Food Security Top Priority for Obama Administration
(Food activist Tony Hall supports comprehensive approach to hunger)
By Charles W. Corey
Washington — Food security is one of the top issues worldwide and a “very top priority” for the Obama administration, says longtime food security advocate Tony Hall, former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. World Food Programme and former U.S. lawmaker, who spent 24 years in Congress working to feed the hungry worldwide.
Hall, who is the executive director of the Washington-based Alliance to End Hunger, discussed food security policy with America.gov on the eve of the November 16–18 World Summit on Food Security in Rome.
“There is no reason why we should have the kind of hunger in the world that we have today,” he said, with “well over 1 billion people who are chronically hungry, many to the point of starving.”
Hall said world food conferences such as the World Summit on Food Security are good for focusing attention on the issue, but can be frustrating as well because the worldwide hunger problem persists.
The United States, Hall said, still ranks as the world’s largest contributor to the World Food Programme and donates food assistance on a bilateral basis as well. U.S. nonprofit groups and nongovernmental organizations also provide food assistance in addition to the government funding. Hall said the United States’ contribution to the cause of eliminating hunger worldwide is equal to about 40 percent of total worldwide contributions.
In 2008 alone, the U.S. Agency for International Development provided 2.6 million metric tons of food, valued at more than $2.6 billion, which benefited approximately 56 million people in 49 countries on four continents.
Hall praised the Obama administration’s Global Hunger and Food Security Initiative ( http://www.state.gov/s/globalfoodsecurity/129952.htm ), which he said addresses the issue of hunger comprehensively, and called it “the best piece I have ever read” on hunger under five presidents.
The strategy is comprehensive, he said, because it not only addresses food aid but also focuses on the importance of agriculture, nutrition, child hunger and new technologies and takes a broad approach to dealing with the problem of hunger.
“Africa today, agriculturewise, has not produced any more food than they did 30 years ago — which is amazing when you think about it , when you see a continent that is increasing in population has not produced any more food.”
That has been compounded, he said, by a decrease in agriculture aid to the continent over much of that same period. “As a result, even the countries themselves in Africa stopped supporting and emphasizing agriculture. You can imagine, if you don’t have the good seeds, if you don’t have the fertilizer, if you don’t have the latest technology, if you don’t have the best people coming back and forth, you are not going to produce anything. With this new emphasis on agriculture and new monies that they agreed to at the G8 in L’Aquila, that is all going to change. So it is a new day.”
The Group of Eight major industrialized countries’ food security initiative, launched this past summer at the L’Aquila, Italy, summit, aims to provide about $20 billion over three years for long-term farming investment. (See “G8 Nations Propose $20 Billion in Food Assistance ( http://www.america.gov/st/peacesec-english/2009/July/20090710112456dmslahrellek0.8607294.html ).”)
Stating that food security is a “very top priority” of the Obama administration, Hall acknowledged that in the past two years, when food and energy prices spiked, food aid has been very difficult. Even though food prices have since declined somewhat recently, they are still high, he said, as many nations worldwide now face droughts and various disruptions that will continue to increase costs.
Hall said the world’s hungry population has increased to 1 billion in the past two years as a result of increasing prices and other such problems.
Hall is currently staff director of the Alliance to End Hunger, which has 78 member organizations, including corporations and nonprofit and religious groups that bring Christians, Jews and Muslims together to help the hungry worldwide. Such an approach is important, he said, because “hunger can only be solved if everybody works together. It is not just government; it has got to be individuals … nonprofits … corporations … foundations and religious groups. That is the whole thing that alliance does.”
Hall said his organization lobbies the United States Congress to implement legislation to help the hungry worldwide and also does public opinion polling. Citing that polling, he said 66.9 percent of all Americans support feeding the hungry worldwide and nearly 50 percent of all Americans think the issue is so important that they would support a Cabinet-level position for an official to lead the fight against hunger and poverty.
Hall’s career as an advocate for the hungry began when he served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Thailand in the late 1960s — where he says he saw hunger and poverty firsthand. Hall said he also traveled to Ethiopia in 1984, as a U.S. congressman serving on the House of Representatives Select Committee on Hunger, to investigate hunger statistics that he said he could not believe.
In Ethiopia, he said, he saw thousands of starving people, many of whom were dying children. “I must have had 25 children thrust into my arms … half of the children who were given to me were already dead. Then I saw a whole bunch of them die right there,” outside a rural clinic operated by Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity. “I never got over that.” Hall has continued ever since to work for the eradication of hunger worldwide.
(This is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://www.america.gov)