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In the middle of the 21st century, it is a little confusing that the issue of the hunger appears as the second priority when we are talking about sustainability development goals – immediately after the eradication of the extreme poverty, one of the main hunger causes. It would seem that it is almost an overcome question for us or, at all events, that it is concentrated in specific places or circumstances because -although it is true that it has been achieved notable advancements in food issues during the last years- it has been impossible break the limit of 800 millions of people affected by malnutrition.
The first outbreak is focused on the direct application of food assistance measures in urgent situations. These situations usually happen in countries with very poor economic conditions or those who are involved in armed conflicts or in natural disasters. However, the great effort with malnutrition is centered on rural areas, which contains 50% of the global population and the vast majority lives as subsistence farmers. The most sustainable strategy is reducing poverty in rural areas, which requires a combination of activities: on one hand, improving the efficiency of the agriculture and farming live-stock activities but also ensuring the sustainability. Throughout the 20th century the way to improve agriculture productivity was the use agrochemical products, but now we know that there are models of agriculture production equally efficient and, with proper tillage techniques , these models can reduce the environmental impact and promote biodiversity.
After all this, socio-cultural dynamics are an important aspect that has to be taken into account. Basically, malnutrition is a rural fact and the alternatives to be carried out are linked to the rural areas: improve the productivity of the agriculture and forestry activity, promote the sustainability and ensure the biodiversity. Thus, problems and solutions are located in rural populations.
For this reason, thinking about social issues is essential. Agricultural activity is full of knowledge gained by practice. It is not easy to train a farmer only at school; it is part of a learning of techniques but also a learning of uses and habits which can be only achieved by living in rural areas. The education plays a critical role here because it has to be able to identify, recognize and transmit the knowledge that has been preserved in an informal way through generations. Aspects more related to techniques than to cultures.
In this second goal, the global sustainability proposed by the United Nations aims to ensure the access of everyone to a proper and enough nutrition; it wants to break definitely the ceiling of 800 millions of people, as it has already been done with 120 millions. Certainly, this is linked to the economic capacity because hunger is a lacking of income rather than a lacking of stock –except to some located and temporal situations where there is a lack of the necessary money to buy food. There is enough food for everyone.
Throughout this rural sustainability process, which depends on a proper agro-forestry activity, the role of women is very important. As we have reported, this is not only an issue of incorporating new techniques but a social transformation which reinforce life in very vulnerable situations. While young men migrate to the cities looking for employment opportunities, women have to stay in the rural area. Many of the above-mentioned efforts are putting into these women because they will carry out the necessary transformations at the end, or not.
This goal, as all of them, has a strong political workload. It is necessary structural measures which allow modify the direction of our producing and consuming ways. It is necessary that governments get involved in measures to achieve all the aforementioned changes. But it is also true that food is an issue that allows our direct personal implication. Our particular food options hold one agriculture style or another.
Where and how we buy food means if we support a system which boost the farmer or a system which boost the agro-industrial model. By buying local, organic and seasonal products, we are supporting a sustainable, reasonable and humanizing model. In fact, we have extended our model to southern countries and therefore farmers return to mono-cropping, losing their autonomy and forced to monitor their activity, where the income they can gain not depends on their own activity but on investment markets located miles away whose sole purpose is to maximize profits. In these markets sustainability, the value of commonality or the self-esteem of farmers aren’t listed securities.
From the educational point of view, the role of becomig responsible consumers is very important. In this context, we need a strong and resistant social commitment joint to a firm political action which allows to change the ways of thought and to understand our relationship with food. Ultimately, if we begin to study our feeding options, we will begin to develop some consistency to question other aspects such as transport, our holidays, our house or our way to understand the world and our social relationships. Education not only opens eyes to the right to food but allow to recognize the multiple factors that participate in the exercise of this right and what is it more important; it suggests habits that we can incorporate to our daily life.
This post was written by Jose Ignacio García, SJ editor and regular collaborator in Ecojesuit www.ecojesuit.com