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M. Vijay Gupta: Address to World Summit 2015

Address to World Summit 2015, Seoul, Korea, August 27 to 31, 2015

Madam Dr. Hak Ja Han Moon, founder of the Sunhak Peace Prize; Dr. Thomas Walsh, president of the Universal Peace Federation and secretary general of the Sunhak Peace Prize Foundation; excellencies; honourable delegates; media representatives; ladies and gentlemen, a very good morning to you all.

It is a great honor and privilege for me to be talking in front of you today. Let me express my sincere gratitude to our host, the Sunhak Peace Prize Foundation, and its founder, Madam Dr. Hak Ja Han Moon.

My talk will focus on food security, global peace and the role of small-scale farmers in [creating a] food-secure and peaceful world.

Poverty and Hunger

Buddha once said that the greatest disease of all mankind is “hunger.” Today, poverty and hunger are the most devastating problems facing the developing world. Over 800 million [people] or one in nine of the global population go to bed hungry every day. All most all of them, or 13.5% of the population, are in developing countries. Micronutrient deficiencies, which some people call a “hidden hunger,” in one form or another affects more than 2 billion people globally, i.e., one in three of global population. If we look at the situation with regard to children, some 250 million children are at risk of vitamin A deficiency, and an equal number from deficiency of minerals, such as iron; zinc; calcium, etc. Nearly 25,000 children under the age of five die every day, one third of them due to malnutrition. These statistics are difficult to digest, but are true. Spiralling food prices in the last few years may further aggravate this situation.  We are witnessing this bleak picture in the present world that has the resources and knowledge to avert such a disaster and [can] provide the fundamental right of people to [have] adequate food and to [be free] from hunger and malnutrition.

In 2000, the world’s leaders set a target to halve the [proportion of people who suffer from] hunger and malnutrition by 2015, this year, through the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). While countries have made some progress, hunger and malnutrition still remain major problems for most of the developing countries.

Future Food Demand

While this is the situation that prevails now, let us briefly look at what the situation will be in the future. The global population has crossed the 7 billion mark and it is the first time in recorded history that the population doubled in the span of one generation, and it is scheduled to cross the 9 billion mark by 2050. We can understand the enormity of this situation with the fact that we [would] need to build a new city of a population of 1 million every five days in developing countries [between now and 2050]. It has been estimated by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations that to meet world demand for food in 2050, we [would] need to increase food production by 60% globally, and by 90 to 100% in developing countries. The enormity of this situation can be further gauged from the fact that more food would have to be produced in the next 35 years than what was produced in the last 8,000 years. A fundamental question for science and for all of us is whether it is possible to increase food production of this magnitude at a time when: (i) resources are depleting; (ii) the impact of climate change from  global warming is expected to result in an increase in the frequency of droughts and floods and (iii) the benefits of the green revolution are diminishing, [which has led to a] call for a second green revolution;  some are even calling for an ”evergreen revolution.” Research undertaken by the International Food Policy Research Institute indicates that many crop yields will actually decrease by 25% in the next 35 years due to climate change. If we are not able to meet the projected demand for food, the consequences will be increased poverty and malnutrition in developing countries, leading to political unrest.

A question we need to ask ourselves is whether the food insecurity that we are witnessing today is due to insufficient production of food in the world. Even in countries where there is enough food, there is hunger and under-nourishment. Unless people have purchasing power, they will not be able to access food even if it is available in the country or in the markets. Economic access to food happens only when households generate sufficient income to produce or purchase food. Hence, food security is linked with poverty reduction and eradication.

Food Security and Peace

Let us briefly look at the link between food security and peace.

Poverty and hunger threaten peace everywhere and are seen as underlying causes of endemic conflict and civil violence. All of us are aware of the food crisis of 2007-2008 when food prices rose dramatically worldwide, pushing an estimated 105 million people into poverty in low-income countries, causing political and economic instability and social unrest. While food insecurity situations in some countries are caused by conflicts, it is mostly socio-economic inequities, such as an unequal distribution of land and other natural resources that are responsible for food insecurity. The call for action to eliminate hunger, poverty and injustice that form the social bed of violence continues to get louder every day. For lasting peace [to be achieved], we need to address [the] underlying issues that deter sustainable development and make society a fertile terrain for conflict, such as food insecurity; poverty and lack of human development.

According to the World Bank, the high price of food and energy is leading to potentially serious tensions and social unrest in at least 33 developing countries, where many families are forced to spend half to three-quarters of their income on food (while in the developed world this figure is less than 15%). For these people, hunger is an ever-present reality and threat. Often, the right to food for them exists only in documents—documents that they have never seen or have heard of.

It has been observed that poverty and deprivation are the underlying causes of endemic conflict and civil violence. Much of this deprivation is in rural areas where 70% of the world’s poor live on less than $1 a day and they must be the priority target for poverty reduction efforts and food security.

I strongly believe that sustainable peace, whether it is within the family, among communities, religions, or across political borders, can be achieved only when issues of poverty and hunger are addressed.

Fish, Food Security and Peace

In this context, let me humbly and briefly mention my efforts in the last five decades, looking at how fish farming or aquaculture—through making science relevant to the needs of the farming community in developing countries, including war-torn countries, such as Laos, and least developed countries, such as Bangladesh—can bring changes to the lives and livelihoods of the rural poor by providing adequate food and nutrition security.

Let me briefly touch on the role fish play in food security and indirectly [on its role] in [creating] a peaceful world.  When we think of “fish,” perhaps we think of oceans, reefs, rivers, and restaurants, but we do not think of malnutrition, high infant mortality rates, [and so forth]. It is a well known fact that fish are a rich source of protein, essential fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, and a major source of animal protein to people in developing countries. Fish provides over 4.5 billion of the global population with at least 15% of their animal protein intake. From an economic standpoint, fish is by far the most internationally traded commodity, with the global trade in fish estimated to be around $ 160 billion per annum. In many countries, foreign currency earned through exporting fish is used for imports of other food items. In addition, fish farming is environmentally friendly compared to the production of other animal proteins, such as beef and pork.

Some of you may be aware of the fact that changing weather patterns due to global warming, urban development, the depletion of natural resources, and overfishing are emptying seas and rivers of fish, affecting populations in Asia and Africa, where the poor find it difficult to obtain a regular supply of protein from food and are dependent on fishing for their livelihoods. It is estimated that we need to produce an additional 30 million tons of fish by 2030 to meet current demand, based on current consumption patterns. Much of this demand has to be met through aquaculture as oceans and rivers continue to be overexploited and depleted.

Rev. Dr. Sun Myung Moon has rightly identified the potential of oceans and other aquatic systems as a major source for contributing to food security and peace.

Reaching the Unreached

As stated earlier, a question often asked is whether increased production by itself will solve the problem of food insecurity in the world. Since the beginning of the 20th century, there has been more food per capita available than ever before; yet, nearly a billion people go hungry and are undernourished worldwide [each year]. Over 30% of food produced, or roughly 1.3 billion tons per year, is wasted from the production to consumption stage. While in developing countries, the loss takes place during the production to marketing stage because of lack of infrastructure for processing and facilities for storing food, in developed countries, the loss or waste primarily [occurs] during the purchase to consumption stage. Hence, it is access to food, not inadequate food production that is important. Unless we address the issue of poverty reduction and increase access to food in poorer communities, we will not be able to solve the problem of food security.

Over 80% of food globally is produced by small-scale farmers, and over 90% in developing countries. Fisheries and aquaculture contribute to increased incomes by providing food security to over 10% of the global population. So, ensuring the survival and livelihoods of small-scale farmers is of utmost importance. As the Chinese proverb says:

“give a man a fish, he eats for a day; while teach a man how to farm fish, he eats every day.”

My work over the years has focused on reaching the unreached with aquaculture technologies and capacity building of resource-poor, small-scale farmers for sustainable development, in different parts of the world. My first efforts involved developing technologies that could be sustained by the rural poor and landless with the meagre resources they have available to them. This meant going to farmers and understanding the social, cultural and economic [conditions in which they live and work], along with the natural resources they are endowed with, and developing simple, low-cost, low-risk technologies that could be adopted and sustained by them. This approach—which began in the 1970s in India, followed by other Asian countries and subsequently adopted by African countries—has resulted in a multi-fold increase in fish production, and laid the foundation for what we call today as “blue revolution.” For example, aquaculture production, which was about 1.3 million tons in the 1970s in India, has increased to over 4.2 million tons today. Likewise, aquaculture production in Bangladesh has increased from around 75,000 tons in the 1980s to over a million tons today. This innovation has not only resulted in increased production of fish, but has also improved the livelihoods of millions of rural households.

Rural development & Integrated Farming

If small-scale farmers and the poor are to benefit from farming, we have to think of aquaculture in the context of rural development. Systems developed in Asia for integrating aquaculture with crop and livestock farming that are now being tried in Africa has resulted in an increase in household incomes and diversification of food crops, [grown] with less risk and in environmentally friendly conditions. For example, the work we did in Asia integrating fish farming with rice farming showed rice productivity increased by 9-11%. Integration was achieved with little to no use of pesticides, leading to a better environment.

Access to Resources

Having developed technologies for small scale-farmers, we looked at ways and means of bringing the benefit of aquaculture to the vast number of landless people. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the International Labour Organisation, of the more than1 billion people who work in agriculture globally, nearly half are landless and work as laborers. Of the approximately 240 million children who go to work globally, 60% are employed in agriculture, including fisheries and aquaculture.  Poverty is the root cause for why these children work instead of going to school. To address this issue to some extent, we joined hands with some grassroots NGOs to form groups of 5-10 landless people. We motivated, trained and assisted them with leasing public and private water resources and [helped them to] start farming fish. The technologies we developed were so simple that even children could participate in farming activities without any hindrance to [attending school]. Unutilised aquatic resources are used and, at the same time, livelihoods among landless households are created. This approach has been a success and is being followed in many countries throughout Asia and Africa.

Women’s Empowerment

Now let me say a few words about our work empowering rural women through fish farming.

We are all well aware the role women have been playing in the global political scene, in the management of corporations, [and in various industries].  We have a number of role models at this gathering. [While this] situation probably holds true in the urban [landscape, it does]  not for the rural [one].

In my work, we looked at many poor rural communities in different countries. In all of these communities, the family is dependent on the meagre earnings of a male member of the family, and women are confined to their homes and have no or few means of income. In spite of the various chores the woman performs daily in the family, the husband says “my wife does not work” because she does not bring any cash income.  Because of this, rural women do not have any say in running family affairs, nor do they have a face in society. It was observed that the calorie intake of these women is 30% less than those of men, as they do not get enough to eat. Our work has involved [enabling] these rural women to contribute to household income and food security through aquaculture. It was not an easy task. It took much effort to motivate and convince them [to learn aquaculture], because in some cases, cultural or religious stigmas came into play. But once [they learned and saw the benefits of] aquaculture for their family, there was no going back. This resulted in an increase in their household income, improved nutrition [in their family], and better education of the children. The end result was empowerment of women within the family and in society. Further, studies have shown that if women farmers have the same access to resources as men have, agricultural output in developing countries would increase by 2.5 to 4.0%. Another study has shown that equalizing the status of women with men in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa can reduce malnourishment among 13.4 and 1.3 million children, respectively. Our studies have shown that when a woman becomes an income-earning member of the family, there is more security and happiness in the family and the children are better educated. These studies have proved the importance of women’s innate capacities as farmers, innovators and household managers in rural communities.

Application of Biotechnology

When we speak of the green revolution, we are talking of the genetic enhancement and hybridization of [seeds] that has kept millions of people from starvation. But, in the case of fish, the domestication of fish has not happened that much, especially in tropical countries, and capacity for undertaking genetics research [was limited]. We networked and developed partnerships between research organizations in developed countries and institutions in developing countries, resulting in the development of human resources and the strengthening of institutions in the Asia-Pacific and Africa. This has resulted in the development of a number of fast-growing species of fish, which is contributing to increased fish production in developing countries.

Closing Remarks

In closing, I would like to say that the “blue revolution” is in its early stages; however, much more needs to be done if it is to contribute to food and nutritional security, and improve the livelihoods of millions of rural poor. For this to happen, countries need appropriate strategies and development plans for and to allocate adequate resources to it.

Let us all join our hands in addressing the issues of poverty, hunger and malnutrition to make the world a peaceful one for every one to live happily.

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