April 3rd, 2009
05:50 PM ET

Why President Obama got it right at the G-20

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/04/03/art.bangladesh1.jpg caption="A local man buys food at a marketplace in Bangladesh."]

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/04/03/art.nargis1.jpg caption="Because of Cyclone Nargis, a farmer in Myanmar is plowing his field weeks after the regular planting season. Natural disasters can exponentially increase the impact of the food and economic crises on the poor."]

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/04/03/art.turkana.jpg caption="In Turkana, Kenya, a woman hoes the fields in preparation for planting. At the G-20 this week, President Obama promised to double U.S. aid for global agricultural development."]

Robert Zachritz
World Vision

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.

soundoff (11 Responses)
  1. Danielle

    It is an admirable concept and so true that if everyone's basic needs were met, the world would be a much safer place literally overnight, however we need to look at the details of these measures and make sure they are actually creating food security and not its opposite: the food security bills in congress are a handout to agribusinesses which take power from small local farmers, not give it to them.

    April 6, 2009 at 11:14 am |
  2. Doc L.

    What a contrast between President Obama and that last guy-I think Bush was his name.
    Now, perhaps the world can move on with a positive outlook and committment with the United States and our excellently pragmatic president!

    April 3, 2009 at 10:06 pm |
  3. Dan Nelson

    You can't get it more right than what you've wrote Anderson. Very good I wish more of the richer people would understand how it would make it a better world if they would sacrifice what they have for others that are in need!

    April 3, 2009 at 9:57 pm |
  4. janice

    hi i think the president shoul be happy and greatful for being bless that whats happining around the world thanks anderson for each article that writing this mounth of april its so good to now waths goin on in country of the world

    April 3, 2009 at 8:28 pm |
  5. lisaonline

    "It’s far more effective and far less expensive to prevent these types of humanitarian crises than it is to try and fix them. "

    Very strong article. The point about not merely providing short-term food or resources to those in need – but of teaching and encouraging self-sufficiency – speaks volumes. Globally.

    April 3, 2009 at 8:15 pm |
  6. Stan

    Lets Stop the Flow of drugs and guns into the U.S from Mexica and Cuba. Why are we soft on the drug Cartel? Who's really benefitting from the sales of drugs and guns in the United States? I really believe we can stop the flow of Cocaine and other drugs into the Unikted States, if we really put our efforts into it!

    April 3, 2009 at 7:22 pm |
  7. Joshy Punny

    Way to go President Obama!!!
    That is how you make friends in the world. Not by investing millions upon millions on wars that need not be fought. A helping hand is more heart warming than a slap to the wrist. Now the only thing he has to do is capture Osama Bin Laben with the help of local, national forces.

    April 3, 2009 at 7:16 pm |
  8. Leslie, MI

    What an excellent and real article. Thank you for stating the facts of our world. Your pictures are beautiful yet a true reality check for those who don't choose to recognize how we are all linked. It does matter if someone is struggling or starving even if we will never meet them, or never 'care' to.

    April 3, 2009 at 7:07 pm |
  9. Bella

    Thanks for reminding us of our good fortune here in the US. We do need to recommit ourselves to help those less fortunate.

    April 3, 2009 at 7:06 pm |
  10. Annie Kate

    As well as making aid available to developing countries for food, etc, we need to tackle seriously the problems of climate change because if we don't these problems will dry up drinking water sources and reduce the productivity of our farmers, making food even more scarce than it already is. We will see billions die as a result if we don't tackle the climate problems now. We've already put it off too long to be able to mitigate it to a milder impact – now we need to work on not letting it get more serious.

    April 3, 2009 at 6:53 pm |
  11. Stan

    Regarding the Presidents G-20 sumit meeting with the leaders of the Other Countries.Just because President Obam didn't get everything he may of wanted he still got some of the things we wanted. In the past that has been the United States biggest problem, they wany it all! I thank God we have a President that can listen and not demand everything, like Presidents have done in the past. When leaders of onther Countries all listen and work together, we can help each other out of this mess the Republicans put us in!!!!

    April 3, 2009 at 6:52 pm |