Tuesday, March 01, 2011

McGovern Remarks on Food Security

Below are some powerful remarks from Congressman Jim McGovern (a key player in the establishment USDA Food for Education program) who talk the floor to talk about the importance of mataining our commitments to international food security and agricultural development. Also, check out the recent NYTimes editorial on the food crisis, making a similar argument for investments in international ag.

M. Speaker.  At the end of January, the United Nations reported that the cost of basic food commodities – basic grains, vegetable oils, sugar – were at their highest levels since the UN created this index in 1990.

Two weeks ago, World Bank President Robert Zoellick announced that the Bank’s Food Price Index shows food prices are now 29% higher than they were a year ago.

Zoellick warned the G-20 to “put food first” when they next meet.   The World Bank estimates that these recent food price spikes have pushed about 44 million people into extreme poverty.  That’s under a dollar and twenty-five cents a day.

This is a global security crisis.

The lack of food security contributes to political instability – food was a primary reason people first took to the streets in Tunisia.  Food and poverty were right at the top of the list in the squares of Egypt, right next to the call for political freedom.

In 2007 to 2008, the last global food crisis, there were major food riots in nearly 40 countries.

In May 2008, my fellow Co-Chair of the House Hunger Caucus Congresswoman Emerson and I were briefed by the GAO about the lack of coordination and continuity in U.S. food and development programs.  We started calling for a comprehensive approach to address global hunger and food insecurity.

Under the leadership of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and USAID Administrator Raj Shah, the U.S. government responded to that call – and over a two-year period of time initiated a comprehensive, government-wide approach to reduce global hunger and increase nutrition and food security.  Not because it feels good.  Not even because it’s the right and moral thing to do.  But because it’s in our national security and economic interests to make countries food secure, more productive, healthier and more stable.

This strategy is known as the Global Hunger and Food Security Initiative.   It includes our bilateral programs and efforts with other governments and multilateral institutions.  To be successful, everyone has to pitch in.

Feed the Future is the signature program of the U.S. strategy.  It works with small farmers and governments to increase agricultural production and strengthen local and regional markets in order to reduce hunger and grow economies.

Other key elements include the McGovern-Dole Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program that brings kids to school and keeps them there by making sure they get at least one nutritious meal each day at school.  This program has proven to be especially effective at convincing families to send their daughters to school.

And finally, there is our Food for Peace Program, which provides food to millions of women, children and men caught in life-threatening situations brought on by natural disasters, war and internal conflict.  This program provides U.S.-grown commodities and locally purchased foods that literally keep people trying to survive the world’s most dangerous situations alive.

M. Speaker, I have never heard anyone say that they would like to see more hunger in the world – that they would like to see children too weak from hunger to be able to learn, or young girls forced to work long hours because they are no longer being fed at school.

But that’s what the budget cuts that passed the House one week ago would do.  The House cut $800 million out of the food aid budget and over 40 percent from Development Assistance, which is where Feed the Future is funded.

If these short-sighted and callous cuts are allowed to stand, we would literally be taking the food out of the mouths of over 2 million children.  We would be depriving over 18 million people the food that keeps them alive – in Haiti, Darfur, Afghanistan, Guatemala, Ethiopia, Kenya and elsewhere.

We would be turning our backs on countries where we made commitments to help boost the production of their own small farmers so that they could finally free themselves of having to depend on U.S. and international food aid to feed their own people.

Enough, M. Speaker!  Enough!  This isn’t a question of charity.  It’s an issue of national security – of what happens when desperate people can’t find or afford food, and the anger that comes from people who see no future for their children except poverty and death.

I ask President Obama to stand up for his programs and fight for them.

I ask the White House to hold a Summit on hunger, nutrition and food security – both here in the U.S. and globally.

I ask the media to wake up and grasp the consequences of these short-sighted cuts.

I call upon my colleagues, on both sides of the aisle, to fund these programs so that they can be successful.  It really is a matter of life and death.