October 16 is World Food Day, an observance to commemorate the founding in 1945 of the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization. The Rome-based FAO is the U.N.'s lead agency in the campaign to reduce global hunger. This year, Americans, like people in more than 150 countries, are marking World Food Day and World Food Week with end-hunger benefit concerts, teach-ins and official proclamations.
Dozens of top performers like Jakob Dylan's Wallflowers and REM are on stage this week at FAO's TeleFood concert in Seattle, Washington, helping to raise money for end-hunger development projects. The week-long musical event is just one of literally tens of thousands of grass-roots and official activities underway across the United States and around the world to mark World Food Week.
Charles Reimenschneider, head of FAO's North American office in Washington, DC, says they all have a common thread: to focus public attention on the plight of the world's 800 million hungry people: "This year the theme of World Food Day is 'fighting hunger to reduce poverty.' And poverty is a manifestation of a lot of problems in the world, but the connection between hunger and poverty is sometimes missed," he said. "Seventy percent of the poor in the world live in rural areas, and their main source of income is agriculture and producing food for themselves. They are largely subsistence farmers. So it is important if you can fight hunger, you can also reduce poverty."
World Food Week is being observed not only with fund-raising but also consciousness-raising activities. Charles Reimenschneider says a key event is an interactive global teleconference to link high school and college campuses, churches, community centers and cable viewers around the world with a group of experts in Washington discussing hunger and poverty reduction. "And we have a project called Feeding Minds, Fighting Hunger to bring into elementary, middle schools and high schools around the world - because we made it available in 7 languages - information about who the hungry people are in the world, and what can be done to help them," said Mr. Reimenschneider. "We are making sure that our young people understand the interconnectedness between North America and the rest of the world, and how hunger and poverty may effect people there and ultimately affect them."
But the majority of World Food Week observances in America are small-scale, community-sponsored affairs. Pat Young is the volunteer coordinator of the U.S. Committee for World Food Day: "World Food Day is organized from the grass roots up, instead of from the top down, and that allows for a lot of diversity and imagination and initiative, and Americans take advantage of that," said Pat Young. "Take Michigan for example, they've done everything from a tee-shirt competition to a chorus on the capitol steps, to a study, to a teleconference, to a fund raiser, it just goes on and on. In Chicago, they're using the day for an interfaith worship service. Whatever people are moved to do."
The Food and Agriculture Organization, for its part, is marking its anniversary with a new website for its World Agricultural Information Center. And it has just published the annual Food Insecurity Report, which this year describes "a slowdown in the reduction of malnourishment in the world." The report warns that at the current slow pace, it will take 60 years to reduce by half the number of hungry people in the world, a goal the 1996 World Food Summit had committed to reach by the year 2025.
The FAO's Charles Reimenschneider believes there is a profound difference in this year's observance of World Food Week coming in the wake of the tragic events of September 11, and U.S. actions against the sponsors of that terrorist act. The crisis, he says, has created unique opportunities: "I think clearly, there are opportunities in the post-September 11 world, particularly here in North America, where there is a sensitivity to what is going on in other parts of the world, and where people maybe will see a little more closely the poverty and the difficulties faced in many of these countries, he said. "And with a little help from here, we are able to do that."
Charles Reimenschneider of the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization, which is marking its 56th anniversary with a World Food Day call for new recruits in the battle against hunger and poverty.