There are some twenty million people at risk of starvation, according to the United Nations. It is the world's most severe humanitarian crisis we have faced since 1945. In total, the US donated 1.5 million metric tons of commodities in fiscal year 2015. This included wheat, corn, soybeans and vegetable oil. While this is a small percentage of our total production, eliminating food aid would further reduce domestic commodity prices.
For almost seventy years, since the end of World War II, the United States has been the leader in the global effort to combat hunger. We have led the way with both humanitarian assistance and with policy initiatives. The largest programs are Food for Peace, Food for Progress and the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition programs (together “food aid”.)
The Administration has now proposed elimination of the McGovern-Dole school feeding program and deep cuts in food aid. Food for Peace is the largest program, followed by Food for Progress. McGovern-Dole provided more than 22 million meals to children in 41 countries over its first eight years.
The question facing Congress is whether the United States will continue to lead on food aid or whether the United States will fall back while millions of people face starvation?
Hunger, both domestic and international, has always offended the American people. Perhaps it is because many Americans immigrated to the States to avoid famine in Europe or because our heartland is so very productive. Americans have a special relationship with the land and the bounty it produces.
Let’s also recognize that food assistance is key to national security, economic development and jobs; it is not simply charity. To quote Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS): “I can confidently say that there is no issue in global security more timely or relevant than food security. Show me a nation that cannot feed itself, and I’ll show you a nation in chaos.” Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) recently sounded a similar theme, saying: “Foreign Aid is not charity. We must make sure it is well spent, but it is less than 1 percent of budget & critical to our national security.”
Our international food assistance budget is being complemented with important policy initiatives. A focus on increasing production must go hand in hand with food assistance.
In 2012, the G8 agreed to increased levels of commitment to global food security and launched the New Alliance for Food Security. The leadership of the African Union and the role of its Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program (CAADP) have been essential. Last year, the Congress with strong bipartisan leadership, enacted the Global Food Security Act.
As a result of these efforts, major gains were made toward reaching the UN’s Millennium Development Goals, commitments made by the United States and other G-8 Summit countries. The G8 Summit injected the political will and additional resources for the fight against global hunger, malnutrition, and poverty. The worldwide actions resulting from the summit greatly increased global investment in agricultural development and nutrition. These governmental actions have been complemented by the private sector, the African Development Bank and the major Foundations.
Establishing global food security is important not only to the millions of people who suffer from hunger but also to the sustainable economic growth of developing nations and national security of the United States. As we help countries become more food secure and raise their incomes we also expand markers for American businesses from banks to farm implement dealers.
As noted by Chairman Roberts, food security is a humanitarian challenge but also an economic development issue that presents major opportunities as well as national security challenges. A recent letter to Congress signed by over 120 retired Generals urged Congress to reconsider budget cuts to State and USAID, stating that “The military will lead the fight against terrorism on the battlefield, but it needs strong civilian partners in the battle against the drivers of extremism– lack of opportunity, insecurity, injustice, and hopelessness.”
As reported by the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service, “growing concentrations of poverty and hunger—exacerbated by the effects of climate variability, environmental degradation, and demographic trends—threaten global security, leaving countries and communities vulnerable to increased instability, conflict, and the potential for violence. The overall risk of food insecurity in many countries will increase during the next 10 years, contributing to social disruptions and political instability. The number of displaced people around the world is currently the highest since WW II at 65 million people. In addition to contributing to conflict and instability, food insecurity can also result from conflict and instability, as illustrated by the situation in many conflict zones around the world. Projections indicate that more than two-thirds of the world’s poor could be living in fragile countries, where state-society relations are already strained, by 2030.”
Food insecurity and hunger is a major cause of terrorism and immigration.
The former Republican Leader of the Senate, Senator Bob Dole recently put it this way: “As the threats to national security evolve and grow, so too must our response. Supporting food assistance programs in countries like South Sudan, Syria and Yemen isn’t just the right thing to do; it’s the smart thing to do. Hunger feeds violence and instability” Senator Dole wrote in his most recent Op-ed in the Kansas City Star.
In short, US food assistance, through its various programs puts America in the best possible light around the world. We deliver bags of food to children all over the world that say “From the American People.”
Under US leadership, we are making progress toward actually eliminating hunger. Eliminating hunger is within our grasp. The focus must be on increasing production; especially in Africa with has the potential to increase production five times in the next decade. But during this time of increasing production it is critical the US continues its commitment on humanitarian assistance and does not fall back.
Despite our collective progress toward global food security, a projected 795 million people suffer from chronic hunger, 159 million children under five are stunted, and one in six children in the developing world are underweight. Hunger kills more people every year than malaria, tuberculosis, and AIDS combined. There is still a great need for the US government’s participation and leadership in food assistance. Our participation will continue to drive economic prosperity at home and strengthen national security. If we fall back on food assistance it will be followed by other countries around the world and we must be ready for a global calamity. Scientists have the capacity to feed the world if our political leaders have the political will.
About the Author: Marshall Matz specializes in agriculture and food security at OFW Law in Washington, D.C. firstname.lastname@example.org