Owing in large part to the generosity of the American taxpayer, worldwide starvation and chronic hunger have dropped notably. According to estimates by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the number of undernourished people in the world fell by over 100 million from 2003 to 2016.
While we’re making progress in the global fight against hunger, clearly much more needs to be done. Congress enacted the Global Food Security Act (GFSA) in 2016 to help countries achieve food security, self-sufficiency, and, ultimately, political stability.
Joined by Rep. Betty McCollum (DFL-MN), I recently introduced the bill to reauthorize the GFSA through 2020—the Global Food Security Reauthorization Act of 2018 (HR 5129)—which passed out of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on April 17. It represents a long-term investment in countries that goes far beyond just emergency food aid, as it is a time-tested way for the U.S. to bring transformative results to countries through foreign aid, while saving taxpayers money in the long run.
It accomplishes this by, first, providing targeted nutrition aid to children and their mothers during the first 1,000 days of a child’s life, from conception until the second birthday.
We know that children who receive the nutrition they need will have a critical head start in their healthy growth and their ability to fend off diseases when they are older. Conversely, children who are malnourished—beginning in utero—may suffer from cognitive and physical deficiencies for a lifetime, including weaker immune systems and chronic diseases.
If mothers receive proper nutrients during pregnancy like iodine, Vitamin A, and folic acid, they also will be healthier and their children will have a much lower risk of diseases and disorders like Autism Spectrum Disorder.
And if this food and nutrition aid is combined with deworming programs and education for sanitary food practices like WaSH (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene), we also help fight the widespread problem of intestinal worms, which affect close to a billion people worldwide. We want to make sure we feed the future, and don’t feed the worms.
Second, the GFSA protects U.S. national security by fighting food insecurity that, as we saw in 2007-08, can be a key source of severe political instability. The 2008 food riots in Egypt, for example, triggered a chain of events that led to the rise of the radical Muslim Brotherhood. Sudden shifts in power like this, with the rise of radical groups, can pose a direct threat to the national security of the U.S. and can destabilize an entire country or region for decades.
Third, the law helps local farmers and businesses in developing countries become more self-sufficient, which improves the stability and future economic outlook of developing countries and saves the United States taxpayer dollars in the long run.
The law funds programs for local famers in developing countries to increase crop yields, become resilient to droughts and adverse weather, and find new ways to bring their products to market, thus helping them become less reliant upon foreign aid—as the proverb says, “Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” The Administrator of USAID Mark Green has already stated that the goal of U.S. foreign aid is to accomplish an environment where aid is no longer needed.
Many countries which were previously beneficiaries of U.S. agricultural assistance are now significant commercial markets for U.S. food and agricultural exports. For example, from 2013-2016, U.S. agricultural exports to Guatemala totaled $1.1 billion, compared with just $100 million in 1990. The GFSA enhances opportunities for U.S. exporters in the long-run.
Over 50 non-governmental, faith-based and university organizations—like the American Jewish World Services, Food for the Hungry, World Vision, Catholic Relief Services, Bread for the World, and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities—have supported the Global Food Security Act. Many of them work directly with families in the developing world. They realize that the policy reflects the Matthew 25 Gospel message: we will be judged on how we respond to the needs of the “least of these,” our fellow human beings who greatly need our assistance.
Global hunger remains an urgent problem, and we remain dedicated to helping the hundreds of millions who are still chronically hungry each day. Malnourishment for young children can cause severe and long-lasting health problems. The future of hundreds of millions of women and children is at stake.
However, by strengthening our food security assistance, we can have a direct hand in turning the tide against mass hunger, malnutrition, disease, and mother and infant mortality. Thus, we help ensure that our brothers and sisters the world over can best reach their potential, leading fulfilled lives of health, vigor and dignity.