and application of science and technology within a democratic community model.

Previously self-sustaining rural regions, especially in Africa and Asia, are now increasingly dependent on national and global food markets, resulting in an unnecessary exposure to the whims of market forces, problems arising from a lack of foreign exchange, political unrest, or lack of, or disruption in, transportation and logistics.

The ‘Global Report on Food Crises 2024’ contains an outlook for the short to medium-term which makes for grim reading. Further conflict, especially in Gaza and Sudan as well as Haiti will continue to be the main driver of acute food insecurity. Food-importing territories, especially those with weakening currencies, are still grappling with high domestic food prices and weak household purchasing power, with annual food inflation ranging from 38 percent to 103 percent in Nigeria, Malawi, Palestine, Zimbabwe and Lebanon.

Unsustainable debt levels amid high interest rates and currency depreciation are expected to further constrain the fiscal capacity of governments to support their populations.

Indeed, some of the basic structural issues that have influenced food insecurity have yet to be fully examined. How did so many in Africa, for example, become so dependent on so few staples, the production, distribution and consumption of which they have so little control? How did the complex dependencies of global value chains develop and how are they sustained?

There is also the problem, which has two dimensions, of food waste. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has estimated that food loss and food waste are responsible for 8-10% of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.

Yes, there are some significant gains to be made in reducing waste associated with transport, refrigeration, and production at the African level, but this is a broader North/South problem and it requires a broader solution. The UNEP Food Waste Index Report 2021 estimated that 931 million metric tonnes of food waste were generated in 2019, with 61% from households, 26% from food services and 13% from retail.

While I fundamentally disagree with him on his over-reliance on marketization, it is to Denning’s credit that among the ten important measures he suggests on ending hunger while protecting the environment is social protection. The model which I advocate is one that goes further in stressing African 'agency'. By a reuse of the tools provided in ‘Fact-Finding with Rural People’ all those years ago on the Asian food crisis, and which I myself used in 1969, it is possible to put communities in charge of the model in an economically literate way by using innovative educational tools.

It is about giving agency to Africa and Africans to decide their future.

The compacts developed under sponsorship as part of the African Development Bank’s Dakar II initiative, ‘Feed Africa: Food Sovereignty and Resilience’, the latest addition to the bank’s longstanding Feed Africa programme, aim to increase industrial agriculture within existing international trade models as an essential pathway to food security. This I believe is not only deeply flawed, but disempowering.

While the volumes of money being mentioned in these contexts are welcome, how the involvement and ultimate benefit from such sums are to be foreseen is a matter worthy of discussion, and indeed within the larger context of the future of the United Nations due to be discussed in New York this autumn.

My own view, one which I have expressed in the papers I delivered in Rome and Dakar last year, is that we now need to move beyond simple measures of output and intensification, and instead build an approach which can focus on reforms that break food dependency and privilege smallholders of land, allowing for the retention of African land in African ownership. These approaches will include agro-ecology, as one part of many of a solution appropriately adjusted for demographic and cultural realities.

A new race for land, financed by large corporations is under way in Africa. I oppose, as does Professor Howard Stein, the De Soto model on land tenure, which suggests using land titles as collateral for private bank loans, knowing, as many do, its consequences, as happened with its application in Central America in the past, including for women farmers, often dispossessing them of their fields. The De Soto model is in some of the Dakar compacts - mentioned, for example, for Lesotho.

I am concerned about initiatives that solely focus on a one-size-fits-all approach and that places an emphasis on large-scale monocropping, formal seed systems, and high-tech solutions such as climate-smart agriculture, digital and precision agriculture, and chemical inputs. These methods are so often placed out of reach for small-scale farmers owing to their cost, threaten their autonomy and traditional practices, and pose risks to the environment. This is a view which African Leaders have shared in recent conversations with me.

It is important that any approach that seeks 'agency' takes cognisance of the need for inclusivity, environmental sustainability, and the long-term viability of small-scale farming.

A recalibrationin the approaches being discussed and published towards more holistic, inclusive, and sustainable approaches is necessary to ensure that the development of African agriculture benefits all stakeholders and preserves the continent’s rich biodiversity and agricultural heritage. The modes of production of food too, we must never forget, have huge and diverse cultural significance.

Our broken connection with nature is not any accident. It was supported by a body of intellectuals’ work that facilitated an expression of power through colonisation, exploitation and domination. This involved rejecting ancient wisdom, certain indigenous methods of crop rotation and other practices of food provision. The enforced embracing of externally imposed market practices was seen as fundamental to the idea of ‘progress’ in human achievement.

An alternate paradigm is possible, one that accepts the challenge and obligations of a science delivered within the norms of social responsibility. One needs only to think of the kind of scientists like Nobel prize-winner William Campbell who insisted that his discoveries in science be used to pioneer treatment of river blindness in Latin America and in Africa. Professor Campbell falls into that great tradition exemplified by the great Dr Jonas Salk who believed that scientific discovery should benefit all, without borders, state or economic.

Alas, the outcome of our disastrous exploitative paradigm is one of deep inequity. What a tragedy it is, how utterly unjust, that those who contributed least to climate change are bearing the heaviest burden of its consequences. Nine out of the ten most climate-vulnerable countries in the world are in sub-Saharan Africa.

The model for achieving food security which I am suggesting would allow for a diversity of measures capable of adaptation in different circumstances. For instance, if 9 out of 10 of the most climate-vulnerable centres are in sub-Saharan Africa, then a variety of options rather than a single approach is what is appropriate.

As to carbon emissions, of the 20 countries most affected by climate change, between them they account for only 0.55 percent of global emissions. Any internationally agreed policy response to climate change must be cognisant of this fact.

It must also be cognisant of the urgency in the most recent reports last month which tell us of the despair of scientists and experts as we crash through a warming limit of 1.5° Celsius towards 2.5° Celsius. Our most senior scientists work in an atmosphere of what they have described as a betrayal of what were global commitments for the future of humanity. 

Rising temperatures, shifting rainfall patterns, and increasing frequency of extreme weather events pose significant threats to agricultural productivity, livelihoods and, ultimately, food security. For millions of smallholder farmers who depend on rain-fed agriculture for their sustenance, each unpredicted drought or flood can spell disaster, pushing them further into poverty and hunger.

The World Bank has reported that 96% of arable land in sub-Saharan Africa is rain-fed, with the population of Africa increasing at a rate of approximately 2.6% per annum. It is possible to address rain-fed dependency in African food production through for example irrigation but with water systems suitable for small holding and communal use based on not just the capture of green water but also the use of blue and grey water.

The interconnected nature of the multiple crises that we face together in our contemporary world remains lost to so many, including those with power and influence. We must recognise, and with urgency, the links between food insecurity, global poverty, debt and climate change. The climate change agenda is deeply intertwined with the development agenda, including through the presence or absence of a human rights dimension in the definition and practice of development initiatives.

All of these issues are of course dramatically challenged by a shift to military expenditure at the cost of the discourse on international co-operation on issues we share – global hunger, migration, dispossession.

We are all challenged not to allow the shadows under which we are living today, our multiple, interconnected crises, to defeat what are our best hopes, including the implementation of international agreements such as the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda, agreements which have intergenerational appeal across our planet in peril.

I look forward to seeing agreed reforms in September’s Summit of the Future which represents a critical opportunity to enhance cooperation on critical challenges, address gaps in global governance, reaffirm existing commitments including to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the United Nations Charter, and move towards a reinvigorated multilateral system that is better positioned to positively impact people’s lives. We must consider ways to lay the foundations for more effective global cooperation that can deal with today’s challenges as well as new threats in the future.

The Summit of the Future at the United Nations in September must recognise the links between food insecurity, global poverty, migration, debt and climate change.

I believe that what I’m proposing in this model of ground based communal strategies offers agency, the best prospect for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, and a better economics for a future in which Africans – from all of their villages – will want to participate in good government.

I see Africa, South America and Asia as crucial sources for the radical new connections between ethics, economics and society the world needs.

To increase production there may well be need in part and in special circumstances for intensification, but that intensification must be in the control of the majority, allow agency and, above all, access to land and land security for women.

All of which I have been speaking about returns us to what is a post-colonial relationship with Mother Nature from which not one continent, but all of humanity can benefit.

We now need best ecological practices in agriculture, including agro-ecology, to become widespread. This is substantially different from mere adjustments to the productionist agronomy model, a colonially imposed food system which has exacerbated food insecurity by creating over-dependence on a small number of staples and an over-reliance on imported fertiliser, pesticide and seeds.

We are thus faced with a policy choice: a surrender to a version of technos taken or given that can serve international conglomerates with ever increasing clear monopolistic features, or making a new start, one that gives agency to smallholders and their communities.

Ensuring that our food production models promote greater autonomies, are informed by local wisdoms, respect the seed sovereignty of native practices and indigenous peoples, taking cognisance of the consequences of large-scale land and water resource ownership and soil fertility maps – all of this is critical to delivering food security.

Increases in food production must be sustainable, even as we continue to lose land to environmental degradation and climate change, with all the horrific attendant loss of biodiversity that is involved.

Regionally led initiatives, devised, managed and implemented by the countries of the region, and supported by predictable and sustainable funding, are key to addressing long-term peace, justice and sustainable living. Some of the initiatives already underway as part of the African Union’s Agenda 2063, and other visionary policies, show us that such a transformation is possible.

The existential challenges that face us today – be it global hunger, malnutrition and poverty, sustainability, biodiversity loss and climate change – they all require us, I suggest, to arrive at a new enhanced consciousness, a new point of balance, concord, resonance, agreement as to managing and sustaining the means to survival itself. Such a new consciousness must be one that seeks peace, recognises interdependence, aspires towards making war unnecessary, of global peaceful co-existence.

How appropriate it is that the word ‘Agricola’ – the award I receive today – is the Latin term for ‘farmer’. It is farmers around the world, custodians of the land, who will be responsible for the delivery of our new model of food production that will ultimately bring about a food-secure existence on this shared, fragile, vulnerable planet. We must work with our diverse groups of farmers in our world in support of this goal, recognising that the production, distribution and consumption of food are inextricably connected and require awareness and change from us all.

Let us take meaningful steps to enable a fruitful re-engagement with nature using the best of tools available to us, including notably anthropology. Indeed, all of the tools of social science.

We are challenged to embark on a new beginning, one that is inclusive, life-affirming and celebratory of diversity, one that can work in a variety of settings, one that adequately responds to climate change and the needs of sustainability, one that offers best prospects for avoiding unnecessary conflict and achieving peace within and between peoples.

We must endeavour, together, in our diverse world, seek to construct such a co-operative, caring and non-exploitative global civilisation.

We have an opportunity to make this century the century in which we rid the planet once and for all of global hunger, one that will see a shared commitment to a global food-secure family, one based on the firm foundations of respect for each nation’s own institutions, traditions, experiences and wisdoms, founded on a recognition of the solidarity that binds us together as humans, and an acknowledgement of the responsibility we share for our vulnerable planet and the fundamental dignity of all those who hold life on it.

May I thank once again the Food and Agriculture Organisation and Director-General Qu Dongyu for the honour which you have bestowed on me by the award of his medal.

Mo bhuíochas don chroí leat.

Thank you.