This week, The World Food Prize organization held its annual gathering in Des Moines, Iowa.  The World Food Prize was founded by Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Norman Borlaug in 1986.  It seeks to recognize individuals making contributions to the world food challenges in fields of agriculture, food, science and technology, economics, nutrition, social and political fields, marketing and  manufacturing.  Ambassador Kenneth Quinn has been chairman of The World Food Prize since January 2000.

The gathering brings together experts from the various fields mentioned above to discuss the latest in agriculture and the many facets that revolve around agriculture and the world food supply.  There were discussions and presentations regarding climate change, present statistics regarding hunger and nutrition in the world population, and the ongoing debates around the benefits and potential drawbacks from GMO’s (genetically modified organisms) and the questions posed by the growing trend of industrial farming vs. the small family farm.

NCRLC World Food Prize 001Obviously, such discussions are of great interest to the National Catholic Rural Life Conference and its membership.

It was a tremendous benefit for me to be present to learn more about the issues of food and agriculture, and to spend time with the NCRLC Executive Director, Mr. Jim Ennis.

There was a bit of controversy around this year’s Laureate Award recipients, as they were very influential in the development of genetically modified seeds that are enjoying a wide distribution and use in agriculture today.  Thus, also present at this year’s gathering was a rather vocal group who are also deeply committed to feeding the hungry of the world, but without the benefit of GMO’s and the big corporations behind them.

Despite the many international organizations and personalities present for this year’s World Food Prize symposium, the greatest attraction for me was the presence of Cardinal Peter Turkson, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.  I will write more about his presence and message at a later date.  For now, I simply wish to draw attention to a new initiative of NCRLC in collaboration with the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

NCRLC World Food Prize 006

Peter Cardinal K.A. Turkson, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace with Bishop Richard Pates, Bishop of Des Moines, speaking with NCRLC members and guests.

On Thursday, NCRLC hosted a session with Cardinal Turkson and a few other individuals involved directly in agriculture to discuss this new, joint venture of NCRLC and the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.  This initiative seeks to follow up and expand upon a publication of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, co-published by the John A. Ryan Institute for Catholic Social Thought of the Center for Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul.  The title of this publication is: Vocation Of The Business Leader.

We see the Church in a unique position to bring people together from the many divergent practices of agriculture and food production with an eye toward the common good.  The field of food and agriculture could benefit from our faith perspective and our understanding of the dignity human person.

The purpose of this project is to conduct research by convening both a regional and international symposium with farm leaders and others concerned about food, agriculture, and the environment, and develop a series of resources exploring how Christian faith informs and speaks meaningfully to all people of good will regarding agricultural practices, hunger issues, and environmental concerns as they relate to basic human needs and the common good of society both in the US and  around the world.

This project embraces all three goals of the NCRLC: 1) food and agriculture, 2) development of future pastors and lay leaders, and 3) good stewardship of creation.  This is a very exciting project, and one well worth following in the coming months and years as it takes shape.  We were very encouraged to see that Cardinal Turkson shares our enthusiasm for this effort.