Agriculture is key to eliminating poverty and hunger #ifadgc

By Monica Romano

The surprising announcement that was made two days ago by His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI about his resignation made me feel even more eager to hear the words he prepared to address the IFAD Governing Council. On behalf of the Pope, Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, Secretary for Relations with States of the Holy See, read in French the message.

In welcoming Msgr. Mamberti, IFAD re-confirmed President, Mr. Kanayo F. Nwanze, defined Pope Benedict as a champion of the fight against poverty and referred to the Holy Father’s encyclical letters, Caritas in Veritate, which was published in 2009. As detailed in the sub-title to the letter, which builds on the well-known Populorum Progressio by Pope Paul VI and the following Sollicitudo Rei Socialis by Pope John Paul II, the Caritas in Veritate deals with “integral human development in charity and truth”. It states that feeding the hungry is an “ethical imperative” and the elimination of world hunger is “a requirement for safeguarding the peace and stability of the planet”.

While expressing appreciation for the achievements made by IFAD under the leadership of President Nwanze and the continuous support to IFAD by the Holy See , Msgr. Mamberti highlighted some of the most successful approaches implemented by the Fund. On them, he noted harmonization and convergence with the  vision of the Holy See: the prioritization of the group and solidarity dimensions;  the focus on food security combined with the creation of decent employment opportunities; the empowerment of smallholder farmers not only economically but also in decision-making; the valorization of traditional knowledge of rural communities, which is key to protecting biodiversity; and the targeting of indigenous peoples. What I found particularly meaningful were the remarks that “a culture of gift can find a place within economic activities”; that the IFAD’s modus operandi through partnerships with Civil Society Organizations is close to the principle of “subsidiarity”, which is a pillar of the Church’s social doctrine (that is to say that if something can be done at the local/smaller level then we should go for it); that the family is at the heart of the social order; and that only love can define the better methods to support the poor.

I think that other important elements of convergence that were noted in our common efforts towards rural poverty reduction are the centrality of land-based activities and agriculture; and the support to  farmers’ associations, cooperatives and small family businesses, as a means to make farmers protagonists of their own development and that of their communities. I was surprised when I heard the Archbishop getting into a more specific technical area, when he referred to the need to provide farmers with solid training and technical assistance so that they can move from “an archaic modality of agricultural production to modern techniques” that need to be applied with prudence based on the local context. 

I have heard about and seen many success stories about rural poverty reduction. I believe that all of them have something important to do with family, solidarity and subsidiarity.