‘Fiat panis’: Let there be bread…FAO and the United Nations

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AGRICULTURE is the science, study, practice and occupation of cultivating land and the rearing of crops and livestock, farming husbandry. 

The word agriculture is derived from 17th Century Latin term ‘ager’ meaning field, land and ‘cultura’ meaning culture.  

It is further defined as ‘the cultivation and breeding of animals, major agricultural crops and other products used to sustain and enhance human life’.  

Major agricultural products are grouped mainly into foods, fibres, medicinal plants and herbs, bio fuels, and various raw materials. 

Specific foods include grains, vegetables, cooking oils, fruits, spices and meats. 

Agriculture constitutes the largest percentage of global employment.  

As of 2011, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimated approximately one billion people — over one third of the world’s workers — were employed in the global agricultural sectors; 80 percent in developing countries.  

ILO also estimates agriculture constitutes about 70 percent of the global child labour, and the largest percentage of women workers in many countries.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), of the United Nations was formed at a conference held in Canada on October 16 1945, as a permanent organisation to serve all nations in the field of food and agriculture to mitigate the challenge of providing food for all nations. 

It was established primarily as a knowledge-based organisation, a neutral forum for world nations to meet and debate policy and negotiate agreements in the mutual goal of improving agricultural output and provide sufficient food for a healthy, happy, normal life.

The history of man’s hunger is not new.  

It has been man’s curse, and an issue since Biblical times due to pestilence, droughts or floods, which at that time were perceived as curses. 

Hunger, is a result not only of adverse weather conditions and pestilence, but also due to lack of knowledge, the unfair distribution of resources and incompetent governance.  

Other factors include lack of transportation, fuel shortages, shipping disruptions, economic instability/stagnation, civil strife, and wars.  

Complex emergencies result from a combination of man-made and natural hazards. 

These generally involve violence and loss of life, the displacement of populations and extensive damage to societies and economies. 

Threats to food security include population pressures, unemployment, environmental degradation, pollution, climate change and industrial accidents.  

The number and scale of complex emergencies has surged in recent decades with the proliferation and intensification of civil conflicts. 

The idea of an international organisation for food and agriculture was initially advanced by American agriculturalist and activist David Lubin, late in the 19th — early 20th Century.  

As a result, an international conference was held in Rome, Italy, in 1905, which led to the creation of the International Institute of Agriculture.  

It was officially dissolved in 1948, and its roles were transferred to the newly established Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). 

The COVID-19 virus that engulfed the world since late-2019 and declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO), has had profound implications for global food security and nutrition. 

According to the WHO, the worst effects are yet to come as the virus is expected to circulate for a least one-two more years.

As the world intensifies its efforts to prevent and mitigate against the spread of the COVID-19, which has claimed over 6,5 million lives worldwide and almost 4 300 in Zimbabwe (as of March 2021 and August 2021, respectively).  

The unfolding crisis has affected food systems and threatened people’s access to food, including in Zimbabwe, not only through major disruption to food supply chains in the wake of lockdowns, but also through major global economic slowdown. 

These crises have resulted in lower incomes and higher food prices, making food inaccessible for many; undermining the right to food and stalling efforts to meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2 of ‘Zero hunger’.  

Even before the outbreak of the pandemic, according to FAO’S latest State of Food Security and Nutrition report, about 2 billion people faced food insecurity at the moderate or severe level. Since 2014, these numbers have been climbing, rising by 60 million over five years (FAO et al., 2020) — making FAO’s work more pertinent and urgent.

Though crises affect both rich and poor countries, children and families living in poorer communities are more vulnerable because they have fewer resources to draw on, to plan for, to cope with, and recover from adversity.

In 1943, the League of Nations (now United Nations), met in response to US President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s call for a conference on food and agriculture.  

The conference from May 18 to June 3, was held at the Homestead Resort, in Hot Springs, Virginia, US, and attended by representatives from forty-four nations, including Egypt, Ethiopia, Liberia and the Union of South Africa (South Africa) from Africa.   

Held in the midst of the Second World War, by nations working together to end the conflict, they considered world problems of food and agriculture and affirmed their belief that the goal of suitable, adequate food for the health and strength of people of all nations was realisable, and committed themselves to founding a permanent organisation for food and agriculture — the FAO. 

Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), was not eligible to become a member of the FAO since declaring UDI in 1965.   

After independence from Britain in 1980, Zimbabwe together with Bhutan, Equatorial Guinea, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and Tonga applied and were approved for membership in 1981, at the Twenty-First Session of the FAO-Conference. 

By 2017, together with the European Union (EU), a member organisation, and two associate members – the Faroe Islands and Tokelau, the organisation had 194 member states, making a total of 197 members. 

The organisation is governed by the biennial FAO Conference, in which each member country, as well as the EU, is represented.  

The conference elects a 49-Member Council, which serves as its executive organ. 

FAO gradually became more decentralised in the late 20th Century, and currently maintains offices throughout the world; with about half its personnel working in field offices, including in Zimbabwe. 

In Africa, FAO’s Regional Office is located in the Ghanaian capital of Accra.  

Ghana became Africa’s success story after more than 20 years of steady economic growth with significant poverty reduction as a result of its broad-based agricultural development.  

FAO also maintains Sub-regional offices located in Libreville, Gabon for Central Africa (SFC); Addis Ababa, Ethiopia for eastern Africa (SFE); Tunis, Tunisia for North Africa; and Harare, Zimbabwe for east and Southern Africa.

Dr Tony M. Monda BSc, DVM, is currently conducting Veterinary epidemiology, Agronomy and Food Security and Agro-economic research in Zimbabwe. He also holds a PhD. and a DBA in Post-Colonial Heritage Studies. E-mail: tonym.MONDA@gmail.com 

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