Casey Stresses Urgent Need for Action on Global Food Security

WASHINGTON, DC-Following an announcement by the U.N. Food Agency of a record one billion people in the world who go hungry, U.S. Senator Bob Casey today took to the Senate floor to urge his Senate colleagues to take action on global food security and pass the Global Food Security Act. 

“This is a humanitarian crisis of immense proportions that we can go a long way towards solving,” Senator Casey said.  “This crisis is solvable with a combination of assistance and emphasis on providing small farmers around the world with the know-how, technology and means to provide for themselves.”

Senator Casey also stressed that global hunger is not only a humanitarian crisis, but also a national security issue emphasizing, “Instability arising from conflict over access to food is a documented and real problem.”

In September, the White House announced the Global Hunger and Food Security Initiative, a comprehensive approach to food security based on country and community led planning and collaboration.

The Global Food Security Act, which Senator Casey introduced along with Senator Dick Lugar, is a five-year authorization that seeks to provide solutions that will have the greatest effect. 

First, it creates a Special Coordinator for Global Food Security put in charge of developing a food security strategy. 

Second, the bill authorizes additional resources for agricultural productivity and rural development.  Their plan draws from the experience of U.S. land grant colleges and the contributions they have made to U.S. agriculture.  The bill creates a new program that would strengthen institutions of higher education in the areas of agriculture sciences, research and extension programs.  The legislation also significantly expands U.S. assistance for agriculture, rural development and nutrition programs in developing nations.

Third, the bill improves the U.S. emergency response to food crises by creating a separate Emergency Food Assistance Fund that can make local and regional purchases of food, where appropriate.  The legislation would provide USAID with the flexibility to respond to emergencies more quickly, without supplanting other food programs such as P.L. 480.

Full text of Senator Casey’s speech is below.

Statement of U.S. Senator Bob Casey
October 29, 2009

Last week, the U.N. Food Agency announced that there are now a record 1 billion people in the world who go hungry.  Nearly 1/6th of the world’s population.  The crisis that caught the world’s attention last year has escalated and has devastating effects in all corners of the globe. 

While the number of undernourished has increased steadily since the 1990’s, there was a sharp spike last year due to the global food crisis.  Mr. President, we can work to address this problem, we should work to address this problem and we must work to address this problem.   

With the host of competing priorities for U.S. attention, why should we care?

I believe there are two reasons:

First, this is a humanitarian crisis of immense proportions that we can go a long ways towards solving.  As one of the richest countries in the world, we have a moral obligation to help when we can.  This is one such moment Mr President. This crisis is solvable with a combination of assistance and emphasis on providing small farmers around the world with the know-how, technology and means to provide for themselves.

Second, global hunger is indeed a national security issue.  Instability arising from conflict over access to food is a documented and real problem.  Last year’s food crisis unfortunately brought this into acute focus.  We saw it in Somalia, where struggles to gain access to food have enveloped population centers in violence.  We have seen it in Egypt during last year’s bread riots.  And we have seen it in Haiti where hospital beds filled last year with those injured during food riots.  Increased instability in any of these countries has a direct impact on U.S. national interests. 

There are a host of examples from across the world that illustrate the scope of this problem.

High rates of hunger are shown to be linked to gender inequality, especially in terms of education and literacy, which also negatively affects the rate of child malnutrition.  It is estimated that 60% of the world’s chronically hungry are women and girls, 20% of which are children under five.

This is particularly evident in Chad. According to the International Food Policy Research organization, Chad ranks fifth worst on the 2009 Global Hunger Index, second in terms of gender inequality, and has female literacy rate of 13 percent, compared to 41 percent for men. IFPR’s research shows that equalizing men and women’s status could reduce the number of malnourished children by 1.7 million in Sub-Saharan Africa and a shocking 13.4 million in South Asia.

Hunger in Pakistan poses both a humanitarian and security issue. Last year, over 77 million people in Pakistan were considered “food insecure” by the World Food Program. That is nearly half of their population.  As Pakistan’s military is conducting new operations against the Taliban, that number is expected to increase.  Hunger and  competition for food can lead to further instability and potentially undermine government  leadership at a very critical time.

In South America, Bolivia remains one of the least development country, with more than two-thirds of its population living below the poverty line.  Poverty is the main cause of food insecurity there. The income of 40% of its population, 59% in rural areas, is not enough to meet basic food needs. This has also had a real impact on the health of the population. Malnutrition, for example, has stunted the growth of nearly 30% of children.
What should we be doing to address this urgent humanitarian and national security concern?

For too long Mr President, the international community has relied on an assistance model that provided food, but not the capacity to grow it.  We are starting to see a shift in thinking as the assistance community is more strategic about how they provide the training and technical assistance necessary to help the world’s hungry.

In 1980, 17 percent of aid contributed by foreign countries went to agriculture.  This number plummeted to 3.8 percent in 2006 and has only slightly improved in recent years.  The Bush Administration responded quickly to the food crisis last year with emergency assistance.  This was important and the right thing to do.  While we may need to provide additional emergency aid to address the current crisis, we should simultaneously attack the root problems. 

I would like to applaud this Administration’s current efforts to help the hungry.  In September, the White House announced the Global Hunger and Food Security Initiative, a comprehensive approach to food security based on country and community led planning and collaboration.  Secretary Clinton is leading a visionary ‘whole of government’ effort to help the world’s hungry. As the Administration works out the details of implementation, I hope and trust that we will maintain a sharp focus on the ability of small scale farmers to grow food at an increased and sustainable rate.

In the Senate, we have also worked to bring attention to the world’s hungry.  Senator Lugar, a respected leader in this field for decades, and I joined to introduce the Global Food Security Act earlier this year.  Our bill has three major objectives:

First, this bill will provide for enhanced coordination within the U.S. government so that USAID, the Agriculture Department, and other involved entities are not working at cross-purposes.  We do that by establishing a new position, the Special Coordinator for Food Security, who would report directly to the president on international food security issues and who would forge a comprehensive food security strategy.

Second, it would expand U.S. investment in the agricultural productivity of developing nations, so that nations facing escalating food prices can rely less on emergency food assistance and instead take the steps to expands their own crop production.  Every dollar invested in agricultural research and development generates nine dollars worth of food in the developing world.  This provision can serve as the vehicle for the President’s pledge to more than double the U.S. agricultural development assistance over the next three years.

Third, it would modernize our system of emergency food assistance so that it is more flexible and can provide aid on short notice.  We do that by authorizing a new $500 million fund for U.S. emergency food assistance when appropriate.
This bill has passed through the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and we hope that we will see Senate action soon.  

Mr. President, this is one of those rare occasions where a serious crisis is greeted by serious Administration support and inter-agency cooperation as well as bi-partisan collaboration in the Senate and House.  This is the right thing to do and will ultimately enhance the security of the United States and our allies. 

The global food crisis had a devastating effect on the poor in every corner of the world last summer and today we continue to see its terrible results.   In times of economic troubles, it is difficult to find funds for all programs, including international affairs.  But I believe that this is one of those moments where the true measure of our character is tested.  Our moral obligations are closely intertwined with our security concerns.   If enacted, this food security initiative bill has the potential to leave a legacy beyond our time in this body.  We have a plan that can work.  Let’s start to attack the roots of this terrible problem so that another record number of hungry is not set next year.

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