Category Archives: Conference

Recap and Response: GMOs: A Moral Imperative

by: Rensi Pua ’20

If you could multiply your income sixfold, how would your life change? This was the question Dr. Sarah Davidson Evanega, Director of the Cornell Alliance for Science, used to argue the case for GMOs. For those of us lucky enough, a sixfold increase means elevating our lives from comfort to excess. For a small farmer in Bangladesh, it means assured survival.

The Cornell Alliance for Science is an initiative based at Cornell University that seeks to promote access to scientific innovation as a means of enhancing food security, improving environmental sustainability, and raising the quality of life globally. Central to Dr. Evanega’s presentation is the controversial GMO narrative. The story starts with Mansur Sarkar, one of 20 farmers who pioneered Bt Brinjal, a genetically-engineered pest-resistant eggplant. Sarkar talks about how pest-resistance not only decreased his use of pesticides by 65-70% but also returned a crop yield larger than the traditional eggplant variety. These environmental and monetary gains from GMO technology benefit farmers like Sarkar and give them the opportunity to increase their income sixfold. However, not long after Sarkar’s story was published did anti-GMO group GMWatch publish an allegedly false story about Bangladeshi farmers abandoning the Bt Brinjal project. The Cornell Alliance for Science went on site to straighten out facts and found that about 27,000 farmers are actually benefiting from the project (see video here). Dr. Evanega further mentions that much of what’s on the internet has no scientific basis and is simply driven by fear-mongering.

Prof. Evanega discussing the significance of the use of GMOs in food security

So, what are the facts? Fact 1: Agriculture is under siege from factors such as climate change and fast-evolving pests and diseases. In fact, food production is falling behind and needs to increase by 70% to feed the world’s population by 2050. GMOs can increase production efficiency to ensure food security. Fact 2: GMOs can uplift farmers’ lives by ensuring their investments are protected from said detrimental factors. Fact 3: GMOs can decrease agriculture’s impact on the environment by reducing the need for fertilizers, pesticides, tilling and use of land space.

The controversy surrounding GMOs is not just a bourgeoisie issue but a matter of social justice when resistance comes from developed, well-fed countries far-removed from the ground. Anti-GMO advocates are hindering progress and preventing farmers from gaining access to scientific advancements that would change lives for the better, and ensure food security for all. The controversy becomes an issue of morality when viewed from these power dynamics.

So, the next time you go to the grocery and see a “GMO-free” stamp on a product, think about what it really means before purchasing – there’s more at stake than you think.

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Recap and Response: New Approaches to International Food Security: On-the-ground Perspectives

By: Hannah Fort ‘20

International food security was one of the key issues addressed at the Reduce World Hunger: Pope Francis’ Call for New Approaches conference on September 28 th , 2018. Bill O’Keefe, the Vice President for Government Relations and Advocacy at Catholic Relief Services (CRS), addressed this topic directly. He believes that integrated approaches should be the future of how organizations look at food security; multi-sectoral, multi-year programs are most needed but current programs are not set up to provide this.

Instead of working with households one-by-one, CRS has developed an Integral Human Development Framework which they hope to use to influence the systems and structures that households operate within. These systems and structures need to function in a way that allows people to thrive. CRS focuses on the most vulnerable people to help them find a pathway to prosperity. The issue threatening the food security of poor families and farmers worldwide is climate change, which needs long-term,
integrated methods. While emergency assistance is a part of what CRS does, they are looking for new approaches such as direct cash transfers in refugee camps, which they believe will help preserve human dignity.

Mr. O’Keefe giving on-the-ground perspectives in approaching the problem of food insecurity

Addressing climate change as a driver of food insecurity is imperative. Looking at the problem on a country-by-country basis has allowed CRS to implement programs that are geared towards the culture and the people. In Malawi, one of the world’s most densely populated and underdeveloped countries, CRS has implemented the Wellness and Agriculture for Life Advancement (WALA) program. They have had around 250,000 participants so far and seen a 65% increase in organic growing matter. The El
Salvador Cacao Alliance has helped farmers recover from the loss of their coffee crop due to disease and insects sped along by climate change. Working together with the Salvadoran government on horticulture policy, 6,500 farmers are looking to plant the traditional cacao trees across 16,000 acres of land. Speaking on the sustainability of these projects, Bill O’Keefe says that the goal is to, “build a  capacity for support not dependent on us.”

Bill O’Keefe also offered his thoughts on impact investing. Taking private capital and investing it towards the world’s poorest, especially in health, youth employment, migrants/refugees, and climate change can make a big difference. Countries need to work together on these issues in an integrated way or we will never get ahead of the problem and always be chasing solutions.

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Recap and Response: Replicating Successful National Programs to Reduce Hunger


by: Tish Harrison ’20

Dr. Daniel Gustafson started by saying that he never thought there’d be so much progress in the reduction of global hunger between 1977 when he first started working in Brazil and the present. He then launched into his report on national programs that have been successful in reducing hunger in the world. Between 1990 and 2015, he observed, the proportion of those suffering from hunger out of the world population fell from 24% to 12%.

It’s heartening to hear that programs geared toward reducing world hunger are succeeding and that incomes are rising so that more families can feed themselves. Skeptics often say that poverty will always remain a reality in the world regardless of people’s efforts to combat it. However, these are real statistics showing that, in at least one regard, we are succeeding in improving living standards for humanity.

We’ve learned that when governments make hunger programs a priority and get the support of the people behind these programs, real change can occur. Dr. Gustafson showed us ample evidence of this in governments around the world, providing special anecdotes from Bangladesh, India, Mexico, Brazil, Ghana and China.

Prof. Gustafson provided examples of national policies that have effectively addressed food insecurity

Dr. Gustafson has been working in the fields of rural development and agriculture for a long time. He’s seen better agricultural practices (advanced by scientists in the laboratory and experts in the field) lead to not only larger food yields to be consumed, but also greater income for farming families who put in the sweat and hours of labor. Toward the end of his presentation, he asked us to think about what more can be done now and in the future.

One thing we must do is keep up the pressure on world leaders to have world hunger on their agendas as they design their foreign policies and draw their national budgets. This has worked well in the past. We must keep these issues at the forefronts of their minds until 100% of the world’s population is nourished sustainably. Every person has the right to life and everyone must eat to live. After listening to Dr. Gustafson speak at the conference and hearing about our progress, I have great faith that the world can unite and eliminate hunger in the coming decades.

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Recap and Response: The Role of SNAP

By: Shannon Bader ‘20

Professor Craig Gundersen, of the University of Illinois, passionately discussed the role of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) at the CAPP-USA and Fordham University Conference last Friday. He was enthusiastic and optimistic: he believes that it is possible to solve the problem of hunger in the US, and that we can gain many insights from SNAP and apply them elsewhere. However, he was quick to caveat that he did not want to conflate the problem of food insecurity in the US with the problem in low-income countries.

Professor Gundersen highlighted the many ways in which SNAP is in line with the Catholic perspective. As a Catholic himself, he strives to promote policies that are consistent with Catholic teaching. He noted that several important theologians, up to and including Pope Francis, have emphasized the responsibility of the more fortunate to help others.

Professor Gundersen giving his lecture on the role of SNAP in the United States

He also discussed the need to focus on positive claims for the right to food. A successful program must reach those in need. SNAP has eligibility criteria that beneficiaries must meet, and the benefit levels are a function of both income and family size. Secondly, the program must create effective mechanisms to get the benefits to those in need. SNAP successfully does this by issuing Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards to families that can then be used in retail food outlets. The administrative overhead costs for this program are negligible. Programs must also be fully funded. SNAP is an entitlement program, not a discretionary one, and helps around 42 million people. It also must provide enough to those in need. Professor Gundersen advocated the expansion of SNAP to include more people and further reduce food insecurity. Finally, programs must ensure the dignity and autonomy of recipients. In general, SNAP has no work requirements, but it also does not discourage work by eliminating benefits for those who are employed. It also allows recipients to make decisions about food choices rather than dictating what they may or may not purchase.

Professor Gundersen’s passion for this program was palpable throughout his speech and in the panel that followed. He was optimistic that an expansion of SNAP would help to eliminate food insecurity in the US, and that the merits of SNAP can be implemented in programs throughout the world. He also made sure to express that he was open to criticism and constructive feedback, as his goal is to make the program as successful as possible. Overall, his confidence in SNAP and enthusiasm for the program certainly spilled over into the audience, leaving participants hopeful that food insecurity can be reduced or eliminated.

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Reduce Hunger: Pope Francis’ Call for New Approaches

Last Friday, September 28, Fordham IPED and Centesimus Annus Pro Pontifice (CAPP) hosted a conference entitled “Reduce Hunger: Pope Francis’ Call for New Approaches” which tackled on the issue of global food security. The conference featured numerous scholars who talked about the different challenges, and innovation in ensuring food security for the world.

The conference started with a remark from Archbishop Bernardito Auza, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, who gave an overview of the perspective of Pope Francis with regards to food security. Archbp. Auza also drew from his own experience living in poverty in rural Philippines, as well as on his experience working for various Apostolic Nunciatures around the world. He most especially highlighted what Pope Francis thinks to be the causes of food insecurity, and the various principles that the Pope is suggesting in approaching the problem. Among the causes according to Pope Francis, he says, are: conflict, the throw-away culture, land-grabbing, and structures of poverty and exclusion; and among Pope Francis’ principles in approaching food insecurity includes: moral imperative to not eliminate the hungry in eliminating hunger, the necessity for a long-term plan and not just humanitarian intervention, and a conversion of people towards love. The Archbishop also made a point that the problem on food is not a resource issue – that the Earth can provide. Rather, the archbishop remarked, that the problem is a human issue – that as a society we don’t provide and distribute our resources.

Prof. Christopher Barrett then talked about the various challenges of global food security for the 21st century. According to him, we have accomplished so much but there are also a lot of challenges to be worried about – we are in the best of times and in the worst of times. He started by highlighting humanity’s accomplishments such as the dramatic decline in the stunting of children, and in the number of those living in poverty. However, new problems have also arisen such as the increasing number of people who are undernourished. He highlighted that the areas of challenges are in: lack of supply in vitamin-rich foods, climate change, conflict zones, poverty traps, and distribution networks.

As part of the panel discussion, Prof. Craig Gundersen gave an overview about food security at the local level particularly in the United States. He explained how the SNAP program help reach those who are in need by having eligibility requirements that are realistic, benefits levels that have real impact, effective mechanisms that limit corruption, and the autonomy and freedom of the beneficiaries.

Prof. Sarah Davidson Evanega highlighted her research and work on the impact of GMOs. She featured different interviews of different people from different parts of the world whose lives were changed for the better because of access to GMOs. She proposed that this is a justice issue – there’s an urgency to use science and technology to better the lives of people most especially the poor. She explained how many problems faced by farmers like climate change and pests can be addressed by using genetically modified crops.

Mr. Bill O’Keefe of Catholic Relief Services (CRS) also gave his insights on food security drawing from on-the-ground perspectives. He suggested the integrated approach of CRS that focuses on the vulnerable by targeting systems and structures rather than relying on individual problems. He also proposes the use of technology and of partnerships with the public and private sectors to really make an impact in communities and countries.

Mr. O’Keefe giving on-the-ground perspectives in approaching the problem of food insecurity

Dr. Daniel Gustafson gave a national policy perspective on food security by giving examples of successful programs in various countries. He used these examples to demonstrate that through transparent and effective programs, food security for the world can be achieved. He suggested that we learn from our previous experiences in order to have more efficient and effective programs most especially for the poor.

Prof. Gustafson provided examples of national policies that have effectively addressed food insecurity

A lively panel discussion moderated by Rev. Richard Ryscavage, SJ then followed. The discussion questions ranged from private sector participation to utilization of technology; from market volatility to addressing the movements against GMOs. Overall, the discussions gave a sense that there is a lot to be optimistic about. Yet, there are still a lot of challenges to address. We cannot be satisfied by what we have accomplished but rather push forward and face the challenges to really attain food security for the world.

The conference ended with a wonderful rapporteur report from Mr. Brian Strassburger, SJ, who encapsulated the call to action of the whole conference into one word – magis. He said that after hearing from everyone in the conference, it is clear that we should not be content to what we have achieved but we need to go further, deeper, and more, into the challenges of food security. The day ended with some light refreshments and entertainment from the Creative Leaps International.

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