Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger
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Averting a permanent food crisis

By Rev. David Beckmann on May 3, 2009
© Roanoke Times

Recently, the aspects of the global economic crisis receiving most attention have been government stimulus packages and bailouts for bankers and automakers. Slowly but encouragingly, something higher on the chain of human needs is emerging on the global radar: food.


Unprecedented spikes and ongoing volatility in the prices of rice, corn and wheat have devastated the hundreds of millions of people who already spend half or more of their income on food. In less than two years, the food crisis pushed an additional 130 million people into hunger and triggered riots in more than 30 countries. Currently, nearly 1 billion people around the world don't know where their next meal will come from.


Week before last, agriculture leaders from the world's richest countries, joined by their counterparts in China, India, Mexico and Brazil, issued an unusual warning: Should the food crisis continue, it may become permanent in only a few decades. To avert a permanent food shortage, the ministers warned, agricultural production must double by 2050.


We have the knowledge to increase food production. But who produces food is as important as how much is produced. By increasing production in the regions of greatest need, particularly in Africa and Asia, we can escape the endless cycle of emergency food aid. Helping small farmers in poor countries produce more food will raise their incomes and enable entire rural communities to thrive on their own for a generation.



Shortly before the G8 agriculture ministers' meeting, President Obama asked Congress for nearly $448 million for countries affected by the food and financial crisis. He also pledged to double assistance for agriculture in developing countries to $1 billion. This investment, if used effectively, could give millions of people in poor countries the chance to farm their way out of poverty permanently.


We know how to deliver assistance for sustainable development, especially when it comes to hunger. Take the story of Ventorina Odun, a poor Ugandan farmer. An eight-year partnership between the government of Uganda and the International Fund for Agriculture Development, which the United States helps to fund, helped her earn more money by growing sunflower and palm seeds to produce cooking oil.


In addition to agriculture training, the project provided Odun with credit so she could invest in seed processing implements. It also built a road to her remote community so that her cooking oil could be shipped to market. With hard work and diligence, Odun used the profits of a single year's sunflower seed crop to diversify her farm's products and save enough money to send her children to school.


But U.S. foreign assistance doesn't always live up to its potential. Currently our government's global development policies and programs are scattered across 12 departments, 25 different agencies and nearly 60 government offices. Our policies are driven by the Foreign Assistance Act, originally enacted in 1961. A more efficient foreign assistance system -- with better coordination, accountability and clarity -- means that people get help faster and more effectively.


This year Bread for the World is campaigning to rework foreign assistance to make it more effective in reducing poverty. We are asking Congress to pass legislation that strengthens the ability of the United States to promote global development, reduce poverty and foster economic growth in low-income countries.


The communiqué issued at the end of the G8 agriculture ministers' meeting recommended that leaders put agriculture and global food security "at the core of the international agenda."


Getting leaders from around the world to harmonize policies to strengthen agriculture and food security is a considerable challenge. Improving our own foreign assistance program would send an important signal to our global partners: Even in a worldwide recession, we can prevent millions more vulnerable people from permanently falling into the spiral of poverty and hunger.



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