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Executive director of the WFP Ertharin Cousin (right) was interviewed by George Stroumboulopoulos in the Faculty of Social Sciences building. Photo: Eric Davidson.

Ertharin Cousin talks food security in increasingly unpredictable world

Ertharin Cousin, executive director of the World Food Programme (WFP), gave a talk at the University of Ottawa Faculty of Social Sciences building. The WFP is an arm of the United Nations focused on fighting hunger and food insecurity all over the world.

Cousin was interviewed by George Stroumboulopoulos, the famed Canadian television host, and took questions from the audience, which was largely made up of U of O students. The event, held on Feb. 26, was focused on food security in a time of conflict and climate change.

“We’re sort of old-school punk rock about this,” said Stroumboulopoulos at the start of the presentation. “There are a lot of challenges in the world and they can easily be dealt with by just going out and doing it.”

Some of the areas the WFP is most heavily involved in are Syria, Central African Republic, and South Sudan.

During her hour-long talk, Cousin covered a wide range of topics surrounding the issue of food security, from air drops to spreading better agricultural techniques, but her core message was that “Hunger is a solvable problem.”

However, she said, we still have a ways to go.

“What we lack is the global public will to support the multi-year investments that are necessary,” she said. “What we need is people like you in this audience to say to their governments, ‘we need to ensure that no one is left behind.’”

She did mention signs that the WFP is making progress, such as Germany’s $623-million donation to help fight hunger in Syria—which prompted Stroumboulopoulos to call German Chancellor Angela Merkel a “baller”.

Cousin also talked about climate change agreements like the one established recently in Paris, and how they can impact food security.

According to the WFP, the climate change has had a significant effect on the production of staple crops, and shifts in temperature are expected to further impact crop yields.

“What they do is provide attention and public will for the work that is necessary,” she said. “It’s not just about fighting these crises, but also about supporting the livelihoods of the most vulnerable people.”

In an interview with the Fulcrum, Stroumboulopoulos said he was happy to help shine a spotlight on Cousin’s talk.

“If you don’t take the light that’s given to you and put it in areas where it’s needed, I think you’re missing the opportunity,” he said. “I have some profile, and it’s very overrated if I don’t do something with it.”

He continued that he hoped Cousin’s message would make an impact on the students who were present.

“Maybe something that happened here, something in the conversation, will stick in their mind when they go start their own business,” said Stroumboulopoulos. “Future leaders, future organizers are all in this room.”

Find out more about the WFP, here.