Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger
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Path to Curbing Global Hunger Hitting Bumps in the Road

By Christopher Doering on October 13, 2012
© Delaware Online

Billions of dollars have been invested in a slew of projects to feed a growing global population. And while all signs point to progress being made, there is growing uncertainty over how significant the gains have been and whether the different paths being taken are the fastest way to end global hunger.

As hundreds of people from agribusiness, academia, governments and nonprofits converge on Des Moines for the annual World Food Prize this week, some are concerned that too much focus is being placed on growing food rather than boosting infrastructure such as roads and irrigation and educating small farmers.

“You can’t solve this problem from Iowa. There is no way Iowa farmers, as productive as they can be, will ever make sure that poor people in other countries are going to get enough food. We have to pay attention on not just the overall production but the distribution of food and agriculture livelihoods” said Gawain Kripke, policy director with Oxfam America, an international relief and development organization.

“We aren’t making the kind of progress that we should be making in hunger and improving agriculture,” he said.

A group of United Nations’ food agencies last week found that while fewer people around the world are going hungry than two decades ago the momentum has slowed following a collapse of the global economy five years ago.

“The economic difficulties have stalled the progress against hunger that we were making,” said David Beckmann, who was selected as the World Food Prize laureate in 2010 and currently is president of Bread for the World, an advocacy group. “The economy is a big problem. The political logjam that we’ve suffered (in the U.S.) through the last two years is a problem, but if we can successfully address those then there are a lot of reasons to be hopeful about rapid reductions” in hunger.

Currently, about 870 million people, or one in eight in the world, are chronically undernourished, a drop of 132 million from 20 years ago. Africa was the only region where the number of hungry grew since the 1990-92 period, from 175 million to 239 million, with nearly 20 million added in the past four years. The U.N. said most of the worldwide decline occurred between 1990 and 2007, but since then progress has stalled and there are concerns the summer surge in food prices could further swell the ranks of the hungry around the world.

Further challenges loom in the next few months with the discussions in Congress and the White House over how to cut spending and deal with the country’s burgeoning $16 trillion debt,(AT) and efforts to craft a new farm bill in Congress, fostering uncertainty over the future of global food assistance aid and domestic food nutrition programs.

The United States is not without it share of hunger problems. Food stamp rolls have soared 18.5 million since 2008 to a record 46.7 million people, with about one in seven Americans now receiving government help to buy food. Meanwhile, the U.S. Agriculture Department said last month Americans are having a harder time getting food than ever before as the economic downturn continues to weigh on households throughout the country.

In South Dakota, for example, the state’s hunger relief group said the need for its services remains high.

“We used to be strictly a one-time emergency food distribution service for (the public) and now we see people needing help for longer periods of time and we see them coming back as repeat customers,” said Jim Dawson, eastern operations manager for Feeding South Dakota. He estimated his agency helps about 100,000 people each year.

President Barack Obama said in May the world has stumbled in its quest to ease hunger. At an event announcing commitments of more than $3 billion from nearly four dozen multinational companies, including Monsanto and Cargill, to help smaller farmers grow their own food, Obama said “a new approach” was needed to encourage more nations, organizations, and companies “to step up and play a role.”

The new food program, the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, built on a 2009 pledge by G-8 leaders known as the L’Aquila Food Security Initiative, where world leaders committed $22 billion to fight world hunger by investing in agriculture and nutrition to reduce food insecurity. But the earlier pledge has been dogged by charges by anti-poverty groups that wealthy nations failed to deliver all the funds they promised.

Per Pinstrup-Andersen, who was awarded the World Food Prize in 2001, said private companies “are saying all the right things” but it’s unclear how much progress is being made. He said the problem is not that the world is running out of food but that many people lack access or knowledge about how to grow it.

“That’s where we ought to focus but that’s not nearly as sexy as a front page headline saying the world is running out of food,” said Pinstrup-Andersen, who is now a professor of food, nutrition and public policy at Cornell University.

A lot of projects to address hunger fail despite grand ambitions and good intentions, said Pinstrup-Andersen.

In many cases, people associated with the project find out after it’s too late that they lack the expertise and don’t have a clear understanding of the local conditions such as moisture and soil. Other reasons for failure include local residents upset because they do not play a larger role in the process and a failure to invest the funds in areas such as infrastructure where they would do the most good.

About the World Food Prize

What: Envisioned by Dr. Norman Borlaug, an Iowa native and winner of the of the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize, who developed high-yield, disease-resistant wheat varieties credited with saving more than a billion people from starvation. The World Food Prize is awarded to inspire breakthrough achievements to feed the world.

Who: The award this year will be given to Dr. Daniel Hillel, who has dual citizenship in the United States and Israel, and is known for his work on irrigation to bring water to crops in dry regions throughout the Middle East and around the world. The annual recipient receives $250,000.

When: As part of the award, the Food Prize Foundation hosts a laureate celebration Thursday and symposium Oct. 17-19 with the top minds in agriculture to discuss food security. Last year, 1,300 people from 75 countries converged on Des Moines to attend the event.

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