Certainly, one of the major issues on the table this year is the global food supply and how to improve the different food systems around the world. In the wake of COVID-19, and with global warming having a profound impact on agriculture, food issues are front and center.

On July 7th, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa launched the African Green Revolution Forum and announced it will take place in Kenya the first week of September. Over 10,000 participants are expected to participate again this year, most virtually.

Later this month, on July 26, the United Nations will hold a pre-Summit for the United Nations’ Food System Summit (FSS) to be held as a part of the UN General Assembly in September. Dr. Agnes Kalibata will host both the African Forum and the FSS.

The goal of the FSS, called for by the Secretary General in 2019, just before the COVID outbreak, will focus on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal #2, “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.”

The challenges in achieving this goal in Africa and other developing areas of the world are far different than our challenge in the United States. In Africa, their yields are only 10% of our yields, and smallholder farmers still do not all have access to certified hybrid seeds and the needed inputs. 

Our challenge is far different in the United States but just as frustrating. One percent of our population produces all the food we need, and we spend less than 10% of our disposable income of food.  But millions of Americans are going hungry. Our food programs do not reach all of those in need of assistance. Our food banks are struggling to meet the demand. 

In short, we need to do more and do it differently. President Nixon hosted a White House Conference on Food, Nutrition and Health in 1969. It led to the creation of many of the current USDA food programs, and nutrition labeling too.

We need a second White House Conference to figure out why people are hungry in America and how to update or restructure our food assistance programs. The United States is generous when it comes to food assistance, but something is wrong. 

Food stamps/SNAP needs to provide adequate benefits. The idea of adding benefits that can be used specifically for fruit, vegetables and whole grains is a good idea. School meals are excellent, but children arrive at school on Monday too hungry to concentrate. It was President Nixon who said in 1969 “A child ill-fed is dulled in curiosity, lower in stamina, distracted from learning.”

MatzChartThe Summer Food Program does not reach the children in need, and it needs a setting or structure that allows for a nutritious meal. Extra SNAP benefits in the summer help, but there are no nutrition standards as there are during the school year. These are not easy challenges and could be addressed by a second White House Conference.

Congressman Jim McGovern (D-MA) has been tirelessly leading the call for a second White House Conference. Former Senator Bob Dole (R-KS) supports the idea of the Conference. The House Appropriations Committee report included language calling for OMB to set up a White House Conference:

“Hunger Conference--The Committee is increasingly concerned about rising levels of hunger in the United States and challenges related to the supply chain and delivery of nutritious food to underserved populations, which was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Committee directs 0MB to convene a conference on Food, Nutrition, Hunger, and Health no later than 120 days after enactment of this Act, for the purpose of developing of a roadmap to end hunger and improve nutrition by 2030. The conference should be developed in consultation with Federal, State, and local officials; anti-hunger, food supply, and health care experts drawn from across the country; and people with lived experience of hunger. The conference should examine why hunger persists and where gaps exist and develop cross departmental strategies to eliminate hunger. The conference should examine limitations in the nation's food supply chain, advancements in nutrition, and ways to improve health and reduce costs by eliminating hunger and improving access to nutritious foods. The conference should also examine how limited opportunities for economic mobility and other inequities have contributed to hunger. The conference shall produce a final report detailing its findings and proposed policies changes to end hunger and improve nutrition security nationally by 2030.”

The United States is a strong supporter of the UN FSS. Now is the time to figure how to apply the UN goal to eliminate hunger here at home and a second White Conference, under the leadership of Secretary Tom Vilsack, could be the right forum to help chart a course of action.

Remembering Gene White, a global leader in school nutrition

(Lois) Gene White, MS, SNS, passed away peacefully in Oak Harbor, Washington on June 23, just six months shy of her 100th birthday. Born tiny and sickly on December 23, 1921, in Pitsburg, Ohio to Merlin and Olive Sando. Gene’s mother, a nurse, improvised an incubator in the warming oven of a wood-burning stove. Gene survived and survived spectacularly–to become a global leader in school nutrition.  Gene served as the Director of Child Nutrition in California, President of the School Nutrition Association and then founded and chaired the Global Child Nutrition Foundation, known all over the world.  She will be greatly missed. 


Marshall Matz specializes in global food security at OFW Law in Washington, D.C. mmatz@ofwlaw.com

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