The President announced his plan yesterday to double U.S. assistance for global agricultural productivity and rural development and called for a comprehensive strategy to alleviate chronic hunger. Why now - when our own nation is hurting?
As a matter of fact, the Food Action and Research Center reported yesterday that 32.2 million Americans – nearly one in 10 – received food stamps in the month of January, a record high in the United States. The report illustrates the daily economic struggles American families are facing, and when we are suffering here at home, it can often be difficult to remember the needs of those beyond our borders. In tough times, it’s tempting to take care of ourselves before we address the needs of others. But some perspective may be in order.
Since 2007, the number of hungry people worldwide has increased to nearly 1 billion – nearly one in six people. These aren’t people who will have to eat at home more or buy cheaper groceries. These are people who will lack the nutrition necessary just to maintain basic health. These are children who could suffer stunted physical development or even permanent brain damage because they didn’t get enough of the right foods in their early years.
When Americans hit hard times, services like unemployment insurance and food stamps are available to ensure that individuals’ basic needs are met. But in the poorest countries, these social programs simply don’t exist. Many families spend as much as 75 percent of their income on food. When prices for basic staples rise, many people simply don’t eat.
We can’t allow people to go without food, one of the most basic of human needs, even if it requires some sacrifice from our own pockets. But this is more than a moral issue. This food crisis – which is linked to the financial crisis – is destroying the very foundation of national economies: their people. This devastation has fatal ramifications that will be felt, not for years, but for generations – and not in one corner of the globe, or even across the developing world, but worldwide.
People take desperate measures when they and their families are hungry. Violence, participation in armed groups, the spread of AIDS, family breakdown, substandard education and other problems – with economic and security implications for the U.S. – find hunger at their roots.
It’s far more effective and far less expensive to prevent these types of humanitarian crises than it is to try and fix them. Prevention frees us to work with new trading partners, establish new political alliances and protect our own security and economic interests.
That's why President Obama got it right.
His plan isn’t just distributing food rations to hungry people – though it includes that. This effort really revolves around the difficult but sustainable work of improving agricultural techniques, protecting and improving soil quality, and addressing market issues that keep poor farmers from being able to sell their crops. That way, the next time the economy heads south, people in developing countries may feel the pain, but they won’t face starvation as a result.
And this plan isn’t nearly as costly as it might sound. In fact, the cost of the President's proposal on global hunger is only one-tenth of one percent of the economic stimulus plans passed over the last year in Congress to address our own recession. One-tenth of one percent. Pocket change compared to what we’re spending on ourselves.
Now it’s time for Congress to realize the President’s promise. The Senate, in particular, should act on the Lugar-Casey Global Food Security Act. This bill calls for a comprehensive strategy to address global hunger, doubling agriculture development resources and increasing funding for overseas agricultural development and nutrition.
The rise and fall of each nation’s economy affects the rest of the world. Ensuring that every person has enough basic food is a moral decision, but it’s also a strategic choice that strengthens the global economy over the long term.