October 17, 2000

C.U. Holds Food Day

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At a time of major technological advances for food production, millions of people remain malnourished. This global concern was broadcast to economics and nutritional sciences graduate students in Martha Van Rensselaer auditorium yesterday, for the 17th annual World Food Day teleconference: “Poverty and Hunger: The Tragic Link.”

The event was organized by the Food and Agriculture Organization, the largest specialized agency of the United Nations created to help alleviate these problems, and aired by George Washington University Television. The featured speaker was Amartya Sen, Master of Trinity College in Cambridge, England and the 1998 Nobel laureate in economics.

Jennifer Wilkins, the senior extension associate of the Community Food Systems Program, Division of Nutritional Sciences, and Jim Haldeman, associate director of the International Agriculture Program of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, organized the event at Cornell. The University was among over 1000 sites hosting the conference, which was also broadcast over the Internet.

“The entire event is to increase awareness of not only hunger and poverty in the world, but also of various activities and projects at Cornell and in the local community addressing food insecurity,” Wilkins said.

To get an idea of the hunger and poverty problem, Haldeman referred to a summary report of world statistics from 1995, which stated that if the world’s population shrunk to a village of 100 people, 50 people would be malnourished, 80 would have substandard living, one person would get to go to college, and 70 would not be able to read.

Currently, 1.3 billion people exist on less than one dollar per day and that number will rise to 1.9 billion dollars by 2015, according to one World Bank estimate. Two-thirds of these people are women.

Wilkins pointed out that even in the industrialized world, 100 million people live below the poverty line.

“In 1999, 31 million Americans were food insecure, meaning they were not assured access to food at all times for an active and healthy life,” Wilkins said.

Sen brought up numerous issues dealing with poverty, hunger and the overall state of the world today, with women and children being the main topics of discussion.

“The decrease in the rate of infant mortality is due in part to women’s empowerment,” Sen said. “Increasing women’s voice in family issues effects the children. Women are the agents of change on which the future of the world depends.”

Sen was unhappy with the lack of media coverage of these issues, however. “I’m disappointed that they are not coming up at all in the debates,” he said. “After the president is elected, I hope that these issues get more attention.”

“What struck me the most in listening to him [Sen] was his explanation of the true problem. He has a pretty good understanding of it,” said Chris Peters grad. “I think what Sen is trying to do is to push for organizations, governmental or not, to help the worldwide poverty and hunger issue.”

In addition to the video conferencing, about 25 to 30 representatives of organizations promoting attentiveness and aid for the malnourished and the poor were invited to make their literature available to the public. Some of these organizations included the Cornell Cooperative Extension, Cornell Food and Nutrition Program and Peace Corps.

“Other organizations such as the Institute of African Development and the Center of International Studies have their own events on this subject,” Haldeman said. “Our goal is to have only one major World Food Day event on the Cornell campus with these organizations, including a panel of Cornell faculty and members of the community.”

The Ithaca broadcast of this teleconference was sponsored by Cornell’s Division of Nutritional Sciences Community Food Systems Program, the IAP and the Cornell International Institute for Food, Agriculture and Development.

Archived article by Ritu Gupta