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Archbishop Ian Ernest Chairperson of CAPA , attended the CAPA Consultation on the Food and Humanitarian Crisis in Eastern and Horn of Africa: 9th and 10th August 2011... and expresses his concern for the Global Food Security to advocate continental commitment to make real a global food security system.
MAUEN 110812-2
August 12, 2011

[Diocese of Mauritius - Indian Ocean] CAPA Consultation on the Food and Humanitarian Crisis in Eastern and Horn of Africa: 9th and 10th August 2011.

Your Grace, my dear Bishops,

Reverend Canon Kaiso, Brothers and Sisters in Christ

May I firstly associate myself to the welcoming words of the General Secretary of CAPA Canon Grace Kaiso. Your presence and participation at this most important meeting are for us a great source of encouragement and of hope as we are resolved to act together. The crisis and suffering that our brothers and sisters in the horn of Africa are facing at the moment can no longer be tackled with piece meal solutions. It is time for us as responsible church leaders to call on all people of goodwill to respond to an urgent call of action with compassion.

In the region I come from, the Indian Ocean, one of our islands Madagascar was hit by two severe cyclones in February and March 2000 and this eventually flooded a whole agricultural area of the country. The only railroad which connected a very productive Madagascar agricultural area to a major port was damaged by several mudslides. Eventually food supplies would not reach surrounding villages and towns. This affected the livelihood of one hundred thousand people. Many landless people who had employment in that region had to as a last resort, felt the need to burn more forests as a desperate step for survival. This led to the destruction of the fauna and unique flora of the region. Until international agencies responded to this harsh reality, the future of these rural people was in doubt.

Brothers and sisters no issue can be more important for us human beings in any generation than how to feed people. The problem is today global. The increased production in the past fifty years has accelerated the loss of essential resources and the destruction of fragile eco-systems. Today the challenge is that we have to find ways in which to increase food supply to fulfil the demand. It has to be sustainable and affordable to potential buyers. It is thus important for us Christians to reflect on these matters and to spell out constructive action.

For me food security is defined as a situation where people at all times have both physical and economic access to food which is nutritious and that contributes to a productive and healthy life. Is it possible to make this definition, this dream come true? This should be at the heart of our discussion today. We have to look at this question in a large enough way. At present the prospect of realising such a dream is dim. The story of Madagascar which I mentioned at the beginning is instructive. We can observe in this situation how environmental degradation, poorly designed agriculture and government lethargy have contributed to a human tragedy.

So the dream brings an agenda and it raises a fundamental question about the achievement of global food security for us today and for future generations. Are we not accountable to them? Is sufficient food produced in a sustainable basis and is its distribution to all a possibility or will it remain an illusion? This is a faith question. The problem is immense and complex. What we need is a global commitment similar to that of Europe and Japan after the two world wars. How to generate the desire, the will in order to fructify the human and financial resources available today? What does the bible teach us on this issue? In fact so much as it is a resource of personal faith and for the growth of the witness of the Church, we often overlook what the Bible informs us on the history of a people in all its social and political dimensions including its food security. It teaches us on its prophetic voice that call for justice to the poor, more explicitly when it comes to the management and distribution of food. Isaiah and other prophets did express themselves and rather strangely against those who build up great habitations at the expense of small farmers. I quote Isaiah 5:v8-9 “Woe to those who join house to house , they add field to field, till there is no place where there is no one but you and you are left to live alone in the midst of the land; surely many homes shall be desolate, large and beautiful homes, what inhabitant”. Most people as described in the Bible (Hebrew Scriptures lived close to the land. They were taught in their faith that they were not to lord over the land but to serve it as faithful stewards. The noblest expression of the biblical land ethic is expressed in the year of the jubilee (Lev 25). The vision of a renewed liberation of the poor and those heavily in debt and when each family would return to live on the land originally allotted to it, even if it had been lost in the meantime. Today’s push for the cancellation of international debt is inspired from this tradition. In the New Testament, Jesus continues to consider these themes. In the prayer taught to his disciples, we (note the plural use of the word) are asked to pray for daily bread. In the early church all were responsible to meet the needs of those unable to care for themselves. This brings me to a theological reflection, why is it then that today even us Christians are involved (consciously or unconsciously) in systems that give birth to situations of famine and food insecurity that we are facing? It is partly because of our greed (sin) - we prefer immediate gains for our own benefits to the long term welfare of all. It is also due to ignorance - we are not aware of the facts. We need to look at the problem with new lenses. If we knew the matter within a historical and holistic perspective, a new approach will be developed. We need to mobilise people with many different kinds of experiences and skills: natural, social scientists, economists, historians, traditional farmers, modern agronomists, visionaries, administrators, entrepreneurs, politicians, religious leaders. It will require a desire from all to widen their perspective and habits of thinking and be able to learn from one another. There is need for a change in mentality, for a paradigm shift in the way we live. As people of faith we should encourage such initiatives in whatever manner we can.
What can we do?

Jesus has called us that to share the good news, we should express love by addressing the needs of the hungry. The task is daunting but are we not people imbued with hope? Throughout the journey in the history of humanity hopeless situations have been transformed. In spite of the fact that half of the world suffers from poverty and food shortfalls, that the distressing images of hungry children in Somalia and other parts of our continent may bring us to a level of impotence, they are for us a moral outrage.

So for us Church leaders, the most important question should be the following: How to meet our needs for food, shelter, education, health and leisure in our time without putting at stake the capacity for our children and grandchildren to meet their needs in their time? This is an issue for us Christians today. If our human family is to avoid a global disaster, it has to receive much higher consideration than it has received so far.

As Chairperson of CAPA, I heartily feel that one of the great challenges involved in the idea of global food security is that of reviewing our preaching, our teaching, our liturgy. Christian education as a whole should clearly state the concerns identified in the gospels of Matthew and Luke, of working at liberating the oppressed, giving sight to the blind and feeding the hungry. We have to confront with futile imagination, the prevailing lifestyle of affluent Christians who contribute to food insecurity. Education about food security in our world today and about the prospects for future generations is essential for nurturing our christian communities. Certainly this commitment should also be upheld by our christian universities and seminaries.

We also need, my dear brother and sisters to advocate continental commitment to make real a global food security system. We have to create lobby groups to being our continental organisations OAU, SADC, COMESA and others to attend with concrete policies and commitments to these problems.

Denomination be it Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, Anglican, Evangelical, Pentecostal should form these lobby groups. Citizens of our respective countries should be aware of the seriousness and complexity of food production and distribution. We have to advocate for an enhancement in policy formulation. Legislation and application should be properly monitored by appropriate bodies. We are called to move our nations and churches beyond relief activities so as to commit ourselves to ethical and structural transformation for sustainable self-reliance on food.

Beyond policy and education formulations, we have to challenge our parishioners - fellow christians to act in a responsible manner so that there is a change in personal lifestyle. This will definitely contribute to put into place comprehensive strategies for the establishment of an entirely new and global and sustainable food system. Friends it is all about caring. It shows our gratitude for what we receive; it makes us more human when we care about future generations. Caring transcends self interest and we are to be motivated by love and vision. Faith gives us the possibility to act even when things seem impossible to achieve

Our responsibility therefore as Christians is to call upon the international community and its institutions to work on lines that will provide in the long term a foundation for a stable and productive global community. We therefore urge the leaders of the G20 meeting to be held in November 2011 to consider food security as its highest concern and priority. This necessitates measures that will end food speculation in view in increasing agricultural productivity.

It is also important that the African Union and the United Nations bring forward a Pan African mechanism for responding to humanitarian crises. They have to look for new mechanisms that ensure compassionate and accountable leadership that can face adequately and efficiently the emerging culture of conflict and protest that interrupts the productive cycle and capacity of communities.

Our responsibility is to also provide spiritual support to the survivors of the crisis and the staff of humanitarian organisations. The needed framework and partnership required should be sought in order to relieve the suffering of our respective communities. Lastly, if we are meeting today for this important consultation, it is because we recognise the appalling suffering that drought and conflict have caused to millions of people in the Horn of Africa. Today in this modern world where technology has made tremendous progress, it is unthinkable that11.5 million people on our continent are in need of humanitarian assistance. They are forced to flee across frontiers in search of food, water, security etc. This brings about the emergence of refugee camps where the conditions of living are dehumanising.

I urge you at this meeting to decide on making an appeal to the African Union and its member governments to bring forward the AU meeting in recognition of the rapidly deteriorating situation in certain countries in Africa as regards the needs of famine activities and the need for the cessation of hostilities in Somalia.

Friends, churches and their respective communities have to lead the way in order to bring in a change in mentality. We cannot afford to work on the relieving of need of the oppressed and the poor. Let us strive to be partners in seeking to develop together the resources that God has bestowed upon this continent, and the Indian Ocean. I therefore call on you to intensify partnerships with other christian organisations and to continue participating in the efforts while also pressing your national and local governments to take the steps that are needed to provide a sustainable solution to this crisis.
“For I was hungry and you gave me food
I was thirsty and you gave me drink,
I was a stranger and you welcomed me” Matt:25 v35

Thank you for your kind attention.