03/09/2006, 00.00
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Holy See for rural development and farmers' dignity

The Vatican reaffirms the principle that the bounty of the earth belongs to all. It condemns land concentration and calls on the world to better protect farmers' property, the ecology and the family.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – It is all right to promote better farming through technologies but it must be "real progress" so that "human dignity is fully protected, enabling every people to share its own spiritual and material resources to everyone's benefit", including preserving them for future generations.

Such are the goals that the international community must set for itself according to a paper presented by the Holy See at the International Conference on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development organised by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation that is currently underway (March 7-10) in Porto Alegre, Brazil.

In a technical note submitted to the conference, the Vatican asserts that "it is not only about boosting international solidarity in order to face the great challenge of development in various nations and pursue the specific goal of food security for humanity, but it is also about fulfilling the expectations of those who live off the land on a stable basis: peasants, small farmers, craftsmen and their families." In other words, the rural world must not be treated as secondary.

Quoting Gaudium et Spes, which reiterates "the immutable principle that 'God intended the earth with everything contained in it for the use of all human beings and peoples'", the paper not only says that land concentration is "intrinsically illegitimate" but recognises that rural communities are the first victims of unequal land distribution.

This is especially true in developing countries, where "extreme poverty, market rigidities, and social malaise are aggravated when those who till the land are not protected".

Such communities are in fact on the frontline in tackling the elements with limited economic resources. Thus, one can see people "gradually abandon farming for the deceptive illusion of the cities to escape poverty".

The predicament "includes among other things the issue of land ownership, a fundamental question that shapes economic and agricultural policies that seek to promote efficient rural development and guarantee social justice, political stability and peaceful coexistence."

Oftentimes the "absence of a proper relationship between who owns and who tills the land, uncertain title deeds or use, lack of credit, as well as other situations that affect small farmers, lead to overexploitation of natural resources because a single goal, that of short-term returns, prevails". Sustainable development should instead be the leading principle, centred on a truly human-oriented ecology, whose first structure is the family.

This means that the "family like other primary groupings and social formations comes ahead of the state's institutional framework and must be duly respected and valued in its essence and in how land ownership, economic production and work are organised".

The conference, i.e. the international community, must ultimately set as its goal "the protection of the values that the countryside embodies avoiding models linked to selfish choices or solely inspired by economics".

"As complex and useful technical solutions may be, they fail if they do keep in mind the central role played by humans, who, in their indissoluble spiritual and material dimensions, are cause and end of every decision and action undertaken by single states or international institutions". (FP) 

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