Unification News for August 1996


Alimentary Self-Sufficiency

by Massimo Trombin-Rome, Italy

This article was published in the Italy IRFF magazine "Senza Frontiere" and given as part of a series of talks by Massimo Trombin in the public schools of Italy.

The International Relief Friendship Foundation is a non-governmental organization (N.G.O.) dedicated to relief activities, addressing such problems as poverty, malnutrition and disease. Its purpose is to make a positive contribution toward social change and for a more harmonious and balanced progress. One important condition in fulfilling this program is to teach people about the root of the problem and to look for potential long-lasting solutions.

From ancient times, the food supply has been one of the most debated issues, a problem generally presented to public opinion with negative images and suggestions. When this problem arises, it is always connected to a famine, a war or the so-called "Third World" countries. In fact, this issue needs a positive, concrete and constructive approach. We will never be able to solve the problem without tackling it from this perspective.

For the "insiders", people working in relief, humanitarian organizations, cooperative programs, non-governmental agencies and so on, knowing the difference between the problems of developed and underdeveloped countries is a must. In this context, it is important to point out that our prosperity has precise historical and social roots; today, however, it is no longer justifiable to allow the destruction or excessive preservation of foodstuffs in the western world in order to keep consumer prices at a profitable level while other human beings are starving. I think that this kind of behavior, pursued and justified for market reasons, is morally outrageous.

All of this creates the conditions for those in the "control room" to keep on growing rich through loans and grants, while deceptive relief organizations are taking advantage of it. An example is the Italian cooperative intervention in Somalia in which public funds were misused; this causes one to wonder whether a profitable market has been created, focused on "hunger", too!

The reality of hunger is clearly connected to poverty, ignorance, unchecked development policies, exploitation and systems grounded in selfishness. It is therefore natural to wonder whether it will ever be possible to find solutions to the problem of hunger. On this issue, we can be divided into two groups: those trusting humankind's "good" side and those believing that injustice and wickedness are and will always be part of human beings. The latter are those who generally live by compromises and self-excuses, acknowledging their defeat even before trying to bring about change. The problem is that most people think and act on the basis of such conclusions, which are passive and negative. This may look like a simple or skin-deep analysis, but it highlights the subject. How many Italians are really aware of the problem? How deep is the conscience of Western public opinion about the question of hunger and poverty? How much do we realize the cost in human terms of having sugar or coffee on our tables?

I don't blame anyone, but the fact is that there is no clear awareness of the difference between the north and south of the world. For example, a northerner might ask a Kenyan if there are cars in his country, whereas an African might think that in Europe he will find the land of abundance and happiness, when in reality 20 million people are without jobs. It is evident that in both cases misinformation and stereotyped ideas of mutual realities are rampant. There is no exchange, no true contact and the superficiality of the relationship results in superficial behaviors and conclusions. As a matter of fact, if we want to make some progress, we need to devise new methods of welfare distribution and management; this must be done from the lowest to the highest levels of society. Large organizations monopolize their efforts according to their own charters or purposes, often without considering basic needs and, in the specific case of hunger, without adopting an intervention policy which takes the local necessities into account. Without sustainable development, hunger and poverty will not decrease, but will increasingly become real scourges; maybe by that time we will realize how costly sugar and coffee were for us!

Many of us have often heard of resource exhaustion, but actually the more time passes by, the more products are available to the service of human beings, in every field, especially as far as food is concerned. Instead of talking about resource exhaustion, we should talk of those who want to continue excessive consumption in wealthy countries, to the detriment of the "rest". After all, advanced societies have got serious problems; just think how much money is spent on advertising and research to solve the problem of excessive weight (diet) or cat food! So we can imagine the scale of priorities.

Suppose every Italian would skip dinner once a week for 12 months and the proceeds of such a sacrifice were allocated for the planning of farming development programs in a nation at risk in the southern hemisphere. Suppose we save $10 per dinner and multiplied by 60 million people (the population of Italy). Try to calculate how much money would be raised in one year and you will soon realize how easy (ideally) it is to solve the problem of hunger in the world. Therefore, we should feel morally responsible when someone less fortunate suffers and dies by not receiving one more handful of rice.

Massimo Trombin is the executive director of I.R.F.F. Italy.


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