Last Friday, October 16, the World Food Programme (WFP) and the international community observed the 2020 World Food Day (WFD), an extraordinary commemoration at that.
Just a week earlier, the WFP had been named winner of the coveted Nobel Peace Prize.
The occasion also marked the 75th anniversary of the founding of its parent, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations.
This year’s evocative theme for the WFD was “Grow, nourish, sustain. Together. Our actions are our future.”
Making the announcement on October 9, the Norwegian Nobel Committee said it decided to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 2020 to the World Food Programme “for its efforts to combat hunger, for its contribution to bettering conditions for peace in conflict-affected areas and for acting as a driving force in efforts to prevent the use of hunger as a weapon of war and conflict.”
Chairperson Berit Reiss-Andersen said that with this year's award the committee wanted to "turn the eyes of the world to the millions of people who suffer from or face the threat of hunger," she told a news conference in Oslo.
I find particularly stirring what the WFP Executive Director David Beasley said in reaction to the award:
“The awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to the World Food Programme is a humbling, moving recognition of the work of WFP staff who lay their lives on the line every day to bring food and assistance for close to 100 million hungry children, women and men across the world. People whose lives are often brutally torn apart by instability, insecurity and conflict.
“Every one of the 690 million hungry people in the world today has the right to live without hunger. Today, the Norwegian Nobel Committee has turned the spotlight on them … And now, a global pandemic with its brutal impact on economies and communities is pushing millions more to the brink of starvation ….
“Food security, peace and stability go together. Without peace, we cannot achieve our global goal of zero hunger; and while there is hunger, we will never have a peaceful world.”
And it is no mean achievement.
The BBC reported that WFP topped this year’s field of some 107 organisations and 211 individual nominees, noting that the WFP is the 101st winner of a prize now worth 10m Swedish krona ($1.1m; £875,000).
Based in Rome, Italy, the WFP was established in 1961 after the 1960 FAO conference. It is “the world’s largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger worldwide.”
The second of the UN’s ‘17 Sustainable Development Goals to transform our world’, says simply: “Zero Hunger”.
In 1983, Ghana had particular cause to be grateful to the Programme and others for their critical support in the country’s hour of need, notably combating hunger.
That year has gone down in Ghana’s history as the year of calamities, notably drought, bush fires, and attendant loss of food crops; as well as the expulsion by Nigeria of an estimated one million undocumented Ghanaians.
But I think it’s the famine that has left an indelible memory in the minds of most people who experienced the 1983 disasters.
During that period of acute scarcity of foodstuffs, even staples like bread and kenkey, made from corn meal, disappeared.
And on the occasions when a kenkey-maker got some corn somehow word would quickly and quietly spread.
In some cases would-be customers would not even wait for the kenkey to be cooked, but would buy it uncooked to go and cook themselves.
They couldn’t risk waiting for it to be cooked, in case they were outsmarted by other anxious customers.
It was also the year some of us were introduced to pulses, such as lentils, known to be a very tasty and highly nutritious member of the beans family, usually associated with Indian cookery.
We also made the discovery that wheat grain could be cooked and served with stew similar to a dish of rice and stew.
We got to know lentils and wheat because they were among the food donations which regularly came to Ghana from friendly governments and humanitarian organisations like the WFP.
Furthermore, the assistance continues.
A day before the historic news from Oslo, the WFP announced an extension of “support to the national social protection programme in Ghana by providing cash transfers to 75,000 daily wage earners and smallholder farmers.”
Ms Rukia Yacoub, WFP Representative and Country Director in Ghana said: “Food security and nutrition are two areas which are often compromised during socio-economic downturns such as what is underway during this COVID-19 pandemic.”
The terrible days of 1983 gave some of us personal experiences of the wonderful, dedicated, life-saving work of the WFP and other relief and humanitarian bodies.
No one should have to battle hunger, especially in a world of such momentous technological advances, and in a world of such abundance of food elsewhere.
This recognition by the Nobel Committee is just right.
It will surely serve as encouragement to the courageous and selfless people involved in general humanitarian work and food charity all over the world, which must often seem a thankless labour.
However, by the award of the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize the Committee in Oslo has doubtlessly assured the WFP how very much the world appreciates its dedication to championing the cause of the hungry.
By Ajoa Yeboah-Afari