By Martina Liebsch, Caritas Internationalis Policy Director

I listened to Didi Bridgewater, walked past Claudia Cardinale, stood next to Jeremy Irons, saw Carl Lewis and took the elevator with Carla Fracci. What do you want more for a day? But where is the connection to food?

All these celebrities are good-will ambassadors for the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). They were calling for a greater commitment in the fight against hunger at a meeting to mark World Food Day today in Rome. Government representatives and NGO’s were gathered in the plenary hall at the FAO offices in Rome and along with the directors of FAO and the other UN food agencies WFP and IFAD.

The message from Pope Benedict XVI was delivered by Archbishop Luigi Travaglino, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to FAO: “Many of our brothers and sisters do not have daily bread. The freedom from the yoke of hunger is an integral part of the right to life, not always respected these days.”

The message of the Holy Father highlighted the need to recognize agricultural work as crucial and not as a secondary activity.

“Food is not a commodity as any other and subject to speculation. There should be an economy based on the respect of the human family. We need solidarity and justice. All peoples should have food security. This objective can only be reached with solidarity and authentic brother-/sisterhood,” said the Pope’s message.

Michelle Bachelet, Executive Director of UN Women said at the meeting that much of the solution lies in the promotion of women farmers. Rural women are farmers, nurturers, entrepreneurs, healers and pivotal to achieving food security. “Normally women put their children first, now it’s time to put women first”, she said.

In some developing countries, women produce up to 80 percent of the food, 43 percent of agricultural workers are women, but only 5.6 percent of aid is targeted to women. They need to have equal access to resources and assets.

WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran said ending hunger is not only about hope but it means hard work, it is not only about compassion but also about commitment and it needs leadership and political will. She said that in countries where these components exist, hunger is on the retreat such as in  Brazil, Ghana, Chile, Mexico and others.

A Senegalese singer living in Rome was one of the people taking part in the event. He said, “My Italian friends ask me how we in Senegal live in this crisis. I always respond we have had the crisis for ages, you should rather ask us how we resisted the crisis for so long”.  It was a nice way to say that the ones affected are resourceful people.

This point was picked up by Jeremy Irons, the film actor. He said that we need to stand alongside those affected and support and empower them.

The director of IFAD, Kanayo Nwanze, reminded us that the celebration of the World Food Day was introduced 30 years ago. He expressed his hope that this year  we, the international community will make a solemn vow, to follow on our commitments and build solid  and lasting foundations for food security instead of asking ourselves every year what has gone wrong. Will he be right this time?

And… both Michelle Bachelet and Josette Sheeran, who I managed to greet on behalf of Caritas, thanked us for all our work!