Friday, July 3, 2009

Feeding Africa’s Hungry

Every day in Africa, more than 300 million people wake up hungry and go to bed the same way. More than 3.5 million mothers and children are likely to die each year from the effects of chronic hunger. With the steep rise of food prices last year, this tragedy only worsened for them and hundreds of millions of others around the world.

Africa’s food crisis has been blamed on many causes – from the breakup of commercial farming to the failure to adapt to modern farming techniques and products such as genetically modified seeds to the diversion of global food grains to the production of ethanol for fuel. There is great debate on these points, but whatever the cause or causes, this situation cannot continue. The United States is the world’s largest donor of emergency food aid, but the Obama Administration and Congress, realizing that our government spends 20 times as much on food aid to Africa as it does on programs to boost African food production, are setting a new course.

The Administration has proposed a seven-part plan to promote self-sustaining agriculture in Africa and other developing countries that would expand access to agricultural implements and training, improve food storage and processing and the roads to transport food, help maintain natural resources and adapt to climate change, support research and development by cultivating the next generation of plant scientists, help increase trade opportunities for small farmers, promote policy reforms and good governance and provide assistance to women and families since women are 70% of the world’s farmers.

In support of these goals, Senators Richard Lugar, Robert Casey and Richard Durbin and Representatives Betty McCollum, Donald Payne, Jo Ann Emerson and others have introduced legislation to support these goals for food security in Africa and elsewhere.

This initiative is timely because the lives of so many are at stake. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development warns that Africa’s food deficit has not been resolved and that last year’s food crisis could be repeated if prices for staples such as rice, wheat, corn and cooking oil climb again on world markets.

However, the U.S. initiative comes at a point at which this government is making tremendous investments in overall economic recovery and making significant contributions to programs in energy, health care and education. It will take great faith in our ability to generate the funding for the programs called for in the President’s plan and Congressional legislation being proposed if they are to be approved. With trillions of dollars being committed in so many directions, food security could be placed on the back burner, so to speak, given the promotion of other issues and the current lack of headlines on food insecurity. Hundreds of millions in Africa and around the world with growling bellies and fading strength pray that will not be the case.

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