Food Crisis: A Columban Response

| April 5, 2010 Print
Working with Others to Alleviate World Hunger

by Michelle Melcher Knight

In 2008, food prices spiked across the world leaving many people unable to feed themselves or their families. Communities in countries where Columbans serve, such as Peru, the Philippines, Pakistan and China, were no exception.(1) Although food prices have stabilized somewhat in most areas, prices have remained high and hunger is a daily reality for one billion people around Food Crisis: A Columban Response Working with Others to Alleviate World Hunger by michelle melcher Knight the world.(2) Since the founding of the Missionary Society of St. Columban in 1918, concern for physical needs has co-existed with concern for the spiritual needs of individuals and communities. Columban co-founder Bishop Edward Galvin responded immediately to both the physical and spiritual hunger of the people in China when he began his mission there.(3)

Working with Others to Alleviate World Hunger

Legislative issues surrounding the production and availability of food have been concerns for the Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach (CCAO, formerly Columban JPIC) for many years. Columban Father Seán McDonagh has warned of the dangers of genetically modified (GM) foods, and we have advocated against the use of GM seeds in U.S. development programs. The Columban Fathers have been acutely aware of the need to live in harmony with God’s creation and have supported organic agriculture programs in Peru, the Philippines, Korea and Taiwan.

In 2009, the CCAO became an active member of the U.S. Working Group on the Food Crisis, which is comprised of U.S.-based organizations including labor, faith, indigenous, community food, farm, environmental and trade justice groups. The goal of the group is to illuminate the underlying causes of the food crisis and to advocate for changes to the food system at every level. There are four main objectives: stabilize prices for farmers and consumers globally, rebalance power in the food system, make agriculture environmentally sustainable and guarantee the right to healthy food. Columban missionaries around the world are already engaged in making agriculture more environmentally sustainable through organic farming projects. The CCAO office has been advocating for trade that is fair as we look at the various trade agreements that are proposed and/or enacted by our legislature. Trade that is fair and more local will help to stabilize prices.

Currently, the working group is responding to the call by the federal government to investigate competition issues within agriculture. Individuals, communities and the environment are all victims of corporate control of the food system, and these investigations will hopefully lead to anti-trust regulations. Additional regulation of the food system should lead to more local control of our food and a better chance for a stable livelihood for small farmers in the U.S. and around the world, as well as more stable food availability for all.

In September of 2009, the U.S. State Department released a consultation document to begin a discussion on strategies to implement a comprehensive approach to food security. As members of the Inter-Faith Working Group on Trade and Investment (IWG), the CCAO collaborated in submitting a response statement to the document. In many ways the consultation document was a call for increased agricultural production. As Columbans have seen in the Philippines, where mono-cropping has destroyed mangrove forests, we know that simply increasing output is not the answer for hunger or poverty. The statement from IWG focuses on development as the preferred strategy, especially development that supports small producers. In addition, the statement recommends investing in clean energy sources at the village level, promoting culturally appropriate diets, and developing clear guidelines for working with small producers and local communities, among other proposals. The CCAO will be continuing our work on this issue as Congress and the administration consider U.S. development funding and our efforts towards relieving food insecurity throughout the world.

The issue of food is integral to the named priorities of the Columbans: climate change, migration and economic justice. Food lies at the heart of these issues, and we are able to see patterns of intersections. Changes in climate have altered the types of agricultural products that can be grown in a region. These alterations often force people to migrate to other areas where they can continue their former agricultural work or find new employment. In addition, trade agreements affect the ability of farmers to sell their products. The end result is that more and more people are hungry throughout the world and that now is the time for all countries, all faiths and all peoples to work together to solve the issue of global hunger.

Michelle Melchar Knight

Michelle Melcher Knight works in the Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach office in Washington, D.C.

  1. Heinemann, Edward, Soaring Food Prices and the Rural Poor: Feedback from the Field, IFAD
  2. The US Working Group on the Food Crisis,
  3. Barrett, William, The Red Lacquered Gate, 2002, Authors Choice Press, New York, NY.