Food makes peace

The Nobel Peace Prize for 2020 has been awarded to the World Food Program (WFP) for its efforts in the fight against hunger, and for creating the conditions for peace in areas with a high risk of conflict. WFP is the world's largest humanitarian organization for eliminating hunger and promoting food security.

I wish to add the voice of Norway to the world wide chorus of praise that this is the right price at the right time. In 2019, 135 million people were affected by imminent starvation. This is the highest number in many years. Most of the increase was caused by armed conflict and war. In total, more than 800 million people are affected by hunger and malnutrition.

With this award the Nobel Committee has once again highlighted how striving to reduce human suffering is in line with Alfred Nobel's will. Since the first Peace Prize was awarded to the Red Cross in 1901, efforts to improve people's lives have been honored with the Peace Prize.

The number of people suffering from hunger has increased in the last five years. Even before the pandemic hit us all, the need to adapt to climate change and a rising demand for food was one of the greatest challenges of our time. This year we have seen school children lose access to a much-needed school meal, and increased poverty that increases the number of hungry and malnourished people. This year we have witnessed how conflict, climate and a throttled development have functioned as mutually reinforcing factors.

In countries such as Yemen, Congo, Nigeria, South Sudan and Burkina Faso, the combination of violent conflict and pandemic has led to a dramatic increase in the number of starving people.

Our livelihood is our key to peace

The Nobel Committee's award this year is part of a series that shape our understanding of which efforts can all be peace work. When Wangari Maathai received the Peace Prize in 2004, the reason was that tree planting would improve livelihoods and thus prevent war and conflict. The award to the UN Climate Panel in 2007 was equally important.

It is also not the first time the Nobel Committee has awarded the Peace Prize to individuals or organizations that have contributed to peaceful development through their work on food security. In 1970, plant cultivator Norman Borlaug received the Peace Prize for his work in developing new, high yield varieties of wheat and maize.

Shortly after World War II, in 1949, the prize was awarded to the Scotsman Lord Boyd Orr. He received the award for his commitment to creating international cooperation on agriculture and food production. Food and prosperity for all people on earth create peace, claimed Boyd Orr, who in 1945 was also appointed the first Secretary-General of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

The great famine in Bangladesh in 1974 was the reason why Muhammad Yunus established a credit system with small loans aimed at the poor, primarily women. A separate bank was established with such lending activities as its purpose, Grameen Bank. Such microcredits created economic growth and social development from below, and helped lift people out of poverty. This was the reason for the award of the Peace Prize to Yunus and Grameen Bank in 2006.

Food - no matter of course

The availability of food is the foundation of everyone's life and all social structures, and at all times. Food can be easily taken for granted. During the pandemic, food systems have largely been shown to be intact in our corner of the world.

The challenges have been far greater on other continents, especially Africa. In the face of the pandemic, WFP has made a great effort to cover immediate food needs. In addition to crisis management, WFP has a long-term program to strengthen food production in countries with low food security. The organization currently operates in more than 80 countries.

When I visited WFP in Rome in 2019, I noticed that they were particularly engaged in how to promote local food production by linking farmers to local and regional markets. This is an important prerequisite for food security and economic growth that can help people out of poverty.

Food - a shared responsibility

The global food systems today feed about 7 billion people against 3 billion people in 1950 - farming more or less the same agricultural area. The foundations for a development like this have been new knowledge and new technology, investments and access to resources and political intent.

However, more intensive food production is concomitant with significant climate and environmental challenges. Here we must find practical solutions that also satisfies our obligations under the UN's sustainability goal no. 2 to combat starvation and malnutrition. A basic requirement for meeting sustainability goal 2 is that the limited resources for food production, such as soil, water and genetic diversity, are met and managed in a way that strengthens the opportunities for food security in the future.

This year's Peace Prize winner will continue to play a key role in future work on global food security, together with the FAO and the UN Fund for Agricultural Development, IFAD. Global collaboration is a key to food security for all. The Svalbard Global Seed Vault symbolizes this spirit of cooperation. In the mountains at Longyearbyen, over a million seeds from various food plants from all over the world are stored.

Every nation will have a share in the responsibility for food security in the future, both by utilizing their own resources for food production as well as through the exchange of expertise and experience across borders.

Therefore, I believe that the development of agriculture across the globe must play a larger role in Norwegian development policy. Therefore, in 2019, the government presented an action plan for sustainable food systems in Norway’s foreign and development policy. That is why Norway has established the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. That is why Norway is today a major contributor to the three UN organizations in Rome that work with food and agriculture.

And so we will remain in the future.

Minister of Agriculture and Food Olaug Vervik Bollestad
Minister of Agriculture and Food Olaug Vervik Bollestad Credit: Torbjørn Tandberg