Mitch Addison Lay has come all the way across the ocean to Dublin to tell us about the Caribbean Union of Fisherfolk Associations and their worries about diminishing fish stocks close to the shores of many of their islands. He was first and foremost a red snapper line fisherman but had worked hard to bring unity across his fellow Caribbean fisherfolk. The experience had taught him that, "It's easier to get politicians to listen than to get fisherfolk together". He told us that fishing for him and his fellow fisherfolk is "a way of life, which is not economic, but an entire life for us, socially and culturally".The Dublin Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Climate Change has been different in its determination to bring people who are immediately affected by these issues to ensure they meet policy makers. The messages generated will then feed into the post Millennium Development Goals (MDG) framework discussions. The conference is made up of 'grassroots' participants, many of whom are leaving their home country for the first time. These include pastoralists from Ethiopia, Malawian farmers, Arctic peoples and a group of Mongolian cattle herders. The other half of policy makers come from non-governmental organisations (NGOs), governments and UN agencies.
The opening ceremony urged us all to "listen up" and started with Eamon Gilmore, the Irish Foreign Affairs Minister telling us how he felt a deep empathy for women headed small holders as he grew up on a small farm, run by his mother where weather was the determining force in their livelihoods - if it rained and a crop spoiled they would go hungry. The President of Ireland, Michael Higgens spoke of Ireland's "deep compassion for others experience of hunger" due to their own history of famine.
The day was spent listening to people telling their own stories of the impact of climate change, hunger and nutrition – and the relationship between them all. We also heard from World Vision youth ambassadors who spoke about hopes for their adult lives - Alex Nallo came from Palestine to urge action in tackling these issues which would have an impact on him in his 40’s. He said there will be "limits to their inventiveness" to deal with the combined stress of all three. Runa Khatun, representing Shushilan NGO in Bangladesh, said that they were women who classified themselves as extremely poor and vulnerable to floods who wanted to increase their resilience to disasters by organising together, and a combination of cash and food helped to improve their collective quality of life.
DFID’s Policy Director Nick Dyer was nominated as a policy champion for one of these learning circles and needed to define, determine and articulate the lessons of empowerment we gained. Although empowerment was hard to define, key themes were emerging such as dignity, participation and knowledge, as well as discussion of what outcomes were empowering. We also tackled how to get there in terms of a collective process to a receptive environment and we were tasked to deliver a one minute video address – a real challenge when tackling a subject as complex as empowerment.
Nick met Mary Robinson earlier in the day and as well as discussing how we would work together towards the 'Nutrition for Growth' event on 8 June, she outlined her vision for wider use of clean energy in low income countries and how climate justice is a cause worthy of global solidarity.UNICEF rounded off the day by launching a new report on the status of stunting worldwide and successful nutrition responses. The report reminded us that one in four children globally are stunted, robbing them of critical life chances in many areas of their lives and their mental and physical potential. 80% of these children live in just 20 countries making targeting of simple and proven steps easier such as improving women's nutrition, early and exclusive breastfeeding, providing additional vitamins and minerals as well as appropriate food in pregnancy and the first 2 years of a child's life. The report ends on a hopeful note showing that stunting is reducing in specific contexts. In Maharashtra state in India, the percentage of stunted children dropped from 39% in 2005 to 23% in 2012 largely because of support to frontline workers who focus on improving child nutrition.
On this hopeful note, Joe Costello, the Irish Minister for State for Trade and Development, spoke of 2013 being the moment to mobilise for nutrition. He linked this conference at the end of the Irish EU presidency with our own 'Nutrition for Growth' conference at the start the UK G8 presidency – and the need to continue to pitch high for delivery for the 870 million hungry in the world. The Dublin event highlighted just how far we have come to bring attention to the issue of malnutrition – and how we now need to tackle it.