PRESIDENT Michael D Higgins served up some food for thought at a symposium on global hunger yesterday when he launched a blistering attack on the causes of chronic hunger, stating that "the principle source of hunger is the dire poverty exacerbated by gross inequalities that, scandalously, persist".
He was speaking at the opening of a two-day conference 'Feeding the World in 2050' at UCD, as part of Ireland's EU presidency programme, and the President excoriated some countries and foreign corporations which have taken part in "land grabs" in poverty-wracked nations.
"There is still evidence of some powerful states serving their national interests ahead of international responsibility to the hungry of the world. Some states and corporations are taking over land in developing countries to secure their own food security or boost corporate speculative profits at the expense of the developing world," he said.
The summit was attended by UCD president Dr Hugh Brady, Concern Worldwide chief executive Tom Arnold and representatives from overseas and Irish-based NGOs. Among the speakers during the two-day event was former president Mary Robinson.
Describing global hunger as "one of the most serious challenges facing the global community", President Higgins pointed out that today chronic hunger "affects one in seven, or approximately 925 million of the world's 6.8 billion people every day. Eradicating this poverty and its consequences is the greatest moral and ethical challenge that we as a global community face today".
He added there was often a failure to acknowledge that exploitation of famine and food shortages and climate change for profit did take place, pointing out that "in 2011, for example, it is estimated that 61pc of the wheat futures market was held by speculators, compared to 12pc in the mid-90s".
He called on governments to introduce tighter controls to ensure poorer countries aren't denied access to food through unregulated profiteering. "The obligation to protect means that states should enforce appropriate laws and take measures to prevent third parties – including individuals and corporations – from violating the right to food of others," he said.
The speech raised the curtain on the topic of global hunger which Ireland has pledged to make a central theme of its six-month presidency of the EU, with a series of conferences on the issue.
President Higgins concluded by quoting former UN food poverty expert Jean Ziegler: "Hunger is neither inevitable, nor should it be acceptable, it is a daily massacre and a shame on humanity."
There was little doubt Michael D had returned refreshed and invigorated from his post-New Year break in the sunspot of Lanzarote last week and ready for whatever frays 2013 has in store.
The EU presidency will keep him busy but he will also have to keep a vigilant eye on the homefront.
After all, when he referred to how "the grab for land and drive for profits" had contributed to "evictions and poverty", it definitely had a bit of a global ring to it, and no mistake.