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close this bookOvercoming Global Hunger (WB)
close this folderFinal session - commitments to action
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentNeeded: food security in a hungry world
View the documentConcluding statement on behalf of NGOS
View the documentClosing remarks

Needed: food security in a hungry world

J. Brian Atwood

Over the last two days, one message has permeated the proceedings here: we cannot distance ourselves from the problem of hunger. Most of us understood this when we convened yesterday, and I hope that the news media will convey this message to the people of the United States and the citizens of the industrial world. Food is the most basic measure of empowerment, and the hunger and-malnutrition of perhaps a quarter of the world's population threaten the industrial world and its economies, its interests, and its moral stature.

Under the Clinton administration, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has made the pursuit of food security a strategic goal We believe that food insecurity is part of a larger danger that the World Bank and the international community must address: the phenomenon of failed states. Societies implode because of persistent poverty, because of unsustainable population growth, because of abuse of the environment, and because of autocracy and oppression. In every one of these causal factors, hunger plays a role, and its consequences must be seen in this larger context.

· Hunger is an issue of broadly based economic growth, especially among the very poorest, because when people are uncertain whether they wit eat that day, they cannot be economic participants, except in desperation or as supplicants.

Hunger is a population issue, because as Lester Brown has noted, the quantity of food in the world is stabilizing, but the curve of population growth is skill going up Poor nutrition is intimately connected with poor material health, high rates of infant mortality, and the disempowerment and illiteracy of women, the very factors that drive up birth rates.

· Hunger is a health issue, because persister malnutrition makes people vulnerable to endemic disease and epidemic infections, and condemns them to unhealthy and unproductive lives

· Hunger is an environmental issue, because food insecurity drives people to exploit marginal lands, misuse water supplies, exhaust soils, and deforest the land.

· Hunger is a democracy issue, because empty bellies make freedom difficult to sustain, and because the availability of food and access to it say much about the consolidation of democracy in nations that are emerging from state domination.

Our approach is profoundly simple:

· We believe that prevention is the most inexpensive investment we can make

· We believe that conserving and building on existing economic assets and systems is cheaper than rebuilding them.

· We believe that by helping people achieve food self-reliance, we can help them unleash their productive energies in a hundred different ways.

Progress has been made In many parts of the world agriculture is being conducted in ways that better address the quality and quantity of food produced In a number of nations agricultural incomes have increased, hunger and malnutrition have declined, and rural society has been stabilized In Central and Eastern Europe and some of the republics of the former Soviet Union the benefits of privatization are becoming evident. In Indonesia, the Republic of Korea, and Thailand sustained development has produced real food security.

On the subcontinent hunger remains a problem, but India and Bangladesh have steadily reduced the threat of famine. Progressive policies, flexible planning and liberated market forces have given them a margin of resilience.

In Central America high value agricultural exports, which draw on broad participation by small farmers and business owners, are increasingly significant Their impact is evident in the faces of rural and urban children who are better fed, among farmers who now have disposable incomes, and among an emerging middle class In Guatemala it was these people who understood that forward looking policies depend on the survival of democracy, and who last summer came into the streets in democracy's defense.

In the Dominican Republic, Tanzania, and Thailand simple food preservation technologies have made food rich in vitamins available year round These programs, which emphasize community participation, simultaneously increase food production, access, and consumption and household incomes.

In southern Africa we can speak of the 1991-92 famine that never was, the thousands of lives that were not blighted, the tens of thousands who were not displaced. We can speak of this phantom famine not because drought did not occur—it was one of the worst of the century— but because the nations of the region cooperated as never before, used their particular strengths, and attended to the concerns of their neighbors.

I am proud that the USAID made a contribution to this famine that never was We will build on this legacy. Yet despite the progress, more than a billion people still go to sleep each night and rise each morning with food paramount in their minds. A billion more suffer from hidden hunger, the lack of sufficient vitamins and minerals in their diets. Throughout the world food insecurity has a devastating effect on child mortality, productivity, and economic development.

Hunger is not an abstraction. It is a profoundly human issue, and it demands our attention Food security and famine are two sides of the same coin, and if we are to address the issue of hunger in the developing world, then we must focus on the factors that determine whether people eat or starve.

We believe that economically advanced nations and the donor community have a responsibility to strengthen agrarian economies and enhance food security in the developing world This is in our own interest, for we can help arrest economic migration and political turmoil, help nations achieve broad economic growth, and create markets for our products.

Because food issues are critical to overall development and often determine the extent and recurrence of famine, the USAID will structure its programs—especially in agrarian countries that are subject to famine and other disruptions of the food supply—to encourage the establishment of flourishing agricultural sectors. We will do this by addressing policy issues, marketing factors, and farming practices and technologies, the elements that determine whether local capacity will increase or decline.

Our programs will focus on the factors we believe are pivotal in agricultural success and building local capacity: market oriented pricing and trading policies; access to inputs, such as seeds, fertilizer, credit, technology' information, and land; access to domestic and export markets; crop production and marketing choices; integrated crop and livestock management; progressive husbandry practices and veterinary care; soil and water conservation through improved tilling practices, erosion planning, and control; integrated pest management; reductions in the use of pesticides and in fertilizer and pesticide runoff; efficient design and management of irrigation systems; and protection of aquifers and integrated water resource planning. We will continue to support agricultural research work that has had a global impact and is indispensable to developing new methods and technologies that enhance growth and food security.

Our long-term programs to build food security will address food availability, income and distribution issues that affect access to food; issues of harvesting, storage, and processing; and health and nutrition issues that affect food use and consumption. We will also continue our efforts to provide technical assistance to help countries eliminate hidden hunger through the Opportunities for Micronutrient Interventions project.

International economic policy is also part of this equation We must all work together—development agencies, multilateral development banks, and international financial institutions to ensure that structural adjustment lending strategies improve food security and do not undermine it.

Under the Clinton administration our efforts will focus on people who are mired in poverty. Yesterday you heard Muhammad Yunus, president of Grameen Bank of Bangladesh, speak of his remarkable efforts to help poor people, mostly women, to empower themselves economically and politically. By textbook definition Professor Yunus's clients were destitute. Their primary need was the wherewithal to acquire sufficient food, a modicum of assets, and access to markets so that they could join the productive economy. Grameen Bank provided them with an answer, one whose starting point was to help them feed themselves and their families. A key to the success of Grameen Bank was its integration of nutrition education and literacy activities.

Grameen Bank has had a profound influence on the development community and on the USAID Its participatory aspects are especially important to us, because the bank not only lends the poor money, but involves them in every aspect of its operations. Village and neighborhood banks do much the same thing, and this contribution to the community's sense of itself is one reason why these enterprises succeed in reducing extreme poverty and the hunger that characterizes it.

With this in mind, the USAID will direct resources toward microenterprise development and the instruments to support it, including poverty lending. We are convinced that this is an effective way to address the overriding, daily concerns of the very poor, and in so doing, to help them become economic and political participants. These programs become even more effective when they are linked with literacy programs and unproved access to nutrition and health information.

We will mount programs that address related issues, such as infectious diseases, sanitation, water supplies, and rural institutions, because each of these has a measurable impact on food and hunger. In essence, we will follow an integrated approach to food security.

Most important of all, we are convinced that our efforts must stay the course. Assistance will be of little value if it follows development fashions or the political needs of the moment The pursuit of food security is a long-term enterprise. It involves the social, political, and economic wherewithal of entire societies, and will tax the skills and resources of the donor community to the limit.

Our ultimate success will require partnerships with host nations, with the people we assist, and with each other. At this time of critical need, the willingness of the industrial democracies to support and invest in foreign assistance is at a low point Curiously, the worst enemy faced by the donor community, by private voluntary organizations and nongovernmental organizations, by universities and professional associations, maybe our own parochialism: about distinctions between hunger, nutrition, and health; about specific programs; about earmarks in appropriations bills; about organizational prerogatives; and about projects, programs, and grants. Last month, I spoke to Interaction, one of the groups represented here today, and I told them something that bears repeating:

We need each other The role of foreign aid as an instrument of policy will be redefined this decade, and what we say and do—as a community—will determine if our nation and its allies care to respond to the challenge of development, and can respond. So we must stand together, each of us here, as a community, or we will find ourselves standing for very little . . [And] we must stand together, not only for ourselves as a community, but for the advocates of foreign assistance in other industrial nations, who are facing precisely the same pressures that are confronting us.

Even as we strive to help feed a hungry world, we must reinforce each ether. We must coordinate at every stage of the development process, assessing problems and the threats they represent, sharing responsibility, allocating resources, pooling our financial resources where appropriate, sharing our technical resources and expertise, transfering insights about methods and results, collaborating at the institutional level, and communicating in the field.

This is the ultimate challenge posed by a hungry world- to maintain the capacity to care and to act This is the ultimate challenge we confront, and I am hopeful that for the betterment of the millions who look to us now, we will meet it.