FAYETTEVILLE, Ark., Oct. 14, 2015 – A top Farm Journal Foundation official told a University of Arkansas audience this week while there is a “moral imperative” to reduce global hunger and poverty, there are “more pragmatic reasons” for the U.S. to be involved in the effort, including national security.

“If a country has a lot of hungry people in the countryside they tend to be a little desperate, and desperate people do things that lead to instability,” Stephanie Mercier, the senior policy and advocacy adviser on the Foundation’s “Farm Team,” said at a forum on global food security. The Farm Team is an initiative to teach farmers and ranchers how to communicate global hunger concerns to congressional decision makers.

In addition, Mercier said as subsistence farmers become more prosperous, “the first thing they're going to do is buy more food to feed their families...you're creating markets for U.S. products.”

Mercier also said such efforts are a way of maintaining a U.S. presence in less developed nations to counter the influence of foreign competitors. She said EU antagonism toward crops produced with genetically modified organisms (GMOs) has influenced African food acceptance, and the U.S. needs to be present "as a helpful force in order to combat misimpressions a lot of African countries have about GMOs and their value.”

In another example, she said the U.S. needs to counter China, which has been securing land and natural resources in Africa and Asia. During a later panel discussion, another featured speaker, U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark, agreed, saying the “Chinese have a tendency to come in, and it truly is all about China, the mother country.”

In contrast, Boozman said the U.S. has policies in place “that really are helping the rest of the world ... We continue to be the most generous nation when it comes to international development and food aid,” which he said has “saved the lives of millions of people, and improved the lives of millions more around the globe.”

Boozman affirmed America's role as the leading provider of food aid worldwide. However, the senator told Agri-Pulse an Obama administration proposal for converting food aid to cash will not get through Congress.

Boozman noted that among the changes in the 2014 farm bill is a provision that enables the U.S. Agency for International Development to better respond to and prioritize food aid needs in emergency situations, and to increase funds to improve delivery time for food assistance.

While these changes have increased the number of overseas recipients reached by U.S. food aid programs, Congress has rejected the administration's proposal to shift from bulk food shipments to cash donations so countries can buy food locally.

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Boozman says the problem is the lack of a constituency for overseas donations. Currently, “you have a situation where you're actually selling products, you've got shippers, you've got farmers, you have a constituency; it all works together,” he told Agri-Pulse. The system, he said, “is good for the countries involved; it's good for Americans, and good for American farmers and the shippers involved.”

Boozman said while U.S. food aid programs are not endangered by Washington budget disagreements, “certainly we're in a situation where we have to watch our pennies. But there's wide support in Congress for these programs.”


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